Who can’t use a few extra bucks? There are so many ways to earn on the side these days — like renting out your house, car or even tools. There are also more ways to make a little money using a more traditional business model, like providing a service.
Critter care is one service that is always in demand. Whether it’s monitoring a fish tank, feeding a cat or getting a dog out for some exercise and a visit to the hydrant (or three), pet owners all need help at some point — and they want to be able to get away on business or vacation without worrying about their furry (feathered, scaled) friends.
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 cute animals, 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
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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. Are you planning to board animals on your property? There may be zoning restrictions.
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
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You probably don’t need a full-blown business plan to show to investors. There’s not much upfront cost to get started with basic pet care. But you still need to know what your goals are and how you will start to meet them. Keep in mind that taxes will eat into your profits. There may be other expenses — gas if you are driving around town to clients’ homes, bags to pick up dog poop, and cash for incidentals if an owner on vacation fails to leave enough cat litter, food or other supplies. If you’re walking dogs, you probably want to carry liability insurance in case one gets hurt, or hurts someone while in your care.
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 nonprofit National Association of Professional Pet Sitters offers a wealth of information on animal care and pet-sitting business tips. Loads of good information is free on their website, but a membership for $135 a year give you access to all their resources and webinars — and may be just the thing if you want to take your pet-care business to a new level.
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.
Think about the kinds of services you’ll offer. Are you just going to walk dogs in a pack around the neighborhood? (I once had a cat sitter who fed my cats when I was gone, as well as spending “quality time” with them.) Will you also bring in the mail or water the geraniums at the client’s home? Perhaps you will also help groom that shaggy mutt while the owner is out of town.
Think it through in advance so you can respond when potential clients asks and be prepared to price that service.
3. Pricing: Start in the middle
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As in any business, you want to be competitive. Look at other pet sitting sites and see what people in your area are charging. You don’t want to be the most expensive, but if you set your price too low, people may think you are also lower quality.
4. Finding clients
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People don’t trust their pets to just anyone, so it might be good to start with friends of friends and acquaintances. This can really be a word-of-mouth business, particularly if you want to keep it small.
When it’s time to expand, one of the most popular sites to find customers with dogs is Rover.com. Such services take a cut, but you’ll be exposed to a much larger client base.
5. Don’t forget paperwork
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Once the money starts rolling in, it’s up to you to track it. Use a simple system, either with software or paper, to keep track of the money you make, and the expenses you incur.
6. Make sure you’re ready for it
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If you’re walking dogs, well, there’s going to be a lot of walking. Make sure you can handle the mileage you’ll put on and have strength to handle a few dogs pulling all at once when they see a squirrel (which is also something to keep in mind when you decide how many you can handle.) If you need to drive to see your client’s pets, make sure your car is reliable and your schedule is actually amenable to take excellent care of the critters.
If you’re boarding pets, space will be an issue. How many dogs can you fit in your place? Usually dogs can settle things, but if a couple of them really don’t get along, how can you keep them separate?
Remember — whether dog, horse, bird or gerbil — these pets are family to your clients. If you can’t live up to your promises, your clients are not likely to take it well.
7. Have some fun
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The good news about caring for pets is that they can be such characters. It’s a business, but it can also be fun. Playing with dogs while on the clock? Not bad if you’re a dog lover. You might even find yourself enjoying the work so much you end up dancing in the streets — or howling at the moon!
Do you have experience hiring folks to take care of your pet? What’s the most important factor in deciding on a sitter? Share your thoughts in the comments section below or on our Facebook page.
Kari Huus contributed to this post.
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