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Pet Sitters: Don’t Make These 3 Rookie Mistakes

Avoid these common pitfalls when you’re first starting out.

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Jack Russell Terrier in harness walking on loose leash

A CAREER AS career as a professional pet-sitting or dog-walking business owner is about much more than simply playing with dogs and cuddling cats.

In addition to obtaining a business license (if required), getting adequate pet-sitter insurance and bonding, and taking advantage of any training you may need to provide quality pet care, there are many business decisions you will need to make to set you on the path to pet-sitting success.

As with any career, there will be many things you learn as you go, but here are three common pitfalls you’ll want to avoid:

1. Setting pet-sitting rates too low

Many new pet sitters and dog walkers fall into the trap of initially offering their services at very low rates to try to build a client base quickly. Unfortunately, this can have many negative consequences. Extremely low rates will not sustain the business long term. New sitters may find themselves overworked, but still not bringing in enough money to cover their basic business expenses. Low rates may also attract less than ideal clientele—pet owners who base their decisions solely on price point. These types of clients will likely leave as soon as they can find someone cheaper and may not place a great emphasis on finding a qualified, professional pet-care option.

Organizations like Pet Sitters International can provide national averages for common pet-sitting services, but it is also a good idea to research what other professional pet sitters (not hobbyists), boarding facilities and doggie day cares in your area charge to get an idea of local pricing. As a general rule, boarding facilities and day cares may be slightly less expensive for one dog (when compared to the cost of three to four daily pet-sitting visits), but are often significantly more expensive for multiple pets — as many professional pet sitters charge by time, instead of a flat, per-pet fee.

2. Not establishing policies and procedures

As you gain more pet-sitting clients, you’ll receive a variety of requests and questions from clients, including:

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  • “Can I pay when I return from vacation?”
  • “Will you walk my dog with my neighbor’s dog?”
  • “Since only my cat will be staying home, can you visit every other day?”

If you haven’t thought of these questions in advance — and what your company is willing or not willing to do — you’ll likely be unsure of how to respond and may feel pressured into giving an answer you may regret.

Taking time to think out, formalize, then write down your company’s policies and procedures will save you a lot of time — and headaches — in the future! Plus, by having this information pre-determined, you will be able to answer clients’ questions about your business confidently and avoid having to decide on the fly how you will handle specific situations that may arise (such as late payments).

3. Not reaching out to other pet-care professionals

Many new pet sitters feel uncomfortable reaching out to other established pet sitters and dog walkers. Don’t make this mistake! Even though pets are your passion, pet sitting can be a lonely career. There is strength in numbers, and there’s likely no pet-sitting situation you’ll encounter that has not already been experienced by another pet sitter. Plus, sometimes you just need to vent or share your daily joys and struggles with someone who understands what you do all day. Fellow pet sitters in your area can also be an important source of referrals when they are unable to service pet owners. Look for pet-sitter associations, industry conferences and online groups to connect with other pet-sitting and dog-walking business owners.

Beth Stultz-Hairston is the president of Pet Sitters International (PSI), the world’s largest educational association for professional pet sitters and dog walkers. PSI offers members resources and support at every stage of their business.

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