After the Holiday Storm – Three New Year’s Resolutions for Pet Sitters

By Elle Peterson of Panda's Pets. Link here.

Happy New Year!  If your holidays went something like mine then you’re exhausted but your bank account is pretty comfortable.  Riding the wave of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s travel can be a real testament to your pet sitting fortitude.  But now the boarding dogs have all gone home and the bulk of vacation travel is over.  January and February are historically slow months for pet sitters and the transition isn’t always a pleasant one.  If you find yourself asking ‘When will the work pick up?’ and ‘Do I have enough saved to cover the bills?’ then it’s time you started thinking about a strategy for surviving the slow season.  Here are my three New Year’s resolutions for pet sitters to keep you on the right track and make this year even better than the last.  Cheers!

puppy under a blanket

1. Reconnect with Customers

We all get busy and wrapped up in our own lives and work.  There will be phone calls and texts that go unanswered and customers that slip through the cracks.  Sometimes it feels like there is just never enough time in the day…  Well, good news!  Now that you have a lot more free time on your hands you can go back through your phone, through your email (especially the spam), and through your social media.  COUNTLESS times I have found a lost message, a miscommunication, a forgotten follow up and apologetically reached out to find that person is still in need of a pet sitter and happy to pick up where we left off.  (I can also count a few times that I took a tongue lashing over my belated reply but I still think it’s worth the risk and a downright courteous thing to do.)

Reaching out isn’t just for the customers you might have missed but it’s for the ones you haven’t heard from in a while, too.  It’s easy to go through your text message logs and wish a ‘Happy New Year’, check in on pets and people that have been ill, or send some of those adorable pet photos that are piling up on your phone.  For clients with pets that passed away it will mean a lot to get a photo of their beloved furbaby and know you’re keeping their memory alive.  (Going through your phone is also a great time to double check that you’ve thanked all your customers who gave holiday cards, gifts, and tips!)

woman at desk with cat

2. Plan Strategically for the Year Ahead

One of the reasons I enjoy a hands-on, old-fashioned daily planner for scheduling (my personal choice being the FranklinPlanner) is the ability to keep prior years at my fingertips for comparison.  (I know, I know… I need to join the digital age!  If you are using software with great analytics for forecasting future schedules please reach out to me, I would love a personal recommendation.)  Each year added to your schedule inventory will give you a more clear picture of the year ahead.  Identifying trends in travel means you can better prepare for high-volume seasons and strategically book your personal time off when it is least likely to conflict with your clients’ needs.

Two unpredictable and busy weeks to keep an eye on are spring break (since it’s not marked on your calendar), and Easter (since the date varies from March to April).  I have been fooled by spring break a couple times and accidentally booked personal travel over what I expected would be an average week… only to lose a lot of money by being out of town, and really frustrate my own sitters by adding to their already demanding schedules.  The end of your local school year will usually see a boost in travel while the start of the school year typically sees a drop.  The week before the weekend before a major holiday is usually slow and a great time for planning personal travel or appointments that cut into your prime business hours.  Knowing when you’ll likely be busy as well as slow is the start to budgeting your finances so dips in business don’t become financial hardships.  If you’ve properly planned for the down time you will be able to truly enjoy your time off and prevent the dreaded “pet sitter burnout”.

BONUS TIP:  Mass-messages to clients are usually considered a nuisance but I have found that messaging my personal “Travel Alerts” prompts clients to not only book around my dates but also to send their future travel itineraries weeks or months earlier than they normally would and it’s a tremendous help in getting the schedule fleshed out ahead of time.  (I once sent a mass-message in January about a trip I had planned for May and had so many clients respond that they planned to travel the same week, I rescheduled my trip to remain available for their travel.  The five day difference more than paid for my vacation!)

dog holding leash in mouth

3. Picking Up Work

If sitting around and relaxing is not your cup of tea, it’s time to pick up some new business.  Maybe this is an opportunity to refresh your company or your online presence.  Look at the quality of your website and your social media content; is your story clear and are your services well depicted?  Do you have current reviews on all your major platforms?  Don’t be shy about asking your customers for reviews and referrals.  Direct them to the sites where you’d like more exposure.  Most customers will be happy to help you out, but if you need an extra push it doesn’t hurt to offer an incentive in exchange for posting a review.  Make sure you have current, informative, and attractive promotional materials.  (And my own personal struggle: remember to actually put them in your car.)  I often make a new pet sitting flyer multiple times a year with different photos I have taken of my clients’ pets.  Not only are they fun to hand out, but your customer is more likely to share them with their friends and neighbors.  Posting new promotional materials at local pet related businesses and on community message boards around the neighborhood is a very inexpensive and time-tested way to get new clients.

Having time off is a great opportunity for charity work.  There is always a tremendous need for volunteers in every community, but timing can be an issue.  Now that you’re available, try reaching out to local rescues or shelters and see how you can help.  Fostering is an excellent option because not only are you saving the lives of needy pets but you’re likely to pick up new customers as well!  Even if you donate your time (or if you’re working part time) in non-pet industries, the familiar face-to-face interactions with new people are sure to gain you new clients.  Word of mouth and personal acquaintanceships are still more valuable to local service-based businesses than the online presence or even reviews.

Happy New Year and happy pet sitting!

Starting a pet sitting business?  Visit our partners at Tycoon Companies.

Pet Sitting 101: The Basics - Types of Pet Sitting Services

By Elle Peterson of Panda's Pets.  Link here.

If you have hired a pet sitter for yourself (or browsed a competitor’s website), you might have noticed professional sitters offer a variety of services that differ in name, description, price, and duration.   Here is a simple overview of the industry's basics so you can design services that fit your business goals and communicate clearly to potential clients.  More information about pricing, availability, and liability can found in our community pet sitting group Pet Sitting Tycoons and sign up with our partners at Tycoon Companies if you're starting a pet sitting business.

cat sitting next to ownerPet Sitting

This blanket term is often used to describe the entire industry but if we are getting specific a pet sitter makes several visits a day while their client is gone from home for an extended period of time.  The pet sitter provides routine care such as feeding, walking. brushing, litter box cleaning, medicating, etc. until the client has returned.  (Additionally, you might offer to bring in the mail and take out the trash, or even vacuum if lots of pet hair has accumulated.  I have a handful of customers that hire me just to water their gardens or alternate lights while they are away.  The little touches that make returning home more comfortable will go a long way.)

Overnight Pet Sitting

A pet sitter that is available to stay overnight (or all day) at their client’s house is going to have no problem finding work.  This is a coveted service due to the limited availability of pet sitters who can take only one overnight client at a time.   Bookings will often consist of a combination of overnight stays with additional daytime visits to allow sitters time for other client’s pets during the day.  (Plan your schedule wisely if you’re taking overnight jobs as the time commitment can be overwhelming.  I have seen these demanding schedules derail eager new sitters that bite off more than they can chew.)

dog on walk in parkDog Walking

By far, the most well-known and popular service is dog walking.  Dog walkers make routine or à la carte visits while owners are gone for the day or are unable to walk their dogs.  This is usually a midday gig and most popular during the traditional work week but expect these visits to pop up any day and time.  (If you’re picturing the iconic twelve dogs pulling one person through a park with a jumble of leashes it might surprise you to know these visits are most often individual walking sessions and not group excursions.  Unless you’re living in a very dense neighborhood with adjacent pet-friendly spaces it will be easier and safer to walk one dog at a time.)

Pet Boarding

It’s fun to take your work home with you when it wags and gives you kisses!  Many sitters offer boarding in their own homes as an alternative to pet sitting in their client’s home.  Boarding can provide lots of extra attention for pets while their owners are away, and it can be very lucrative when watching multiple pets at the same time.  (Look for a future blog post all about boarding as there are many important considerations to take before offering this service.)

Ready to Learn More?

Are you interested in learning more than just the basics?  Every category of pet sitting has variations and nuances that will effect the price and description of the visit.  Many pet sitters offer farm sitting, pet taxi, feline-specific care, and other unique services.  Will you charge more for late nights, holidays, last minute bookings, or multiple pets?  Do you have a cancellation policy?  Are you able to give injections to diabetic pets?  There are many considerations to be made when deciding on the services you'll offer and clear communication with your clients about their expectations and your abilities is the key to a successful professional relationship.

Get started pet sitting with our help at Tycoon Companies.

For more conversations about pet sitting services join our online community at Pet Sitting Tycoons.

‘Til Death Do Us Pet Sit: 5 Tips for Watching Senior Pets

By Elle Peterson of Panda's Pets. Link here.

I walked up the familiar stairs of my client’s home, past the big, ceramic pots of colorful flowers and onto the giant ‘Welcome, Please Wipe Your Paws’ mat at the door.  I looked for Sugar’s smiling face in her favorite front window where not even the stealthiest of mail carrier could escape detection, but she wasn’t there.  Her owners warned me before I was to arrive (but conveniently after they had already left) that Sugar went downhill fast and things were going to be “difficult” this time.  Inside the house I called for her cheerfully but took a deep breath and prepared myself for the worst.  I passed a pile of towels and cleaning supplies as I made my way into the living room where the smell of many accidents lingered in the air.

Sugar was sitting up on her bed with a big smile, the same happy eyes, a little extra grey around her muzzle.  Her whole body wiggled as she shifted side-to-side on her front legs.  Her hind legs were stiff and awkwardly crossed.  They dragged beside her as she scooted eagerly towards me.  There was no need to bring the leash this time and instead I grabbed the towel draped beside her and used it as a sling under her belly to hoist up her hind end.  We made a sloppy dash out the back door and down the steps into the yard.  She struggled to pull all 90 pounds of Labrador with her front legs and I struggled with the towel, fumbling to maneuver her back legs as she peed all over herself and all over my shoes.  It was going to be long week for us both and it didn’t make things easier knowing it was the last time we’d spend together.

What I experienced pet sitting for Sugar in her final days has stayed with me for over a decade.  In an industry where word-of-mouth referrals make or break your reputation, how well you adapt and empathize with the needs of aging pets will set you apart from your competition and earn you loyal clients that tell their friends and neighbors.  If you’re new to pet sitting or senior pet care these 5 tips will help you build, maintain, and appreciate those relationships.  I’d love to hear from you about your experiences with senior pets and any advice you have for our fellow sitters.

Senior pet dog looking forlorn

1. Be grateful you’re around for the twilight years.

It’s not hard to find someone willing to pet sit when times are good, dogs are young, grass is green and the sun is shining.  Hopefully, in the years you’ve spent with these pets you have established the kind of bond that makes you want to be a part of their golden years.  But in some cases you might have to dig deep and really put yourself into that grateful state of mind.  Maybe this is a new customer with an old pet, a curmudgeon cat, or a dog that has hated you for years no matter how you’ve tried to win her over… whatever the reason, senior pet care can be an incredible gift or a frustrating burden depending on your level of commitment and preparation.  Make the best of the hard times and know you’re providing a service of tremendous value to both your client and their senior pet.

dog getting face rubbed

2. Set realistic expectations.

This is a mantra I return to repeatedly when coaching new pet sitters.  If you find yourself wanting to be the pet sitting hero (agreeing to 6 visits a day, exactly 4 hours apart, texting photos after each visit… yes, that happens) it will be extremely hard to deliver.  Only make promises you can keep.  It’s better to set trial schedules, maintain an open dialog, and change the plan as needed than to come up short on what you promised (or what you failed to specify).  Communicate and agree upon a realistic schedule during the consultation.   A misunderstanding can mean your customer thinks you didn’t perform as promised (or as they had ASSUMED - which is equally binding in their mind even if you’re unaware of it!)

3. Rates change with circumstances.

Aging pets are going to require additional care.  Some of your clients will be understanding of this (and even generous!) but you’ll also have some that are reluctant to accept you’re going to be spending more time, doing more work, and therefor deserve more money.  If you’re having to clean up accidents routinely (this really applies to puppies, too) then it might be necessary to add a 3rd or 4th visit to the schedule.  If there’s a new medicine and care routine that takes an additional 20 minutes then it justifies an additional cost.  Don’t go into a visit feeling rushed, resentful, or unable to maintain the level of care you once had the time to provide because you’re avoiding a conversation about money.

4. Have a Plan B and Plan C.

If you have been pet sitting for a while there is a good likelihood that you’ve come across the Vacation Denial complex which I describe as a client planning and leaving for a trip while they have a terminally ill or suffering pet at home.  There will understandably be strong feelings in these situations, but I try to give my clients the benefit of the doubt.  Maybe the familiarity has blinded them to how much their pet has declined.  Maybe there is an unwillingness to confront the reality of needing to euthanize their beloved companion.  In some cases there is a busy person who’s pet has taken a back seat in their life and has needs that have not been considered for a long time.  Have a conversation (and preferably get in writing) a Plan B – should the level of care you’re providing be insufficient (you can use your discretion) or should the pet unexpectedly decline, your customer is aware that you may add additional visits or may have their pet medically boarded.  Having a Plan C in place means talking about euthanasia and what arrangements should be made if a pet unexpectedly passes while in your care.  It isn’t easy to talk about with your clients but it is a reality when caring for senior or terminally ill pets.

5. Consider your physical abilities and those of the pet.

When watching a large dog with mobility issues you’ll need to consider your health and discuss in detail the care the owner is expecting.  Lifting a dog or using a sling to help them walk can be a challenge and will take some getting used to (especially when navigating steps).  Your physical health is a big part of your livelihood and you need to protect it.  Consider also that in the event of an emergency you must be able to transport the pet to their veterinarian (or emergency vet), so always have reliable transportation on hand with the space to accommodate any size pet you’re watching.  If a pet is in pain or confused they might become aggressive, defensive, or hide in places hard to access.  I once had to crawl for 10 feet on my belly under a porch at night to retrieve a partially paralyzed corgi and rush him to the emergency vet.  (Oswego the corgi made a full recovery after having back surgery.)

I hope you find these tips helpful when caring for senior pets.  If you ever feel like a pet is being neglected or has declined past the point of pet sitting - find a respectful and compassionate way to approach the subject with your client.  If you are frustrated, overwhelmed, or confused - reach out to a fellow pet sitter for advice and support.  Losing a beloved pet you’ve watched can be as hard as losing one of your own.  Be thankful for having been a part of their life and know it’s what makes our profession so meaningful and rewarding.

Boutique Owner Risks it all to Pursue Passion

Trish Bennett always knew pet care was one of her true callings

By Melissa Oyler

Trish Bennett can clearly place the pivotal moment, the phone call that changed her world as a business owner. Until recently, Bennett was the owner of Doll.-a boutique in Myers Park. Everything was going perfectly. The store was doing well; it had been open for four years and it had a solid client base. The community had come to rely on Bennett for West Coast-inspired fashion and athletic wear. The store was both people and dog-friendly, with water and treats always available for the canine guests. Then in April, Bennett’s landlord called her with an opportunity. “The landlord said ‘We actually have someone who is interested in taking your space over,’” Bennett said, “‘But we need you to leave in this amount of time.’” Bennett’s heart instantly told her it was time to move on, to pursue a deeper passion. “This was a moment I was not going to get again.” Some would call that true empowerment: knowing when to walk away. It was a sign, Bennett felt. “The fashion thing was kind of like a hobby,” she said. “Whenever you start to fall out of love with something or you stop enjoying it as much, it’s time to quit. The store was not bringing me joy anymore.” Of course, Bennett felt a little sadness with her decision to move on. “Doll was my identity for four years,” she said. After she and her husband discussed closing Doll in detail, a decision was made and the couple headed out to a pre-scheduled vacation in Mexico. “I wasn’t stressed out like I normally am when I used to leave,” she said. Two days after returning from their trip, Bennett made the announcement that the store was closing. “It was bittersweet, but definitely the right decision and I have no regrets.”

Happy woman walking three small dogs.

From Hobby to Passion

And while she has always enjoyed the fashion world, Bennett’s true passion lies with fitness and dogs. In fact, Bennett enjoys her travels to Mexico, but she does not do Mexico like the average vacationer: On three different visits, she has come home with three different rescue dogs. Rita, a chihuahua, was adopted from Playa del Carmen; Rigo, a terrier mix was adopted from Tierra de Animales - a shelter outside of Cancún that is owned by Bennett’s friend Ricardo Pimentel; and Chi-Chi, a chihuahua mix. Bennett did not set out to adopt dogs on vacation, but somehow, each time, the dogs found her. So the decision to open Three Amigos Pet Care (named after her dogs, of course) comes as no surprise to those that know Bennett. Doll client and podcast host Nesha Pai reminisced with Bennett recently during the filming of a Piece of the Pai episode. “There was a lot of sadness from your regulars and people like me,” Pai said about Doll’s closing. “But I saw the other side, too, where I saw your life was being robbed and your joy was going away. I supported you 100 percent.” “You have this entrepreneurial spirit, and I knew you were going to come out with something bigger and better,” Pai said. Three Amigos Pet Care is right up Bennett’s alley. Aside from pets, her other passion is exercise. The two will go handin- hand in her new venture. “I basically have done everything under the sun from Barre to boot camp. I run a lot and have been strength training, so I think that will be helpful with walking dogs of all sizes!” Bennett said. Three Amigos is based in Ballantyne/ South Charlotte area and will serve that part of town and beyond. “I spend time getting to know the client and pets and their routines. My first client wanted someone to be with their dog throughout the evening, so we went for walks and gave the dog lots of love while the owner was away,” Bennett said. “I'm very excited because I will be spending time with animals.”

'So Inspired and Excited'

Tycoon Companies is helping Three Amigos Pet Care get started in the pet care industry; Tycoon owner Ellen Peterson said she was struck by Bennett’s motto of trusting joy as a guide. “For four years, she built a successful business with a physical location, customers, a family of people that like you, and to say, ‘Nope, this isn’t fulfilling me,’” and to walk away from that — I just love the idea of being able to say ‘You know what? This is my industry du jour.’” “She’s so inspired and excited,” Peterson said. Pai asked Bennett what advice she would give someone thinking of opening a boutique. “Make sure it is your passion,” Bennett said, “if you’re going to open up any business whatsoever.”

Tycoon Companies:

Three Amigos Pet Care:

Melissa Oyler:

John Ryan Flaherty:

Piece of the Pai: