There are many ways to earn extra money on the side these days. And if you love animals, you’re in luck: 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, pet owners all need help at some point.
Entrepreneurial types profit by providing pet care, and so can you. Just remember this is a business, and you need to treat it like one if you want it to succeed.
Following are key steps to getting started.
1. Make a plan
Providing basic pet care requires few upfront costs, but you should set goals and plan out how you will meet them.
Figure out how much time you will spend on this business, and how many clients you will need to make it worth your while. Decide whether you want to find those clients on your own or through a network like Rover. (More on that later.)
Think about the kinds of services you’ll offer. Are you just going to walk dogs around the neighborhood? Will you also bring in the mail or water the geraniums at the client’s home?
Think it through in advance so you can respond to potential clients’ questions, and be prepared to price that service.
Keep in mind that taxes will eat into your profits. There may be other expenses — such as gas, bags to pick up dog poop and cash for incidentals if an owner on vacation fails to leave enough food or other supplies.
If you’re walking dogs, consider carrying liability insurance in case the dog hurts someone while in your care.
2. Check the laws
Depending on the way you structure your business, different laws may apply. These laws vary by state and locality.
You may need a business license from your state, municipality or both. If you plan to board animals on your property, there may be zoning restrictions.
You may be able to find information online. For instance, I did an internet search for “City of Seattle and Laws about Animal Care” and found the King County government’s “Pet business regulations and permits” webpage.
3. Set your rates in the middle
As in any business, you want to set competitive rates. Look at other pet-sitting sites and see what people in your area charge. 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. Find clients
People don’t trust their pets to just anyone, so it might help to start out working for family, friends or acquaintances. This can really be a word-of-mouth business, particularly if you want to keep it small.
When it’s time to expand, Rover is one of the most popular sites for connecting with pet owners in need of dog-walking, pet-sitting or even house-sitting services. Such sites take a cut of your pay but will expose you to a much larger client base.
5. Keep track
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
If you’re walking dogs, well, there’s going to be a lot of walking. Make sure you can handle the mileage and have the strength to handle a few dogs pulling all at once when they see a squirrel. That is also something to keep in mind when you decide how many and dogs you can handle at once.
If you need to drive to see your clients’ pets, make sure your car is reliable and your schedule is flexible enough to enable you to take excellent care of the critters.
If you’re boarding pets, how many dogs can you fit in your place? If a couple of them really don’t get along, will you have enough space to keep them separate?
Remember: Whether dog, horse, bird or gerbil, these pets are family to your clients.
7. Have some fun
The good news about caring for pets is that while it’s a business, it can also be fun.
Playing with dogs while on the clock? Not bad if you’re a dog lover.
What’s the most important factor when choosing a pet-sitter? Share your thoughts in the comments section below or on our Facebook page.
Kari Huus contributed to this post.