Making Extra Money: 7 Steps to Start a Pet Sitting or Dog Walking Business

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If you're an animal lover, this could be the perfect way to fill your time and your wallet.

Who can’t use a few extra bucks? There is the emerging “sharing economy,” where people rent out things they’re not using – everything from houses to tools. But some people looking to make a little money on the side prefer a more traditional business model, like providing a service.

Pet sitting is one way to do just that — and it seems there’s always a need for it in a wide array of forms. But of all critter owners, those with dogs seemingly have the most consistent need for help. People work all day, but their canine friends need to get out for some exercise and, well, to pay a visit to the fire hydrant (or three.) Never mind vacations.

Plenty of entrepreneurial types have managed to profit this way, and you can, too. Sounds fun, right? But even though you’re going to get to hang out with all kinds of cute pups, this is a business and you need to treat it like one if you want it to be successful. Here are seven steps to help you get started.

1. Check the laws

Depending on the way you choose to structure your business, different laws may apply. These laws are going to vary by state and by locality. You may need a business license from your state, locality or both. Beyond that, there may be zoning issues if you plan to board animals at your home.

For instance, I did an Internet search for “City of Seattle and Laws about Animal Care” and came up with this page for the City of Seattle and surrounding King County concerning pet-care permits and how to get one.

As for income taxes, you could try to do it under the table, but it’s not a good idea. If you get caught, you’ll be on the hook for both taxes and penalties. Report your income.

2. Make a plan

Unless you’re planning something dramatic, you probably don’t need a full-blown business plan to show to investors. But you still need to know what your goals are and develop a way to meet them. Keep in mind taxes will eat into your profits. There may be other expenses — gas if you takes the dogs to the park across town, bags to pick up the poop. You probably want to carry liability insurance in case one of the dogs gets hurt, or bites someone while you are in charge.

There are a few good websites around to help you get started. Dogtec.org gives some great advice, and offers a program to make you a “certified dog walker.” Certification may not be necessary, but it will demonstrate that you did your homework (and sound fancier to potential clients when you hang out your shingle.)  The National Association of Professional Pet Sitters can offer advice and help connect you with clients.

Figure out how much time you’re going to spend doing this business, and how many clients you will need to make it worth your while. Keep in mind that time is money; there may be other side jobs which could be a more profitable use of your time when you look at the numbers.

Think about the kinds of services you’ll offer. Are you just going to have the pack on some leashes and stroll through the neighborhoods? Take them to the dog park and let them roam around? Go on long hikes? Some combination?

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