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.
Recently, Pet Sitters International (PSI) posed a question on its Facebook page asking pet sitters what their current #1 business challenge was.
While a few pet sitters commented about difficult clients or trouble with office procedures, there were three concerns posted by the majority of pet sitters:
- hiring staff sitters,
- finding time off and
- attracting new pet-sitting clients.
PSI has compiled some of its most-requested resources to share with pet sitters who may be facing similar problems.
#1 Hiring Staff:
Knowing when to hire and where to find reliable staff sitters were concerns noted by the majority of pet sitters responding to our recent post. Using staff sitters is not a decision to be taken lightly—and for good reason. As a pet-sitting business owner, you’ve likely invested years in developing a stellar reputation for your pet-sitting service. It can be risky allowing new sitters to service your clients, particularly if you are not sure if they will deliver the same level of service. Even scarier, some pet-sitting business owners have hired sitters only to discover later that these sitters were liars, thieves or did not show up for visits. Besides those concerns, there’s also the tricky issue of legality—should you use employees or independent contractors? Is there really a difference and what does that mean for your pet-sitting service?
Despite these concerns, hiring staff sitters is often the only way your pet-sitting business can grow beyond a certain point. And fortunately, countless pet sitters have found reliable, trustworthy staff sitters to serve as back-up and enable them to take on new clients.
If you are considering hiring staff pet sitters, be sure to check out these important resources:
#2 Taking Time Off/Achieving Work-Life Balance
There’s no question that pet sitters work long hours—and often, it probably seems as if you are on call 24/7. Your pet-sitting clients depend on you and you strive to always offer the best possible care and customer service. But, as with all professions, burnout is a possibility if you do not find time to relax and take care of yourself.
Pet sitters face unique challenges as well. It’s not that you are simply exhausted from long hours and mounds of paperwork. Instead, you also have the burden (and joy) of the emotional connections you make with clients and their pets. The privilege of being so involved with others’ pets is a highlight of the profession, but when pet sickness or death occurs, an emotional toll is taken on you. There are also the other challenges—missing holidays with your family or friends, clients who expect you to be at their beck and call and simply not having much time with your own pets.
Take advantage of these resources that offer tips for handling the unique stress pet sitters face:
#3 Attracting Pet-Sitting Clients
Whether you are just starting pet sitting or have been pet sitting for more than a decade, 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, pet sitters must routinely find new ways to promote their services to local pet owners.
PSI’s State of the Industry Survey found that word of mouth, PSI’s Pet Sitter Locator, business cards and a business website were some of the most popular forms of pet-sitter advertising. Need more marketing ideas? Check out these resources with tips for low-cost, proven ways to promote your pet-sitting services:
What is your #1 pet-sitting business challenge?
Is your top business challenges one of the issues discussed above or do you have another pressing issue in your pet-sitting business that you’re currently trying to solve? Share your comments and questions below.
As a professional pet sitter, it is essential that you have a professional website for your business, but creating one is no small feat. You may be very web savvy and know how to create your own website using a low-cost site builder tool. Or, with the effort needed to manage your pet-sitting business, you may not be able to invest the amount of time to create a professional business website.
Either way, before deciding to create your own website or outsource the project to a professional designer, consider these factors:
Free programs or do-it-yourself web design kits save you money initially, but remember to factor in the time you will spend. How much is your time worth and do you have the time to devote to designing and creating your site? Before embarking on the task, ask your business contacts or other professionals whose sites you admire what their time and money investments were like.
Even with free programs, you will need web-design knowledge. To build a professional, effective website, you will need a solid understanding of website design and a good understanding of search engine optimization (SEO). Effectively using SEO for your business website is necessary to ensure that your site comes up in web searches for local pet sitters. With the growing number of people using smartphones, you’ll also want to make sure that your website is mobile-compatible. If you are not confident in these areas, consider at least consulting with a professional developer before creating your site.
Do you have time to keep up with the ever-changing World Wide Web? A static website with rare updates will not help drive more traffic to your site. To effectively market your business and stay in the top of search results, your website must constantly offer new content. Maintaining a company blog on your website is a good way to ensure that you always have fresh content.
Make sure that your website platform allows you to make these changes when needed. Make sure your site allows you to integrate your social media pages, blog and e-commerce functionality if needed.
Invest the time necessary to create good online content. When it comes to the creation of website design and content, less is often more. Think from your potential client’s perspective—what information is most important, what will make your site attractive, easy to read and easy to navigate?
You want to make sure that your key information is easy-to-find. Can visitors to your website easily locate your phone number and e-mail address on each page of your website? Also, if you want pet owners to engage with you on social media, do you have your social media icons integrated into your website?
When designing your website, create a consistent look and feel. You own a professional business and your website should reflect this. Your website should be consistent with your business brand. Use colors and images similar to your business logo and other marketing materials.
Think about the websites you visit. Have you ever been to a website that had flashing graphics, used different fonts and almost gave you a feeling that this may not be a safe site to visit? Don’t be that website. Make sure your site looks professional and provides potential clients with confidence in using your services.
Good luck creating or updating your website! A well-planned and professional site is essential for your business. Remember to include your PSI Member logo on your website to display your professionalism.
Are there other tips you would offer to fellow pet sitters either creating or updating their business websites? Share your suggestions below.
PSI’s latest social media survey found that nearly three in five professional pet sitters use at least one social media platform for their pet-sitting businesses. Pet sitters want to engage with local pet owners and fellow pet sitters online, but they don’t want to take a lot of time out of their busy schedules to devote to their business use of social media. In fact, nine out of 10 pet sitters reported spending five hours or less on social media for business use each week.
With social media use among professional pet sitters on the rise, but time to spend on social media at a premium, Pet Sitters International offers these six tips to help pet sitters make the most of their social media presence:
1. Spruce up your social media profiles: It’s time for spring cleaning and the perfect time to take a closer look at your pet-sitting business’ various social media accounts. Whether you are on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ or all of the above, make sure your images and profile information are giving the best possible impression of your company.
Take a look at your profile images and cover photos. Make sure the images are not fuzzy and are sized and cropped properly. You don’t want half of your logo cut off! Also make sure you are aware of any changes to the profile restrictions on the various social media sites. Facebook, for example, has removed some of its restrictions for your cover photos and you can now include calls to action in your image.
Be sure to read your profile information as well. Make sure there are no spelling or grammatical errors. You’ll also want to make sure that you’ve included your company’s contact information, including website, phone number and e-mail address. You want to make it as easy as possible for potential and current clients to reach you!
2. Share more images: With more than 75 percent of PSI pet sitters sharing photos of clients’ pets on their company’s social media sites, it’s clear that pet sitters are already figuring out that social media users love pictures! In fact, one study found that photos and other images uploaded by businesses to their Facebook pages get 53 percent more “likes” than updates that include only text or a link. Business experts agree that sharing more photos can help increase your number of social media followers—and you can use your own photos and images or share those posted by others. Photos that evoke an emotional response are particularly effective.
If you are sharing images of cartoons or quotes make sure they are in good taste and not offensive to your online audience. Also remember to ask permission before sharing photos of clients’ pets and always take extra precautions to ensure that your online photo sharing doesn’t jeopardize your clients’ privacy.
3. Ask questions: Sharing important pet-related tips, resources and information online can go a long way in establishing you as a local pet-care expert, but make sure you aren’t having a one-sided conversation with your audience. One of the easiest ways to generate online conversation with your fans or followers is to pose a question.
Ask for recommendations for local pet-friendly attractions or events or inquire about favorite pet products. You can get more personal by asking your fans or followers to share about pets that have passed away, a favorite memory with their pet or how their pets have changed their lives. Asking online questions is also a good way to conduct informal market research. For example, you can ask pet owners how far in advance they plan vacations or book pet-sitting assignments. If you ask for specific feedback about your business, be sure to respond to any concerns that may be posted.
4. Curate and share relevant content: A concern we often hear from pet sitters is “how can I possibly find time to search for good information to post on my social media pages?” Fortunately, you’re not expected to share only original content. In addition to sharing information about local pet events, client photos and reminders to book pet-sitting services, share information from other pages you follow. New tips are posted on the PSI Facebook page and PSI Twitter account each day. You can also share articles from the PSI Weekly News Brief—all articles in this weekly e-mail include social share buttons so that you can easily post the articles to your social media pages.
Be sure to follow other local pet professionals, such as veterinarians or pet stores, on your social media sites and share their information when relevant. Companies and publications such as VPI® Pet Insurance and Dog Channel also share great pet tips that you can post on your own pages. Don’t forget to also follow other PSI member pet sitters online—your pet-sitting peers can be a great source for ideas!
5. Stick to a calendar and schedule posts: While many pet sitters worry about having time to find great information to share online, even more worry about simply having enough time to even post on their social media pages at all. When it comes to using social media for your pet-sitting business, preparation is key.
Consider setting aside an hour to draft a social media calendar each month. Make note of any local pet-related events, special offers from your company or pet-related observances (such as Professional Pet Sitters Week or National Pet Month) that you want to highlight and add those to your calendar first. If you want to have planned posts daily, fill in the other days with links to informative pet-related articles, etc.
Use Facebook’s scheduling feature or a site like Hootsuite for Twitter to schedule those posts in advance. Then, as you check your social media pages throughout the month, you can share posts or tweets from others you follow on your own pages as well. These posts, combined with photos of clients’ pets you may share, will ensure you are posting frequently.
6. Don’t forget your current clients. While it’s exciting to gain new pet-sitting clients whom you first “meet” on Facebook or Twitter, don’t forget that social media is a powerful tool for connecting with your current clients as well. Let your current clients know where to find you online by including your social media links in your e-mail newsletter, your e-mail signature, on your business website and your business cards. You can also include a message to find you online on any client handouts you leave behind at clients’ homes or on the daily pet report card you leave at the end of pet-sitting assignments.
If you do share photos of clients’ pets online, be sure to ask their permission first and let them know to follow you so that they can see any photos you post. Consider featuring a “pet client of the week” to highlight the pets you care for and show appreciation for your clients.
You can also offer specials on your social media pages to encourage and thank clients for following you online. Post special deals on Facebook or Twitter than instruct clients to mention the post when they book your services by a certain date to receive a special discount.
How social is your pet-sitting business?
What social media sites do you use for your business? Are you already using the best practices detailed above? Share your experiences and any social media tips you’d like to add to this list in the comments section below.