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Starting a Small Business as a Pet-Sitter

 

Starting a small business as a pet sitter is both exciting and slightly unnerving. You're thrilled to be your own boss, work from home and care for animals; however, you are also trying to figure out how to establish your business, market your services and make money. 

Create Your Company

Before you jump into this new business, determine if you see a need for pet sitting services in your immediate area. Do your neighbors often ask you to watch their dog while they are on vacation, or do you know if friends have a kennel they depend upon but aren't thrilled about the prices? Once you establish that there is a need for pet sitting services, name your company and create business cards. You can print cards from your home computer or go to the local office supply store for a more professional look. 

You also need to determine price structure and services you'll offer before beginning to market. Decide if you will charge by the hour, by the visit or by the day. Identify special services such as walks, time playing with the animal and any special considerations such as giving the animal medication, cleaning litter boxes or cages and special dietary requests (that require more than offering dry or wet food to the pet). 

One way to help you shape your company is to do your research.  Call three or four local kennels and ask about pricing and services.  Contact a few local pet sitters or dog walkers to see what kind of services they offer and how much they charge.

Market Your Services

Communicate your new company to your friends, family and neighbors first. Develop a flyer announcing your new company that includes your company name, a short list of services and even a coupon for a small percentage or a few dollars off your price. Other ways to advertise is to ask your vet if she will post your flyer in her waiting room or see if a few local pet stores would mind if you post the flyer by the store entrance. If you have school aged children, ask the school if you could advertise in the school newspaper or yearbook. You can also ask if you can help to sponsor any after school events in exchange for advertising during the event. 

Leave business cards wherever you go, including the grocery store, department store, your child's ballet studio or on the soccer field. Create a website with search engine rich keywords so your site pops up first when people are searching for a pet sitter. Include key words such as pet, sitter, your geographic location, dog and cat. Another important way to market your services is through word of mouth.  Deliver top notch service and professionalism in the beginning, and your customers will make referrals to their friends, co-workers and family members. 

Communicate Your Service

Maintain professionalism with all your jobs by effectively communicating your price structure and services to every client. Create a contract agreement that each pet owner signs stating agreed upon services, price and a waiver for unforeseen injuries for both you and the pet.  Ask an attorney friend if she can help you with a contract or you can visit Lectric Law Library (http://www.lectlaw.com/formb.htm) for free ready-made contract forms. 

Create a service and price sheet that you give to each client, along with pet requirements such as instructions on leaving the animal's food, vaccinations and treats.  You'll also need contact information, house keys, alarm code and instructions, vet name and phone number. You'll also want to communicate up front what you will not do while the owner is away such as pool maintenance, bringing in mail and other household chores they may ask of you.

Managing Your Business

Maintain a datebook and calendar with you to book appointments and remind you which pet you need to visit and when. Create a special file for each client that includes a snapshot of their animal and all the important information such as their contract and pet information.  Maintain these files, as many clients will end up bringing you repeat business.

Pet sitting is a rewarding and lucrative endeavor.  With a little organization and excellent communication skills you'll be doing what you love in no time.

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Gina Ragusa is a freelance writer and mom from sunny (and sometimes not) South Florida. Her 15 year experience ranges from writing about banking to tattoo parlors. Read more about her adventures at http://blog.wahm.com/

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