As Boston and other cities around the country have seen the snowiest winter on record, professional pet sitters have felt the pain – and dealt with the stresses—of one of the harshest winter seasons in recent history. While some office commuters can work from home and others benefit from delayed business and school openings or the option to take a vacation day, pet sitters don’t often have the option of a “day off,” particularly when pet parents are out of town and their pets still need care.
Many areas of the country have faced unprecedented cold temperatures and wintry participation, and many pet sitters have been forced to deal with the new pet-sitting issues inclement weather caused. Even for pet sitters in northern states accustomed to harsh winters, the severity of this year’s winter season has been challenging and damaging to the morale of even the most experienced pet-sitting business owners and their staff sitters.
PSI reached out to members in Professional Pet Sitters Chat, the association’s private Facebook group to ask pet sitters about the lessons they’d learned this winter. Overwhelmingly, their responses focused around three main recommendations:
1. Preparation: It’s important to plan ahead and talk to clients in advance about preparations that need to take place for winter weather. For example, what is your company’s policy on snow removal—does the client call before leaving town to arrange this service or do they provide you with their preferred snow-removal company for you to contact if needed? Whatever your preferred policy may be, it’s important to have a plan in place to ensure you are not spending exorbitant amounts of time in frigid conditions to “dig” your way to clients’ front doors for your pet-sitting visits—and it’s important that pet owners understand their cooperation is vital in ensuring you can properly reach and care for their pets.
It’s also important to consider what you would do if icy roads (or a state of emergency/travel ban) make roads impassable and prevent you from reaching clients’ homes. Verify that you have the correct contact information for your clients’ emergency contacts and discuss who you should call if you are unable to reach their homes. (For example, a relative may be the emergency contact, but perhaps, a neighbor could check on the pets if you were unable to reach the home for a day—so make sure you have that information as well!)
2. Personal safety: Harsh weather can take a toll on your physical well-being. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that those working outdoors in the winter wear appropriate clothing, sprinkle sand or cat litter on icy patches, be aware of the wind chill factor and work slowly when doing outside chores.
PSI member pet sitter Jamie Hoad shared this advice in PSI’s private Facebook group: “Long johns, scarves and chap stick are your best friends. The cold hasn’t really been a problem—the wind is the issue. It’s quick, fast and the chill brings the temperature down about 20 degrees. Wind burn is no joke, so wrapping up extra good is key!”
The harsh winter weather also makes what would typically be a minor inconvenience—a flat tire or car trouble—a dangerous predicament. The CDC advises checking your tire tread or replacing tires with all-weather tires if necessary, along with keeping an emergency kit in your vehicle. PSI member Jordan Di Marco shared similar advice in the PSI Facebook group: “I keep a good deal of winter stuff in my car—kitty litter, foldable shovel, extra hats and gloves, Yak Trax, flashlights, jumper cables and hand warmers.” (Note: Hand warmers – and foot warmers – are inexpensive, with many options to choose from. Most have long shelf lives as well.)
Icy roads and slippery sidewalks make it more important than ever for pet sitters to exercise caution to avoid slips and falls. One pet sitter reported a fractured wrist and dislocated rib resulting from a fall after slipping on ice. Remember, too, that these injuries are not covered under pet-sitter liability insurance. (Workers compensation covers work-related injuries. Contact Business Insurers of the Carolinas to get a quote for your state.)
3. Pets’ safety: In our online discussion about the recent blizzards, PSI member Robyn White shared that “one of the biggest challenges in this snow and cold is how badly it affects the dogs. Their paws get so cold from the snow and ice and they get irritated from all the salt people put down on the sidewalks. It's rough on us and it's also rough on them.” Her concern has been a common one this year—what effect does this cold weather have on pets and how should pet sitters adjust their services to ensure pets’ safety? More specifically, this harsh winter season left many professional pet sitters asking: When is it too cold to walk dogs? Some pet sitters have also been faced with clients who wanted their dogs outdoors for extended periods of time.
To get an answer to this question, PSI reached out to Dr. Tony Johnson, clinical assistant professor at the Purdue University School of Veterinary Medicine and a consultant to the Veterinary Information Network. He offered this advice: “The rule of thumb is ‘if you're cold, your dog is probably freezing.’ A walk to eliminate and stretch your legs is OK. A 45-minute forced march...not so much.”
Dr. Johnson also added, “Cold and pets don’t mix well in many cases. A dog’s degree of cold tolerance can vary – just like with a person. Some dogs that are accustomed to cold and have a dense fur coat will do fine, even into the single digits, if they can stay dry and out of the breeze. A little Chihuahua with no fur and no tolerance to the cold won’t. Dogs that are acclimated to cold conditions will do better than those that haven’t been gradually exposed. There is no single number I can answer when people ask, ‘How cold is too cold?’ but keeping the above guidelines in mind can help keep your pooch safe and comfortable when the snow flies.”
It is important for pet sitters to share these guidelines with clients and suggest alternatives—such as indoor play time—when frigid winter temperatures make it unsafe for pets to be outside beyond short potty-break times.
Surviving the winter…
In addition to focusing on preparation, personal safety and pets’ safety this time of year, there’s another important quality to help pet sitters survive this harsh winter—patience. On the worst days, when it’s too cold to walk even the most energetic dogs, when you’ve had to shovel your way to a client’s door or have had to change a flat tire as sleeting rain pelted down, remember…Spring is coming! Your commitment to providing pet care in even the harshest conditions sets you apart and your clients are surely grateful for the peace of mind you provide, particularly during seasons like this.
Are there any more winter lessons learned you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you! Comment below, post in Professional Pet Sitters Chat or contact us directly.
There’s no question—the pet industry is thriving!
In its 2013-2014 National Pet Owners Survey, the American Pet Products Association (APPA) reports that pet ownership is at an all-time high. With 68 percent of U.S. households owning a pet (82.5 million homes), the need for professional pet sitters and dog walkers is also at an all-time high!
What’s more, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook, employment of animal care and service workers is projected to grow 15 percent from 2012 to 2022, faster than the average for all occupations.
Pet-loving entrepreneurs outside of the United States are also in luck—the passion for pets is without borders! Reports from many countries, including Canada, the United Kingdom, Japan and Australia, reveal growing pet-ownership rates.
The increase in pet ownership, combined with the increase in ownership of a variety of types of pets, equals an increased need for professional pet-care providers, including those who specialize in specific pets (“cats only” pet sitting, for example).
For those already pet sitting—or those thinking of entering the growing pet-sitting industry—2015 has the potential to be an excellent year.
To provide current and prospective professional pet sitters with an accurate analysis of the professional pet-sitting industry’s current state and to forecast its growth in the coming year, PSI has created the 2015 Pet-Sitting Industry Forecast.
This free eBook incorporates solid market research, results from PSI’s State of the Industry Survey, the association’s collective intellectual capital, and knowledge from its twenty-year history and nearly 7,000 member businesses to examine the pet-sitting industry’s current:
- continuing opportunities
Download your free copy of the 2015 Pet-Sitting Industry Forecast here.
(Note: PSI member, do not access the eBook from the link below. Log-in to the Members’ area to access your free resource and additional eBooks.)
In addition to an in-depth look at current pet-ownership statistics, this eBook also explores the current pet-sitting industry, including the average revenue for professional pet sitters, the typical client demographic and the services offered by professional pet-sitting businesses.
Here is an excerpt of the data shared in the 2015 Pet-Sitting Industry Forecast:
Basic Pet-Sitting Business Traits:
98.3% of all businesses are independently owned.
83.4% of businesses are owned solely by women.
83% carry both pet-sitter liability insurance and bonding, with more than ¾ insured through Business Insurers of the Carolinas
- 43% primarily service urban areas. 44.3% service suburban areas and 10.4% service rural areas.
If you are already pet sitting, are you predicting growth for your business in 2015? We’d love to hear from you—leave a comment below or contact PSI directly by phone or e-mail.
Whether you have just opened your pet-sitting business or have been pet sitting for years, attracting clients is likely a top priority. As pet owners move in and out of your area, the economy changes and more pet-sitting businesses open, it is more important than ever before that pet-sitting business owners understand the importance of making a good first impression on prospective clients.
While you may possess professionalism and passion for what you do, you are unlikely to get and keep new pet-sitting clients if pet owners can’t see that passion and professionalism—not only in how you interact with their pets, but also in how you promote and present your pet-sitting service.
It’s important to step back occasionally and look at your business with fresh eyes to see how local pet owners see your pet-sitting business.
1. Obtain and maintain professional credentials. As pet ownership continues to grow and more and more individuals advertise pet-sitting services, it is important that you establish a strong, professional foundation for your pet-sitting business—and look for ways to stand out from the crowd. Maintaining pet-sitter insurance and bonding, providing proof of a clear criminal history and pursuing educational opportunities, like becoming a Certified Professional Pet Sitter (CPPS) demonstrate your commitment to professional pet sitting as a career and provide potential clients with peace of mind. Once you obtain these credentials, be sure to promote them in all of your promotional materials.
PSI encourages pet owners to ask seven important questions when interviewing a pet sitter. Make sure you can answer “YES” to these important questions!
2. Remember, the first impression often starts online. In today’s digital age, most consumers start their searches for service providers, including professional pet sitters, online.
Your Business Website:
Make sure local pet owners can easily find your pet-sitting business website online and that your site conveys your professionalism. If you have not created a business website or are looking to improve your current site, check out these five tips for creating your pet-sitting business website. Remember to make sure your website contains the basic information local pet owners need to know: the services you offer, your service area and how to contact you. Your contact information should also be included on every page of your website.
Your Company’s Social Media Presence:
It is also important to make sure your social media profiles are consistent with your company’s branding and also reflect your professional image. Your pet-sitting business’ Facebook page or Twitter account is a great opportunity for prospective clients to learn more about you, your pet-sitting service and how you interact with your current pet-sitting clients. Be sure you share pet tips, photos and other useful information on your social media pages. Also, respond to all questions and comments made on your social media pages. As part of a good customer-service plan, you should respond promptly to social media posts just as you would phone calls or e-mails.
If you want more tips on making the best first impression on social media, be sure to check out “5 Ways to Make a Killer First Impression on Social Media” by Louis Foong in the January/February 2015 issue of Pet Sitter’s WORLD magazine.
3. Does your voicemail message “speak” for your pet-sitting business? After researching your pet-sitting business online, interested pet owners will most likely take the next step and call you to learn more. This phone call typically determines if a pet owner will take the next step to schedule an initial consultation and, hopefully, book your pet-sitting services.
First, whether you use a landline or cell phone, you should have a business phone line separate from your personal phone line. Because you are often out caring for pets and unable to answer the phone, a professional-sounding voicemail message is also extremely important to make a positive impression on callers.
Be sure your voicemail includes your company’s name, thanks the pet owner for calling, explains that you are busy caring for pets at the moment but will return their call in a timely manner. To manage their expectations, also include when the pet owner can expect to hear back from you (i.e. “ABC Pet Sitting returns all calls received prior to 4 p.m. on the same day. We look forward to speaking with you more about your pet-care needs!”)
4. Make the most of your face-to-face consultations. Once you’ve scheduled an initial consultation with a local pet owner, you are one step away from booking a new pet-sitting client. As a professional pet sitter, you should require an initial consultation before accepting any new pet-sitting assignment. The initial consultation (or meet and greet consultation) allows the pet owners and their pets become more comfortable with you, it allows you to get acquainted with the pets, their routines and the household; and is a time for you to review your company’s policies and procedures, record important information about the pets and pet-sitting request and have the pet owner sign your service contract.
Remember, an initial consultation is a business meeting. You should allow 30-45 minutes for the meeting and if possible, conduct the meeting at a dining room or kitchen table, instead of on the living room sofa.
As a professional pet sitter, there’s no need for you to wear a business suit to an initial consultation, but clean, company-branded attire can go a long way in making a good first impression. Or, if you will be coming directly from a pet-sitting visit, simply let the clients know what to expect.
Just in case the previous pet-sitting visit may be unusually messy, consider keeping a change of clothes, or an extra company shirt, in your car.
While you want to make sure you are able to get detailed written instructions about the care of the pets and home and discuss your company policies and procedures, you want to make sure you allow time to interact with the pets.
The potential client is sure to want to see how you and their pets interact, and you need to allow time for their pets to become comfortable with you.
5. Use a pet-sitter presentation book to discuss your pet-sitting business. A pet-sitter presentation book allows you to demonstrate your professionalism, industry credentials and accomplishments in a clear, organized manner.
It is perfect to use at initial consultations when time is limited. The information you include in your pet-sitter presentation book can also demonstrate to the pet owner that you are a trained professional and take your work seriously. Once completed, your presentation book can also be used when meeting with local veterinarian or other pet-industry professionals as a way to introduce your business.
Shared on Facebook:
“I have a presentation book that contains a copy of my degree (BS Veterinary Science), proof of bonding and insurance, my city business license, PSI membership card, pet first aid and CPR certificate, BBB accreditation certificate, ‘orchids’ written about my business in our local newspaper, and some thank you notes from existing clients. I always get a lot of comments on how professional I am and how thorough my contract is too!” –Nicole H.
To learn more about creating your own pet-sitter presentation book, download this free resource from Pet Sitters International, “Introduce your business with a pet-sitter’s presentation book.”
This free resource explains how to best use a presentation book when meeting with potential clients or other pet professionals and offers a list of items to include in your pet-sitter's presentation book.
For more tips on making a good first impression when meeting prospective clients for the first time, be sure to check out the January/February 2015 issue of Pet Sitter’s WORLD magazine.
Are there any other tips for making a good first impression that you’d suggest? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
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.