It’s no secret that people love their pets. Seven out of 10 US households count pets as part of their family. While many of these pets would be happy if their humans never left their sight (looking at you, dogs), most of us have jobs, trips, and social obligations that pull us away from our furry friends. Enter: pet sitters.
The number of pet-sitting businesses, and the overall pet care industry, has exploded in recent years. If you're exploring the idea of launching a pet-sitting service, now is the time. Whether you’re interested in starting a dog walking service or staying overnight at pet parents’ homes, here’s how pet-sitting services work and how to start one.
How to start a pet-sitting business in 6 steps
Becoming a professional pet sitter entails many of the same steps as launching any other small business venture. These include choosing a business name, conducting market research on potential clients, selecting the right business structure, getting relevant business licenses or permits, and setting long-term goals. Here’s an overview of what to expect.
1. Planning and preparation
Before you legally organize your pet-sitting business, it’s wise to research existing pet care services in your area. Many local pet stores have bulletin boards where pet sitters advertise their services. A web search might also reveal your local competition.
It helps to know what other pet sitters charge before setting your prices. Some may post their rates on their website, while others may share them if you ask. Local pet owners may also be willing to share what they’ve paid pet sitters in the past.
With a better sense of your local competition, you can carve out your own niche. Think about the kind of pet owners you want to target. Perhaps you want to focus specifically on dogs, whether this means establishing a dog-sitting business, a dog boarding business, a dog-walking business, or an all-in-one service. Perhaps you’ll target exotic pets if you find this market underserved.
2. Choose a legal structure for your business
When you’re ready to legally establish your pet-sitting business, choose a legal structure. Shopify’s start-up guide can help. You might even consult a small business attorney for guidance.
- Sole proprietorship: The simplest business structure is a sole proprietorship, considered legal extensions of their owners. This means that as a sole proprietor, your business assets are the same as your personal assets, which isn’t ideal if your business should ever be sued or if you take on business debts.
- LLC: Many small business owners gravitate toward the relatively simple limited liability company (LLC) structure due to its crucial advantage of separating personal and business assets. If you legally organize as an LLC, your pet-sitting business needs a business bank account that keeps personal and business assets separate. You’re responsible for bookkeeping and year-end financial statements to the IRS and your company shareholders or co-owners (if you have any). Shopify can help you with business accounting by allowing you to track sales and manage inventory, refunds, and returns.
- Corporation: A corporation is a business structure owned by a group of shareholders. A corporation’s cash and assets are separate from those of its shareholders, just like in an LLC. They also limit their shareholders’ personal legal liability in the event of a lawsuit or bankruptcy. Corporations are taxed at a special corporate rate, which is different from the personal tax rates that individual shareholders pay on their income.
3. Get insurance and licenses
Once you’ve established your business, see if you need a business license or sales tax certificate to operate in your state or locality. You may also need to carry insurance, such as workers’ compensation insurance if you have employees, general liability insurance, and pet-sitting business insurance. (Note that you can sometimes get a discount on pet-sitting insurance if you complete a pet first-aid class. The American Red Cross offers a 35-minute online course covering the basics.)
Some pet sitters choose to burnish their résumés with a certification from a trade industry group like Pet Sitters International (PSI). While not required by law, these certificates convey a degree of professionalism to pet owners who will be trusting their beloved furry companions to your care and judgment. PSI also offers courses in pet first aid and disaster planning.
4. Begin building your business
Once your business is established, you can begin crafting your business plan.
The first step for many is setting up a website and social media presence. A great website lets customers discover your business online and learn what you offer. Shopify offers an integrated platform for creating ecommerce-focused websites, which has worked well for pet business startups like Supakit and Little Chonk—while making it possible to diversify your pet sitting business income with related products like pet food, grooming products, or brand merch.
Staying active on social media platforms keeps you top of mind with your client base. Then, create a schedule and booking system. It might be public to help customers see your availability and reserve a time, or it might be on the back end for your eyes only, to keep track of your commitments. You can use free tools like Google Calendar or paid products with more functionality.
Lastly, if you think you need more help, assemble a team of pet sitters to work under your supervision. Whether they’re full-time employees or the occasional independent contractors, they’ll represent you and your brand whenever they interact with pet owners and their furry companions. Recruit reliable individuals and train them well.
5. Market your business
With your pet-sitting business up and running, it’s time to get the word out to pet owners in your area. This is where marketing and advertising come in. You may try the following strategies:
- Create flyers and business cards. Put up flyers at dog parks and in pet stores and hand out business cards to potential clients. You can create these materials yourself or have them made professionally.
- Use online directories and review sites. List your pet-sitting business on platforms popular among pet owners. Try local directories like Google Maps, review sites like Yelp, and industry directories like Pet Sitters International.
- Build relationships with local veterinarians and pet stores. Your best connections will likely come from local businesses in complementary pet care areas. Pet food stores, pet grooming companies, and pet health practitioners (including licensed veterinarians) may be your best referral sources.
- Offer promotions and discounts to attract new clients. Depending on your budget and business expenses, you may want to offer discounts or buy-one-get-one-free deals to win over new clients. Ideally, these discounts earn you gigs, allowing you to bond with the pet, and leading the pet owner to ask you back for more sessions at your regular rate.
To manage client relationships, you can stay in touch by issuing periodic email newsletters with updates about your pet-sitting business. If your client roster is small, you can check in with personal emails and requests for referrals. When you’re on a pet-sitting gig, pet owners expect you to check in regularly with updates about their furry friend.
6. Ongoing management of your business
Once your pet-sitting business is up and running, focus on maintaining a high standard of excellence in order to secure new business contracts. Stay current on your accounting and tax reporting responsibilities, as well as on industry trends. Pet ownership and expectations have changed significantly over time, with an uptick in pet insurance options and overall spending on pets. It’s important to stay up to date on trends as industry regulations can change.
About starting a pet-sitting business FAQ
What qualifications do I need to start a pet-sitting business?
It’s possible to start a pet-sitting business without specific training. However, you can improve your profile by taking pet-sitting courses or getting certified by a trade group like Pet Sitters International. While pet owners might not impose physical and medical requirements, it helps to be in good physical shape, especially if you’re looking after unruly pets or large dogs.
How do pet sitters get clients?
Pet sitters can get clients via word of mouth, by putting up fliers, or by passing out business cards. They can also register on pet-sitting marketplaces like Pet Sitters International or Rover. One effective tactic is to network with other pet care professionals—not necessarily other pet sitters but veterinarians, groomers, and pet store owners. These professionals may need reliable referrals for their pet-owning clientele.
How do I handle emergencies while pet-sitting?
If an animal you’re pet-sitting experiences a medical emergency, do not call 911, which is only for issues involving humans. Contact your local veterinarian or animal emergency clinic. If these are not options, try calling the ASPCA Animal Poison Control center at 1-888-426-4435, or the Pet Poison Helpline at 1-855-764-7661.
How do I grow my pet-sitting business?
It’s helpful to list your service on multiple online marketplaces and directories. If you’re already on Rover, try creating an entry for your business on Yelp or Google Maps. Neighborhood listservs or sites like NextDoor can connect you to pet owners nearby. You might also offer discounts to help first-time customers. Lastly, you could ask your current clients to refer you to their friends and family. Personal referrals are often the lifeblood of the service industry, and pet-sitting is no exception.