How To Start A Pet Sitting Business: The Complete Guide
Have you always had an affinity for furry (or scaly) things? Have you ever needed money? If you answered yes to both these questions, you may want to consider starting a pet-sitting business.
But before you pick up the leashes and pooper-scoopers, it’s a good idea to sit down and plan out the trajectory of your business. If that sounds overwhelming, don’t fret. Below, we’ll lay out the steps you can take to start a pet-sitting business.
Table of Contents
Decide On A Location
Since you’re going to be dealing with people’s pets, you’ll need to take into account your proximity to your clients. If they’re dropping their pets off with you, you’ll want to be located somewhere easily accessible to most of your customers, and one that can accommodate animals. Depending on where you live, this can be tricky as the space necessary to accommodate animals will usually be cheaper in less centralized locations.
On the other hand, if you’re going to your customers, you’ll need to take into account the amount of time you need to spend with each client’s pets, the costs of commuting to the job, and how animal-friendly/animal-hostile the infrastructure in your service area is (dog parks, etc.).
Register Your Business
Why should you register your business? Depending on your local laws, you may actually be required to register your business in order to legally pet-sit. But even in jurisdictions where it isn’t compulsory, there are some advantages to doing so.
The first is that you can do business under a name other than your own. So instead of Martha Swearingen, LLC, you can do business as Baron Bark’s Pet Pampering Service (you can have that one for free).
The default configuration for businesses is a sole proprietorship (or a partnership, if you’re starting it with someone else). This essentially means that you’ve started a business with your own name or, if you file a DBA (Doing Business As), a name of your choice.
Sole proprietorships have the advantage of being cheap and easy to start. Your taxes will also be easier to file (and lower) than they would generally be with other forms of incorporation. Keep in mind, however, that for liability purposes, sole proprietorships and the individuals behind them are essentially one and the same.
Other forms of incorporation will require a bit more work and come with their own advantages and disadvantages. Most pet-sitting companies aren’t going to be interested in forming C-suites for governance, so you can probably ignore S-Corps and C-Corps for now. You may, however, want to consider forming an LLC to provide some separation between your personal finances and liabilities and your business ones.
Here are the most popular ways to incorporate:
- Limited Liability Corporations (LLCs): If you’ve seen LLC after a corporation’s name, you’re dealing with this type of company. LLCs offer limited liability protection for their owners without the full complexity of a corporation. Each state has its own rules for how to start and maintain an LLC, and you don’t necessarily have to register your LLC in the state where you’re doing business (although you’ll generally want to). LLC owners report their business earnings and losses on their personal taxes.
- C-Corp: This is the “basic,” default form of incorporation. Shareholders are considered the owner(s) of the company and receive limited liability protection; however, the business decisions are made by corporate officers who may or may not be shareholders. The corporation is taxed separately and shareholders pay income tax on dividends. To form a C-corp, you’ll file articles of incorporation with your state.
- S-Corp: S-corps are similar to C-corps in most ways, but come with a few additional restrictions: you have to have fewer than 100 shareholders and they have to all be U.S. citizens or residents. Unlike C-corps, profits and losses are reported on personal taxes, not unlike an LLC. In addition to filing articles of incorporation, you’ll also need to file IRS Form 2553.
Get Business Insurance
As a pet-sitter, you’re not just dealing with property, you’re dealing with animals whose owners often view them as part of their family. In other words, if something goes wrong, things could get ugly.
Depending on your local laws, you may be required to carry certain types of insurance.
The type of insurance that will probably be of most interest to you is general liability insurance. This protects you in the event of a lawsuit or accident, whether it’s an accidental injury to the animal or if you accidentally damage property within a client’s home. It doesn’t only protect you, however; it also makes you look like a safer option than a business that isn’t covered.
There are other, more specialized types of insurance that are worth taking a look at depending on the specifics of your business. These include:
- Property Insurance: Protects the property needed to run your business (as opposed to damages you cause to clients’ property).
- Business Interruption: Covers costs related to unforeseen events that make your business unable to function.
- Professional Liability (Error and Omissions): Covers the costs of defending your company in lawsuits in cases where your business caused a financial loss.
If you aren’t sure where to look, we can help you.
Invest In Business Software
While not absolutely necessary, you can save yourself and your customers some hassle with strategically chosen business software. For pet sitting, there are probably three types most worthy of consideration.
Doing business with cash can be convenient when you’re first starting out, but as you grow, you’ll probably be missing out on clients if you can’t accommodate other forms of payment.
Recommended Option: Square
Best Overall Mobile POS
Retail POS: Free trial ($60/mo value)
Restaurant POS: Free trial ($60/mo value)
Square POS: Always free
If you have an iOS or Android device, Square offers an extremely convenient way to accept mobile payments while on the go via a small add-on you plug into your device. It’s also a very scalable service; if you’re running a retail location, there are even more features and service options you can take advantage of.
Best of all, there aren’t any monthly fees to worry about. Square charges between 2.75 – 3.5 percent per transaction (depending on whether you swipe or key in the info), so you’ll want to factor those costs into your expenses.
As you add clients, it will get harder to remember their particular preferences, not to mention more difficult to fit them all into your schedule. With booking or scheduling software, you can track your time, note customer needs, and efficiently plan your days’ work. Many of these offer their basic features free of charge.
With no monthly fee, you’ll get invoicing, estimates, contact management, expense tracking, accounts payable, and inventory tracking.
Pet-sitting, especially, if you’re going to your clients, doesn’t have a lot of overhead when you’re first starting out. In the event that you do need to scare up some money to cover starting expenses or equipment, there are a number of options available to you.
If you can avoid taking on debt, it’s usually a good idea. It may hurt to part with some of your rainy day funds, but you won’t be accumulating expensive interest and fees.
Tap Your Support Network
If you do need money from an outside source, you can often get a better deal from your support system than you can from a private lender.
Keep in mind that this comes with its own risks. You may stress your relationships, especially if you aren’t able to pay back these so-called friendly loans quickly. One way to avoid this is to formalize any agreements you make with friends and family so that everyone fully understands what they’re getting into and what the expectations are. You may even want to draw up a formal contract that outlines any expected payments and return on investment.
For the relatively low expenses you will encounter when you start a pet-sitting business, credit cards can probably suffice for most of your needs.
The general rules of thumb when it comes to using credit cards effectively are these:
- Use credit cards for expenses that you can pay off within their interest-free grace period.
- Pick a card with a reward program that matches your spending habits and needs.
- Do not take out cash advances on your credit card.
If you follow these rules, you can actually save money by using your credit card to make purchases.
Recommended Option: Amazon Business Prime American Express Card
This one’s a little more niche. But if you find yourself buying supplies and random pet-related doodads on Amazon frequently, you can get a lot of value out of the Amazon Business Prime American Express Card.
If you have a Prime membership, you’ll earn a whopping 5 percent back on purchases made at Amazon.com, Amazon Business, AWS, and Whole Foods Market — or an extra 90 days interest-free grace period for purchases made at those places. Even if you’re not a Prime member, you’ll get 3 percent or 60 days, respectively. You’ll need to spend around $6,000 to recoup the cost of a $119 Prime membership with points alone, but that’s without factoring in money saved through Prime’s programs (shipping, deals, etc).
If you need more money than you can safely put on a credit card, or need longer to pay it off, you should consider getting a personal loan that can cover business expenses.
There are some disadvantages to taking this route, namely that you’re on the hook rather than your business, but if your credit is good, it’s not the worst option out there.
Recommended Option: Lending Club Personal Loans
Lending Club is a good option for individuals who may not have the strongest credit, but have a good debt-to-income ratio. The borrowing range is fairly narrow at $1k to $40k, but when you’re just starting out, you don’t want to go too deeply into debt anyway. You’ll have three-to-five years to pay it off, which makes it fairly manageable.
Recommended Option: Lendio
If you’re just entering the alternative loan market for the first time, it can be pretty overwhelming. Lendio takes some of that burden off of you by allowing you to effectively apply to their whole network of lenders with one application.
Need more options? Check out our feature on startup loans.
If you’ve just been watching your friends’ pets, you’ve probably had an informal agreement about the services you’d provide and the expectations of safety and liability involved. And that was probably enough.
When you’re dealing with strangers in a professional capacity, however, it’s smart to formalize these elements in a contract. This can save you a lot of headaches, if not legal troubles, down the road. You’ll want to include critical information about the pet (when and what they eat, how they are with strangers, pertinent medical history, etc.), what’s included in your services, and the client’s expectations for how their home will be treated under your care (if applicable). You’ll also want to include your fees and rates.
If you can, have a lawyer look it over to make sure it checks out legally.
Market Your Business
Getting the word out is always one of the most challenging parts of getting a business off the ground. The easiest place to start is through word of mouth. Are you already looking after the pets of a family or two? Let them know you’re looking to take on more clients, along with your friends, family, and social contacts.
At some point, you’ll probably want to expand outside the reach of your current contacts, which means advertising. It doesn’t have to be fancy. You can post flyers on bulletin boards and leave business cards in places trafficked by pet owners. Online classified sites like Craigslist can also cover a large audience in your area.
Bolster Your Web Presence
When it comes to promoting small business, the internet is one of those things that’s easy to both over- and underestimate. On the one hand, simply buying an ad and hoping for the best likely won’t yield amazing results. On the other, you do need an internet strategy to grow your business.
It doesn’t have to be fancy, but you’ll probably want a website that details your basic services and contact information. Don’t overthink it. There are a lot of great tools available that can help you build a website.
Remember, too, that social media isn’t just for sharing pictures of your dinner with your friends. You can use to communicate with customers, make engaging content that makes them keep your brand in mind, and announce special deals and service changes.
Hopefully, everything we covered doesn’t look too intimidating. If you’re good with animals and don’t mind turning that love into a source of revenue, you can get a pet-sitting business up and running in no time!
Having second thoughts about pet-sitting but are still looking to open a business? Check out our other beginners’ guides.