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Start a Pet-Sitting Service
CAREER OPPORTUNITIES Flexible hours, Promising salary. Holidays
negotiable. Be your own boss. No experience necessary.
If you spotted the above ad in the Help Wanted section of
your local newspaper would you laugh, "Too good to be
true"? But it is true! Have you always said, "I'd
never have the money or the skill to start my own business."
But you do! One of the easiest businesses to start and operate
requires very little money. The only necessary skills are
patience, time, and lots of love. The business? Pet-sitting!
Jackie McDonald owner of Jackie's Pals in Houston, Texas,
started her pet-sitting business after working eight years
in a doctor's office. "I wanted to do something I enjoy,"
she says. "I love animals and I find this work is very
calming." Mcdonald spoke with other pet-sitters in her
area and discovered how busy they all were. She felt her neighborhood
could support another pet-sitter. She was right. Mcdonald
just completed a very busy and successful holiday season.
Pet-sitting involves going into someone's home and caring
for a pet when the owner isn't available. The service can
include plant watering and mail and newspaper pick-up. The
focus, however, is on the animal. Pet-sitting saves a client
and the animal the aggravation of dealing with a kennel. Clients
expect a variety of services: feeding, watering, liter box
cleaner, pill giving, and especially some Tender Loving Care
for a lonely animal who misses its master.
Owning a pet-sitting business has many of the same advantages
of owning any business--you are your own boss, you set your
own hours (depending on the number of clients you serve per
day), and your paycheck will be limited only by your willingness
to work. McDonald especially enjoys the flexible hours. "I
also work out of my home," she says, "and that's
a big advantage," Another advantage of pet-sitting is
the opportunity of getting to know some real characters: Missy,
the cat that only eats facing north (a real example, believe
it or not), or Rufus, the blue-footed Amazon parrot who refuses
to stay in a cage. Your list will be endless. McDonald describes
the pleasure she finds in meeting both pets and their owners,
"Ninety-nine percent of the people are very nice. Most
are concerned about their pets or they wouldn't call me. And
the animals love me no matter what."
As with any business,pet-sitting has a few disadvantages
as well. If the business is to succeed, long hours and hard
work is necessary. "this is not a get rich-quick scheme,"
McDonald says. Holidays will be especially busy. Servicing
fifteen pets, each two times a day is not an unreasonable
expectation. This doesn't leave much time for football viewing
on New Year's Day. Unless you're a real animal lover some
of the tasks can be unpleasant: Who wants to clean a litter
box twice a day for two weeks? But that wildly wagging tail
or the purr of a lonely animal that greets you at the door
does make it worth the trouble. So do those paychecks at the
end of the Christmas holidays. "you must truly love animals,"
McDonald advises, "or you won't enjoy this business."
Startup costs for pet-sitting business are small. Expenses
can be divided into three categories: marketing, insurance,
and transportation. Initial outlay can be as little as $200
or as much as 4300 if you choose to pay for a visit to an
accountant. That isn't a bad idea. An accountant can explain
tax laws and policies governing this type of business. In
some states, for example, he or she will tell you not to charge
sales tax because you perform a service that is not taxable.
Although most clients will come your way by word of mouth,
invest in a few marketing tools. Business cards are essential.
Costing anywhere from $25 to $50, business cards can be placed
anywhere pets are found--pet shops and vet clinics. Because
most vet clients have kennel facilities, some may not allow
you to place your card with them. Establish a relationship
with a vet in your area, though, and he or she will begin
to recommend you when the kennel facility is full. Design
a flyer and place copies on community bulletin boards, church
bulletin boards, at the grocery store, and any other place
you can think of. "Welcome-to-the-community" associations
may be willing to give your card to new residents, too. Keep
trying to get your business known. People will be delighted
with this service when they hear that you are a top quality
pet-sitter. If you can afford it, buy an answering machine.
Once your business is booming, you'll need one to take all
your business calls.
Clients will ask if you are bonded. This means that an insurance
company finds you trustworthy and is willing to put this in
writing. An insurance policy protects the homes you enter.
If something is broken while you are there, your policy will
cover it. Being bonded, however does not protect against damage
to pets while in your care. With this type of policy, your
premium increases as your business increases. Initially your
coverage cost $100 per year. As you client list increases,
you can pay as much as $500 per year. Being bonded, however,
is worth the expense. Clients are more likely to use your
service if they know you're backed by an insurance company.
Keep a log of business miles traveled in your car. Also keep
track of gas and auto expenses. These are all tax deductible.
What are the mechanics involved with pet-sitting? When a
client calls, arrange a meeting before his departure. This
gives you an opportunity to see the pet, familiarize yourself
with the routine, and get a key. The client also gets to check
you out and give instructions. Appear professional. Have a
printed instruction sheet ready for the client to complete.
Include space for emergency phone numbers and vet information.
Also include a section on pet preferences. A pet whose routine
has no disruptions is a much happier one when his master returns.
The master will be satisfied and you'll reap the benefits
by gaining a repeat client.
"Suggest that clients limit changes to a pet's routine,"
McDonald advises. the pet will be happier and easier to care
for. Provide references to all clients who ask. When you're
just starting out, ask a neighbor whose cat you've fed once
or twice if she'll be a reference. Most clients won't call
references, but will be wary if you've got no one to vouch
for you. An important note here: ask clients to be specific
about when they'll returning. Have them call you when they
do get home. Avoid the disaster of one pet-sitter who clients
was three days delayed and whose cat went unfed for that time.
When you return your clients key you pickup your payment.
WHAT TO CHARGE
Determining a fee is a personal matter. McDonald consulted
other pet-sitters in the area to determine an appropriate
charge. fees range anywhere form $5 to $10 per visit. Some
pet-sitters charge more for initial visit and less for subsequent
visits. The fee will also depend on the number of pets involved
and the amount of trouble they will be. Obviously the household
with three cats, a turtle, two birds, and a hamster should
be charged more than the one with a single dog. Decide in
advance what your limits are, too. If you don't care to feed,
water, and brush a horse each day be prepared to say no. Once
your business takes off, one turned down request won't affect
A wide variety of people will use a pet-sitting service.
Certainly vacationers will be a number-one market. Therefore,
holiday times will be extremely busy. Some people own pets
but have little time to spend with them--couples who both
work full-time, and singles who travel.
A few words of advice and notes of caution:
* Be prepared for a mess. Bored animals are messy little
things. They knock over plants, break vases, and chew furniture.
Although yours is not a house-cleaning service, your clients
will appreciate your efforts to tidy things up.
* Follow your client's instructions to the letter. Even if
no one but you knows Fido ate exactly at 6 P.M., do what is
asked. Owners can detect when a pet's routine has gone wary.
* Pregnant women should be aware of a condition known as
toxoplasmosis. caused by a parasitic organism found in cat
feces, toxoplasmosis can cause severe damage to a fetus. Pregnant
women should use extreme caution when disposing of cat feces
or else wait until after the baby is born to start a pet-sitting
* Expect a few complainers. Most clients will love you. Some,
however will be annoyed that Fifi's nails grew too long while
she was in your care, or that Bucky seems listless since their
A pet-sitting business is an easy one to start. The only
requirement is a real love for animals. You will find that
people are quite interested in your service and are more than
willing to pay for it. McDonald sums it up this way: "this
is a very time consuming business. But I really enjoy it and
I've learned from it. You're certainly compensated and it
is very satisfying."
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