Believe it or not, with only a small initial investment, sporadic pet sitting jobs could turn into a full blown pet-sitting business, which can generate you a six-figure income in less than five years. Depending on where you live (your income potential will be limited if you live in the middle of nowhere with few pet owners in the area) and how many hours you’re willing to put in, it might even take as little as three years.
Many pet sitters grow by adding contract workers, with the boss managing the marketing, scheduling, client interviews and other aspects of growing the business. Some pet sitters service thousands of clients, hiring dozens of independent contractors to handle the pet sits.
Almost any organized pet lover who’s willing to put some time and effort into learning the ropes of the pet-sitting profession can launch a small service with a modest cash outlay and minimal time commitment (as you start with two or three clients). Understanding the work involved and resources needed to start a legitimate pet-sitting business will help you decide if this career is the right choice for you.
Pet Sitter or Dog Walker?
Pet sitting is different than dog walking. A dog walker does just that—takes a pooch for a walk. In urban settings, dog walkers walk several canines at a time. A pet sitter is much more involved with a pet and its owners. Pet sitters often become the primary caregiver of an animal, learning about the pet’s medical needs, behavior issues and nutritional requirements.
If you want to make the big bucks, you’ll need to offer true pet sitting. A typical pet sit can last around 30 minutes per session, with watering, feeding and playing part of the visit. You might be asked to take in the mail, water plants and turn lights on and off if a client is out of town (if you offer to choose that level of service for a higher fee).
Pet sitters not only do not have the luxury of Monday through Friday, 9:00 to 5:00 hours, they must often work evenings, weekends and holidays (a busy time for sitters). This doesn’t mean you’ll have to work 24/7, but you will need to limit the number of clients you take or hire assistants if you want to avoid burnout.
As the (often) primary caregiver of an animal, a pet sitter is the go-to contact for a pet parent, who often calls the sitter before calling the veterinarian, as well as after hours. When a fellow pet sitter or one of your contractors can’t make her scheduled sits, you might get hit with a last-minute request to perform sits. Remember, pet sitters can’t just leave a dog or cat in a house or apartment for a few days when the sitter is busy.
Must Love Dogs
OK, and cats, too. And possibly parakeets and iguanas, depending on what pets you’ll agree to sit.
Many people say they love their work, but pet sitting is one of the few professions a person must enter for the love of the work, not the compensation. Because you are taking care of sentient, loving creatures, you will need to make an emotional commitment to a pet-sitting business and your furry charges. You will never make it as a pet sitter if you enter the profession simply because you’re interested in being an entrepreneur and earning a nice living.
In addition to the joy of working with playful pooches and cute kitties, you’ll also have the angst that comes from seeing a friend who’s in pain or who passes. You’ll need to work with your clients to resolve pet health and behavior issues that often arise. And when a long-term pet you’ve been caring for passes, you will need to deal with the same pain and loss as if it were your own.
You don’t need to reinvent the wheel when launching the business side of your pet-sitting service. Read the SmartyCents article, “How to Write a Business Plan the Right Way” to learn how to cover all your bases when starting a small business. Part of writing your business plan will include analyzing your competition, examining your pricing structure, determining what equipment you’ll need to purchase, and learning your legal requirements.
You can find more helpful articles for new entrepreneurs at the SmartyCents small-business advice hub.
In addition to the general small-business basics you’ll need to cover when launching a pet-sitting service, you’ll also have some specific tasks to manage related to this type of venture. For example, you’ll need to decide whether you’ll make on-site visits, provide doggie daycare, take pets to vet appointments, offer overnight stays at a client’s residence, or take pets back to your home for extended stays.
New pet sitters have access to a wealth of materials that help you get started if you join a pet sitter trade association such as the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters, Pet Sitters International or Professional United Pet Sitters.
•Insurance and bonding
You’ll need to talk with an insurer about carrying the correct type and amount of liability insurance to run a pet-sitting service. In addition to general liability insurance (which covers you), look into care custody and control insurance that covers animals in your care. You may also want to get bonded, which provides protection for your client, his pet and property, not just you. Here’s a helpful comparison chart that lets you see what you need to do get pet sitter liability insurance.
You will initially need contracts that cover your agreements between you and your clients. As you grow, you’ll need contracts for employees or contractors.
Pet-sitting is a two-way street when it comes to who interviews whom. Pet parents will want to meet you and see how their pet responds to you. They’ll want references and information on your pet-sitting background. You will also want to learn how well a potential client treats their pet and how demanding they might be. Seasoned pet sitters ask a potential client as many questions as the client asks.
PSI provides a list questions potential clients often ask pet sitters.
Some pet sitters work on a cash or check-only basis. Others accept credit cards or PayPal. If you will service mostly older clients, you might need to take cash and checks. Younger clients will want to use a credit card or PayPal.
•Licenses and Permits
Contact your state and local business offices to determine what type of business license you’ll need based on the type of service you’ll offer. The more control of an animal you’ll have (such as daycare and boarding), the more paperwork you’ll have. If you sit pets at your place, you’ll need to check with your state and your town to determine if you need a license to board animals.
Try an Apprenticeship
If you’re not sure a pet-sitting gig is right for you, or you want some experience before you start your business, consider working as a contractor for another pet-sitting service. As a courtesy, tell the service owner you’re looking to learn the ropes of the business and that you won’t be able to stay long-term. This will allow the business owner to decide how much investment she can make in you.
You should contact a pet-sitting service outside of your projected service area because you will be asked to sign a non-compete agreement with any service you work for. You might offer to pay the business owner a consulting fee to teach you some of the basics of starting and running a pet-sitting service, including what paperwork you’ll need, marketing best practices, scheduling software and payment programs, and other advice.
In addition to business management, you’ll learn how to deal with questions from pet parents, such as “What leash should I buy?,” “Is this pet food OK?,” “Why is my dog chewing itself?,” and “What kind of water bowl is best?”
Key Failure Reasons
Many pet sitters fail within their first 18 months in business, and four reasons loom large in their demise:
•Charging too little
•Driving too far
•Lack of organization
Run some numbers to determine not only how much revenue you might bring in in, but also your driving time to generate that revenue, which raises your gas costs and number of hours worked. For example, if calculate your gas cost and driving time for a pet sit that’s 10 miles away vs. 20 miles, you’ll see what a make-or-break difference that can make.
“My advice to anyone starting a pet sitting business would be to limit their initial service area to a radius no larger than 5 to 10 miles, depending on the population density,” says John D’Ariano, owner of A Pet Sitter Plus pet sitting service in Boynton Beach, Fla. “Turning away business in the beginning is very difficult; however, attempting to cover too large an area can be a major contributor to getting overwhelmed and will only lead to difficulties once your business starts to grow.”
Don’t expect to rely on pet sitting as your only income for at least a year, advises D’Ariano, a former NAPPS president. “Entrepreneurs should not expect to draw a salary in the beginning stages of their business. Insufficient funding is one of the primary reasons new pet-sitting businesses fail. You should be prepared to support yourself and your business for at least 12 to 24 months. The key to success in this profession is being financially and mentally prepared before starting a new venture or giving up your day job.”
If you think you can meet the following three Key Success Factors for starting and running a pet-sitting business, this might just be the perfect business opportunity for you:
#1 – You must love animals
#2 – You must be willing to work odd hours
#3 – You must be organized
Sam Ashe-Edmunds has been a small-business consultant and owner for more than 25 years. He has written for a wide variety of magazines, newspapers and websites, including Entrepreneur, The Chicago Tribune, Chron Small Business, AZ Central Your Business, TheNest, Zacks, Motley Fool, Synonym Money, GlobalPost and Opposing Views. Sam is the former executive editor of Professional Pet Sitter magazine.