There are many ways to earn extra money on the side these days — like renting out your house or vehicle. There are also ways to make extra cash with 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, pet owners all need help at some point. And they want to be able to travel without worrying about their furry, feathered or scaled friends.
Plenty of entrepreneurial types have managed to profit by providing pet care, and you can, too. But even though you will get to hang out with cute animals, 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 still 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.com. (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 one gets hurt or hurts someone while in your care.
2. Check the laws
Depending on the way you structure your business, different laws may apply. These laws will vary by state and by 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 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. 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.com 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 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 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.
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.