As a professional pet sitter, you have a responsibility to protect your clients and their pets, as well as yourself and your business. For your own safety—and sanity—you also want to ensure that all clients clearly understand the services you will be providing, your policies and procedures and what is expected from the pet owners.
What’s the easiest way to make sure this happens? A pet-sitting contract.
Your company’s pet-sitting contract, also called a services agreement, should clearly outline the services you will provide, limitations and important information about the clients’ pet and home-care needs.
Of course, you’ll also record clients’ contact information, particularly the their phone number. You’ll want to be able to call or text them to let them know everything is going well or to get in touch with them if necessary, right?
Well…maybe…but not so fast.
It’s a new technologically-advanced world and we can consume information—including communications from friends, family and service providers—through a variety of media—not just through a phone call.
So, while it’s important to make note of your client’s phone number, don’t forget to include this one additional piece of information in your pet-sitting contract—Preferred contact method.
Why is it so important to ask for the preferred contact method?
It’s vital to know how you should get in touch with the client while he or she is away. Don’t assume that because a client lists a cell phone as the primary contact method that he or she is open to receiving calls or texts.
Some clients may have a cell phone, but no texting or data plan. Others have limited call minutes, but unlimited texting.
Be sure to ask and note the preference on the pet-sitting contract.
Others may have limited cell-phone access, depending on where they will be, but plan to check e-mail regularly for updates. Be sure to note this on the pet-sitting contract as well.
A picture is worth a thousand words…and cell-phone data overage charges.
Be sure to ask, too, if clients would like to receive photos of their pets via text or e-mail while they are away.
While most clients will love receiving photos, some may not have a cell phone data plan that allows for photos (or they may be charged data fees).
You may have some clients that do not want you to text photos of their pets because of their data plan restrictions, but may have other access to the internet to check photos of their pets that you post to your social media pages.
Remember, you should always get your clients’ permission before ever sharing any of their pets’ photos online. You can ask for permission to do this on your pet-sitting contract as well.
If you do share photos of your clients’ pets online, be sure to keep these safety precautions in mind.
Keep your clients’ expectations in mind.
It’s also important to understand your clients’ expectations about how often they expect to be contacted.
For new clients, especially, a text or call after the first visit to confirm that everything is okay is much appreciated. Some clients may request a call or text after each visit.
Creating your pet-sitting contract…
Remember, combined with pet-sitter liability insurance, your pet-sitting contract is your best defense against possible legal claims against your company. It is worth investing the time and money to have your pet-sitting contract reviewed by a legal advisor to ensure it meets the legal requirements in your jurisdiction.
Do you need help creating your pet-sitting service contract?
Download PSI’s free e-book, “Creating a pet-sitting service contract & other pet-sitting forms to consider.”
This free e-book from Pet Sitters International (PSI):
- explains the 7 items your pet-sitting contract should include.
- suggests other pet-sitting forms that are beneficial to your business.
Download our copy today.
Offering dog-walking services is just good business. Dog walking brings in a steady income which can help increase your pet-care business' cash flow. And with pet ownership at an all-time high (83.3 million dogs in the U.S.!), the need for dog-walking services is greater than ever!
Download PSI’s free e-book, “How You Can Create a Professional Dog-Walking Service.”
Before you start your own dog-walking service, or add dog walking to the services your pet-care business offers, Pet Sitters International offers these four tips to help you successfully offer dog-walking services:
1. Educate yourself. An understanding of canine behavior is important when walking dogs. Staying up-to-date on your pet first aid skills is important as well. You’ll also want to be knowledgeable about collars, harnesses and leashes. Dog collars come in a variety of types, and the dog owner may not always have the best one for his or her dog. Knowledge of dog collars, harnesses and leashes will help you recommend the right one for the dog and enable you to walk the dog more easily and safely. The right collar depends on the dog, the situation and the dog walker. Whatever collar you use should be approved by the dog’s owner and used correctly.
2. Set policies and stick with them. Establishing your dog-walking service requires that you set up procedures and policies in advance. Of course, you can modify your policies as needed, but it’s extremely important to have some basic guidelines established and written down ahead of time. This prevents you from having to decide upon policies on the fly when a client asks a question. If you have staff dog walkers, it is important that you make them aware of your company’s policies as well.
Policies you will want to decide upon include your business hours, dog-walking hours, your service area and how you will handle clients’ keys. You will also want to determine your cancellation policy, a policy for walking dogs in inclement weather and how you will handle dogs with behavioral issues.
3. Know the Risks. As you set your policies, you also want to be aware of the risks of specific dog-walking services. For example, you may have a client ask that her dog be walked off leash. Dogs certainly enjoy running and playing off leash, but this can present risks and liabilities. Some municipalities have leash laws that do not permit dogs to be off leash ever, while others allow dogs to be off leash in designated areas only. Many pet sitters let clients know upfront that all dogs walked will be on leash. Some dog walkers who do accommodate requests for off-leash walking have the pet owners sign a waiver.
Business Insurers of the Carolinas, PSI’s Preferred Provider for liability insurance and bonding for professional pet sitters and dog walkers in the U.S., advises professional pet-care providers to be alert when walking dogs. Some of the most costly insurance claims result from dog bites and the most frequent type of dog bite occurs when a sitter is on a walk and allows a third party to get too close to a pet.
Read about four dog-walking claims that totaled more than $74,000.
4. Make a plan to market your dog-walking services. When you start your dog-walking service you’ll want to get clients…fast! Fortunately, there are many ways to market your dog-walking services to local pet owners that cost little to nothing.
First, know your target audience. Why would someone want a midday dog walk? Pet owners with new puppies who can’t hold it until their person comes home from work can benefit from the services of a dog walker. Pet owners with adult dogs can use dog walkers to help their dogs who may be overweight and in need of additional exercise. Senior dogs often become incontinent, so a midday walk helps prevent accidents in their home. Essentially, all dogs can benefit from the extra TLC that a midday dog walk provides!
Issuing a press release to local papers announcing the opening of your dog-walking service is a great (and free!) way to garner media coverage for your new business. Depending on your budget, you can also consider taking out an ad in a local paper or community newsletter. Online marketing—from your business website to social media sites like Facebook and YouTube—offers numerous ways to get the word out to local pet owners.
You can read more marketing tips in PSI’s free e-book, “How You Can Create a Professional Dog-Walking Service.”
Did you know that the first week of October is International Customer Service Week? According to the CSWeek.com website, two of the week’s goals are to raise companywide awareness of the importance of customer service and remind customers of your commitment to customer satisfaction.
If you are a professional pet sitter, it’s important to understand that your customer service can make or break your business.
At PSI’s recent conference, presenter Rob Nager, owner of Decadent Dog, Inc., shared some startling statistics that highlight the importance of excellent customer service:
- It costs six times more to attract new customers than to keep old ones.
- For every unsatisfied customer who complains, there are 26 who say nothing and take their business elsewhere.
- An unhappy customer tells between 8-20 other people!
According to Rob, having a “customer service attitude” is a vital trait that all professional pet sitters and dog walkers should have. But, what exactly is a “customer service attitude?”
Rob defines it as “the inherent ability to look at every interaction with the customer as an opportunity for customer delight and service excellence.”
There’s no question, however, that some clients can be more difficult to delight than others. So, how can you make sure your human clients are as happy as your four-legged clients?
PSI offers these 7 tips to help professional pet sitters provide excellent customer service:
1. Be clear. Make sure your clients understand what you offer, what you charge and what you expect from clients, particularly when it comes to company’s policies and procedures. Be upfront about your cancellation policy, what forms of payment you accept, when payment is due and if visits will be performed by you or staff sitters. Making sure your clients understand your policies and procedures prevents confusion and can minimize complaints down the road.
2. Be responsive. Most pet sitters cannot be available 24/7, but prospective and current clients deserve a timely response to inquiries sent via e-mail, social media or voicemail. Indicate your office hours and the times you return calls on your voicemail and stick to it. Consider adding an auto-response to your e-mail indicating that the message has been received and will be responded to during business hours.
Don’t forget social media, either. Check your account daily or have notifications sent to your phone or e-mail so that you can respond to online messages or posts in a timely manner as well.Also keep in mind that many pet owners will want regular updates on their pets while they are away.
Yes, you are very busy—but remember how you feel when you are away from your pets. Most pet parents are thrilled with updates sent via e-mail or text to let them know that their pets are doing well.
3. Do what is promised. Never cut corners—even when an overwhelmingly busy holiday schedule or a bad day tempts you to cut a pet-sitting visit short. Not providing the services you have been contracted to perform is one of the easiest ways to ruin your company’s reputation. If you do have to shorten visits (perhaps offering shorter check-in visits on major holidays to accommodate your increased number of clients), make sure clients know in advance.The best advice: Always perform your pet-sitting visits as if you are being watched (and with today’s technology, it is always possible that you are!)
4. Show appreciation. Without you, your clients would be unable to work long hours or travel with the peace of mind that their pets are in great hands. You certainly deserve their appreciation, but don’t forget to appreciate them as well. As the marketplace continues to grow, pet owners have more and more pet-care options, so be sure to let your clients know how much you appreciate them for entrusting you with the care of their beloved pets.A simple “thank you” on their final invoice or a periodic call or note to show your appreciation can go a long way.
5. Don’t forget the small details. During your pet-sitting visits, the pets in your care are your top priority—and giving them care and attention is your #1 job. But, don’t forget that small details can make a huge impact in your clients’ satisfaction. Make sure the clients’ homes are as clean (or cleaner) as when you entered—no stray cat litter or muddy paw prints.Also remember to leave daily notes or send your clients—particularly first-time clients—a photo of their pet happy at home by text or e-mail. Your attention to the small details reflects on your passion and professionalism—and can make a great impression on your two-legged clients.
6. Ask for regular feedback. The easiest way to determine if you are providing excellent customer service? Ask. Include a brief feedback survey (and a self-addressed, stamped envelope) with the final invoice. Or better yet, save paper and a stamp by e-mailing a brief customer satisfaction survey to clients at the conclusion of your pet-sitting visits.
If you only want to use this survey for new clients, be sure to still follow up with longtime clients periodically as well. Be sure to thank your clients for their feedback and address any concerns that may be noted in the surveys promptly.
Feedback surveys are also a great source of client testimonials for your pet-sitting service!
7. Share your customer service policy with staff sitters. As a professional pet-sitting business owner, providing excellent customer service is one of your top goals. If you use staff sitters, make sure your sitters understand your customer service policy as well. Every staff sitter contributes to your company’s reputation so it is important to make sure that they all provide the same level of excellent customer service as you.
Another reason customer service is so important?
For companies providing in-home pet sitting, repeat clients are essential. Keeping your two-legged clients happy is the key to the success of your pet-sitting business
Remember, word travels…fast. More than 90% of the pet sitters responding to PSI’s 2011 State of the Industry Survey indicated that “word of mouth” was one of their top forms of pet-sitting advertisement.
Your clients talk to other pet owners about the service your pet-sitting business provides. Give them a good story to tell!
Do you have other customer service tips that have worked well for your pet-sitting business? Share below.
“Do I need to be bonded, especially if it is just me - no staff sitters?” is a question we receive a lot here at Pet Sitters International (PSI).
It is important you contact your insurance company or insurance agent for questions regarding your insurance coverage or bond; but PSI provides these general guidelines to help you in determining whether or not purchasing a dishonesty bond is a good decision for your pet-sitting business.
What is a bond (or dishonesty bond)?
First, it’s important to understand what a bond is and what it covers.
PSI pet sitters have access to both pet-sitter liability insurance and a pet-sitter dishonesty bond through PSI Preferred Provider Business Insurers of the Carolinas (BIC).
According to BIC’s website, the pet-sitter dishonesty bond “protects you and your customers from loss as a result of theft committed by you or your employees.” Simply put, the bond (or dishonesty bond) pays out to a client in the event that you (or a staff sitter) stole property and/or money from the client's home.
For the particular policy offered through BIC, “employee” refers to all owners, full and part-time employees or independent contractors. If you have or are considering purchasing a bond through another agency, you should contact them directly to determine who is covered under the policy. In a recent discussion on PSI’s Facebook page, some pet sitters indicated that their bond did not cover the owner of the company.
When does the pet-sitter dishonesty bond pay out?
The pet-sitter dishonesty bond available to PSI pet sitters through BIC will apply in cases where proof has been established that the accused party has committed a crime. In these cases, the client will receive payment up to the limit of the particular pet-sitter dishonesty bond that was purchased by the business owner. Once the claim is paid, the insurance underwriter will seek restitution from the guilty party. So, if a staff sitter is found to have stolen from a client’s home, the individual sitter will be liable for the restitution—and not you, the business owner.
Should you purchase a pet-sitter dishonesty bond for your pet-sitting business?
For pet-sitting businesses with staff sitters, the answer seems clear—YES. As a pet-sitting business owner, it is your obligation to protect yourself and your clients, particularly when using staff sitters. This involves carefully screening any potential staff sitters (including background checks) and both insuring and bonding your pet-sitting company.
If you are a sole proprietor with no staff, however, is a pet-sitter dishonesty bond still
necessary? Obviously, you know you would not commit a crime, so on the surface, it would seem the bond would not be needed if you are not using staff.
However, as the pet-sitting industry grows, conscientious pet owners have become more aware of professional pet sitters, what questions to ask and what credentials to look
for. Insurance and bonding are often at the top of their lists.
PSI member Jessica M. shared on Facebook that she recommends that even solo pet sitters
“I got a client for this particular reason. They are wealthy with a lot of expensive stuff at their place and their first requirement was that I be bonded; even though I was working by myself and had references.”
Some pet sitters weighing in on the bonding discussion on PSI’s Facebook page say
they’ve opted to not be bonded if they don’t have staff sitters. However the majority say they choose to be bonded because they feel it is a part of being a professional pet sitter and gives clients peace of mind.
Through BIC, a sole proprietor can purchase a bond for around only $50 per year. PSI
encourages pet sitters to make this small investment and purchase a pet-sitter dishonesty bond.
Long-time pet sitter and PSI member Janet F., who also joined in the bonding discussion on
Facebook, said “It’s the best $50 I have ever spent!”
Maintaining a pet-sitter dishonesty bond (in addition to pet-sitter liability insurance) is a
great advertising point and can give your pet-sitting business a competitive advantage over other pet sitters who are not insured and bonded. By having the bond, you give the pet owners (who do not know you) the extra assurance that they are protected.
Do you need more information on the pet-sitter dishonesty bond or pet-sitter liability insurance?
PSI has partnered with Business Insurers of the Carolinas for many years to offer members a special group rate on pet-sitter liability insurance and access to the pet-sitter dishonesty bond. Their coverage is affordable and comprehensive.
Learn more on BIC’s website or by calling (800) 962-4611. You can also download this free
resource from PSI to learn what you need to know about finding the right pet-sitter insurance
for your business.
Advertising your pet-sitting business is an ongoing task. As clients relocate and more pet-care options enter your area, marketing your business is necessary for continued growth.
Maybe you always keep business cards handy and you’ve participated in all of the recent local pet fairs and festivals, but you just aren’t getting as many new clients as you’d like. Or, maybe you have grown so dependent upon word-of-mouth promotions that you want to try some new avenues for promoting your business but you aren’t sure where to start.
The best marketing ideas often come from fellow pet sitters, so PSI recently posed this question on its Facebook page:
“What marketing/advertising tactic works best for your pet-sitting business? What's the most unique marketing idea that's ever worked well for your pet-sitting business?”
We’ve compiled the most common suggestions to provide the list below.
Five marketing ideas you can try this year for your pet-sitting business:
1. Referrals. Many pet sitters noted that they are able to gain new pet-sitting clients through referrals from veterinarians and other pet-care professionals, such as trainers and groomers.
Referrals won’t likely happen overnight, however, unless you already have an existing relationship with your local veterinarians, trainers and groomers. If you haven’t networked with these pet professionals before, schedule a time to drop by and introduce yourself and your pet-sitting business. Remember to bring your pet-sitter presentation book with you.
Keep in mind that you shouldn’t simply ask the veterinarian (or trainer, groomer, etc.) to share your brochures or business cards with their clients and offer nothing in return. One pet sitter explained she and a local pet salon worked together to offer clients a special rate when using the pet sitter’s pet taxi service to transport pets to their pet salon appointments. Both she and the pet salon owner benefitted from the co-promotion.
Don’t forget your local animal shelters and pet-rescue organizations. Many pet sitters have reported gaining new clients by including pet-sitting discount coupons in the information packets given to individuals who adopt from the shelter. This is a great way to show your pet-sitting business supports pet adoption and promotes your pet-sitting business to new pet owners who will likely be in need of your services. PSI pet sitters, don’t forget you can download free, customizable pet adoption coupons in the PSI Member Template Gallery.
2. Social Media. Multiple pet sitters responding to our Facebook post raved about the positive impact using social media had on their pet-sitting businesses. More than half of PSI pet sitters report using social media for their pet-sitting businesses. PSI’s survey found that, overwhelmingly, Facebook is the social media site of choice for pet sitters. If you don’t have a Facebook page for your pet-sitting business, consider setting up a page—it’s quick and free to create. If you are already on Facebook, take a close look at your company’s social media strategy and see if you are using social media to its fullest potential. Be sure to check out these six tips to improve your pet-sitting service’s social media presence.
Don’t limit yourself to only posting about your pet-sitting business on your company’s Facebook page. One pet sitter who responded to our Facebook post said she had great success in attracting new clients by sharing about her pet-sitting business on local Facebook yard sale and animal interest pages.
Not sure if there are Facebook yard sale or animal interest pages in your area? Simply type your city name and “yard sale” or “pets” in the Facebook search box for a list of Facebook pages and groups specific to your local area.
3. Vehicle signage. If you are like many pet sitters, you spend a lot of time driving in your vehicle. Many pet sitters have found success letting their vehicle advertise for them by using magnetic vehicle signage. The great thing about magnetic signs for your vehicle is that they can be easily removed when you are on actual pet sits to protect your clients’ privacy. One pet sitter explained she kept her magnetic signage on her vehicle when going to meet and greets so she was easily identifiable by the pet owners when she arrived to meet them for the first time, but removed the signage when she performed the actual pet-sitting assignment.
Keep your signage on your vehicle when you are running errands or attending local events. One pet sitter described how when she would go to the grocery store in a local shopping center, she would park her vehicle (with magnetic signage) a few stores down in front of a local pet store then walk to the grocery store. She said that she had returned to her car many times to find pet owners standing behind her vehicle writing down the contact information from her vehicle signage.
Some pet sitters also use vehicle business card holders and brochure holders. Waterproof business card and brochure holders can be easily attached to your vehicle window any time you park your car—and give pet owners an opportunity to grab a brochure or business card to learn more about your pet-sitting business even when you are not around to meet them.
4. Client referrals. Word-of-mouth promotion is always important. In fact, more than 90% of pet sitters report that word of mouth is one of the main sources of advertising they use for their businesses. First and foremost, the easiest way to ensure your pet-sitting business gets client referrals is to offer excellent service during each and every pet-sitting assignment. There’s nothing clients appreciate more than the peace-of-mind knowing their pets are in good hands while they’re away—but it never hurts to provide some extra motivation for current clients to spread the word.
One pet sitter shared that she offers a $10 referral bonus each time a client refers a new client that books pet-sitting services. She said she always sees a boost in referrals near her current clients’ vacation times, as they look to apply these savings to their upcoming visits.
While offering a referral discount is a great way to encourage your clients to spread the word about your business, there are other ways you can get your clients talking—or posting. Do you share clients’ pet photos on your company’s social media pages? Consider highlight a “Pet of the Week” on your company’s Facebook page. (Remember, you want to make sure you have a clients’ permission before sharing any photos of their pets online and keep these safety tips for sharing pet photos online in mind.) Encourage your clients to tag and share their pets’ photos. When they share the photo from your page, your Facebook page (and, in turn, your company) is promoted to all of their online friends.
You want your clients to refer your pet-sitting business to their friends and family to show how much they value your services, but don’t forget to show your clients how much you appreciate them as well. There’s no question that as a professional pet sitter you offer a priceless service to pet owners, but without their continued business (and referrals), your pet-sitting business could not succeed. So, don’t forget to show them how much you care—leave behind a pet report card after visits, give them valuable information about pet-health or behavior and a little gift never hurts! With the holidays coming up, consider leaving a small gift (pet photo, pet treats, etc.) and a thank-you note for clients. You can be sure they will appreciate it—and spread the word about how great their pet sitter is!
5. Website. In today’s Internet-driven world, a website is a must for your pet-sitting business. If you don’t have one, start working on a plan to establish an online presence for your pet-sitting business. In the meantime, you can create a Facebook page (which will show up in online search results). If you want to start small, PSI offers a simple Web Wizard program to create a basic website or some pet sitters use free blog sites, like WordPress.
One pet sitter responding on Facebook said that when she started pet sitting, the first thing she did was create her website—and more than 90% of her clients said they found her online.
If you are just getting started with your online presence, be sure to check out these five tips for creating your pet-sitting business website. If you already have a website for your pet-sitting business, make sure you are tracking your website traffic. The information your website provides can be vital in helping you determine the best marketing strategies for your business going forward. If you are not familiar with Google Analytics or not sure what information you should be keeping an eye on in your Google Analytics dashboard, be sure to read this past blog post on three important pet-sitting business website insights Google Analytics can provide.
In addition to your website, make sure your company’s information is also posted and up-to-date in other places around the Web. If your pet-sitting business is listed on PSI’s Pet Sitter Locator, make sure your information is accurate. There are also many local online directories and review sites to consider, such as Yelp, Yahoo Local and Google Places. Many pet sitters also promote their pet-sitting services on other free sites like Craigslist.
You can also find a plethora of online pet-sitter directories that have popped up on the Internet in recent years. Posting on these sites can be a way to increase your online presence and attract new clients, but you want to do your research before posting your business information on any online pet-sitter directory.
More Marketing Ideas for Your Pet-Sitting Business
Promoting your pet-sitting business doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. Pet sitters on shoestring budgets can easily promote their pet-sitting services successfully by trying a variety of marketing ideas to determine which works best in their service area.
If you’d like more ideas, download this free resource from PSI, “10 Low-Cost Marketing Ideas for Pet Sitters.”
What marketing ideas have you found to be most successful for your pet-sitting business? Share your experiences and tips in the comments section below.
With more than 75 percent of PSI pet sitters sharing photos of clients’ pets on their company’s social media sites, it’s clear that pet sitters are already figuring out that social media users love pictures! In fact, one study found that photos and other images uploaded by businesses to their Facebook pages get 53 percent more “likes” than updates that include only text or a link. Business experts agree that sharing more photos can help increase your number of social media followers—and you can use your own photos and images or share those posted by others. Photos that evoke an emotional response are particularly effective.
If you are sharing images of cartoons or quotes make sure they are in good taste and not offensive to your online audience.
Also remember to ask permission before sharing photos of clients’ pets and always take extra precautions to ensure that your online photo sharing doesn’t jeopardize your clients’ privacy.
Are those cute pet photos putting you—or your pet-sitting clients—at risk?
Some say Internet privacy is an oxymoron. While that’s probably true, it’s also true that the more you educate yourself on the pitfalls of life online, the safer you’ll be. Take smartphones, for instance. They’re great for taking quick photos of pets to send clients—or even to upload to social media. You just ask permission and point and click, right? Not so fast . . .
Remember anti-virus software founder John McAfee? After hiding from Belize authorities last fall and boasting about it to the media, McAfee was finally caught when he crossed the border into Guatemala. Did someone close to him betray him? Hardly. He allowed a blogger to take his photo with an iPhone and post it online. Authorities used the embedded information in the photo to pinpoint his exact location.
If even John McAfee can be caught off guard, what does that mean for the rest of us? It means we need to pay very close attention to Internet security! When speaking of smartphone cameras, Joel Brenner, former senior counsel at the National Security Agency, said, “This is a tracking device, there’s no question about it, and we’re all carrying one now.”
What is EXIF?
At issue is something called EXIF or Exchangeable Image File Format. When a photo or video is taken by phone, tablet or digital camera, metadata is embedded in the photo. (Metadata describes other data. In other words, it provides information about the contents of a particular item, such as a digital photo.) While this isn’t anything new to professionals — who use it to find useful information such as photo resolution and file type — phones, tablets and even certain digital cameras equipped with GPS capabilities that provide these details are still relatively unknown to the rest of us.
“Geotags,” or geographical information added to digital photos, can be viewed and extracted by anyone with a little know-how— instructions abound on the Web— and can potentially put you and your clients at risk. Photos uploaded with EXIF still intact can show the date and time the photo was taken as well as the exact geographic location. With a simple plugin to Google Earth, the client home can be quickly identified and even looked at online. It’s a safe bet that most clients have no idea this is possible.
Pet sitters, be mindful of Internet safety.
For this reason, it’s vital for you to protect not only your clients but yourself. Not only could a thief or stalker target client homes, he could also tell when you’re not at home and, if you post regularly, where you’re likely to be at a particular time. Although this is troubling news, there are a few things you can do to guard your privacy.
1. Turn off location services on some of your location-sharing apps. Find the location-sharing settings on your phone and turn off any you think might be risky. Most will let you turn them off for individual apps rather than turning them off globally.
2. Remove EXIF tags before sharing or publishing photos. Both iPhone and Android store GPS data by default. Using an inexpensive app like deGeo for iPhone and iPad or free app Photo Privacy Editor for Android strips the geotags from your photos. A simple Google search will show you other apps as well as websites that will also perform this function.
Windows Users: Select a photo or group of photos in Windows Explorer, right click, and then click Properties. Under the Details tab click Remove Properties and Personal Information. Click OK in the window that comes up. You'll then have a copy of each photo in the same folder. The copied photos won’t have EXIF tags and will be safe to share. If you’re using a version of Windows that doesn’t support this feature, an even better option is Easy EXIF Delete, an easy, free site that is certified by Microsoft.
Mac Users: Although Mac doesn’t have built-in help, there are several free apps available to strip out EXIF. One that is frequently used is SmallImage.
Is it safe to share photos of clients’ pets on Facebook?
It’s important to note that Facebook automatically strips out EXIF when you post photos. Since Facebook is the most widely used platform for members to post pet photos, that’s good news. For other sites, however, proceed with caution.
Although more and more sites are moving toward greater privacy—particularly since high profile celebrities have posted photos on Twitter that enabled fans to find their homes—you would almost have to be a detective to figure out exactly which sites strip EXIF and which don’t.
Certain sites such as eBay claim to do so, but stories abound on the Web from people who claim to have had merchandise stolen by thieves using EXIF data to locate their homes. Craigslist is an even bigger risk, as it doesn’t even pretend to delete EXIF, so be sure to remove it before you advertise Grandma’s antique table. Sites such as Foursquare and Flickr also leave EXIF data in.
Rather than trying to figure it all out, the safest thing to do is either turn off your device’s GPS capabilities or make sure all photos are stripped before sharing them anywhere on the Internet. Both you and your clients will be better protected.
For more information about geotags and online safety, visit http://www.wikihow.com/Avoid-the-Potential-Risks-of-Geotagging.
There are about one million more cats owned in the US than dogs, yet many people—including pet sitters—know so much more about dogs.
According to PSI’s last State of the Industry Survey, 96 percent of PSI member businesses offer cat-sitting services. As pet sitters continue to offer more specialized services, some professional pet sitters offer cat sitting only, exclusively focusing on feline-owning households.
For pet sitters offering cat-sitting services, it’s important to stay up-to-date on cat behavior and care information and have resources to share with cat-owning clients.
PSI has compiled the list of its public and members-only resources on cat sitting, cat behavior and cat care below to serve as a quick reference for common cat-sitting questions.
Solving Feline Behavior Problems
A cat’s behavior is motivated by several predictable needs:
- to hunt
- to eat
- to establish/maintain territory
- to play
- to reproduce
- to seek safety
- to interact
Help for Hairballs
Most cat owners are aware of what a hairball is, what causes them and how dangerous they can be.
If your cat is stricken with hairballs, check out these four ways to help prevent hairballs.
Litter Box Tips from Kitty Owners
Most cats are naturally attracted to a litter box because it provides a place for them to cover their waste.
However, there are a few things you can do to encourage good litter box habits.
3 Tips for Better Cat Sitting
While dogs may rule, cats are king—and true cat lovers spare no expense to ensure that their beloved kitties receive the best care possible. For pet sitters, keeping cat clients happy should be a top priority. While many may agree dog-sitting visits require more work, attention should also be given to providing quality cat-sitting services.
Consider these three tips to keep your clients meowing about your purrfect cat-sitting services.
Cat-Sitting Insurance Issues
Business Insurers of the Carolinas, PSI's Preferred Provider for pet-sitter insurance and bonding, often gets the question from new sitters, “What kind of claims can I possibly have if I only take care of cats?”
This cat-claims briefing is dedicated to all of you who have asked that question over the years. As you will see, although the need for insurance may not be as obvious as it is with dog care, our feline friends can also incur claims.
The most often-reported cat-sitter insurance claim by far involves injecting insulin.
Cat Behavior—Quirk or Illness?
Due to the stoic nature and oft-quirky personalities of cats, it is sometimes difficult to recognize when a cat is suffering from an illness. A perfectly normal cat can be aloof, quiet or afraid. And a healthy cat can urinate outside the litter box, vomit once a week and meow non-stop.
Here are some common, and perhaps normal, cat-behavior traits that may also warrant further investigation.
Why Every Other Day Cat Sitting Visits are Not an Option
Anything can happen when pets are left alone—and cats are no exception. From potentially lethal ailments like the urethral blockage to potential home damages from a cat accidentally loosening a water hose behind a washing machine, not checking on a cat daily while the owner is away can have costly—or tragic—consequences for your business.
Learn why cat-sitting visits must be every day.
Cat Behavior & Care Webinar
In recognition of June's Adopt-A-Cat month, PSI offered a free member webinar that was all about cats. This webinar covered multiple aspects of cat behavior and attendees received a broad overview of feline information.
Did you miss it? Access the webinar recording and download the presentation slides.
Do you want to learn more about cat sitting (or starting a professional pet-sitting business?)
If you are not a PSI member and are interested in learning more about the educational resources—and array of member benefits and services—available through PSI, please contact PSI Member Services at (336) 983-9222, option 1, or by e-mail at email@example.com.
You can also take advantage of PSI’s free resource, “5 Must-Do Steps to Starting a Successful Pet-Sitting Business.”
The thing about being a professional pet-sitting business owner is that a big part of your job is being a business owner. For many, the pet sitting comes easy—from dog walks and kitty visits to continuing education in pet behavior, health and first aid—and the “pet part” is the “best part.” The other part, however, the “business part” of paperwork, documentation, scheduling, taxes and accounting is not nearly as fun for most—but equally important. Keeping on top of your accounting and understanding the tax deductions for pet sitters can save you time and money!
PSI asked PSI members on its Facebook page:
PSI pet sitters, how do you handle your accounting? Do you use a professional accountant or do you do your own recordkeeping?
Amy D.: An accountant is a must for me!
Shannon P.: I tried for three months on my own. I’ve been using the same accountant for almost twelve years now. I’d be lost without her.
Jay P.: I currently do my own because I have a previous financial background. However, my personal financial situation is getting more complex so I may seek specialized help.
Pam G.: I used to be an accountant, so I do all of my own!
Ann B.: I’ve done my own for ten years, but I am about to cave and hire someone. I don’t have employees, which made it so simple that I couldn’t justify paying someone to do what I could do myself.
Tina S.: I use an accountant. I don’t do math. And, life’s too short. Plus, I like being able to help another small-business owner.
Finding the right accountant for your pet-sitting business:
When it comes to handling tax and accounting for your pet-sitting business, it’s a good idea to find an accountant to assist you with necessary record keeping, unless your pre-pet sitting career involved bookkeeping or tax preparation.
Shop around when searching for an accountant and look for one that specializes in helping small-business owners. You should ask local pet sitters or other local small- business owners for recommendations and then interview a few accountants before making a decision.
Remember, accounting fees and expertise vary, so don’t be shy about asking for fee information, credentials and references from the accountants you meet.
An accountant will help you set up your books, do your payroll, and apply for any necessary identification numbers. An accountant can also save you some running around by supplying the forms you’ll need, such as state and federal payroll tax forms.
Although accounting procedures may at first seem overwhelming to a new business owner, a good accountant will soon have you trained and knowledgeable about the financial side of your business.
More tips from the pros…
How did you go about selecting your accountant? Are there any other taxes or accounting tips you would share with fellow pet sitters? Share your feedback in the comments section below.
Also, check out these tips from Enrolled Agent and owner of Taxpertise, Bonnie Lee:
5 Ways to Audit-Proof Your Tax Return
Tax Time: The importance of mileage logs
You can also view this free webinar from Pet Sitters International: “Tax Deductions for Professional Pet Sitters.”
Whether you are just starting pet sitting or have been pet sitting for years, attracting clients is likely a top priority. As pet owners move in and out of your area, the economy changes and more pet-sitting businesses open, it is more important than ever before that pet-sitting business owners understand the importance of making a good first impression.
While you may possess professionalism and passion for what you do, you are unlikely to get and keep new pet-sitting clients if pet owners can’t see that passion and professionalism—not only in how you interact with their pets, but also in how you promote and present your pet-sitting service.
It’s important to step back occasionally and look at your business with fresh eyes to see how local pet owners see your pet-sitting business.
1. Remember, the first impression often starts online. In today’s digital age, most consumers start their searches for service providers, including professional pet sitters, online.
Make sure local pet owners can easily find your pet-sitting business website online and that your site conveys your professionalism. If you have not created a business website or are looking to improve your current site, check out these five tips for creating your pet-sitting business website. Remember to make sure your website contains the basic information local pet owners need to know: the services you offer, your service area and how to contact you. Remember, your contact information should be included on every page of your website. Many pet sitters also include their pricing information online.
It is also important to make sure your social media profiles are consistent with your company’s branding and also reflect your professional image. Your pet-sitting business’ Facebook page or Twitter account is a great opportunity for prospective clients to learn more about you, your pet-sitting service and how you interact with your current pet-sitting clients. Be sure you share pet tips, photos and other useful information on your social media pages. Also, respond to all questions and comments made on your social media pages. As part of a good customer-service plan, you should respond promptly to social media posts just as you would phone calls or e-mails.
2. Does your voicemail message “speak” for your pet-sitting business? After researching your pet-sitting business online, interested pet owners will most likely take the next step and call you to learn more. This phone call typically determines if a pet owner will take the next step to schedule an initial consultation and, hopefully, book your pet-sitting services.
First, whether you use a landline or cell phone, you should have a business phone line separate from your personal phone line. Because you are often out caring for pets and unable to answer the phone, a professional-sounding voicemail message is also extremely important to make a positive impression on callers. Be sure your voicemail includes your company’s name, thanks the pet owner for calling, explains that you are busy caring for pets at the moment but will return their call in a timely manner. To manage their expectations, also include when the pet owner can expect to hear back from you (i.e. “ABC Pet Sitting returns all calls received prior to 4 p.m. on the same day. We look forward to speaking with you more about your pet-care needs!”)
Shared on Facebook:
“The initial phone call is the key to setting the stage for your professionalism and to discuss pricing and pets they have. It allows both sides to have enough info to decide to go forward with a meet and greet consultation.” –Laura E.
3. Make the most of your face-to-face consultations. Once you’ve scheduled an initial consultation with a local pet owner, you are one step away from booking a new pet-sitting client. As a professional pet sitter, you should require an initial consultation before accepting any new pet-sitting assignment. The initial consultation (or meet and greet consultation) allows the pet owners and their pets become more comfortable with you, it allows you to get acquainted with the pets, their routines and the household; and is a time for you to review your company’s policies and procedures, record important information about the pets and pet-sitting request and have the pet owner sign your service contract.
Remember, an initial consultation is a business meeting. You should allow 30-45 minutes for the meeting and if possible, conduct the meeting at a dining room or kitchen table, instead of on the living room sofa.
As a professional pet sitter, there’s no need for you to wear a business suit to an initial consultation, but clean, company-branded attire can go a long way in making a good first impression. Or, if you will be coming directly from a pet-sitting visit, simply let the clients know what to expect.
Shared on Facebook:
“We generally show up directly from another walk or sit. This means we're wearing our ‘easily identifiable apparel’ - and we are real, down to earth, and still professional (despite the fur!). We also warn them we'll be showing up that way, so there are no surprises. :) I think most folks actually like that they get to see exactly what they will get!”–Robin B.
Just in case the previous pet-sitting visit may be unusually messy, consider keeping a change of clothes, or an extra company shirt, in your car.
While you want to make sure you are able to get detailed written instructions about the care of the pets and home and discuss your company policies and procedures, you want to make sure you allow time to interact with the pets.
The potential client is sure to want to see how you and their pets interact, and you need to allow time for their pets to become comfortable with you.
4. Use a pet-sitter presentation book to discuss your pet-sitting business. A pet-sitter presentation book allows you to demonstrate your professionalism, industry credentials and accomplishments in a clear, organized manner.
It is perfect to use at initial consultations when time is limited. The information you include in your pet-sitter presentation book can also demonstrate to the pet owner that you are a trained professional and take your work seriously.
Shared on Facebook:
“I have a presentation book that contains a copy of my degree (BS Veterinary Science), proof of bonding and insurance, my city business license, PSI membership card, pet first aid and CPR certificate, BBB accreditation certificate, ‘orchids’ written about my business in our local newspaper, and some thank you notes from existing clients. I always get a lot of comments on how professional I am and how thorough my contract is too!” –Nicole H.
Learn how to create your own pet-sitter’s presentation book.
To learn more about creating your own pet-sitter presentation book, download this free resource from Pet Sitters International,
“Introduce your business with a pet-sitter’s presentation book.”
This free resource explains how to best use a presenation book when meeting with potential clients or other pet professionals and offers a list of items to include in your pet-sitter's presentation book.
Are there any other tips you would add that have helped you make great first impressions with potential pet-sitting clients?
Share your advice in the comments section below.
Continued economic challenges, combined with an influx of “hobbyist pet sitters” advertising online, are causing many pet sitters to stress over the impact it will have on business. Fortunately, spending on pets remains high, the need for pet-sitting services continues to grow, and by taking a few extra precautions, professional pet sitters can ensure their pet-sitting business remains the #1 choice for local pet owners.
To maintain the success of your pet-sitting business:
1. Diversify your services. Pet owners have many different needs. If the economy has caused a decrease in your pet-sitting assignments, consider other services that may benefit your existing and potential clients. Consider offering overnights, daily dog walks or pet taxi services, to name a few.
It’s also important to understand that pet sitting isn’t simply for dogs and cats anymore. In fact, a recent report from market research firm Packaged Facts says there are 116 million fish, birds, small mammals, reptiles and other such pets, including 7.2 million households with fish tanks, 4.6 million with bird cages and 1.8 million with reptiles. There are also 2.5 million adults who own rabbits. Are you effectively advertising your services to these pet owners and do you have the necessary pet-care knowledge to offer these services? If not, it’s the perfect time to learn. Consider the PSI Certification Program, speak with friends or family members who own these types of pets and seek out volunteer opportunities with pet-rescue groups or facilities that specialize in particular species to increase your knowledge and experience.
2. Re-examine your service area. While it is tempting to take any and every pet-sitting assignment—especially if business has been slow—consider your overhead costs. Traveling outside of your immediate service area costs additional money and time and offers little to no profit. Consider revising your service area, or charging a mileage fee for clients outside of a specific range. Focus marketing efforts on convenient neighborhoods that have proven to offer the largest clientele.
Another option is to hire staff sitters to handle these other assignments. If you decide to expand your pet-sitting staff, you’ll need to decide if you should hire employees or work with independent contractors. You’ll also need to determine the best way to locate and identify the best sitters for your business.
Also, always remember that it is okay to say “no” to a pet-sitting assignment, even if it is in your service area, if you feel uncomfortable. Pet sitters report that there are four main reasons they turn down pet-sitting assignments and it’s important to always listen to your gut.
3. Broaden your (marketing) horizons. E-mail and Internet marketing campaigns offer simple—and often free—ways to reach current and potential clients. Step outside of your comfort zone and consider trying social media, such as blogs, Facebook, YouTube or Twitter to promote your business to local pet owners.
Online advertising options are great, but don’t forget the power of word-of-mouth recommendations. Make it easy for your pet-sitting clients to spread the word about your services. Give them referral cards to share with their friends or family and consider offering a one-time discount to clients who refer new clients.
Local pet stores, groomers and animal shelters are also great places to advertise your services. Don’t simply ask to leave your brochures or business cards—give the business owner an incentive to allow you to advertise there by creating coupons especially for their customers. PSI members, you can download free, customizable coupon templates in the PSI Member Resource & Template Gallery.
4. Maintain excellent service. Spending less time at a visit or forgoing leaving a daily note may allow you to fit more visits in a day, but decreased service is never a good idea—in any economy. By continuing to offer stellar care and possibly even adding benefits, such as new client referral rewards, you are sure to outlast any economic downturn or increased influx of pet-sitting services in your area.
It’s also important to make sure your pet-sitting clients know what excellent service you are providing. Keep them informed about what you do for them and the standards to which you conform. Leave checklists and "report cards" after each pet-sitting assignment. Thank your customer with handwritten notes, e-mails and calls. Finally, ask them how you can improve, realign and expand your services to help them even more.
5. Network, Network, Network! The importance of networking can never be stressed enough. Involvement in a local pet-sitting network or networking with fellow pet sitters online through PSI’s Member Forum or in person at our annual Quest for Excellence convention is a great way to receive support, advice and referrals. A strong professional network is essential for success, regardless of the state of the economy.
You never know who could refer a new client, so don’t just limit your networking to pet-industry professionals. Many pet sitters report great client referrals from hair-salon owners, employees at medical facilities, travel agents, law enforcement and bank tellers. Recently, PSI pet sitter Pocono Pet Nanny got excellent exposure through a television commercial that came about from doing something we all do—buying and getting her car serviced at her local vehicle dealership. You never know who can help spread the word about your pet-sitting services!
What keeps your pet-sitting business successful?
With pet ownership on the rise, the pet-sitting industry continues to grow. It’s important for new pet sitters to establish a strong foundation for their business. For established professional pet sitters wanting to maintain or grow their businesses, it’s necessary to understand the mindset and routines of local pet owners and create a service package that meets their pet-care needs.
Has your pet-sitting business had to grow or adapt to remain successful in the current market? What are you doing differently now than you did five years ago to ensure that you continue to keep your current pet-sitting clients happy—and gain new clients?
Share your experiences and tips in the comments section below.