10 Things Nobody Ever Tells You About Running a Pet Sitting or Dog Walking Business
Do you love surprise parties?
I know some people who secretly wish that every year someone would throw them a surprise birthday party. And I know others who need to know everything up front and dislike any sort of surprise (including one that results in a party!).
Life is full of surprises. Personally, I enjoy navigating through life with a sense of wonder and enjoyment.
Business, however, is a different story. A successful business person will do a certain amount of research and preparation before investing their time, energy, and finances into any venture.
Starting a pet sitting business is no different.
Whether you are thinking about becoming a working, professional pet sitter, or are a seasoned pro, knowing what the road ahead looks like will keep you sane and successful.
Here are 10 things you’ll quickly learn about starting a pet sitting or dog walking business.
There are, of course, probably 100 other things you can add to this list, but this should be a good start.
RESOURCE: If you are looking to begin working as a professional pet sitter, or need a refresher course in running your day-to-day business, my ‘Start A Pet Sitting Business’ course may be just the thing for you.
You will work holidays.
Thanksgiving, Christmas and 4th of July are going to be some of your busiest weeks of the year. Prepare yourself, prepare your family and then get ready to take your vacation the week after.
Bonus – you’ll avoid the crowds! Be careful that you don’t over book yourself. If you get a call the Monday before Turkey Day, someone else’s poor planning does not equal an emergency on your part.
You will need a separate business bank account.
But it’s just me, I don’t have staff, why do I need a separate account? If you want to run a business, getting a bank account is one of the most professional and easiest things you can do. Bonus – it keeps the IRS happy.
This way, you don’t have to wonder if you can deduct the poop bags you need to get, pay for them through the company account. It’s not a deduction from your personal account, it’s an expense of the company.
You will need some start up cash to get going.
Don’t panic, you don’t need to run around looking for investors. You don’t need a lot to get started but you do need insurance, a website, and business cards at a minimum.
Look for a network of professionals that can help you with this, don’t take the cheapest route, it will cost you more in the end. A safe range would be along the lines of $500-$1500. You can market for clients as you are building your business so you’ll have a little bit of cash flow coming in.
You will need a professional website.
People search for EVERYTHING online. Even if they hear about you from a friend, chances are they will get home, log on and search for your web site for more information.
Isn’t that what you do? A friend tells you there is a new restaurant in town you need to try, so what do you do? Do you even wait to get to your laptop or do you whip out your phone and check it out right away?
In Gary Vaynerchuk’s book Jab Jab Jab Right Hook, he gives the statistic of “It took 38 years before 50 million people gained access to radios. It took television 13 years to earn an audience that size. It took Instagram a year and a half”. It took Instagram 18 months to gain an audience of 50 million people.
RESOURCE: Have you seen the PetSittingOlogy Website we have for you, aimed at getting your phone to ring more.
You will need plenty of business skills.
When it comes down to it, you are a business owner who specializes in the pet industry. You can have all of the passion in the world when it comes to animals, but if you aren’t willing to learn about running a business, you will stay in the realm of a hobby sitter.
Do you have to be an MBA to have a successful pet sitting business, no, not at all. As long as you can embrace the business side, you’re on your way!
You will need to relate and connect with humans (love of animals is small part).
Do you cringe when you hear the word “networking”. Do you want to stay in the corner of the room and keep your head down? Read Derek Coburn’s book Networking Is Not Working and you will have a new outlook on talking to and creating lasting relationships with people in your community. Gone are the days of pounding the pavement and handing out flyers.
It’s all about connections, aligning yourself with other local business leaders, establishing credibility by talking and interacting with people. Gain the trust of your community, be active, be present and the sky is the limit.
You have to know how to sell.
Is “selling” as intimidating as “networking”? It doesn’t have to be. Instead of selling your business, you need to tell your story. Don’t worry, you have one, you actually have many many stories – it’s what is driving you to start a pet sitting business.
“WHY” and “WHAT” are going to become your new favorite words. Why does someone need a pet sitter? Why should they hire you? What is your experience with dogs? With cats? With parrots? The answers to all of these questions that people will naturally ask you are a part of your story. Storytelling and STORY LISTENING is the new selling.
You will need to be smart.
Running a business is a juggling act. Have a plan, a schedule, office hours, whatever you need to do help you stay organized and grounded. You are not going to be able to do everything at once, implement all of your great ideas in the same week – and THAT’S OK.
Set daily, weekend, monthly goals. Utilize technology to help you streamline your process, have your voice mail say something like “unless you are a currently traveling client, calls after 7pm will be returned the following day”. Set your boundaries at the beginning so they become a habit, but be flexible, there are always exceptions to every rule. That’s the first rule.
You’re going to be working the hardest you have ever worked before
This is no 9-5 desk job, expect to be driving around, making your rounds, meeting new clients, answering your phones, updating your website, analyzing your pricing structure, etc.
Not only is pet sitting hard, you will be told time and time again that it isn’t. That it’s low risk, that the neighbor kid does it for 5 bucks, that you only have to come 1x every 4 days because they’re just cats, that the 6 month old puppy can hold it for 12 hours and is fine in his crate….there is a blizzard, you have the flu, you have to pill a cat and text a client 3x a day with pictures of their fur baby.
And this is just on breakfast rounds! It’s exhausting, demanding, rewarding and perfect all in the same day. Breakfast rounds are finished before the kids have to go to school, lunch rounds allow you to pick them up, and you can schedule dinner visits around the newest blockbuster to hit the theaters – who would want a 9-5?
You must understand dog and cat behavior for your safety and for the health and well being of pet in your care.
Do not ever put yourself in an uncomfortable situation with either a client or their pet.If you get asked to walk a dog that is too much for you, SAY NO before you take that first step.
There are going to be clients that are not a good fit for your experience level and you have to be honest with yourself and the client and say no. But you don’t want to turn down the money you’d get from their week long vacation….still not worth it.
RESOURCE: Pet sitters and dog trainers, Megan Ventura and Tori Lattig, have an incredible Safety Manual you should immediately check out here: Dog Behavior For Pet Sitters: Safety Manual
“Oh, but I’ll figure it out.” “he’ll get more comfortable with me after I have a couple of visits under my belt”, “how hard can a Chihuahua really bite me anyway”. Example: cat runs and hides under the bed every time you come in.
Said cat needs an insulin shot 2x a day. Are you going to be able to med the cat? You will build your credibility more by being honest vs trying to take a job that you can’t handle. This is also a great way to network with other pet sitters in your area that you can refer clients to when you are not the best fit.
Over To You
Certainly, plenty of other items can be added to this list. What have you learned along the way that nobody told you going in to this industry? Let us know in the comments below.
You will have people write you rubber checks. Decide whether you will take checks or not
Hey Julie. Such a good suggestion. I see many pet sitters just getting started who only want to take checks to “save money on any credit card processing fees.” While this may look like a saving in the short term, you quickly see how the benefit of taking credit cards (even with the small fee) can make your life easier, save you time, make your clients happy, keep you from chasing down money, and more. Great suggestion you offered here.
In addition to the business bank account and the professional website, I strongly suggest also having some sort of invoicing/accounting program from the very beginning! It will keep your finances organized from the start and it will be difficult to get overwhelmed (administratively) as you grow. I personally love FreshBooks, which is free for businesses just starting out.
Great addition, Robin. The accounting side is a whole other topic! And an important one, for sure. There are a few good, free tools that make it simple enough, including your FreshBooks recommendation. Thanks for posting today!
Great list! I would add to always be looking for ways to increase your knowledge about nutrition and dog behavior. Whether it be through reading, webinars, seminars or finding a training mentor to learn from. NEVER stop learning….the expertise you gain will impress your clients and add to your credibility!