For the budding entrepreneur who loves animals and prefers flexible working hours, a small pet-sitting business offers a profitable, low-risk opportunity.
According to research conducted by the American Pet Products Association, 62 percent of U.S. households own at least one pet, ranging from fish and exotic reptiles to large dogs. When owners can't be there to care for their pets, they want the peace of mind of knowing that someone is providing quality care in a safe environment. A pet-sitting service provides care in the familiarity and comfort of the pet's own home, eliminating the potential stresses associated with boarding establishments.
Setting up a pet-sitting business requires minimal financial investment. The assets a pet-sitter must possess -- apart from a love of animals -- are drive, enthusiasm, first-class people skills and a reputable, trustworthy image.
Order some inexpensive business cards and design promotional leaflets, incorporating a catchy business name and logo. Because little capital outlay is involved in pet sitting, and given the numbers of household pets across America, there is no need to undertake extensive market research for this business, and you can use your initial marketing activity to test demand.
Check local and online business directories to establish the prices charged for pet sitting in your area. Decide which services you are prepared to offer and the types of pet you are able to care for. Some pet-sitters, for example, avoid looking after reptiles if they have no experience in their care, while others choose to specialize in exotics.
Draft a price list for your services. Start by deciding how much you will charge for a basic 30-minute visit for up to two pets, and what this will involve. According to the CostHelper.com website, 30-minute visits typically cost between $15 and $25. As well as feeding, washing bowls, cleaning cages and changing cat litter, consider whether you will offer to carry out basic grooming, administer medication, or walk dogs. Add to your basic 30-minute charge to accommodate extra services, additional pets and longer visits. Review your draft price list to see how it compares to competitor offerings and whether it provides sufficient payment for your time.
Determine whether you are willing to offer live-in services. Check competitor prices for this. While there is money to be made from this service, consider the impact on your own household and pets if you were to stay away from home.
Obtain references. Clients will be trusting you with their precious pets and with access to their property. A reference from a former employer will establish trustworthiness, but to gain references specific to pet care, consider offering to care for pets of friends, family and neighbors free of charge, in exchange for written testimonials.
Distribute leaflets locally. Determine the boundaries of the area you are prepared to serve, taking into account travelling time and gas costs. Ask local pet stores, veterinarians and groomers if they are willing to display or hand out your leaflets. Display leaflets in local stores and community venues. Ask friends and family members to pass your leaflets on to anyone they know who owns a pet.
Carry business cards with you at all times. Hand them out to casual acquaintances, moms at the school gate, and people walking their dogs. Attend dog shows and fetes, strike up pet-related conversations, and hand out your card at every opportunity.
Set up a website. Describe how your love of animals led you to this career. Include anecdotes about your own pets, as well as photographs. Leave every visitor to your site with the impression that you will care for her pet as if it were your own. Include details of your basic prices, but suggest customers contact you to discuss their precise requirements. Speak to other local businesses and arrange for relevant reciprocal links. Post details of your service on social networking sites. Take advantage of all free online advertising, linking to your site whenever possible.
Create a system to record telephone and online inquiries. This can be a simple diary or a computer-based application. Always note pets' descriptions, names and ages as well as client contact details. Arrange to visit each potential customer, free of charge, to meet their pets and discuss their needs. This not only presents a professional image, it reassures the client and allows you to quote a price based on a customized service.
Draw up service contracts, veterinary consent forms, a health checklist, and forms setting out specific medical or dietary requirements. Document as much as you can about the pets in your care, not only to ensure a first-class service, but also to protect you and your business in the event of dispute. Record emergency contact details for every client, and save these on your cellphone.
Determine the local requirements for licenses and permits by visiting the U.S. Small Business Administration website. Contact a pet insurance specialist and obtain a quote, remembering to include key coverage and extended coverage if you propose to provide live-in care or employ staff. Once you have the insurance quote, you can usually obtain immediate coverage with a phone call, enabling you to describe your business as "fully insured" on promotional literature and commence your policy the minute you take your first booking.
Check with your auto insurer to determine whether you need to amend your coverage. If you are offering to transport pets to veterinary appointments, you will need safety harnesses and cages for your vehicle.
Enroll in a pet first-aid course to ensure you are able to deal with health emergencies. Add credibility to your business by registering with the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters.