If you love all things dealing with pets, it's possible that you are considering becoming a professional pet sitter. While you definitely will get to handle lots of people's pets as a pet sitter, there's much more to the job than just getting to love on cats and dogs all day. Becoming a pet sitter, whether full or part-time, carries a lot of responsibility and you'll need to become educated on all aspects of running a business as well as the care, behavior and needs of multiple species.
How to Become a Pet Sitter
There are several steps involved in starting a professional pet sitting business. While some individuals believe all they need is a love of animals and some simple advertising to get started, not getting your business fundamentals set up first can cost you later on. Expert Beth Stultz-Hairston, President of Pet Sitters International (PSI) states that, "For someone with a passion for pets and an entrepreneurial spirit, starting a pet-sitting or dog-walking business could be a great career option-but simply loving pets isn't enough to offer quality services or succeed as a pet sitter."
1. Review Your Animal Knowledge and Skills
She advises people who are just starting out to "take an inventory of their current pet-care knowledge and experience-and note areas that they need to learn more about. Some individuals may feel they need more experience with large-breed dogs, or maybe they have no experience with cats. They can seek out training workshops, online classes and even volunteer opportunities (such as at a local animal shelter) to get virtual and hands-on training in specific pet-care topics." You can also consider becoming certified, which requires a certain amount of education to take the certification exam, as well as continued education thereafter to renew the certification. PSI offers the Certified Professional Pet Sitter certification and the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters offers their own certification.
2. Decide What You Want Your Services to Be
Morgan Weber, owner of Lucky Pup Adventures advises people just starting out to figure out what kind of clientele they want. "Do you want to just do cats? Or only overnight pet sitting?" Not all pet sitters provide every type of service. If you're not comfortable doing overnight visits or working unusual hours, you might want to focus on people who need midday visits, such as an owner with a puppy or senior dog that can't hold its bladder. Weber also says it's important to know "which clients you feel most comfortable with so you're not taking on work that you won't enjoy or do well at." This could be restricting yourself to certain sizes of dogs, or breeds that you don't want to handle.
On the other hand, having experience with certain breeds can make your services more valuable. Weber says she, "had a lot of experience with pit bull rescue and so I was very comfortable with these types of dogs and I got a lot of clients because of that." Weber recommends that you should take on the clients you feel you can do your best with because, "there's room for everybody. If you only want to do cats, there are pet sitters who only visit cats."
3. Get Your Paperwork in Order
You should decide on what your business entity will be such as a sole proprietorship or LLC. An accountant can help you understand the differences between the two and your tax liabilities. Talk to your accountant as well about how to handle estimated taxes, as getting hit with a huge tax bill at the end of the year can be an upsetting experience for the first-time business person.
- Depending upon where you live, there may be licenses required to operate a business, and you may need multiple ones to cover city, county, and state regulations.
- You may also need a sales tax license and collect taxes from your clients. Again, your accountant will be your best guide for this information as every state and municipality is different.
- If you want to be a pet sitter who watches pets in your own home, you may be required to get a special board and kennel license. Contact your local animal control to find out the regulations and the insurance requirements for in-home board and care.
4. Make Sure You Have Insurance
Stultz-Hairston also cautions that, "We recommend pet sitters obtain pet-sitter liability insurance before accepting their first assignment. The reality is that for even the most conscientious pet sitter or dog walker, accidents can occur. Having comprehensive insurance protects the pet sitter and gives clients peace of mind that you are covered, should anything go wrong."
Weber agrees, saying, "Insurance not only covers yourself but covers your customers. If something happens outside of your control, like a dog jumps off a couch and breaks their leg, that's a really expensive item for a pet owner to have to pick up. Whereas with insurance, you have that extra layer of protection for your clients and can really label yourself as a professional."
5. Make Sure You Have a Contract
Another area where a professional pet sitter needs to protect themselves is with contracts and clearly defined policies and procedures. Stultz-Hairston notes that, "Pet sitters should ensure that all clients clearly understand the services you will be providing, your policies and procedures, and what is expected from pet owners. The pet-sitting contract will outline the services you'll provide, limitations, and important information about the clients' pet and home-care needs." You can work with a local attorney to create a contract, or you can purchase pre-made ones online. Even if you purchase a pre-made template contract, it's a good idea to have an attorney in your area review it for adherence to local laws and regulations. You also should have a veterinary release form created with the help of an attorney for clients to sign. This allows you to rush an animal to the vet if they need immediate care and you cannot reach their owners.
6. Set Up Your Processes and Procedures
You will need to have processes set up for your daily visits. This includes the following items:
- Keeping track of human client information including address, any gate or key codes, and emergency contact information.
- You should also have a process and file system set up to keep track of keys to make sure they don't become lost or get mixed up with other keys from different clients.
- Keeping track of pet "client" information including diet and number of feedings, medical history, behavioral information, veterinary clinic, number of times you need to visit and anything else that's relevant.
- Another system you should keep with a spreadsheet or database or even a notebook is keeping track of referrals. Word of mouth is a huge source of referrals for any pet sitter, and it's important to thank the referring person to keep those referrals coming in!
- Decide upon your procedures for how you'll handle initial visits. Will you require that you have a meeting with the client and their pet beforehand to make sure they are one you're open to taking on? This is usually a good idea as it helps the pet to feel comfortable with you since they won't be meeting you for the first time when you actually are doing their pet sitting.
7. Prepare Your Equipment
In addition to procedures, you should also have all of your supplies in order. This will mean extra leashes, collars, harnesses, doggie waste bags, treats, and toys. You will want to have a few varieties of treats on hand at all times that can accommodate different dietary restrictions, as well as different types of collars like Gentle Leaders and front clip harnesses for dogs that are stronger and pull more. It's also a good idea to keep a first aid kit with you, both for you and for the pets in your care. You may also want to purchase clothing with your logo and business name, as this is a great way to advertise your services and looks professional to current and potential clients.
8. Decide on Pricing and Payments
Not only will you need to decide on the prices for your services, but also how you will accept payment. This can include setting yourself up to take credit cards, which can easily be done through most banks as well as online vendors like Stripe. To price your services, look at what other pet sitters in your area are charging to get an idea of what the going rate is. Pricing for pet sitting can vary widely across the country, so you want to make sure that you are choosing prices that your local market can bear. For example:
- The going rate in a small town might be $25 per 30-minute visit compared to $75 per 30-minute visit in a big urban city.
- Some sitters charge a set price per visit whereas others charge by the hour.
- You can also create packages where clients get a discount if they buy a certain number of sessions.
Remember when setting your prices as well to take into account all of your costs, such as gas, supplies, and more. Your pricing should be designed to net you profit after all of your expenses are covered.
9. Local Networking
Once you're ready to go, the next step is finding customers. One of the best ways to do this is to network with other local pet care providers who are likely to refer you to the pet owners they come in contact with. Some typical service providers to develop a network with include veterinarians, shelters, rescue groups, groomers, dog trainers, animal behaviorists, and pet stores. You can also think of people who may work with people who need a sitter, such as travel agents, pet-friendly hotels, realtors, and health care providers. You can leave flyers and business cards with all of these people and make sure you reciprocate by referring your clients to them as well. Networking can also include activities like actively volunteering with local rescue groups, as they're more likely to refer to someone they feel supports their organization with their time.
10. Local Advertising and Marketing
In addition to networking, you'll need to explore other methods to get the word out to potential clients. Some pet sitters will also advertise their services using wraps or magnets on their car. Giving discounts to new adopters is also another way to advertise your services as some shelters and rescue groups will include your information in their adoption packets. Another important way to advertise locally is through a website, social media such as Facebook and Instagram, and using search engine optimization to help people find you better online.
11. Develop an Online Presence
Finally you'll need to set up a website and social media accounts for your business, such as a Facebook page and Instagram account. Setting up a Google My Business page as well can help get people searching for pet sitters online to find you. Despite the desire to save money doing a DIY website, setting up an effective online presence is an acquired skill, and it's well worth it to hire a professional. Investing in a professional website and a solid SEO plan can get your phone ringing sooner and is well worth the cost. Says Weber, "having a great website is the reason 95% of our clients who don't come from a personal referral. Having a website that is more attractive than other pet sitter sites in town built by a professional is worth investing in."
Working for a Pet Sitting Service
Owning your own business can be daunting, and some people prefer the idea of working for someone else as an independent contractor. If you feel that all the steps involved to run your own pet sitting business are too overwhelming, you can contact a service like Rover.com.
How It Works
With this type of option, you work as an independent contractor through Rover, and therefore are not required to keep your own insurance or handle any of the regular business tasks like contracts, accounting and advertising. Through Rover you can offer dog walking, pet sitting and even in-home boarding. You will need to go through their screening process to apply and once accepted, you can post your own rates and what services you offer. Rover claims the average income for part-time workers is about $1,000 a month whereas those who do it full-time can make as much as $3,300 a month.
Pros and Cons of Working for a Pet Sitting Service
The benefit to a service like Rover is that you don't have to do any of the work of actually running a business. If you're just getting started, it can be a way to ease into pet sitting part-time. The downside is that you have limited control over the business and if you're looking to grow and go full-time, Rover may not provide you with what you need to evolve as a pet sitter. Many companies also will require you to sign a contract that prohibits you from keeping clients you received through them if you go out on your own. You should also read all the fine print, as you may find that the insurance provided does not cover you completely.
Considerations Before Becoming Professional Pet Sitter
There's a lot involved with becoming a professional pet sitter, whether you decide to do it part or full-time. It's a career that can come with some highs and lows, as well as the stress that anyone running their own business will experience.
Benefits of Becoming a Professional Pet Sitter
Says Stultz-Hairston, "Professional pet sitting can be a rewarding and profitable career. It truly is wonderful to be able to build a career around offering care to pets." You will also be able to set your own schedule and enjoy freedom from working in an office.
Cons of Working as a Professional Pet Sitter
However, keep in mind that pet sitting is "not all cuddling with kittens or playing with dogs-pet sitting is hard work," notes Stulz-Hairston. Some issues you will need to contend with include:
- You will typically have to work major holidays as well as regular nights and weekends.
- There's the potential to become hurt as even the friendliest animals can scratch and bite.
- If you want to pet sit because you want to avoid people, you won't be happy. Says Stultz-Hairston, "Pet sitting is a service industry-so be prepared to deal with people a lot. Good customer service and communication skills are important." Weber concurs, noting that, "You really have to make sure the quality of your customer service is worth the money you charge as a professional. You will be competing against people's neighbors, friends and the boarding kennel at the vet, which will all be cheaper options, so you have to set yourself apart. This means really connecting with your clients and building relationships with them."
- One of the hardest drawbacks to pet sitting is coping with death. As you develop relationships with your clients, you will most likely deal with a lot of heartbreak as pets become ill and pass away. Stultz-Hairston advises that you should "have a strong support network" as "pet sitters have to prepare themselves to deal with loss."
Join an Association for Help and Guidance
One of the best ways to help yourself and your new pet sitting business is to join a professional association like PSI. Stultz-Hairston believes that, "Associations like PSI serve as both a learning center and support network for professional pet sitters-whether they are just starting or have established businesses." Joining an association for pet sitters can also give you the chance to reach out to experienced pet sitters to get their input on how they run their businesses, price their services and handle difficult client situations. This can be an invaluable source of knowledge for the beginner and can save you time and headaches that can sideline a business in its infancy.
Deciding on a Career as a Professional Pet Sitter
While some people may think pet sitting is an easy job, it can be a much more difficult career path than you might imagine. In addition to dealing with running your own business, you'll likely work with challenging personalities, both human and animal. Don't be afraid to seek out input from more experienced sitters and use this to grow your pet sitting business for the long term. The rewards of a well-run pet sitting service are numerous!