April is Pet First Aid Awareness Month—and it’s the perfect time for pet-sitting professionals and pet owners to brush up on tips to keep their pets healthy, happy and safe.
Dr. Emily Pointer, DVM, at Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital in New York City, said that the most important aspect pet owners should take away from National Pet First Aid Awareness Month is how critical it is to be prepared.
“An emergency situation can be handled much faster and more appropriately if an owner has resources like a first aid kit and list of important phone numbers (veterinarian, emergency animal hospital and poison control) easily accessible,” Dr. Pointer said.
Just like people, most pet accidents happen in or nearby the home. Examples of the most common pet accidents include:
- toxic ingestion,
- dog bites,
- high rise syndrome,
- ripped toenails,
- foreign body ingestions with gastrointestinal problems,
- eye emergencies,
- broken bones,
- trouble giving birth and
- being hit by a car.
One way to be prepared is to have a pet first aid kit on hand.
An article in the March/April 2014 issue of Pet Sitter’s WORLD magazine offers these suggestions for your Pet First Aid Kit, provided by Pet Poison Helpline®.
First aid kit contents:
- Hydrogen peroxide 3% (within the expiration date)
- An oral dosing syringe or turkey baster (for administering hydrogen peroxide)
- Teaspoon/tablespoon set (to calculate the appropriate amount of hydrogen peroxide to give)
- Liquid hand dish washing detergent (i.e., Dawn, Palmolive)
- Rubber gloves
- Triple antibiotic ointment with NO other combination ingredients—NOT for use in CATS!)
- Vitamin E oil
- Diphenhydramine tablets 25 mg (with NO other combination ingredients)
- Ophthalmic saline solution or artificial tears
- Can of tuna packed in water or tasty canned pet food
- Sweet electrolyte-containing beverage
- Corn syrup
- Vegetable oil
Remember, before you attempt anything with your new pet first aid kit, it is always important to speak with a poison control specialist before you try any therapies at home. You will never want to administer the hydrogen peroxide to a pet without checking with a veterinary professional first. In some situations, it is not appropriate to induce vomiting at home.
You should also never administer over-the-counter human medications to pets without first speaking to a toxicologist or veterinary professional.
One helpful resource is the Pet Poison Helpline: 1 (800) 213-6680 or www.petpoisonhelpline.com.
According to the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), 25 percent more pets would survive if just one pet first aid technique were applied prior to getting emergency veterinary care.
After you’ve administered first aid, it is still extremely important to seek veterinary care as soon as possible. Many emergencies cannot be managed—even in the initial period—with simple pet first aid procedures.
Call your veterinarian (or, if pet sitting, the client’s veterinarian), an emergency veterinary center or poison control immediately—and remember, above all, to STAY CALM.
Because toxic ingestion (pet poisons) is such a common pet accident, it’s also important to be familiar with the most common pet toxins. Learn more in this article, “What Are You Doing to Prevent Pet Poisoning?”
Members of Pet Sitters International have access to resources to keep the pets in their care healthy, happy and safe year-round. To learn more about starting your own pet-sitting business, download this free resources from PSI: 5 Must-Do Steps for Starting a Successful Pet-Sitting Business.
To find your local PSI pet sitter, visit the PSI Pet Sitter Locator. You can also find the Ultimate Pet First Aid Kit at The Pet Sitter Shop.
Professional pet sitters rely on word of mouth to sustain their pet-sitting businesses. A great website, high-quality marketing materials and impressive credentials can go a long way in contributing to a successful business—but at the end of the day, your company’s reputation determines whether pet owners will pick up the phone to call you (or send you an e-mail) to schedule a pet-sitting visit.
It will take time to build a great reputation for your pet-sitting business. Each client interaction, pet-sitting assignment, networking event and media mention contributes to your company’s overall reputation. But, while it takes a long time to establish yourself as THE pet sitter to use, your pet-sitting reputation can be tarnished by a simple mistake.
While it’s easy to think “this would never happen to me,” even experienced pet sitters can slip up, particularly when they are overworked or burned out.
Whether you are new to the pet-sitting industry or a pet sitter veteran, take time to review your company’s policies and procedures to ensure you don’t fall victim to one of these five pet-sitting mistakes that can ruin your company’s reputation:
1. Not being insured. Perhaps you are just getting started and think you cannot afford pet-sitter liability insurance yet. Or, maybe you are a long-time pet sitter, and with paperwork piled high on your desk, you forget to renew your pet-sitter liability insurance policy. Whatever the case may be, not maintaining pet-sitter liability insurance is risky business. Not only is maintaining insurance coverage a hallmark of running a professional pet-sitting service, not having insurance can cripple your pet-sitting business. Imagine a running toilet or leaky faucet overflows and damages the flooring on the upper and lower levels of a client’s home—or a client’s dog dashes past you and is seriously injured when hit by a car. Mistakes or accidents can happen to even the most experienced pet sitter—and mistakes like this have resulted in insurance claims nearing $100K. Not having insurance coverage if a situation did arise would likely result in legal action by your client and could lead to financial ruin from your company—both would lead to negative press and word of mouth that could quickly damage your pet-sitting company’s reputation.
2. Missing a visit. Over the years, we’ve heard from (and about) pet sitters who had missed a pet-sitting visit/s for a variety of reasons—accidentally writing down the wrong dates, forgetting to write down the assignment at all, overbooking and being involved in an accident or emergency situation. At the very least, missing a visit will shake your client’s trust in your reliability. At the worst, missing a visit could result in danger—and even death—for the pets. Make sure your company has safeguards in place to prevent you from missing a visit—for any reason.
Some ideas to consider:
- Only book new pet-sitting assignments during your office hours when you are at your computer or scheduling book. (It’s too easy to answer a call and accept an assignment when you’re “on the go” and then forget to write it down.)
- Have a policy in place that you will contact a client two to three days prior to the scheduled pet-sitting visit. Note that your client should contact you to confirm the assignment if they do not hear from you. This system of “checks and balances” is a standard policy for many pet sitters.
- Learn to say “no.” There are only so many hours in the day and overbooking can lead to stress for you and be detrimental to your clients’ pets –and your business reputation—if you miss a visit.
- Always have a backup plan. In the event that you are in an accident or become ill, have a back-up sitter than can complete your pet-sitting assignments for you. Also, carry a Pet Sitter Emergency Card that would alert law enforcement or medical professionals that your backup pet sitter should be contacted if you were in an accident and incapacitated.
3. Leaving a visit early (or arriving late). Make sure the expectations are clear. Your clients should know that while you may not guarantee specific times for pet-sitting visits, you will come during specific morning, midday and evening timeframes. If, for some reason, you cannot arrive at an assignment during the agreed upon time, use a backup sitter. Or, if you are only slightly late, be honest and note that in your pet-sitting visit notes. Increasingly, clients are checking the times pet sitters arrive and depart by the tracking information provided by their home’s alarm system or by indoor or outdoor cameras. It’s also important to adhere to the visit length you’ve agreed to in your pet-sitting contract. Unless you’ve specifically discussed this with the client and they’ve agreed (for example, some pet sitters offer shorter check-in visiting on busy holidays), you should never shorten a visit. It’s unfair to the client and their pets. Clients who feel as if they‘ve been “cheated” will be quick to share this information with fellow pet owners—and your company’s reputation will suffer.
4. Bringing visitors inside the home without permission. It may seem harmless—you are staying at a client’s home for an overnight sit and a spouse, partner or friend wants to stop by. Perhaps, a pet has made a big mess—or you are short for time—and ask a friend or boyfriend/girlfriend to stop by and help you; allowing anyone into a client’s home without their permission violates a client’s trust and could do definite damage to your company’s reputation. Also, if you use staff sitters, make sure clients understand that you—or anyone from your staff—may be assigned to their pet-sitting assignment. PSI recently heard from a pet owner who was distraught to see a face she did not recognize on her home’s web cam while she was away. It ended up that the man was a staff sitter for the particular pet-sitting company she hired. While he was, in fact a credible, trained, background-checked pet sitter, the client still felt violated because she had not been made aware that a stranger would have access to her home and pets. Your clients trust you with their most valuable possessions (and their pets!), make sure you do not give them a reason to doubt your trustworthiness and criticize you to other local pet owners.
5. Badmouthing clients or competitors. We’ve all had those days—a client asks what seems like an outrageous request or another local pet sitter does something you’d never do, and your first thought it post a quick update on Facebook, tweet about it or, perhaps, even mention it to another client or business associate. Think twice. While sharing pet-sitting experiences with fellow pet sitters in your local pet-sitting network or chatting about situations with other pet sitters online are great opportunities to learn from one another, always be careful when and where you share sensitive information. Be especially cautious on social media—while you may not have clients who can see your personal Facebook page or your posts in a pet-sitters only group on Facebook, it’s never 100% private. With Facebook’s frequent security changes, what you think are private posts are sometimes accessible by the public. And even if not, you never know who someone else knows. A friend on your Facebook page could know a client and report back on your negative comments. Even if your client (or the fellow pet sitter) doesn’t find out, your negative posts could cause others to question your respect of privacy or business ethics. It’s not the reputation you want for your pet-sitting business.
Are there any other reputation-ruining mistakes you would add to this list? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
If you are interested in becoming a professional pet sitter, find out how PSI can help you build and grow your pet-sitting business. You can also test drive a PSI membership free for five days.
Pet Sitters International (PSI) Celebrates 20 Years on Vimeo.
This month marks two very special events for Pet Sitters International (PSI):
- March 2-8 is the 20th annual celebration of Professional Pet Sitters Week
- March 17 marks 20 years in business for PSI.
How did Professional Pet Sitters Week get started?After a corporate layoff in 1983, Patti J. Moran decided to start her own small pet-sitting business
—a service unheard of at the time. As requests for information on starting a similar business came in from around the globe, Moran’s passion for pets—and her new pet-sitting business—led her to create an international association and spearhead an entirely new industry. PSI, the professional pet-sitting organization Moran founded in 1994, is now the world’s leading educational association for pet sitters, and March 2-8 marks the 20th annual observance of Professional Pet Sitters Week™ (PPSW™). corporate layoff in 1983, Patti J. Moran decided to start her own small pet-
Introduced by PSI in 1995, PPSW is an annual observance that honors professional pet-care providers, educates the pet-owning public about the advantages of professional in-home pet care and encourages pet-loving entrepreneurs to explore professional pet sitting as a viable career.“PSI celebrates PPSW to recognize professional pet sitters who work 24/7 to offer the best possible pet-care services,” said PSI President Patti Moran. “PPSW is also a time for us to stress to pet owners the importance of using only professional pet sitters.”
What should pet owners know about using a professional pet sitter?
According to the 2013-2014 American Pet Products Association National Pet Owners Survey, pet ownership is at an all-time high. With the increase in pet ownership, Moran notes PSI has also seen an increase in the inquiries they receive regarding becoming a pet sitter and have noted an increase in the number of websites offering pet-sitter locator services.
For pet owners, this increase in pet-sitting options brings a greater responsibility to carefully screen potential pet sitters. Not every person who advertises pet-sitting services is well-trained, professional or trustworthy.
PSI offers pet owners a free pet-sitter interview checklist
, as well as tips for having a conversation with potential pet sitters about background verification, on the PSI Web site
. The site also offers a free ZIP/postal code search for U.S. and Canadian pet sitters, as well as an International pet sitter search, at http://www.petsit.com/locate
Is now a good time to become a professional pet sitter?
YES! Pet ownership is at an all-time high and the need for pet-sitting services continues to grow. If you've considered a career in pet sitting or dog walking, now is the perfect time to enter the industry. But, it's important that you have the tools and resources you need to start your business off on the right foot.The growing industry also requires professional pet sitters to focus on ways to make their businesses stand out in their local service areas. To help its member pet sitters succeed, PSI offers access to group rate pet-sitter insurance and bonding, free pet-sitters forms and marketing materials and access to industry credentials, such as the PSI Certification Program and the recently-launched PSI Locator Designation Program, which offers third-party verification of pet sitter’s clear criminal history. Interested in getting started as a professional pet sitter? Download this free e-book from PSI: Five Must-Do Steps to Starting a Successful Pet-Sitting Business.
To learn more about PPSW, pet sitting as a career or to local a professional pet sitter in your area, visit www.petsit.com
Now that we are halfway through the first month of 2014, the Pet Sitters International (PSI) staff is taking a look back at the most-read PSI blog posts of the last year. The topics range from cat-sitting rules to creating a pet-sitting service contract—and everything in between.
If you are new to The PSI Blog—or are a regular reader who wants to revisit these popular topics—check out the top ten blog posts of 2013 (ranked by the number of views last year):
10. 3 Tips for Better Cat Sitting and Why Every Other Day Visits Should Not Be an Option
9. What You Need to Know about Online Pet-Sitter Directories
8. The One Question Pet Owners Always Ask Professional Pet Sitters
7. 4 Dog-Walking Insurance Claims Totaling More than $74K
6. 4 Signs You Should Say “No” to a Pet-Sitting Assignment
5. Setting Your Pet-Sitting Fees
4. 4 Tips for Selecting and Protecting Your Pet-Sitting Business Name
3. 6 Ways to Advertise Now to Attract Summer Pet-Sitting Clients
2. 25 Low-Cost Marketing Ideas for Pet Sitters
And, the most-read PSI blog post of 2013 was:
1. 6 Items Your Pet-Sitting Contract Should Include
From setting rates and creating a service contract to advertising to new clients and deciding which assignment to turn down, professional pet sitters face many issues on a day-to-day basis.
What other topics not covered in the blog posts above would you like to see The PSI Blog address this year? Comment below to let us know.
If you are interested in learning more about PSI can help you build or grow your pet-sitting or dog-walking service, test drive a PSI membership free for five days.
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.