How to become a pet sitter (and what to charge)

Lately I’ve been doing quite a bit of e-mail “coaching” to people who want to start pet sitting. If I’m being really honest, I don’t have time to coach individuals. So I’m going to write a post here that I hope will be helpful to people – and also will save me some time. No offense to anyone. I’m just busy running a pet sitting business. 😉

I’m not going to lie, with a day that can go from 3:am-10:pm, this is a tough job if you have ANY health problems– although I can usually catch a nap in the middle of the day, so that helps. The hours are sporadic but can allow for things like Dr. Appointments and errands (we have a LOT of these in our household) but it’s very difficult to take a full week off. When I had cancer surgery, I was forced to take 6 weeks off, but I had to plan about 5 months ahead to do that.

It took about 2 years to get a solid customer base, where I do about 7 visits a day but I most definitely had a decent start within a year.

“Visits” are 30 minutes total, and can include dog walking – or can simply be a walk. These visits are $25. I wouldn’t charge much less than that. When I started, I charged $10. That barely pays for gas, especially if your area is large.

I charge $55 for overnight visits, which are basically dinner until breakfast (10-12 hours)

I also offer a “longer” visit at $20 per hour, with a 4 hour minimum. Otherwise, it’s $25 for 30 minutes. Most people hire me for the $25 visit or the overnight. I charge $5 per pet, for more than 3 pets (birds and fish in one tank or cage count as one pet)

So, I know you can do the math, but the average day I make $150-$175. But I can work 7 days a week, and that doesn’t include any fees for overnights or boarding. You can charge more than I do – I think the average here is $25. Here’s a good way I learned what to charge. Think of an annual salary you’d be ok with. (mine was initially $35,000) and divide by 2000. That gives you the minimum hourly rate. Remember you’re driving too, so even if you only do a 30 minute visit, it’s still an hour that you’re working. I rounded up to $25. (2000 is the number of hours you’d work if you took a 2 week vacation.) It’s just a method. You can use whatever method you’d like. You can copy others. You price yourself lower than everyone. You’ll work a LOT and you’ll work hard, and you’ll probably wind up raising prices eventually. You can be the cheapest, or you can be the best, but it’s really difficult to be both.

To start, you don’t need any supplies except maybe a leash and dog poop bags. Really. You’ll learn what you like to work with – I also carry some medium size trash bags and some gloves and sponges for mess clean up. But don’t go out and spend a bunch of money on supplies. Then again, everything is tax deductible…so if you have the $ up front, buy whatever you want. lol

This is the slow time. Sept 13-Oct 13. Holidays are crazy. Summers are crazy.

Here’s what I’d do, in order of priority. You can do these things while you still have your current “day job”.

#1 make a website. This is the single most important marketing tool you’ll have. We pay $50 / year for hosting through GoDaddy and we just make our own website. You can visit it at http://www.PetCarebyApril.com if you’d like. It’s pretty simple. Even if you just have a one page blogger website with contact info and prices, its important to have a website you can control…no need to pay someone to do this. You want to be able to update it when you want to and not wait for someone else to get on the ball…

#2 Make a client intake form in Word or PDF. It can be simple or complex, but just have something people can fill out info and sign. Just print them as you need them. Don’t order these from anywhere. You’ll want the flexibility change it when you change your pricing, services or policies. It will happen.

#3 Order a few business cards, or make a few. It doesn’t have to be fancy – just something to give clients so they have your number handy. Tip: Don’t put your price on this card or on any flyer (unless it’s a special, with an expiration date). People keep these forever. You’d be surprised.

#4 List your business on Yelp (and sign up with Yelp for business owners so you can specify your area by zip code). I don’t recommend advertizing with yelp. I feel like they are crooked, and will remove your good ratings the second you stop advertising.

#5 Get a Google+ and Facebook page for your business and update them at least weekly. Keep in mind, people will contact you through these sites, too – so if you build the page, you must maintain it and respond to prospective customers. If you don’t like social media, and you will ignore the page, don’t bother building one. You’re far better off being true to yourself.

#6 List your business website on as many free sites as you can. I don’t see any reason to pay to list your website. The more sites you’re listed on, the more important Google thinks you are…and you’ll show up in searches. Craigslist, DMOZ are just a couple. You can list yourself on SitterCity, DogVacay and Care.com

Back when I started, I used a book called Six Figure Pet Sitting. I found it to be quite helpful. However, a lot of the focus in this book is on hiring employees or “independent contractors”. If you want to build more than a small business, and would rather be a “boss” than a pet sitter, I highly recommend following all the guidelines in this book.

Good luck, and I hope this information is helpful to you!!

~April

http://www.PetCarebyApril.com

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6 thoughts on “How to become a pet sitter (and what to charge)

  1. Hi!!! Thanks for such a nice blog! Do you always require for dogs to have a medical record? What if a dog doesn’t have one but he is perfectly healthy and the owner says he’s had complete vaccines before?

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    1. Hi there! I don’t require any medical records for pet sitting. I believe we over vaccinate. I’m not sure why we do this. Most dogs that are properly vaccinated as puppies don’t really need much more. (Annual rabies is ridiculous…). Any pet owner that bothers to hire a pet sitter is likely to have their dog properly vaccinated. I take their word for it as long as their pet appears healthy. They do sign a waiver, stating that their pet is vaccinated and that I am not responsible if their dog gets sick while in my care. I’ve never had a problem. Thanks for stopping by!

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      1. Okay thank you! Yes I have them sign a waiver. I just got news from a previous customer (3 weeks ago), the dog had complete vaccine shots and all but suffered continuous bleeding and was admitted to a hospital tonight, initial finding was ehrlichiosis and said they’ll perform some other test. I have 3 resident dogs but they’re all fine! I just cant help worrying that the dog might’ve gotten it when he was boarding here. 😦 Have you ever experienced this?

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      2. I’ve had dogs develop a cough shortly after arriving here, but never anything serious. Did you notice anything while they were there? I always mention to clients if their pet seems to come down with something, so they know I’m aware. But bottom line is, if the pet was vaccinated, there is no reason for them to contract a disease at your house. Pets get sick – it doesn’t mean anything went wrong at your house. I really hope the dog will be ok.

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  2. Hope so too! At the time of boarding, nothing unusual, the dog was just chilling and loved playing in the backyard, so those are the things I mentioned to the owner. I guess I’m a worry-freak! Thank you so much for your help and please post more articles and videos! 🙂

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    1. Sounds like you covered yourself with the waiver – we can definitely show concern about the pets health, without “owning” the problem. The chances that something was actually contracted at your place are very low. (I’m a worrier too..I can actually make myself sick worrying). I’m sure the pet owner doesn’t blame you, but it just keeping you updated on a pet that you obviously care about.

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