If you love animals and are looking for a way to generate income doing what you love, starting a pet sitting business may just be the cat's meow for you. Having the right tools and a proper business plan in place prior to opening your pet sitting business will help you succeed in this growing and popular industry.
Different Types of Pet Sitting Businesses
Start by narrowing the scope of the type of pet sitting you plan to do. You will want to determine where you plan to pet sit. Will it be in your home, or will you visit the pet's home to provide the service?
For in-home pet visits, the pet sitter visits the pet in its home while the owner is at work, on vacation, or away from home for other reasons. The pet sitter's responsibilities include things like:
- Taking pets for walks
- Cleaning litter boxes
- Administering medication
- Making sure the pet has fresh food and water
- Providing the pet companionship for a certain amount of time
Pet owners may also ask you to take care of a few extras like watering house plants, picking up newspapers from the driveway, turning lights on or off, or opening and closing the curtains to make it look like someone is home.
Pet Day Care
You may want to provide a pet day care in your home. Pet day care duties include the same types of responsibilities as in-home visits, but allow pets to enjoy human companionship for hours in your care. People who work may drop their pets off at the beginning of the day, and pick them up on the way home. In some cases, pet owners may ask you to care for their pets in your home while they are away on vacation.
Qualifications for Pet Sitters
While there are no specific certifications required to start a pet sitting business, the more experience and professional certifications you have, the more business you are likely to gain because people will trust your skills and qualifications as a certified pet sitter.
Pet Sitters International
Pet Sitters International (PSI) is the world's largest educational association for professional pet sitters. This specially-tailored curriculum covers all the bases, from pet care to health and nutrition, as well as business and office procedures.
Association of Pet Sitting Excellence
Association of Pet Sitting Excellence (APSE) offers two levels of certification to cater to both sole-owner pet sitting businesses, and larger pet sitting businesses with staff. APSE also offers a high-level certification for pet sitting business owners who demonstrate their commitment to excellence and are involved in the education of pet owners and their fellow pet sitters.
National Association of Professional Pet Sitters
The National Association of Professional Pet Sitters (NAPPS) is a national nonprofit organization for professional pet sitters. This program offers a broad-ranged and in-depth 16-week course covering all topics relevant to pet sitting, including pet care, health, nutrition and behavior, business development and management, and a complete pet first aid course.
Pet First Aid Certification
In addition, it is advisable to add to your qualifications by attending ongoing pet sitting workshops and seminars. It is imperative to take a pet CPR and first aid course. The American Red Cross is a great resource not only to find pet CPR and first aid classes offered in your area, but also with tips for creating a pet emergency preparedness kit.
Determine the Market for Your Business
You need to do your research in order to have a successful pet sitting business. To start, you'll want to find out the demographics of your customers:
- Where do they live?
- What are their income levels?
- How many pets, and what kind, do they have?
Also, research the competition:
- How many similar businesses are there in your city?
- What are their rates? What services do they provide? What kinds of customer reviews have they received?
A good place for any small business owner to start is the local chamber of commerce. Most cities have them, and they usually are very eager to assist local businesses with questions regarding demographics, information on similar businesses in the area, and networking resources.
In addition, several chambers of commerce are affiliated with the Service Corps of Retired Executives - or SCORE - a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing free or low-cost services to small businesses. You can sign up with SCORE and receive free mentoring from a SCORE representative (who is typically a retired business owner or successful business executive). Your mentor will help you determine the logistics of your pet sitting business.
Plan Your Pet Sitting Business
Put a plan in place in order to have a successful pet sitting business. You need to consider the following:
A well-constructed business plan comprises of an executive summary complete with business goals, a market analysis, start-up costs, operational objectives, marketing objectives, and a financial plan.
Most cities require businesses to be licensed in order to operate legally. Licensing regulations vary by state and city. Check with the Small Business Administration in order to determine the requirements for your business in your city and state.
Liability insurance is very important to have in order to protect your pet sitting business. The price of this type of insurance may range from $150-$500 annually depending on what services you plan to offer. There are several different types of pet sitter insurance policies available and it simply is a matter of choosing the plan and company that best suits your pet sitting business' needs.
Knowing what to charge for pet sitting services is not an exact science. One suggestion is to determine what several of your competitors charge for similar services. Figure out the median range by dividing the fees for the various services by the number of competitors. For example, if you determine that the average for doggy daycare in your area is $75 for an eight-hour day, you may want to start out at $65. As you build your reputation, you can increase your rates.
Many pet sitting services are one-person operations. That being said, if you get sick or have to go out of town, who will cover for you? If and when you do decide to add staff, you want to ensure that they are as devoted to caring for the pets as you. Interview them about their experiences with pets and their histories with owning pets. In addition, conduct thorough background checks on potential employees and be sure to include them on your company insurance policy.
Marketing Your Pet Sitting Business
Marketing is one of the most important and often undervalued aspects of a business. If you have a pet sitting business that no one knows about, how long do you think you will stay in business?
Expect to allocate three to five percent of your projected gross revenues for start-up marketing costs.
Create a Website
Just as the Yellow Pages were essential to businesses 20 years ago, today it is important for your business to have a presence on the Internet. A website is a must-have as part of your marketing plans. If you are confident in your website abilities, create your own website with a user-friendly platform such as WordPress or Weebly. Otherwise, you generally can contract the services of an inexpensive website design company. Make sure your website is search engine optimized and that you proofread the site for any spelling and/or grammatical errors.
You cannot simply create a website and expect people to find you on the Internet. Social media is a wonderfully inexpensive marketing tool for your pet sitting business. Setting up a Facebook business page, Twitter page, Pinterest, and even LinkedIn will help you promote your website and business to thousands of potential clients.
The key to successful social media marketing is to engage with others. Use your pet sitting business social media sites to start and engage in online conversations. The more social you are on social media, the quicker you will grow a bigger following.
Depending on the size of your marketing budget, you may want to consider traditional marketing techniques such as print or newspaper advertising, radio and TV commercials, and direct mail. Remember to do your research and find out what radio stations your customers listen to, what TV shows they watch, and what local newspapers and magazines they read.
Consider joining the local chamber of commerce and other community groups. Your ability to reach many people at a networking happy hour event will do wonders to help promote your business. In addition, many community groups encourage and seek volunteers. The more active you are in various networking groups, the more top-of-mind your pet sitting business will be with other people in the community.
Opening Your Pet Sitting Business
Once you have completed all necessary steps of setting up your business, it is time to open your doors. Consider partnering with a similar local business, such as a veterinarian's office or pet store, to host a grand opening. Make sure to send out a press release and invite the local media to attend.
You will want to have a contract for each client outlining the services requested, the services that will be provided, your rates, etc. Provide a copy to your client and keep the original - signed by both of you - in your files.
It is a good idea to keep a log of every client's pet. This log should include:
- Arrival and departure time of the visit
- Time of the feeding
- Each time the pet was walked
- Note any medication that was administered, and what time it was administered
Benefits of a Pet Sitting Business
A pet sitting business can be both personally and financially rewarding. If you enjoy animals, you will have the benefit of spending time with animals and giving them love. For your clients, your business offers many substantial benefits compared to boarding, including:
- Reduced stress for the pet
- Less exposure to illness
- Personalized attention
Providing these services gives pet owners the peace of mind that their pets are receiving the best possible care while they are away from home.