If you are like many professional pet sitters, you may have left the Corporate rat race to start your own pet-sitting service. Or, maybe you were finally fed up after a string of unfulfilling jobs and decided to follow your passion for pets. Whatever your pre pet-sitting situation was, you likely entered the pet-sitting industry with dreams of finally making a living from a fulfilling job that you loved. And, if you’ve been a professional pet sitter for any number of years, chances are that you are now…TIRED.
Burnout…it happens to the best of pet sitters. Do you know the feeling? You strive to always provide the best possible care to clients’ pets, help out with last-minute requests, volunteer with local pet organizations, pet sit from sun up to sun down and then try to find time to bill clients, return prospective client calls, check e-mail and market your business. Then, you get up the next day and do it all over again.
Does this sound familiar? Do you find yourself tired all of the time, unable to ever take time off and, if you are really honest with yourself, probably not enjoying pet sitting the way that you once did?
Now, there’s no reward without hard work and being a small business owner isn’t easy. But, just as important as working enough to make sure your pet-sitting business succeeds is not working so much that you crash and burn.
Do you feel like you need a vacation—or at least just five minutes to breathe?! If so, read on…
5 Things You Need to Start Doing Now to Succeed as a Professional Pet Sitter:
1. Set boundaries. Have you ever had a client who waited until the last minute to cancel dog-walking visits Every. Single. Time? Each time, you are aggravated, have to rearrange your schedule and think “one day I really am going to charge him that cancellation fee!” Think about the amount of stress you could save yourself if you really did charge that cancellation fee—which may just make that client stop and think before cancelling at the last minute again. Your business policies are in place for a reason—and you need to stick to them. (Of course, clients will occasionally have extenuating circumstances, but the exception shouldn’t be the rule!) If you allow clients to continuously walk all over you, you may just find that your joy for pet sitting seems to “walk right out the door.”
2. Learn to say no. Setting boundaries is important, but there are also situations that require you to take it a step further and just say no. Let’s say you are absolutely booked for the holidays but have clients calling last minute and begging you to please fit them in. While you want to accommodate all client requests if possible, you have to think: Would saying yes be the best decision for you, your business and the pets you are caring for? If you are overworked and overbooked, you are more likely to miss visits, make mistakes and/or the pets may not get the care they deserve-and your well being will suffer (and your company's reputation could as well!). There are other situations that require a “no” as well—taking on pet-sitting assignments when your gut instinct tells you it’s not a good fit, continuing to service “problem clients” or continuing to take on clients outside of your service area are all examples of situations that will cause you chronic stress—that can only be relieved by saying NO! (See this related blog post on 4 Pet-Sitting Assignments You Should Turn Down.)
3. Learn from the success of others. Particularly when you are struggling to build your client base or grow your business, it can be difficult to feel positive about your competition. But, the success of your competitors can benefit you as well. Stay up-to-date on what other local pet sitters are doing, follow news about them and learn more about their business milestones. You can look beyond your local area and find other pet sitters anywhere that you admire. Read news, articles and books by other professional pet sitters. You never know what inspiration you will find as you carve out your own path to pet-sitting success!
4. Find new hobbies. Repeat after me: Prospective client meet and greets (initial consultations) do not count as a hobby! I know what you are thinking…that you don’t have any time for a hobby. But, understand this, for you to be as successful as you can be in your pet-sitting business, your mind and body need time to relax. Get up a little early to go to a yoga class, join a book club, take an art class…whatever interests you. Not only with this time away give you time to regroup and recharge, it can also be a great networking opportunity. You never know who you may meet while taking a break from your pet-sitting business that could actually be your next client or someone who can help you build or promote your business!
5. Establish a support group. Pet sitting can be lonely. You may find that even your family doesn’t understand the unique challenges you face as a professional pet-sitting business owner. That is why finding a support group is vital. Network with local pet sitters, attend pet-sitter conferences and join online groups like PSI’s Professional Pet Sitter Chat on Facebook. Building a support group of fellow pet sitters allows you to bounce ideas off others with experience in your industry, vent when you need to and also to share what you have learned with others. Having a local support group of pet sitters also offers you the opportunity to refer clients and have a backup in the event of a full schedule or emergency.
Ultimately, pet sitting will never be a 9-5 job. But, finding a balance that works for you is the key to building a successful pet-sitting business that you actually enjoy waking up to run each day.
Is there anything you would add to this list of things to do to prevent burn out and ensure the success of your business? Share below!
Update: We are updating this blog post as we hear about more scams targeting pet sitters. Keep reading for the recent scams fellow pet sitters have received and shared with us.
For the last few years, Pet Sitters International has reported on internet scams targeting pet sitters. PSI members described suspicious e-mails soliciting their services. Unfortunately, this beast is rearing its ugly head again and PSI wants you to be aware!
While the most recent scam we’ve learned of does not seem to be targeting pet sitters on the PSI Pet Sitter Locator (but on a similar site), we want you all to be aware. The new wave of scams reported to us this month involve the same old scheme but with different players.
A pet sitter shares her experience with an e-mail scammer
Thanks to pet sitter Stacey Evans, owner of The Pet Concierge in Maine, for sharing the information she received from a new scammer using the name “Jeffrey Martins” and e-mailing from a Hotmail address.
Here’s the first e-mail she received:
On Fri, May 23, 2014 at 10:21 AM, Jeffrey Martin wrote:
My name is Jeffrey Martins and i contacted you because i am in need of a caring, kind and patient pet sitter for my Pet dog Blitzen,i got your information on the Petsit LLC website.... blitzen is a Golden retriever, very calm,playful and always happy.. he is good around other dogs....
Please contact me back if you think you are interested in take care of blitzen
Of course, she replied to him to offer additional information about the services she offered and invited him to read her client testimonials and send more specific details about the dates he needed service, etc.
Then, she received this e-mail:
On Thu, May 29, 2014 at 9:57 AM, Jeffrey Martin wrote:
Thank you for your response concerning the Pet sitting/Dog walking job,My name is Jefferey Martins ,am married with a daughter named (July) and my Wife Elizabeth then our Pet dog(blitzen),We are a devoted christian family coming in to the United states am planning a vacation to the states with families and our adorable dog for few period of time in USA from Ontario Canada,so we have located it and decided to have our family work on all we need before moving into your neighborhood ,we have a very adorable dog (Blitzen) ,he is cute and adorable(Golden Retriever) he is very friendly and playful.he is also very much comfortable with other dogs and cat too he enjoys being indoors with US. Going for walks is Blitzen's very favorite activity. he plays well with other dogs too. Blitzen is house trained and crate trained... I would be needing the service of a caring with positive personality to take good care of Blitzen because i want him to have a wonderful stay and will like to make provision for you to take good care of him for us.More so,I will be making arrangements in renting an apartment close to you but it depends on your location as i will be needing your services,I need you to take care of Blitzen around the hours of 2 - 6 pm from Mondays through Fridays or anytime you are convenient with,you just have to let me know your time schedule as for us to fix a time that won't be a problem or inconvenience your other daily activities ,You would only be needed for 20 hrs per week at your convenience and will like you to get back to me with your available hours.
We will be arriving in The states(7th of June 2014), which means if you accept to work with blitzen you can begin to work with us on the 8th or the 9th of June..I will be needing your service for up to 2 months or more, and willing to offer you $400.00 per week with benefits as compensation for a trustworthy and honest candidate.Also i will like to know if you can also help us run little errands before our arrival too.. if you agree with us, our location will not be far from you which are the reason why we want to secure a pet sitter before our Agent get us a house the Keys and the description of the house will be mailed to you as soon as possible. We have a financier that is based in the states and will be handling the payment and as well as our other expenses, so he will be the one that will be taking care of your payment, I will instruct him to pay for the first week before our arrival so as to secure your service. As soon as we reach a concrete agreement, I can instruct our financier to process a cashier’s check to you for the payment i will be waiting to read from you with Your schedule and other questions which you have to ask us..
Will be waiting to read from you
Jeffery Martins and Family
A few more e-mail exchanges took place and she shared her contact information, including business address with him at his request. Subsequently, she received a cashier’s check that was to be payment for the services he requested.
Here’s Stacey’s account of what happened next:
“He said he was sending me a check for $400 (one week) so I could get started helping to get the house ready. The cashier's check was sent via Fedex for several months' work and the dollar amount wasn't a round figure. I wondered if this had to do with an exchange rate. Nevertheless, I'd become quite suspicious and started my research last night. The paper was perforated and looked secure. The check was issued from USBank in MN and mailed from NY. I called US Bank and tried to validate the check. They said they couldn't say anything either way with the information I provided.
I sent Mr. Martin an email last night stating US Bank cannot validate the availability of funds for that check and asking if he would he mind a different form of payment such as a money order. I also asked him for the name of the realtor as a local reference. Needless to say, I haven't received a reply.
I went to my credit union today and through their investigation, concluded it was a forgery.”
Another e-mail scam: "Bella Needs Care"
Another scam PSI-member pet sitters have brought to our attention starts with an e-mail with the subject line: "Bella needs care."
Here's the e-mail she received:
I just saw your post as a pet caregiver on www.petsit.com and I'm hoping to talk with you more about it. How many years of professional pet sitting experience have you accumulated while working with Pets? Can I contract your services for my pet, a Samoyed dog by the name Bella? I shall be needing services starting from August 4th and would stretch till September 3rd. I'm flexible with start time but preferably between 10AM-11AM, when i will be off to work. At least a minimum of 1hrs daily, (MONDAY THROUGH FRIDAYS).
Services include walking, feeding and general care. You will be caring for her at my rented suite. Can you tell me your exact location (i.e the closest Major Intersection to your home) so I can calculate how close it will be to my rented suite and also to make further arrangements for the task. I look forward to reading from you soon.
This scammer, like the others we've heard about, will eventually ask for your contact information and will send a (fake) cashier's check for you to deposit.
Protecting your pet-sitting business from scammers
If you receive a suspicious e-mail, the FBI encourages you to file a complaint at www.IC3.gov. While you’re there, be sure to read up on tips to help you avoid being scammed, such as the following:
Counterfeit Cashier's Check
- Inspect the cashier's check.
- Ensure the amount of the check matches in figures and words.
- Check to see that the account number is not shiny in appearance.
- Be watchful that the drawer's signature is not traced.
- Official checks are generally perforated on at least one side.
- Inspect the check for additions, deletions or other alterations.
- Contact the financial institution on which the check was drawn to ensure legitimacy.
- Obtain the bank's telephone number from a reliable source, not from the check itself.
- Be cautious when dealing with individuals outside of your own country.
We might add that the old adage “if something sounds too good to be true it probably is” definitely applies here. New pet sitters may be particularly susceptible to this type of scam and dismiss warning signs if they are in a rush to get clients. At the very least, make sure all checks clear before you spend the funds!
If something doesn’t sound right, the best thing to do is follow your instincts and simply delete the e-mail. Remember, it’s far better to spend your time on good clients than to waste your time and money on fishy ones!
You can view PSI’s previous article on pet-sitting scams here for descriptions of other scam e-mails pet sitters have received. You can also learn more about online scams on the FBI website.
May 18-24, 2014, is National Dog Bite Prevention Week.
Did you know that 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)? Almost one in five of these who are bitten require medical attention—and half of these are children.
The CDC also reports that adults with two or more dogs in the home are five times more likely to be bitten than those without dogs.
Dog bites and their impact on professional pet-sitting businesses.
As a professional pet sitter, would your business be able to afford to take a client’s dog on a $90,000 walk in the park? Insurance and bonding are two expenses that no one wants to think about, pay for or use, but are both essential to every pet-sitting business. Given today’s litigious society, you should not go unprotected.
The reality is that accidents can and do happen every day. Professional pet sitters have very unique liability exposures that are often overlooked. From a liability standpoint, professional pet sitters are responsible for both the pets and property in their care, as well as any property damage or bodily injury that could potentially happen to a third party.
David Pearsall, director of sales and marketing for Business Insurers of the Carolinas (BIC), the company that underwrites the majority of bonding and liability insurance policies for members of Pet Sitters International, said that dog bites are not the most frequent insurance claim he receives, but are often very costly.
“We typically see anywhere between 15-25 dog-bite claims (bites to humans other than sitter, their employees or ICs) annually,” Pearsall said. “But all though we don’t see as many of these claims, they do have a higher payout than more traditional care, custody and control claims like injuries to pets and property damage.”
Pearsall shared a few examples of dog-bite claims that BIC has received:
- A dog bit a small child on the face at a park. Total paid $90,000.
- Jogger bit on hand and stomach while running by a pet sitter walking a dog. Total paid $46,368.
- While an insured pet sitter was walking several dogs on a sidewalk, one of the dogs bit a jogger. Total paid $15,379.
- Dog ran wrong way and was grabbed by a stranger to return to pet sitter. Stranger was bit on the face, requiring stitches. Total paid $5,591.
- A dog in a pet sitter’s care bit another dog, which required medical attention. Total paid $902.
Pearsall said that dog-bite claims range anywhere from $2,500 to $100,000+ (with the average being around $30,000) and typically occur in parks or public places.
“Most dog bites occur while the pet sitter is walking or playing with their clients’ dogs,” Pearsall said. Joggers, bicyclists, small children and strangers trying to break up fights between dogs are also common dog-bite victims.”
What if you get bitten by a dog?
One dog-bite claim your pet-sitter insurance could definitely not cover: If you are bit by a dog while pet sitting. What’s more, this type of on-the-job injury is also not likely to be covered by your personal medical insurance.
PSI Preferred Provider Business Insurers of the Carolinas (BIC) offers workers’ compensation and occupational accident insurance, and these types of coverage are the best way to protect you and your business against injuries to you and your employees or ICs.
Previously, only workers’ compensation insurance would cover injuries incurred by you and your independent contractors while on the job. However, the cost of worker’s comp can be cost prohibitive for the independent pet-sitting business owner or IC.
PSI pet sitters now have access to Occupational Accident Insurance (OAI) through Business Insurers of the Carolinas. The OAI rate for PSI members is one-third to one-half the rate of a typical workers’ comp insurance policy and covers pet sitters against injuries (including, but not limited to dog bites, slips and falls) that occur while pet sitting, traveling to a pet’s or client’s destination and performing any contracted pet-care service. For more information, contact Business Insurers of the Carolinas.
Pet sitters, share these dog-bite prevention tips with your clients.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), children are the most common dog-bite victims by far, and are far more likely to be severely injured. Senior citizens are the second most common victims.
If you or your clients have small children, please be sure to share these dog bite prevention safety tips from the CDC with them:
- Do not approach an unfamiliar dog.
- Do not run from a dog or scream.
- Remain motionless when approached by an unfamiliar dog.
- If knocked over by a dog, roll into a ball and be still.
- Do not play with a dog unless supervised by an adult.
- Immediately report stray dogs or dogs displaying unusual behavior to an adult.
- Avoid direct eye contact with a dog.
- Do not disturb a dog that is sleeping, eating, or caring for puppies.
- Do not pet a dog without allowing it to see and sniff you first.
- If bitten, immediately report the bite to an adult.
For more information on dog bite prevention, please visit the CDC Web site.
For more information on insurance and bonding, please visit Business Insurers of the Carolinas. Business Insurers has been providing General Liability specifically designed for pet sitter associations since 1995. Their coverage includes the broadest Care, Custody and Control coverage for the pets and property in your care whether at your client’s home, in transit or at your home.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.