How to Start a Pet Sitting Business: The Definitive Guide (2021)

  • by Teresa Russell
  • 1 month ago
  • Blog
  • 1
Women walking dogs

Have you ever wondered how to start a pet sitting business? Becoming the owner of a successful pet sitting business is more doable than you might think, with minimal start-up costs and tons of resources to help you along the way.

Martin Burt and his wife, owners of Companion Keepers, are a perfect example of how to get a pet sitting business off the ground. They started from scratch with no previous entrepreneur experience, and they now have a strong client base and team of employees.

We picked Martin’s brain to learn the ins and outs of pet sitting. He has a lot of great tips, including letting us know what he wished he would have done from the outset to grow his business even more quickly.

Of course, another option to starting a business from the ground up is to purchase an established business. But if you’d rather do the legwork yourself, we can help make that happen.  

Today, we’re going to walk you through the whole process, with tips and resources for each step of the way. By the time you finish reading this, you’ll have the tools you need to start and run a successful pet sitting business. So let’s get started!  

1. Understanding Pet Sitting 

Woman with a cute dog

You might be wondering if pet sitting is right for you or if you’re even cut out to run a small business. With the help of Martin, we will give you the tools and knowledge to make this important decision and get a head start.

The average cost for pet sitting ranges from $20-$30 per day and $45-$75 per night. Individual pet sitters can make $4,000 a month or more, which can grow even more as you expand your business and hire additional workers.

Pet sitting offers a level of flexibility that few other types of businesses can match.  You can choose to work full time or part time and can even start as a teenager.

Let’s get into what you need to know to decide if starting a local pet business is a good fit.

Experience

Working as a pet sitter for an established company before going out on your own can help you get a feel for the work involved and how to manage different pets, sitting circumstances, and employees.

However, being a passionate pet owner can suffice if you have an entrepreneurial spirit and do your research.

Martin and his wife didn’t have any previous experience with pet sitting or small business, but they were driven to create a safe pet care environment in honor of their passed beautiful Persian, Delilah.

While they may have lacked experience, they sure didn’t lack drive. They spent an entire year researching how to own and operate a small business and pet sitting company. And most of this research was done at the library!

Fortunately, there are tons of online resources nowadays, and we’ve already taken care of the heavy lifting for you. Here are a few to get you started: 

Being An Entrepreneur

Hand showing the word "entrepreneur"

Starting a business can be one of the most challenging and rewarding career moves of a lifetime. It takes planning, guts, and a whole lot of time and effort. 

After taking a deep dive into the world of business ownership and weighing their options, Martin and his wife realized that entrepreneurship was right for them. As Burt explains:

My wife and I discovered we are both entrepreneurs at heart. You know this when your yearning to ‘beat your own drum’ is stronger than your yearning to ‘move up the ladder.

He goes on to explain some of his key requirements for business ownership:

Self-starters motivated to set the alarm and be accountable for all aspects of business without the team or supervision to help us along.

The start-up guides by Entrepreneur and Business News Daily offer step-by-step instructions on how to get started. 

The Small Business Administration (SBA) is also a great resource for those looking to become entrepreneurs in the United States with information on registering your business, funding, and more.  

2. Choose Your Target Market

Because there are so many pet varieties, each requiring different types and levels of care, selecting which types of pets your company will and will not sit for is a core business decision.

This choice should be based on your knowledge, experience, and preferences as well as your desired workload and price points.

You can choose to take on more care-intensive pets, like ferrets and large birds, or stick to lower maintenance animals like cats and guinea pigs. Here are care guides for some of the more common pets to help inform your decision. 

To specialize or not?

Finding a unique way to position your business is a great way to stand out from the competition and command higher prices.

One way to do this is to create a specific type of pet sitting business like a pure dog sitting business.  

Taking a leap of faith, Martin and his wife decided to transition their business, shifting from providing services for both cats and dogs to a cats-only pet care provider, effectively reducing their number of potential clients. As Martin explains:

It was a risk cutting our 50% or more of potential business by catering to cat owners.

They were the only local pet sitting company in this space. The risk paid off, and their specialty pet sitting business flourished.

3. Licenses and Certifications

The word certified printed on the keyboard

Look, no one likes paperwork, but doing the due diligence to get your business up and running is key to its success. One of those steps may involve getting a business license.

Pet sitting business license requirements vary by state, so make sure to check your state/city websites for more information.

Exams and Courses

Beyond licensing, you may want to consider a pet sitting certification as an extra credibility boost for your business. 

The NAPPS Certification Course covers a wide range of topics, from pet first aid to business management. This is a good option for someone who wants to deepen their knowledge of business and pet care and build confidence in their pet sitting abilities.

Another option is the CPPS-Certified Professional Pet Sitter® Exam. This certification is for people who already have the know-how and want to prove their expertise to clients.

In all, certifications can be a learning tool and/or give you an edge over the competition.

4.   Select a Location

Figuring out where to locate your pet sitting business is a big decision. Do you work from home or rent an office? Board animals or make house calls? Or do a combination of the two?

With so many questions to answer, let’s take a look at how Martin and his wife set up their business.

Home Office

Martin describes the Companion Keepers office setup: 

The location was easy: our home. We had a small home and literally converted half our living space into our office…At the time, nobody worked from home so it was odd to most people.

Nowadays, working from home is much more common and accepted. Converting part of your home into an office can help cut costs since you don’t have to rent an office space, which is especially important for a start-up. 

Check out these resources on creating your ideal home office space: 

  • Watch this video to learn more about transforming part of your home into office space
  • Set up your home office like a boss with these tips and tricks 
  • Don’t forget to optimize the ergonomics of your office space for comfort and productivity

Renting and Leasing Retail

Leasing approval for business

If you do want to rent an office space for a more professional feel, make sure you consider its location in terms of your clients, team, and any amenities you want close by. It’s also important to figure out your budget and stick to it.

Online platforms like OfficeSpace let you browse potential business locations from your own home. You may also want to get the help of an expert for your search. 

Personal Visits

With half of their house functioning as an office, there wasn’t much room left for pets. Martin and his wife decided to make pet care visits to the owner’s home as part of their service offerings.

While this option has the benefit of a less chaotic home or rented space, it does come at a cost.

Martin explains the tradeoffs of heavily relying on a car as part of your business operations:

The mileage plus wear and tear on your car annually though is a big expense. It’s not uncommon to put 100 miles a day on your car when making pet visits on busy days.

As your client base grows, so does your car mileage. In Martin’s case, the company profits more than offset these time and money costs.

Alternatively, if you have the space, petsitting in your home can save tons of time and help to reduce costs.  

5. Make a Plan

Whether you create a plan or not can make or break new businesses. Read on to learn exactly what you need to do to develop a solid foundation for your pet sitters business to thrive.

Name The Business

A solid business name can be the difference between gaining a new client and being forgotten. When selecting a name, it should be clear that it is representing a pet sitting company without being too wordy or difficult to remember.

The name of Martin and his wife’s business, Companion Keepers, is short, sweet, and to the point. You can also test some name ideas on a focus group of family and friends to help find the perfect one.

You only get one shot, so take your time and be thoughtful in your decision.

Here are some more tips for naming your business.  

Create a Business Plan

Man creating a business plan

After finding the perfect name, it’s time to sit down and make a plan. A business plan was the missing piece from Martin and this wife’s start-up venture. He states:

This was probably the one mistake we made. We didn’t run into problems without [a business plan] but we had no clear goals either and could have grown our business much faster and with better vision.

Martin hits the nail on the head with his observation. Business plans help you focus, set goals, and stay organized, which is necessary to effectively scale-up your business.

Business Planning 101

Business plans generally have the following elements:

  • Executive summary
  • Vision and mission statements
  • Company summary
  • Market analysis and marketing strategy
  • Financial plan and forecast
  • Competitor analysis

Business Plan Templates

Fortunately, there’s no need to start from scratch. Here are some free templates to get you started!

Goal Setting

Martin also recommended setting goals early on in the process to help guide your pet sitting business in the right direction.

One of the most commonly used tools for goal setting is the SMART goal framework, which emphasizes creating goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely.

When setting your revenue and other goals for the year, don’t forget to consider the seasonality of pet sitting. Plan for busier periods during the summer and slower business during the winter.

For example, at Companion Keepers, they take a break in January to regroup and plan for the following year. 

Insurance

Everyone would like their business operations to always run smoothly. However, in reality, issues are going to come up from time to time.  Insurance and contingency planning are a must for pet sitting businesses.  Martin and his wife have had to handle their fair share of challenges. As Martin describes: 

We have dealt with house break-ins, floods, sick or terminal ill pets, and pets that pass away when their moms and dads are away. The responsibility can weigh on you.

To help you build a stable business that caters to pet owners, he recommends creating a financial cushion over time to prepare for the unknown. Also, creating guidelines for how to handle difficult situations like the death of a pet can help you and your team take on these challenges more effectively and consistently.

To make sure your pet care business is protected, you may want to consider purchasing insurance. Insurance companies like Trusted Choice and Veracity Insurance Solutions offering affordable liability insurance related to animal care. Small business insurance can also provide coverage for other types of financial losses.  

6. Funding

People sitting and planning business

Luckily for you, pet sitting businesses don’t need a large amount of upfront investment. That being said, you’ll still need to decide whether to self-finance your small business or try to find investors. First, let’s take a look at how much money you’ll need to get started.

Estimate Costs

One of the perks of starting a pet sitting business is the low initial costs. Martin and his wife hired an accountant who cost $1,000 per year and an attorney who drew up a pet care contract for pet owners to sign which cost around $600. The remaining costs for a business phone line, advertising, and office supplies were minimal at first.

Other than that, the  main costs for Companion Keepers were related to their car. These can really add up over time. Martin explains:

The mileage plus wear and tear on your car annually though is a big expense. It’s not uncommon to put 100 miles a day on your car when making pet visits on busy days. Depending on gas prices which at times were as high as $3 a gallon plus averaging out the cost per mile burning your car could mean you need a newer car in a few short years. 

Pet sitting business start-up costs can be higher or lower than those of Companion Keepers depending on how you decide to set-up your pet business.

For example, renting out office space for your pet business will add a significant monthly expense, while providing pet care services from the comfort of your own home can help cut down on car wear and tear.  

The US Small Business Administration offers a start-up cost estimator to help you plan out your business expenses. 

Here are the main costs categories factor in when starting your pet sitting business: 

  • Office space (varies depending on location)
  • Car (including gas plus wear and tear)
  • Pet equipment (food, toys, etc.)
  • Accountant: about $1,000 per year  
  • Lawyer: about $600 to create the initial pet care contract

Pet Sitters International also offers a free pet sitter start-up costs checklist to help you estimate your business expenses. 

Personal Investment

If you have a reliable car and money in the bank, it’s possible to start a small business that provides pet sitting services without initially going into debt. This was the route Martin and his wife took. He describes how they managed to found a pet sitter business without debt:

We used our savings and started slowly. We didn’t take vacations, cut down meals out, and anything else we could eliminate until we were profitable. Sometimes we worked overtime at our other jobs to fund growing the pet sitting.

Becoming a fully self-started business owner is possible but may require more sacrifices and effort upfront.  Net, we’ll go over an alternative path for starting and to help you build your local pet sitting business.

There are also several business credit cards geared towards start-ups with perks like not requiring a personal guarantee and a 12-month intro 0% APR. Before applying, you can first check your credit score for free through Experian

Finding Investors

Group of people planning on investing for business

An alternative option for starting a pet business is to get funding from outside sources. You can apply for a loan from a local bank, raise capital from friends and family, or seek funding via an online platform.

Make sure that you understand the terms of the loan and the requested amount is based on your cost and revenue projects from your business plan.

The SBA also helps small businesses to get loans. 

7. Develop a Marketing Strategy

Online presence is the number one way to attract potential clients in today’s world according to Martin. They also receive referrals from local veterinarians and former clients. Occasionally, Martin will buy Google or social media ads, but  they rely most heavily on  organic website searches for growing their business.

Gig Workers

Add the links to Wag and Rover. This is a great example of a place where links could easily be put in.

Gig pet sitting businesses like Wag and Rover can make it difficult for independent pet sitter companies by undercutting the market. As Martin explains:    

They fail to see the hidden time and money expenses and then they compete by underpricing.

While gig pet sitters are barely getting by with their bottom of the barrel pricing,  a true pet care small business has to get creative and set themselves apart to be successful.  

Read on to find out how.

Technology

In addition to leveraging pet owner customer loyalty through referral, using technology is integral for small business owners in growing their sitting business. Martin encourages pet sitters to seek out these solutions:

If there’s a perfect app or a virtual assistant for the problem, use it! Saving the money instead by doing it yourself costs you in growth robbing you of income and time off in the end.

The following platforms can help your business operate like a well-oiled machine. 

  • FreshBooks helps to simplify invoicing 
  • DocuSign can make your contracting processes operate more smoothly
  • Mailchimp offers an integrated marketing platform that allows your to reach potential customers more effectively
  • GoCo uses the cloud to streamline human resource services 

8. Assemble a Team

Two women and two cute dogs

As your pet service business grows, you may want to consider hiring people to help out with pet care. 

Hiring Help

If he could go back in time, the number one thing Martin would do differently is to hire sooner.

We wasted many years staying static afraid to hand over the [reins]…My advice would be to take your time and build and nurture a solid team so you’re not all things to all people 24/7.

Based on how many pet owners you are servicing and your budget, you can choose to hire full time or part time pet sitters that you can train based on your pet care approach and guidelines. This will increase your ability to service more potential clients and grow your revenue.

Depending on your location, you may be able to find potential employees through word of mouth, a community job board, or an online job board like Indeed. Workers who are passionate about animals are a must! 

Check out the 7 C’s and these recruiting strategies for more info on how to hire great employees. 

Remote Workers 

As the remote worker community increases, it’s easier than it’s ever been to find a virtual assistant for day-to-day office tasks. An assistant can take care of the small stuff so you can focus on growing your business.  

Martin warns that burnout is inevitable to people who are fearful of hiring. So once your business starts to take off, get out there and assemble your dream team!

9. Education & Networking

Martin’s final piece of advice for aspiring pet sitters is to never stop learning. There are tons of resources out there for small business owners such as mentorships, online classes, and networking opportunities.

Mentorships

Having a pet sitter mentor is a great way to get you started, and they can act as a support system as you grow. Pet Boss Nation has a great mentor program for those looking to get into the pet industry. 

Martin encourages new business owners not to try to reinvent the wheel and to ask for help when needed. Especially if you’re new to the industry, a mentor can be an invaluable resource and help show you the ropes. 

Networking

Different social media sites to network business

Platforms like Skillshare and Universal Class offer courses specifically for pet sitters where you can hone your skills and learn new tricks of the trade.

Business networking sites can help you make connections to both learn and grow your business. LinkedIn is a widely used platform that helps you to expand your network based on who you know, and the 100AM Networking app is great for networking events and managing business cards. 

Conclusion

Want to stay up-to-date on all the latest tips and tricks from top sitting experts? Then check out Barxie and the pet sitting business coaching blog Jump Consulting

Now that you’ve gone through our pet sitter business guide, you have the know-how to answer the following questions:

  • Is a pet care business right for me?
  • What is my ideal business set-up?
  • What do I need to start a pet sitting business?
  • What are the costs of starting a pet care business?
  • How can I manage the challenges of running this type of business?
  • What strategies can I use to grow my pet care business?

Let us know in the comments if you have any questions and don’t forget to check back in for more business how-tos!

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