My husband and I had pet sat for several friends and family members before deciding to open a legit pet sitting business. At first the process seemed very daunting, especially since we both had zero experience in business management.
However, we quickly found out how simple it would be to get the ball rolling. Within three months of opening our doors, we had gone from one client to forty. Among those forty clients, about half requested our services on a monthly basis.
American Pet Products Association estimate that of the $55.5 billion pet owners will collectively spend this year alone, a little over $5 billion will be spent on pet sitting or boarding services! The clientele is plentiful and the opportunity to help them is within arm’s reach, as we discovered using these five steps.
Develop a business plan.
Before delving into the specifics of our business, my husband and I sought assistance from anything and anyone we could get our hands on. One of our first resources and the foundation of our five steps was Cheryl Kimball’s Start Your Own Pet-Sitting Business.
Although we were a bit hesitant at first, we called up and introduced ourselves to fellow pet sitting owners in and around our city. Many were happy to give advice and tidbits on matters concerning everything from business start up procedures to handling difficult clients.
The web offered a variety of pet sitting sites we could compare, contract, and develop ideas to establish services and pricing. Our local university, we learned, provided free seminars and private counseling for entrepreneurs. We took advantage of this and were able to have many questions answered regarding tax procedures and legal documentation.
Given the fact that we had little man power with one of us working full time, my husband and I decided to limit our services to caring for pets at their homes as opposed to boarding them at our home or leasing a building.
We made a list of specific services we would provide including dog walks, house visits of various time spans, and extended overnight stays. Prices were created for each service, as well as days and times our doors would be open.
Obtain Licenses and Permits.
Each city, county, and state has special requirements for obtaining business licenses and permits. We contacted our state and city offices for the correct information regarding requirements and payments.
Our first move was to establish our type of organization: sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability or corporation. We chose sole proprietorship for many reasons including the size of our business and the simplicity of our income tax return forms.
It took some brainstorming to decide upon our business name, but once we agreed on the name, we were ready to apply for our business name or fictitious name certificate. Next, we paid the dues for our state and local business licenses.
Typically, if your business is selling actual merchandise, a retail sales permit is required; however, our business was strictly set up to sell services. In addition, we were exempt from establishing an Employer Identification Number (EIN) or taxpayer identification number because we were not employing other employees. Otherwise, if we were declared another entity or employed one or more workers, we would have to get one. Formal documentation of these exemptions were filed with their respected departments.
The most important move after all licenses and permits were obtained was to file them away and keep track of the renewals.
Purchase liability insurance.
Just like auto and health insurance, liability insurance gave us and our clients peace of mind. Seeking pet sitting service specific insurance like Pet Sitters Association, LLC was the way to go, we found out.
General insurance companies were astronomical in price and didn’t have relevant coverage for this business. Pet Sitters Associates, LLC, for example, provided coverage ranging from pet injuries to pet loss and client property damage to lost keys. The price started around $200 a year and increased depending on the number of employees insured and coverage additions.
Word of mouth from friends and family was only one way we got the word out. My husband, with his extensive web designing abilities, was able to create a nicely formatted, user friendly website using ipage.com. The domain name was created using this same posting server, as part of a package deal. There was an annual fee for this, but we used this, along with our other expenses, as a tax deduction. There were some businesses, I noted, that used a free blog to promote their business.
Much of our advertising products were purchased from Vistaprint. Business cards, t-shirts, and car magnets were our big spenders. We signed up for community events and set up a booth with flyers, business cards, and pet treats. Forms were set out for those interested in our services to write down their contact information. These forms were part of a drawing that was held at the end of each event. The winner received a free home visit.
Craigslist was an avenue that brought in many clients, as well. The flyer that we created on craigslist was the same flyer we set out at veterinarian offices, with their approval, of course. About a year into the business, we slowed down on advertising because our clients were referring their friends and co-workers to us. At times it was more than we could take on with just the two of us.
Continue to improve and expand the business.
Improvement to our business came mainly through trial and error. Organization and communication were the two areas we concentrated on.
We would meet with new clients at their homes. These introductory meetings were our “Meet and Greets.” We would become acquainted with the pets and obtain detailed information on the client and service requests. Our information forms grew from one to six pages after several months. The forms included client and pet information, household duties, emergency/veterinarian contacts, legality issues, and pricing.
Each client had a folder that we safely filed away. It included the Meet and Greet forms, a log of any and all communication with the client, and visitation notes. After every pet sitting visit, a note was written and left, describing the visit. This eventually evolved into texts and personal blog entries, as requested by the client. We would occasionally purchase a treat or toy for the pet if the visit occurred around the pet’s birthday or a holiday. The clients loved coming home to see a note and special gift for their pet.
A few clients asked about discounts, so we introduced discounts and money certificates into our business schema. A discount was designated for every tenth visit. Holiday cards were sent out annually with discount coupons, and clients were rewarded for referrals.