First and foremost, get a business license to conduct business before taking on any clients. It is also pretty important to pick out a name for your business. Do remember Yellow Pages and most directories show companies alphabetically so if you are in an area with many pet sitting companies already in place, try to stick towards the beginning of the alphabet. Next get insured and bonded to protect you, your business, and your clients- as well as give them peace of mind they are hiring a professional dog walker/pet sitter.
Find a support group. A great membership to have is Pet Sitters International (www.petsitter.com) as this gives you discounts on insurance/bonding, support from pet sitting business owners nationwide, and years of experience and tips to help you set up your own pet sitting business. Another is to find a local network. If you are in a highly populated area, chances are there will already be a pet sitters network. Look to its members and business owners to give you pointers, do and don’ts, as well as having some friendships bloom. If your area doesn’t already have a pet sitters network in place, consider making your own.
Order business cards, magnets, and brochures so when you conduct a consultation, you can hand potential clients merchandise of your company. Also get a website address- whether you have it in your budget for a website creator or are doing it yourself, just get your website going. A great place is www.websitepalace.com, as I signed up for a Website Tonight account and didn’t have to learn HTML- and it is relatively cheap to maintain compared to other website out there! This makes you appear more professional as well as gives your clients something with your information so they know who to call next time they need a pet sitter/dog walker. Also find some free sites to advertise your business- USFreeAds.com, Craigslist, Care.com, Sittercity.com, pet-sitters.biz, and even Petfinder.com are some great avenues to start with. Remember the more places your business appears, the higher your business can appear on Google.
Pick which trade shows to do cautiously. Is it an indoor or outdoor event- how many people will be there vs. cost of event? The first year I signed up for everything, got rained out of two events and was out $400- nothing came out of it. Consider giving away free pet sitting to have people register- this way you get some leads. After spending an entire weekend at the big pet expo, we met a lot of people- but those sitting companies who were giving things away got people to register their name/address/phone number/email so were contacted before they could even think to contact us! It was an expensive lesson learned!
Provide excellent customer service. Know you are an Ambassador every time you get into your car, conduct an interview, or walk a dog. If you’re charging someone for 20 minutes, you need to give them 20 minutes- and if you hire sitters for your company, ensure they are giving the client the proper amount of time. Getting shortchanged is the number one complaint of dog walking/pet sitting clients. Leave detailed notes of your visit so the client knows what went on during your visit- thank them for your business. Around the holidays, I give every client a holiday giftbag to thank them for their business. Do not badmouth competitors, drive sensibly in traffic, and be polite to your clients’ neighbors- negative feedback gets around a lot quicker than positive feedback. Lastly have fun and enjoy your new job working with animals!