Ten years ago, I decided to quit my full-time job to start a pet sitting business. When I started walking dogs there was no Wag or Rover. There was no way for me to dip my feet in the water while working accountant's hours. The issues at these companies are well documented. Issues aside, if you want to pet sit there is nothing stopping you. I talk to on-demand pet sitters all the time. Just this week I chased down a woman wearing a Wag shirt while screaming "Are you a pet sitter?" In retrospect, I'm surprised she didn't shoot me with pepper spray. Thankfully she didn't unleash any chemical warfare, but we did have a very interesting conversation. She had been working for various on-demand companies for a year or so, but she wanted to branch out on her own. What started out as me interviewing her about the competition, turned into her interviewing me about tips for starting her own pet service business. I've also noticed this trend in some of the pet sitter forums I belong to. A lot of the business owners started out working for Rover, and more recently Wag, but felt the drive to build something of their own. Do you want to go out on your own? Here are a few tips to help you start a pet sitting business.
Call a Professional
Before you start taking on clients of your own, call a professional. Actually, you should call three. First, you'll want to consult a CPA. Preferably one who deals with business taxes. Together you can determine the best course of action for registering your business. This can have important implications down the road so you should understand the benefits and drawbacks of each option. Once you're ready to register, you can do it yourself with a little online research, or there are companies that specialize in helping people with this. Once you register the business call a lawyer. You'll need a contract and not one you printed off the internet. Find a lawyer that specializes in contract law. A good lawyer is expensive. Make sure you go in prepared. I wrote down everything I could think of regarding how I wanted my business to work:
- What I would and would not do,
- How much I charge, and
- How I plan to handle various liability issues.
For example, we have a late cancellation and inclement weather policy. Both of the policies are defined in the contract, along with a bunch of legal stuff I would never know to include and doesn't seem like English. Having all this information written down and ready to go will save you a lot of money. Last, you'll need an insurance agent. Having insurance is a must! Don't mess around. Even if you skip the previous two recommendations, listen to this one. Animals are unpredictable, especially when they aren't your own. A pet sitter might only know what they were told by the client and could glean from a meet and greet. It only takes one unfortunate incident to ruin your business and possibly your personal life. Pet sitting already has very low overhead, there's no excuse to forgo insurance.
Make Friends with Fellow Pet Sitters
Once you have all the business stuff squared away, try and make some new friends. Specifically, try to network with other independent pet sitters. You'll need someone to help you at some point, and covering for someone else is a great way to earn some extra money. Even now, I refer back and forth with other independent sitters and local companies. It's also nice to have a mentor who's been through some shit. Owning your own business has a lot of ups and downs and sideways. It's nice having a trusted colleague. Sometimes you'll want to bounce an idea off someone or just vent to a sympathetic ear. Pet sitting forums are also a great way to learn from other pet sitters and blow off steam. I belong to a couple. The last pet sitting specific forum I joined focuses on Social Media marketing. Having a support system is important, and pet sitters are a very welcoming community.
Build a Client Base
In the beginning, staying busy is a real challenge. It takes time to build a brand and a reputation. As a business owner myself, I don't condone "stealing" clients no matter what size the company is. In my opinion, if you worked with a client at a company, they are off limits, even if they are "going to leave anyway". Leveraging the experience and building a list of referrals is perfectly acceptable. The pet sitter I mentioned earlier used on-demand companies to get her foot in the door and make money while she built up her own clients through marketing herself. When I met her, she had done her first few successful meet and greets, in part due to great referrals gained during her experience working with other companies. Now that she had a couple of her own clients, she was starting to back off accepting jobs through Wag and Rover.
Choose a Pet Sitting App
If you work for on-demand services than you know the power of software. I think anyone starting a dog walking and pet sitting business should use software right out of the gate. Once a business reaches a certain size, using some type of software becomes inevitable, and it's way easier to start off using software than to change your customer's behavior down the road. Additionally, pet sitting software, like Scout, has features you can promote to help sell your services. At Walk It Like A Dog, we promote Scout on the website, and I use many of the features as selling points during the meet and greet and in Facebook ads. When I tell people about the photo check-in, report card, GPS maps, convenience of managing their schedule, and making automatic payments, they love it. When I meet with new referral clients, the first thing they want to talk about is how so and so loves the app. Starting out working for someone else or as an on-demand pet sitter is a great way to get your foot in the door. If you're like me, you want to build something and innovate. Branching out on your own to start a pet sitting business is a big step with a lot more responsibility, but it's also incredibly rewarding. If you have any questions about becoming a full-time pet sitter hit us up via our live chat (bottom right of your screen) and we'll try to point you in the right direction.