Do you love animals? Are you dreaming of a low-cost start up business you can run from home? Pet Sitting may be just the answer you’re looking for. As with any business, the first step to being successful is laying the proper groundwork. It takes much more than having a good idea or having a passion -it takes preparation to beat the odds. Some of that preparation should include the creation of legal documents and service contracts, obtaining proper insurance coverage, conducting research and learning more about the industry. While there is no single way to guarantee success, the following are the vital first 8 steps to get you started in the right direction.
1. Develop a business plan
Preparing a business plan is the first step of starting a successful business. A business plan acts as a road map for your business. It outlines your goals and identifies specific financial projections. A good business plan should help you define your target market, identify your competitors, project start up expenses, illustrate how to allocate resources and give you a realistic timeline. If utilized during your initial business set up it will keep you on track and make you successful in achieving your goals.
What goes in a business plan? The plan should be divided into 4 sections:
1) Description of the business
2) Marketing Plan
The plan should include an executive summary, supporting documents, and financial projections.
Consult your local small business administration office or search online for assistance with writing a business plan. They have many resources available to assist ne business owners.
2. Decide on a legal structure for your business
A. Decide how much personal liability protection you need
B. Decide how you want your business to be taxed
C. Research the various types of ownership structures:
a. Sole proprietorship
c. C Corp
d. S Corp
The choice you make will have a large impact on how legal issues are handled. Sole proprietorship is the simplest legal structure but it does not protect your personal assets. Forming an LLC is more complex and expensive. However, it is designed to provide the limited liability features of a corporation and the tax efficiencies of a partnership. This is a popular choice for sole proprietors who are looking to incorporate simply to protect personal assets.
Use the following resource to investigate the advantages and disadvantages of each and decide which ownership structure is right for you: Legalzoom
3. Choose a name for your business (and a domain name)
Choosing the right name for your business is very important. Choosing the right name can impact the overall success of your new venture. Remember to do your research, take your time and pick wisely.
A worthy name should:
1. Leave no doubt about the industry you support -it should directly relate to your service
2. Be easy to say, spell and read
3. Be memorable
4. Suit your business 5-10 years from now
5. Set you apart from competitors
If you plan on including a website with your new business, you should also consider that when deciding a name for your business. You may visit Yahoo or Networksolutions to see if your domain name of choice is available.
4. Register your business
Every city, county and state has specific requirements about doing business within its jurisdiction. Call or visit your local offices to see what particular requirements and fees exist in your area.
5. Obtain Insurance
Investigate the types of insurance you will need to get your business started. Auto insurance, liability insurance and bonding policies are a must for pet sitters. Often times clients will request to see proof of coverage prior to the first sit.
Auto Insurance – Commercial auto insurance is necessary to protect your business against potentially devastating liability costs resulting from an accident involving your vehicle while conducting company business. Typically, time spent conducting company business is not covered under a personal automotive policy. Check with your agent to see if you need to make additions or changes to your current policy.
Liability insurance – Liability insurance will protect you in the event that unforeseen circumstances arise. Lawsuits occasionally follow events such as dog bites, property damage in a client’s home or a pet passing away in your care. A good liability policy will protect you in such cases. It is a must have!
Use the following resources to decide which organization best fits your general liability needs:
http://www.PetSitllc.com – Pet Sitters Associates LLC
http://www.PetSit.com – Pet Sitters International
http://www.PetSitters.org – National Association of Professional Pet Sitters
Bonding – “honesty insurance” ensures clients you are trustworthy, and if they prove otherwise, the insurer provides them compensation. Bonding policies are necessary for any business where an individual is entrusted with valuables, like the key to someone’s home and all its contents. There are several Bonding companies throughout the country; each providing a different level of coverage. You can locate many of them by performing a Google search or asking your local insurance agent.
6. Establish website/email account and telephone line
Website presence – Establishing a web presence is a must in today’s high-tech world. A website can set you apart from competitors and open your business to a much larger market. Customers will be able to get information about your service 24/7 (even when you are not available). Having an email account linked to your business site is a convenient, low-cost way to communicate with clients.
Telephone Line – It’s a smart idea to invest in a separate phone line for business use only. Purchase a reliable voice mail plan and use it effectively. Your phone is a very important business tool if used properly. Your outgoing message should be professional, include any pertinent details and identify your business to the caller immediately.
7. Prepare Service Contract and Important Forms
Service Contract – A written service contract is a necessary tool. It outlines what services you will provide to the client, what fees you will charge for those services, what is behavior is expected of the client and/or pet, when payment is expected and what happens if payment is not made in a timely manner. A service contract formalizes the client/sitter relationship and ensures you have a shared understanding of the services you will be providing. Do NOT provide any service without a signed contract.
Veterinary Release Form – This form serves as written permission for you to seek medical care for a pet in your custody when a client cannot be reached during a medical emergency. Important document you won’t want to do business without.
Advertise, advertise, advertise!!!! Advertising is a big key to success! Advertising promotes your business to a wider market. Advertising allows you to build your company’s brand. The more familiar your target market becomes with your brand, the more credibility your business establishes. The more trusted your brand, the more clients you’ll attract. The following examples are a few of the low-cost things you can do to get your advertising program started:
Design a memorable Business Card
Deliver fliers to local vet offices, groomers, pet stores, trainers, shelters, etc. (Maybe doughnuts, too -good to establish a relationship and referral base)
Design a Logo – create a brand for your company
Local Newspaper ads- advertise only in the areas you’re interested in working
Telephone directory listings
Submit a press release to local media – free and very effective
Send direct mail postcards
Host or plan a pet event with other pet vendors (Halloween pet costume contest, open house, pet first aid class, etc.)
Magnetic car signage – advertise to the locations you visit most
Participate in community parades
Send out quarterly newsletters
Canvass your local area with door hanger ads
Following these steps will start you on the road to success – the rest is up to you – Good luck!