How to Successfully Start a Pet Sitting & Dog Walking Business

MAKESThe first business I ever started was a pet sitting and dog walking business.  It also just so happened to be the easiest, and cheapest to start. I spent about $20 initially, and I made over $2000 in my first two months!  From there we (my husband and I) went on to make up to $3000 in a month, while still working full time at our other jobs!  There are many great reasons to start a pet sitting company, but some of the most exciting for me were being my own boss, hanging out with adorable dogs, and of course, making extra money. This business turned out to be extremely profitable for us, since there are really no significant expenses aside from gas.  We have used it to fund every other business venture we have had.   We still have it as an easy side business to make an extra $2000 or more every month.

Below, I listed the steps I took to start a pet sitting business, and any suggestions or tips I have.  This process may not work for everyone, but it did for us.

NAME YOUR BUSINESS & CREATE A LOGO

The first thing I did after deciding to open a pet sitting and dog walking service was to come up with a name.  This was WAY harder than it sounds, and I probably spent more time on this than anything.  You want it to be unique and catchy, but still convey what you do.  I came up with the name by jotting down every word that I liked that had to do with the services I offered, and then just started putting them together.  I ended up being drawn to alliteration names (words starting with the same letter – Furry Friends, Dog Days, etc) and this ended up being the method I used to come up with our name.  Once you come up with a name you like, be sure to look up your states register to verify that it is not already taken.

You can either pay someone to create a logo for you, or create one yourself.  It can be very simple, and in fact, for this line of work, I believe the simpler the better!  If you want to leave the creativity to the professionals, I would recommend
99 Designs.
Basically, this is an online graphic design service where you pick the amount you would like to spend, describe what you would like out of your logo (or just give your name and let the designers have free reign), then let the designers get to work. Next comes the fun part!  Once time is up, you get to pick which logo is your favorite out of the 30-90 entries.  It is a very fun way for you to stay involved and save money, yet still get professional quality work.  They also do other design work such as websites, business cards and car wraps.  If you get a great logo that you are happy with, it would probably be a good idea to stick with their other services as well to get a package discount.

BUSINESS PHONE NUMBER

One detail that often gets overlooked is getting a business phone number.  You really want to get a separate business phone number from the beginning, since you will need this when creating your website, and to put on your business cards and other advertising material.  If you are advertising as a local business, and want to seem like a small business, it would be best to get a phone number with a local area code.  If you want to seem more professional, and possibly offer services in different areas, you will want to get an 800 number. You can even try to pick out a number that spells something if it is available. Either way, you can use the phone you already have!  I used a phone service called Grasshopper. First, you will need to go their website and create an account, pick out the phone number you would like to use, and then you download the app to your smart phone.  You could use it for a landline as well.  Like I said before, you will not need a second phone for this number, what it will do is pop up that you are getting a phone from Grasshopper when you receive a phone call to your business number.  You can create a voicemail for your company, keep track of your contacts, and even text all from your business number via the Grasshopper app.  I am sure there are other companies out there similar to Grasshopper, but they are the cheapest I found during my research.

SERVICES YOU OFFER

Brainstorm and figure out exactly what services you will offer. The services I initially offered were:

  • Pet Sitting: Stopping by multiple times throughout the day to check on the pets. Typically, this included 3 visits per day (first thing in the morning, around 4-5pm, and last thing in the evening) but puppies or older dogs may need more visits.  Cats usually only require one visit per day.
  • Overnight Pet Sitting: I didn’t start out offering this, but I soon realized it was in huge demand. This would entail the same thing as the regular pet sitting, but I would sleep at the customer’s house.
  • Pet Boarding: The pet stays at your home.  If you have an aggressive pet or small children, this may not be a good idea for you.
  • Day Care: Dogs come to your home during the day to get play time and socialization. I stopped offering this service almost immediately, because the price for a dog to come over all day and play was the same price as a walk, which I could do in thirty minutes.  Offering day care at my home also limited when I could leave and go walk other dogs during the day, which is a large part of my income.
  • Dog Walking: This is a great service, because most clients who use this need it every day Monday through Friday, so it becomes a great source of steady income that you can count on.  These are the clients you will grow really close with and they will count on you for all of their dogs needs, and refer you to others!

For any service you offer, most clients will want to have a meet and greet before booking.  This is when you will either go to their home to meet the pets, and get to know the owner, or if the pets are going to stay at your home, the owner and pet will come to your place so your pets and the pet you will be watching can meet.  This should be a free service.

CREATE A WEBSITE

My next step was to purchase a domain and create a website.  This step is not absolutely necessary at this point, but for me, I wanted to look professional, so this was the way to go.  I am pretty techy and really enjoy working online, so this was actually fun for me!  I pulled up YouTube videos of “How to Create a Website” and went from there.  I was intimidated at first, but it was actually extremely simple and satisfying to create my own website.  I bought my domain name through GoDaddy for $10, but they are always offering deals, so you may get it for less.

I used them for hosting as well to simplify the process, and I used WordPress to create the website. There is no extra charge to use WordPress. It is definitely the easiest and most customizable website creator that I have used.  Your website can be simple, just make sure you list your services, prices, how to get in contact with you, and a little about yourself.  People love to see you as a person rather than just a faceless company. People also love to see pictures, so throw up pictures of you and your pet, and any other pets you can get your hands on.  Once you have your website, you will want to create an email account so you can look professional, and track business emails separately.  You can set up a free business email with Zoho mail.

GET INSURED

You may not want to purchase insurance until you have a few customers, but I found it to be a great advertising feature, and also great for peace of mind.  I found the cheapest and easiest place to purchase it through was Pet Sit LLC.  I believe it was around $200, but I did not purchase it until I had made at least that much through the business, so I did not have to use any of my personal money.  I have never had to use it (knock on wood) so I cannot comment on how they handle claims.

ADVERTISING MATERIAL

After this, I ordered business cards and flyers, and printed off Pet Information Forms. I ordered the business cards and flyers through Vista Print, as it was the cheapest and had the most options to choose from.  You can get business cards starting at $9.99, or even cheaper if they are having a sale.  I would definitely recommend purchasing business cards and printing off pet information forms, however, the flyers were useless, and I would not purchase them again.  I hung the flyers around neighborhoods and dog parks to advertise, but never got a single lead from them.  Also, most places now forbid the hanging of flyers, and will tear them down right away if you do hang them.  The business cards were a great purchase. When you book a client, you can leave it on their table with a thank you note saying you look forward to pet sitting for them again, or walking their dog again.  Sure some people will just toss is, but most people will stick it on their fridge.  This means you will be the first person they call the next time they need a pet sitter, and you will be the person they recommend to friends, family, and neighbors.  Once you get a new client, it is so much easier to keep them as a repeat customer, because you do not have to go through the hassle of a meet and greet, and they will be much more trusting of you.  I designed my own Pet Information Forms (I googled one for reference, and then created my own on Microsoft Word) and it was very simple, but effective.  This form is to get all of your client’s information and everything you need to know while watching their pet.  Some key information to have on it would be the owners contact info, the pet’s basic info, feeding schedule, medication, vet information, and other miscellaneous info such as bathroom schedule, favorite toys, etc.  It is so important to have all of this written down so you do not forget anything, and will always have something to reference.

Some other things that may be beneficial to order are a sticker for your car, a t-shirt to wear with your business name and logo when you walk dogs, or even post card mailers to send out.

CREATE A FACEBOOK PAGE

This step is optional as well, but my first customers I ever booked were from my local community Facebook page.  Every town has one, the buy, sell, and trade page.  You would be surprised how many people post actually looking for pet services, and this way you can respond with your Facebook page, and either direct them to your website, or private message them on Facebook.

PAYMENT OPTIONS

Before you book any pet sitting jobs, you will need to decide what forms of payment you accept.  I chose to accept all types of payment, so I purchased the Square device, which allows you to scan cards on your phone or tablet.  It does take a small percentage of the payment (2.75%), but it is a free app to use.  You have to purchase the device, but as soon as you download the app, they refund the purchase price of $9.99.  It syncs to your bank account, so the money goes directly into the account of your choosing.  In my experience, the majority of people chose to pay with checks or cash.  To accept checks made out to your business name, you will need to open up a bank account in that name.  This is a good idea anyways, so you can track your business expenses and income separately.  To do this, you will need to apply for an EIN (Employer Identification Number), which is done through the IRS.  It is a very simple process.

 

HOW TO GET BUSINESS

This was the step I was so worried about, but it turned out to be fairly simple!  I live in a super pet friendly town, so everyone has a pet, and most people treat them like a child as opposed to just a pet, so pet sitting services are in high demand.  I received three meet and greet requests in my first two weeks, and I was thrilled!  They were all for pet boarding at my home.  For the meet and greets make sure to ask questions about their pet, and be very friendly.  People need to trust you before they can leave their fur-baby with you.  Some meet and greets will last ten minutes, and some will last two hours. Either way, go above and beyond for them, because every one of these clients is a great source for referrals. It does not matter how much you advertise, people will never trust an advertisement as much as they will trust a recommendation from someone they know.

Two other great sources to advertise are Rover and DogVacay.  You may have heard of these, as they are popular websites where you can go to find a pet sitter in your area. They also both offer an app to download on your phone that is very convenient and easy to use.  You can sign up to be a featured pet sitter on either one for free.  In the beginning, this is how I received the most business, because when people Google pet sitter or dog walker this is the first result that pops up.  When you sign up you will list the services you offer and the prices you charge for these services. You will show up in the results when people in your area use this service, and then they can send you a message through the website.  People feel very safe using this service since if you are listed on a reputable companies website, you must be trustworthy!  When you sign up, do not list anything about your company on your profile, as it is a site for individuals only.  The down side to these sites, is since all payments are made through them, they take a 15% cut of whatever you charge when a client books your services.  The reason I found these sites great for my business, is once I met the client and they trusted me, we would exchange numbers, and in the future they would always directly text or call me when they needed a pet sitter or dog walker.  As with any other client, I would leave a business card for them, and they would have a way to get in contact directly with me to cut out the middleman if they wanted to.

Your website is another great way to get new clients.  Spend a little time on SEO (Search Engine Optimization) so your website can start to show up when people in your area search for the services you offer. Also be sure to create a contact page with a contact form so they can fill it out and contact you immediately. Most people would rather handle everything online as opposed to having to pick up a phone and call someone.

Another  thing that worked well for me was to wear a t-shirt with my companies logo and services on it.  While I was walking dogs around their neighborhoods, I constantly had people stop me to ask about my services, which almost always lead to a new client. Be sure to carry business cards with you on your walks too!  T-shirts are fairly inexpensive to get made.  Again, I used Vista Print, and I only paid about $8 for each shirt.

KEEP YOUR CLIENTS HAPPY

It is so much easier to retain a current client than to have to find a new one!  There are a few things that you can do to go above and beyond to keep your current clients happy, that do not even take too much extra work.  The most important thing I do is keep the client updated on their pet.  If it is a dog I walk every day, I try to send a cute picture or text update once a week.  If I am pet sitting, in my home or theirs, I always send a text and picture within the first few hours to let them know their pet is settling in okay, and then after that I try to send at least one picture and text update for every day they are gone.  People love this!

Something else that I do that makes the clients feel really special, is to buy a small gift for their pets around special occasions.  For example, there is a dog bakery in my town, so around Christmas time I head there to pick up a cute little candy cane shaped homemade treat for the pups I walk on a regular basis, or any pets I am watching at that time, and leave it in a cute little box (provided by the bakery) with a note.  It only costs about $2, and they absolutely love this.  I have had clients take pictures and share it on Facebook, so it keeps your current client happy, and leads to more clients!

Like I mentioned before, whenever I take care of a new client’s pet, I always leave a business card with my information, but I also use a thank you card.  You can get cute thank you cards for very cheap, so it really ends up being a very small expense, but it makes a huge impact.  For example, these Modern Thank You Cards only end up costing about 16 cents for each client!  I like these because they are neutral, but still bright.
I always try to make it personal by including something specific their pet did that I thought was cute, funny, or unique.

 

I know this post got a little lengthy, but there is so much to say!  Like I said, we make about $2000 per month doing this, and we could make so much more if we both did not work full time at other jobs.  If you are willing to commit to pet sitting and dog walking entirely, you will make even more than we do.  With that being said, there is still so much more that is involved in this business, but this post should cover the basics. Hopefully you found this helpful, and you are more excited than ever to start your own small business! Let me know in the comments, or shoot me an email, if you have any questions!

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