Dog sitters are very much in demand, and pooch lovers are looking to meet that need by launching their own dog-sitting business, either as a full-time career or to make extra money.
I am actually looking into this myself, and why not? It’s a potentially lucrative yet relatively simple endeavor with low overhead. Plus, it can be tons of fun, as you get to hang out with dogs on a regular basis.
But as a longtime pet-business writer, I can tell you that many people make simple but critical mistakes when embarking on this line of work. Below are some of the biggies and what you can do to avoid these missteps.
Although launching a dog-sitting business seems like a no-brainer, there are some very important factors one must consider, including the market you will serve, your prospective customer base, the services you will provide, and the geographical area you will cover.
And bear in mind that you won’t just be merrily romping with Rovers all day. You will also be responsible for your own bookkeeping, setting and keeping track of appointments, paying taxes on your earnings, and the other minutiae involved in running even a seemingly simple business.
Not only is it crucial to come up with a catchy, appealing name for your dog-sitting endeavor, you have to make sure it’s not already taken to avoid trademark infringement. So come up with a small selection of choices, then check with your local municipal and state offices to determine if the names are already in use. Once you decide on a name and clear it, register it so that no one else can use it.
Will you be doing this as a full-time endeavor or part-time sideline? Will this be a sole proprietorship, limited liability company, or limited partnership corporation? It’s advisable to consult with a business attorney or accountant to determine the best route.
No matter how cautious and responsible you are, accidents can and do happen. It is crucial to have pet-sitter insurance with the proper levels of coverage. Let’s say, hypothetically, that a dog in your care knocks over and breaks an expensive vase. Or ingests something toxic or gets injured during a walk, and requires emergency veterinary care. Or a dog in your care bites another dog or person while playing in a doggie park.
You should always be prepared for the unexpected and be covered accordingly. Insurance experts knowledgeable about the dog-sitter profession point out that “Care, Custody, and Control” coverage is crucial for those in this line of work, as this takes into account pets in your care, related medical costs, and client property. Typical liability insurance policies don’t cover these, so this is something you must have.
As is the case with pet grooming, one does not require formal training and licensing to be a pet sitter in the U.S., but I strongly advise you to get it. Not only will this enhance your credibility with dog parents, it will afford you greater educational, business, marketing, and networking resources, as well as discounts on pet-sitter insurance and other advantages.
The best such association for this, in my opinion, is Pet Sitters International, a respected organization founded in 1994 by pet-sitting leader Patti Moran, who also wrote the industry bible Pet Sitting for Profit. In addition to offering the requisite pet-sitter resources, PSI also provides a comprehensive certification course that enables you to study online and at your own pace.
I further advise taking a pet first aid course, and otherwise learning as much as you can about dog health and wellness. There are times when you may be required to care for ailing or elderly pets, whereby you will be responsible for administering meds. So the more you know about pet health, the better.
Once you become an established sitter, word-of-mouth advertising will be your best friend. But you will need to ramp up your visibility in the beginning by effectively advertising and promoting your business through a variety of channels.
You don’t have to spend a lot to do so, either. There are many inexpensive and even free ways to get the word out, including:
Also, think outside the box. For example, get to know any local travel agents, as people who go on vacation or travel for business frequently seek the services of dog sitters. And network, network, network via local business groups, starting with the Chamber of Commerce, and by attending business and pet-related events in your community, while also getting to know anyone and everyone who might seek or know someone who could use your services.
While pooches may be your grand passion, the willingness and ability to care for other types of pets will enable you to broaden your business horizons. So consider (and learn about) caring for cats, bunnies, fish, reptiles, rodents, birds, and other critters.
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About the author: Alissa Wolf is an award-winning journalist who specializes in writing about pets and the industry that serves them. Her very first pet was an irrepressible miniature poodle named Peppy, who taught her the meaning of patience. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and her blog, Critter Corner.