If you love animals and have always wanted to have a career working with them, this might be the perfect time to start your own business. Running a pet business is fast becoming a viable way not only to earn a living but also to be your own boss and make a profit. It’s a relatively simple business to manage and doesn’t take a huge amount of money in startup costs. Here are some tips for getting started, from the new book Start Your Own Pet Business by Rich Mintzer.
Naming your business
Your business needs a name—one that people can remember. Start looking at other petsitting business names in your area. You do this for two reasons. First, you don’t want a name someone already has—they have probably registered as a business using that name and have a similarly titled website. Second, you may get some ideas. Because pets are cute, many petsitting services go with something short and cute, like Fuzzy Faces Pet Sitters and Little Rascals Doggie Day. Write a bunch of ideas down, and then ask your friends, family, or anyone who’ll listen what names they like best. You might want to check out The Naming Book by Brad Flowers (Entrepreneur Press, 2020). Once you narrow down some name ideas, test-market the name with pet owners. Take your time—you want a name that people will remember.
Setting your business structure
First, you need to address the nasty little topic of business structure. Several possibilities exist, and the most common for this kind of business is a sole proprietorship. The good news about this setup is that it is simple. The business is just you—you make the decisions, and you get all the revenue. You also put up all the money, and you risk all your own personal assets. That’s the bad news of sole proprietorship.
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Buying a pet-based franchise
Another possibility to consider for your business structure is buying into a pet-sitting franchise. A key benefit is that you get immediate name recognition, training, marketing materials, a procedures manual, support from an experienced team, and startup loans to make it easier to open your business. Some disadvantages of a franchise may come in terms of control—the franchise has it; you don’t. Typically, a franchise determines where your business is located and what territories you cover. If control is important to you, then you might be better off starting an independent business.
Pet-sitting in clients’ homes
A lot of people would rather their pets stay comfortable at home rather than send them to a kennel. Pet care in the pet’s home environment creates many variables you need to be aware of. First, it requires a visit when the owner is still at home to become familiar with the pet’s home setup. Get the grand tour. Find out where the food is, where the owner allows the pet to roam in the house, where the pet toys are stashed, and even the basics like how to get in and how to shut off the alarm system if there is one. Doing home care while owners are away typically means that you have to visit twice a day. This has a great bearing on how wide a range you accept as a market. If you have to drive twice a day to someone’s house, make sure it isn’t a 90-minute trip each way.
Pet care in your own home
In later articles, we’ll discuss creating a separate kennel at your home. The assumption that performing pet care right in your own home would be easier than driving back and forth might not be so cut and dry. Like people, house pets get accustomed to their own homes and their own routines. With their owner gone, their routine gets thrown out the window. And if you have pets of your own, you might be inviting trouble in terms of the animals not getting along, and also just overwhelming yourself with too much constant responsibility.
Pet-sitting as a side hustle
If pet-sitting is a side job for you, a way to make extra money beyond your nine-to-five job, you may be able to expand your market to include areas near your job site. So perhaps you work an hour away from your home; in that case, it would make sense to take on jobs that are along your commute or near your office. Expanding your market to encompass your work area can make up some of the income you lose from the fewer clients you can take on. However, you’ll want to keep a couple of items in mind with this sideline approach. Are you in a job where you might get called away on a business trip at the last minute? If you were to arrive at your client’s house to take care of the pets before heading to work, what would happen if there were something that required you to take extra time—perhaps the pet was injured overnight or seemed sick and in need of veterinary care or at least an hour or so of observation? Is your employer and/or your type of work flexible enough for you to be able to come in a couple of hours late without notice? Would you be at risk of losing your regular job because of the part-time pet-sitting work?
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Getting in the zone
Don’t ignore local zoning ordinances about what you can or can’t do when it comes to operating a business out of your home. And don’t assume just because the guy up the street operates an accounting business from his home that it’s legal to do so or that the same rules apply to a pet-sitting business. The accountant may be operating legally, but your home may come under different zoning laws, even if it’s just a few yards or blocks away from the home-based accountant. Typically, if your business doesn’t need to have a sign posted at the end of your driveway or doesn’t require clients coming to your home, you are probably going to be fine. The real problem could occur if you are using your own home to pet-sit a wide range of animals. Then you may need to check the zoning ordinances. Complying with the zoning ordinances for your town or your part of town may be as simple as filing for a permit at a modest fee. Go to the town hall and ask questions about zoning ordinances or any other local laws or restrictions that may pertain to your business. Don’t ask questions only of the town clerk. Talk to the chair of the zoning board, perhaps the planning board chair, and someone on the zoning board of adjustments. It can’t hurt to cover all your bases. It is not worth spending money setting up your business only to find out that you can’t operate from your home.
Related: More Ways for Dog and Cat Lovers to Make Money
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