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How to Start a Pet-Sitting Business
Every day someone asks me, “How do you start a pet business?” I try to answer their question briefly. But the truth is, starting a pet business, or any business for that matter, isn’t always a straightforward process. Here are 21 tips that I know can lead to pet care business success in any economy.
1. Accept what you don’t know. Not everyone who starts a pet care business is an expert in every type of household pet. Be honest with clients who ask for care for a pet you’ve never cared for. Your honesty and commitment to learning from them will go a long way in building long-term trust in you and your company.
2. Commit to learning about business. Unless you have run a series of successful small businesses in the past, you need to create a self-education plan for yourself. No matter how much you love animals (and they love you), your business will flounder without attention to the mundane details of accounting, sales, marketing, and filing.
3. Have a realistic budget. Set a realistic budget for running your business. Be honest about how much money you need to pay your bills and invest in your business. Many pet businesses close because the owner didn’t assess how many visits they would need to make to cover their basic financial needs.
4. Evaluate the competition. Make sure you understand what other pets in your area are already doing and what you can do better or more effectively. If there are no other pet sitting companies in your area, find out what your potential customers are currently doing to care for their pets when they can’t be there.
5. Set realistic prices. Yes, you love pets and can’t believe you can get paid to have fun – so do many star athletes, yet they manage to make millions of dollars every year. You probably won’t be able to attract clients by charging thousands of dollars for your services, but you won’t be able to serve pets well if you quit in 6 months because you need more money to survive.
6. Listen to pet lovers. Ask the pet owner what is most important to their pet’s care. Never pretend you know everything – a pet owner always knows their pet best. Listen and you’ll learn how to serve them better.
7. Enjoy people. I often joke that “Until this puppy writes a check, I’m working for his mommy!” And it is true. People who love their pets are your customers – even if you don’t see them. Check in with them and find out how they feel about your service. Make sure they understand that you are happy to work with them and that you appreciate being part of their caregiving “family.”
8. Make business decisions. You’re in business, so treat yourself like a business owner. If you plan to work as a sole trader, make the decision to only work with the clients who contribute the most to your performance.
9. Build alliances. Collaborate with other pet-sitters in your area. If you need a backup or have a reservation, you need to know the other quality caregivers serving your area. You can ruin your great reputation just by recommending someone who doesn’t live up to your standards.
10. Form alliances with other small business owners in your area. Who better understands the “downside” of pet ownership than your neighborhood dry cleaner or janitorial service? Their business is based in part on customers who have pets in your area. Ask to place your cards in their stores or, if you can, put a flyer in the monthly bills sent to their customers.
11. Serve the customer, not your ego. It’s an intoxicating experience to feel the power of running a business, and sometimes you’ll think you know what’s best when you’re taking care of someone else’s pets. Realize that you have to walk the fine line between educating customers and talking to them.
12. Be genuine. Everyone wants to work with someone “real”. When people decide to let a stranger into their home to care for their most precious thing, they want to feel that you are a real person who understands and appreciates their relationship with their pet. You need to be an entrepreneur at heart – have all your forms and policies in place, but let your personality shine through.
13. Believe in yourself. This is the most important success factor I have found. Define your success by your rules and wake up every day knowing that you can and will succeed.
14. Ignore the naysayers. Many people will doubt you when you tell them this is your goal. Don’t listen. Surround yourself with people who believe in you and never stop moving forward.
15. Build systems to work smarter. Everything can be systematized to help you do it all. Make a list of all the “shoulds”, “musts” and “want tos” and determine how often they occur (annually, quarterly, monthly, weekly and daily). Sit down with a calendar and link the activities that will complete your lists.
16. Network. Just like building alliances, you need to boost your “face-time” in your community. Explore many networking opportunities in industry-specific groups (such as pet rescue organizations, pet networks) and specific businesses or community (such as the Chamber of Commerce or NAWBO). After visiting several, choose the ones that are most effective for your business – both in terms of referrals for new business and for educational purposes.
17. Evaluate. If something works (or doesn’t) for you – find out why. Ask questions of everyone – your happy (and unhappy) customers. Learn what keeps happy customers coming back. If someone decides not to hire you to care for their pet, ask them what influenced their decision. If their decision was based on an area where you can’t compromise – you won’t be providing cat service every day – move on. If it’s something you can improve on – they thought you were too abrupt on the phone – fix it! Get to the heart of what drives your business and take time every day to improve.
18. Set goals and action plans. You need to know what your goals are for you and your business. When you envision your life in one year, three years, and ten years, what will you do? How will your business work? Whether you plan to serve ten lifetime customers or build the top pet franchise in North America and Europe – you need to have a goal and a plan.
19. Find your niche and stick to it. When I started peggiespets.com, I was scared to stand still. By defining your niche and marketing to them, you are not turning away other businesses (our niche is potty training large dogs and puppies) you can still accept all the businesses you want that are outside of your niche (ask all terriers, birds and rabbits we take care of!).
20. Strive for success every day. Never compromise your ideals to meet someone else’s expectations. The reason you started your own business is your passion, so always stay true to your beliefs and work hard to exceed your expectations every day.
NOTE: You will meet people who don’t do business the way you do and find clients who don’t meet your expectations…don’t lecture, don’t get on your soapbox, just politely point them in a different direction.
21. Help someone else succeed. The more you give, the more you will receive. Whether you’re helping another pet care business get started (with over 65 million dogs and 77 million cats in US households according to APPMA- there’s room for more pet care providers!) or helping another person achieve their dream. you will be more successful because you participated!
Follow these tips to achieve your own pet care business success!
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