Why your website might be causing you to miss out on clients

Five years ago, I set up a typical pet service, business-centric website. It was beautifully designed by my IT specialist daughter, and was made up of a few pages of business related content. I loved it! It felt shiny and appealing, and it certainly show cased Custom Canine Care; who we were and what we did. If you go ahead and click on that link, you’ll see a very different site; a dog related info-blog, where messages about the services we offer are no longer the focus.

Why your website might be causing you to miss out on clients

The years between when I started off and today, have seen the internet explode into an ethereal world of well over a billion websites. Only a tiny fraction of these are ever seen by any one person. The “sorting mechanism” for all those sites are the search engines; the unchallenged giant among them, being Google.

Google’s mission statement is:

to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.

website might be causing you to miss out on clients
Web marketing is relational

In other words, Google exists to put useful information in the hands of those who search the web. Their ways of measuring and achieving this, have led to huge changes in the way that Google rates a website. These changes are reflected in the shift we see online, towards many websites – in all kinds of industries and interests – becoming information or info-blog based. Sites with new, trustworthy and useful information are rated highly. Sites that are stagnant, inaccurate, unimportant (to users – measured by things like time spent on the site and links back to the site, especially from social media), become irrelevant.

So what do you want from your business website?

I imagine the one word answer to this, from most business owners, would be:

CLIENTS!

So let’s dig a little deeper. Perhaps we want clients to stay on our page and read about us and our services? Why? Presumably, so that they will find us attractive, a good fit or good value. But what determines value to a client?What is attractive to a motivated, invested prospective client? What keeps them on your page? What tells them most about who you are and what you can offer them? Believe me when I say, it’s not a monologue you wrote yourself about how caring and professional you are! Believe me also, when I admit that I did that too.

What do your clients (current and future) want from your site?

Information, yes, but still not your self-review. They want diverse, rich information about dogs in general, about the way your day looks and why you think home boarding, or group walks, are a good idea. They are looking for information about products they would benefit from, training methods (writing about these goes a long way to matching you up with “good fit” clients) and local dog friendly pubs.

They also want someone else to tell them that you are great! This could be auto-generated reviews that you can link to or testimonials by real people, who are willing to be contacted to back up the virtual stuff. Clients’ pets’ pictures with stories go a long way to adding authenticity and interest, but be sure to get the client’s approval first.

Providing answers to their questions, will often be the thing that first draws a prospective client to your site. Do you sound like you care? Do you seem to understand the issues clients often need help with, regarding their animals? Do you come across as confident and calm? Generous and helpful? Will their pet be in safe hands?

Value! Clients want value – and I don’t mean just “for money“. All the things listed add value for the client. The more they can get from you as their primary pet care-giver, the more value you are adding, and the more attractive you will become.

Happily the things that make you attractive (via your website) to a new client, are the same things that make you “sticky” to an established client. Never stop looking for ways to make your website work for you in developing client relationship and trust.

Making the leap

So throw out the old 5-pages-of-info-about-me-and-my-business and make it your mission to start creating a rich, interesting, ever changing, growing, online space, for you and your clients to enjoy.

The majority of pet care related searches involve either Google or Facebook, so ideally you want to have both covered. In the next blog entry, I will address how to develop a blogging site without writing content yourself, for those of you who don’t want to create original content by writing. Following that we will look at what Facebook has to offer, and how you can best promote your business there.

 

How to calculate vehicle expenses for tax returns

Before we look at how to calculate vehicle expenses for tax returns, lets just cover some general background accounting information. Almost all pet care businesses set up as either sole traders or partnerships. Sole trader doesn’t mean that you work alone; a sole trader can employ or contract staff. The term simply refers to some one who runs their own business as an individual who is the sole owner. Partnerships refer to businesses where there are two or more owners, who haven’t set up a limited company. Sole traders and partnerships that have a turnover of less £83,000 can use cash basis accounting, which simply records cash coming in when it arrives and cash going out when it is spent. Below this threshold they also don’t have to register for VAT. All of this simplifies your accounting process.

How to calculate vehicle expenses

HMRC gives two option for submitting your business related vehicle costs against tax:

  1. The first is as an expense per mile. You can record your business miles and then claim 45p per mile for the first 10,000 miles and 25p per mile over that.
  2. The second is as a proportion of your total vehicle costs. You can record your business miles and your domestic miles and work out the percentage of vehicle use that is that is for business.

In the first instance (called simplified expenses), you need to record all business mileage (BM), and then just calculate the expense. For example:

If you do 8,540 BM in a tax year, you can claim expenses of 8,540 x 45 (pence). This calculation equals 384,300, and since that is pence, we divide it by 100 to get pounds. This means that you can claim £3,843 against tax for your vehicle usage.

You cannot use simplified expenses, if you have already claimed for your car as a capital allowance.* More on this later.

Also, once you start using this option (simplified expenses) for any vehicle, you can’t change back to the percentage of actual costs option for the lifetime of that vehicle.

When you start off, it’s worth working out your expenses using both models and seeing which is likely to give you the best offset against tax.

In the second instance (actual costs), you need to record BM and domestic mileage (DM), and then work out what percentage of usage is for business. Obviously, if you have a van that you only use for work, it’s 100% BM, but for many of us it’s a proportion. My car use is around 80% BM. Once you have BM and DM data for the year, you can work out roughly what percentage of miles is business use.

You can do this by adding the two figures together, which gives you 100% of your annual mileage. Divide this number by 100 to get 1% and then divide your BM total by the value that calculated as 1%. The result is the percentage that you use your car for business purposes.

As an example if you do 9,400 BM and 4,500 DM annually your total annual mileage will be 13,900. This is 100% of your annual mileage. Divide this by 100 to get 1% of your annual mileage – 139 in this example.

Then divide your annual BM (9,400) by the value of 1% (139) to give you your percentage business use. In this example:

9,400 ÷139 = 67.6%

how to calculate vehicle expenses

You are allowed to claim the calculated percentage of all of your car related bills (tax, insurance, repairs, service, MOT, tyres and, of course, fuel) against tax, when it is time to submit your tax return. Just keep records and receipts for all of these expenses and at the end of the tax year add them together to get the total amount that your vehicle has cost to run. In the example, you can claim 67.6% of total vehicle expenditure against tax.

“Against tax” just means that when you work out the profit (income minus expenses) your business makes, you can deduct this amount from the profit as an expense, before you start to pay tax on your profits.

Capital allowance

*A capital allowance item, is a essentially a large expenditure item that will benefit your business for a number of years. If you use the cash basis accounting system – recording real time income and expenditure – the only capital allowance item you can claim against tax is your vehicle.

If you also use the percentage of actual costs method of calculating vehicle expense you can claim against the cost of purchasing your car as a capital allowance. This means that you can also deduct a percentage of the vehicle value from your profits before paying tax.

To complicate things further, this percentage is variable and depends on the CO2 emissions for the vehicle. Use the HMRC table to determine this. The rates are ether 18% or 8% of the value (purchase cost). But these percentages then need to be adjusted if you don’t use the vehicle solely for business use. So using the example above, you would work out 18 (or 8) percent of the value and then work out 67.6% of that figure.

So, if the vehicle value was £10,000 and – based on the HMRC table – you could claim at a rate of 18%, then if you used the vehicle for business only (100%) you would claim for (10,000 ÷ 100) x 18, which is 100 x 18 =1,800. However, if you were only using the vehicle 67.6% for business, you would then need to work out 67.6% of 1,800.

1% = 1,800÷100 = 18       then multiply this by 67.7 = £1,216.80.

If you already had your vehicle before starting your business and are using it for business purposes, you will need to use the list price for your vehicle at the time of starting your business, to determine its value for these calculations.

Remember you can’t claim this capital allowance if you use the simplified expenses method of 45p per mile up to 10,000 miles and 25p per mile thereafter.

First year trading adjustments

There’s a final complication, in that when you first start trading, your initial self assessment tax form won’t be for a full year. This means that any allowances against tax must be further reduced to relate only to the part of the year that you have worked. You can do this through complex calculations, but actually, each week is almost exactly 2% of the year. So long as you always round up to the nearest full week your calculations will be accurate. So if, for example, you have worked for 18 weeks and 4 days of a tax year, round this up to 19 weeks and multiply by 2. So 19 weeks equates to 38% of the tax year. You then need to reduce the allowances above down to 38% of the total already reached.

 

 

Running an ethical pet sitting business

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10 “Must do’s” when running an ethical pet sitting business

  1. Turn up when you say you will. Timekeeping is really important to clients. Unforeseen circumstances occasionally mean that you will be late in providing a service, but this should be the absolute exception, rather than the norm. Timekeeping should be a high priority in your day to day schedule; that way you’ll be forgiven for the odd occasion when a car breaks down or some random occurrence makes you late. An ethical pet sitting business will aim to deliver the service requested at the time specified.
  2. Do what you are paid to do. If you offer day care, someone is paying you so that their dog isn’t left alone during the hours that they are at work. If they didn’t mind their dog being left alone, presumably they would book a midday walk instead. The expectation for dogs in day care is that you give them your company for by far the majority – if not all – of the day. Home boarding is similar; if the client wasn’t concerned about their dog having human company and comfort, they would likely choose the cheaper option of a kennel. Most licences allow for a 3 hour gap in care for each 24 hour period. This is reasonable to allow for shopping, walking other dogs etc., or a social event. It’s equally important that the dog has access to you and/or your family in the home. Boarded dogs shouldn’t be shut away, left outside unsupervised, or crated for long periods (if they have come with a crate for night time use). If you can’t commit to this level of care, don’t choose home boarding as the model for your company, or contract these services out to other people.
  3. Always keep your sights on what the dogs in your care want and need. This should be a high priority as part of providing an ethical pet sitting service. Educate yourself to know how to spot a dog who is uncomfortable, who is using calming signals, who is scared, who is trying to fake bravery, who is ‘tuned out’, or worse, shut down. A dog’s natural state is one of easy interaction with humanity. If that’s not what you are seeing, take a moment to work out why. Many dogs will find the first day and night in a boarding home uncomfortable. They may be anxious, fearful or confused. They’ve just lost most of what’s familiar to them, but with your calm kindness and reassurance they will almost certainly wake up the next morning with a cheerful and accepting attitude.
  4. If you can’t cover a dog’s care, find another suitable alternative. If you are walking the dog, you need someone who is over 16 and understands the issues and needs a dog might have while out in the wider world. Most pet business insurance doesn’t name who is insured (beyond the owner of the business), rather, a certain number of people working at any one time. But if you work alone, do make sure you insure for at least one other person, so that your partner/friend or another, can step in if it’s needed, and not leave you uninsured. If they can’t cover their day care or boarding commitments, an ethical pet sitting business owner, will make sure that the person they ask to step in, is licensed and insured to do so. If you leave a dog with a relative in an unlicensed premises and something goes wrong, you don’t have a legal leg to stand on. If you need to leave the dogs alone for more than the three hours maximum set by the licence conditions, pay a responsible person to ‘babysit’ them in your own (licensed) home.  Again, if you’ve added one unnamed co-worker to your insurance you will still be covered.
  5. Always remain on the right side of the law with respect to your dog care. An ethical pet sitting business doesn’t break the law – even if they don’t agree with it in principle. This means everything from being licenced and insured, to only taking dogs who are microchipped and making sure that all dogs are walked with their own (or a company) ID tag on their collar or harness. Picking up all dog faeces is another absolute must. There’s a summary of UK dog-related law in the free resources section, and I’ll be updating that with a blog post soon.
  6. Don’t put the dogs in your care at risk. This is as much about education, as it is about taking care. Obvious “no-no’s” are leaving chocolate, grapes or raisins around, having poisonous plants in the house or garden, tying a dog up outside a shop, leaving a dog in a hot car or leaving them unsupervised outside. There’s a shocking video on Facebook that shows two men scaling a 6 foot wall, noosing two dogs and then dragging them back over the wall by their necks. The dogs are large breeds and still, it’s all over in seconds, as the dogs are driven off in a van. Don’t ever be complacent. Other, perhaps less obvious risks, include, feeding unfamiliar dogs in the same room, walking along a roadside with an unlocked (some might say any, because of the failure rate) Flexi lead and allowing dogs to swim in deep, rapidly flowing or tidal water.
  7. Give the full time that has been purchased. Part of ethical pet sitting is staying for the required length of time. One of the most complained about factors that causes a client to switch companies is finding out the walker or sitter isn’t staying for the full time. Since these services are direct “money for time” transactions, it is essential that you keep good time and don’t allow visits to be cut short. If this ever becomes inevitable, an ethical response is to tell the client what has happened and why, and then assure them of either money back or extra time for the next visit.
  8. Use kind, non-coercive equipment and the right equipment to remain in full control. Just because a dog is dropped at your house with a choke chain or a head collar, doesn’t mean that you have to use it to walk the dog. For many prospective clients, whom you might meet out walking, your business’ reputation stands or falls over such things. Invest in a selection of sizes of a versatile balance harness, such as the Mekuti brand and use these routinely. I decided pretty early on that I wasn’t willing to walk pulling dogs on their collars – for their sake – nor was I willing to walk pulling dogs on a standard back-attachment-only harness, for my sake. If there is one piece of equipment that I actually couldn’t do without in providing our dog care service, it would be my Mekuti harnesses. They are used every day and many of our clients also have them now. The beauty is that you can help a dog to learn to walk calmly and comfortably, rather than just physically restraining them in the way that some other equipment does.
  9. Follow through on your promises. If you tell a client at booking, that their Bichon can sleep on your bed, or you will walk their dog for an hour, three times a day, then you should provide this level of care, if it’s humanly possible. Obviously, if the Bichon wees on your bedroom carpet on the first night, you may wish to revise the sleeping arrangement, but be creative in aiming to fulfill what you promised. Puppy pads or large towels might be a better (more ethical) option, than banishing the little one to solitary confinement in the kitchen. I’ve done everything, from sleeping on the sofa with a dog (to give them company downstairs), to giving over an old shaggy bathmat to become a washable indoor ‘toilet’ for a dog who just couldn’t resist christening it whenever she slept upstairs.
  10. Work as though you are being watched and you won’t go far wrong. I learned this when nursing – to always act in the same way as you would if a relative – or an assessor- was in the room. That way, you will maintain a professional attitude at all times and eventually this will be a habit. This doesn’t mean you can’t fool around with the dogs, or be stern with them if the situation merits it; just that you are consistent in all that you do, regardless of who is watching. Some clients have webcams or nosy (I mean, helpful) neighbours, so if you always work as though you are being watched, sometimes you will be right!

Pet sitting business accounts

Unless you are an arithmophile (lover of numbers), contemplating your pet sitting business accounts probably sends you into a mild anxiety state! The idea of submitting a self assessment tax return is enough to send most of us into a cold sweat. By my third self assessment (£600 of accountant fees later) I decided to go it alone, and I can genuinely say that it was fairly easy. For a sole trader business – providing some kind of pet care service – doing your own accounts from beginning to end, is well within your grasp.

Okay, lets clarify… maintaining your records – often called “your accounts” – is really book keeping. You definitely need to get to grips with that side of your business, so that you feel in control of your financial well-being. Generally a small business would only employ an accountant to look over the accounts at the financial year end, and submit a tax return based on the records given to them. For the average person, it’s an area shrouded in mystery and the fear of ‘getting it wrong’ can paralyze.

Hang on a second! You are a setting up your own business; a fact which immediately catapults you into the capable, motivated human being category. You can do this. Accounting isn’t any different from any other area of running a business – you just need to be well informed and equipped to feel enabled.

“Handy hint: invest in a large button desk calculator for greater accuracy.”

The benefits of presenting your own pet sitting business accounts include:

  • You’ll have a deeper understanding of your financial situation, which breeds confidence and will enable you to make good financial decisions.
  • You are immediately about £350 a year better off, though if you have a complex business your accountant will almost certainly pay for himself in tax relief, because he understands better than you the detail of what you can claim.
  • Your intimate knowledge of your accounts will help you spot issues quickly.
  • You will feel in control of your own tax and NICs because the process will no longer seem mysterious.
  • You’ll learn a new (really useful) life skill.

Understanding what you’ll need to do at self assessment

In order to easily present your pet sitting business accounts to HMRC, it will help to understand what information you will be asked to provide. The self assessment tax return is essentially a record of your total business income minus your business expenses, which equates to the profit your business has generated in a single year. The tax year starts on April 6th (so ends on April 5th), with hard copy returns submitted by midnight on October 31st following the end of the tax year. Online submissions (which I can recommend) can be submitted up to Jan 31st following the end of the tax year. it does take at least 10 days to register for online self assessment, because they send you an activation code by post. So don’t leave it until January 30th to do this!

As well as income and expenditure,you will be asked to declare any other areas of personal finance, such as, other employment, interest from UK banks, rent from property, pension, state benefits, student loan and charitable giving (gift aid). If you are married or in civil partnership and have a low income in the first year of trading, you can also transfer some of your personal allowance to your partner, so that they pay less tax.

When completing the self assessment select ‘cash basis’, when asked, as pet sitting businesses (especially those that offer boarding) are based on invoices which might not be due for payment until long periods of time have elapsed. The cash basis system means that you only consider money actually received and expenses actually spent during the tax period in question.

Recording your total income is easy. Every time we make a booking we invoice the client for the service. The client pays the invoice and the service goes ahead. This is our income. So the sum total of all your paid invoices, will be the total income for the year – unless you are also selling products of some kind, in which case, all money generated from sales would be added to your business income.

Recording your expenses accurately, relies upon understanding what qualifies as an expense and how you can claim tax relief on those expenses. This is where it helps to look at how the self assessment is categorised.

Categories for tax relief on the self assessment tax return

  1. Accounting, legal and professional. Accounting costs and legal fees (though not if you have broken the law).
  2. Advertising, business entertainment costs, free samples (not entertaining clients). Not on short form, in which case include in “Other” category.
  3. Bank, credit card and financial charges. Overdraft fees, credit card charges (not repayments), loan interest and hp interest (not repayments).
  4. Car or van expenses. Worked out on either a flat rate or a % of total use based on number of business miles to number of personal miles ratio. Also parking and tunnel tolls.
  5. Communications, stationery and office (includes mobile, internet etc., with % of total use based on business usage to personal usage ratio).
  6. Cost of goods to (sell or) use in providing a service.
  7. Rent, rates, power and insurance
  8. Other – journals, trade bodies, education (and 2 above).
  9. Repairs and renewal of property and equipment.
  10. Wages, salaries, staff costs including bonuses.*

*This DOES NOT include any money that you pay yourself, use to buy personal possessions, or draw from the business.

Making these categories specific to pet sitting business accounts

It makes sense for you to use these categories from the beginning in your pet sitting business accounts to record your expenses. If you are doing this manually, then I would recommend this pre-prepared small business accounts book. It is designed for small businesses who invoice their clients, and will allow you to record income and expenditure under the same basic categories as HMRC.

The Best Small Business Accounts Book (Blue Version): For a non-VAT Registered Small Business [Author: Peter Hingston]

If you intend to use software, you can purchase accounting software, such as QuickBooks. You would need their Simple Start package to allow you to generate e-invoices for your clients. However, I would recommend a more pet-specific software package, like Pet Sitter Plus. From around £15 per month, you can get software that will cover all of your pet business needs, not just the accountancy. Using this kind of software will allow you to become extremely efficient, reliable and professional in terms of your presentation of the business to clients; something which they value highly. It will also link all of your business admin and accounting needs together, eliminating the need to duplicate information when setting up client areas. All of this will save you large chunks of time, and since you are essentially selling your time in the pet service industry; time is money.

Looking at the categories above, lets link them to specific details that are relevant to pet sitting business accounts. The numbered list below relates to the numbered categories above and explains what you would include in each section.

  1. This would be accounting fees if you pay an accountant, plus any legal fees generated in the course of running your business (but not if you break the law). If you do your own self assessment (SA) this will most likely be £0
  2. This category isn’t on all SA forms, in which case include it in “Other”. It refers to the costs of promoting your business such as Google Adwords, your website (hosting, domain and any design or software costs), flyers and free samples (such as, something you might give away to interested parties at a dog fun day).
  3. This category is self explanatory. If you open a business bank account then there is usually a charge. You may also pay interest on a start up loan or credit card. You can claim tax relief on both interest and bank charges.
  4. There are two ways of working out car/van expenses and you need to choose one. The easiest is the flat rate, which is worked out on business miles. You record your actual business miles and then claim 45p per mile. Alternatively you can claim a percentage of your total costs. Car costs include tax, insurance, break down, petrol, MOT, servicing and repairs. If you choose this route then you don’t need to monitor mileage continually, but you will need to regularly check on the proportion of business to social usage. When you begin your business, your mileage will be a lower proportion, maybe 20% business, 80% social. Obviously this also depends on how much you use your car for other things. As you get busier – especially if you don’t use your car much, other than for the business – you might find the reverse is true: 80% business and 20% social. You can work these percentages out by monitoring your miles over an average month, but remember to keep revising this from time to time, as your business grows. When filing a return based on the actual costs, you would add up all your vehicle costs, work out your average percentage business use for the period and claim that percentage of the actual costs against tax. You can also include the full amount for tunnel tolls, public transport costs and parking charges incurred in the fulfillment of your business. NB. If you start out using the flat rate (or change to the flat rate) for any vehicle, you have to continue using the flat rate until you change that vehicle.
  5. Here we include the cost of all stationary, postage, office equipment (such as a printer), printer ink, plus a percentage of internet and phone packages. With any mobile, house phone, computer, broadband and similar, where usage is divided between personal and business use, you must make a percentage usage decision. So if you buy a mobile contract and you use your phone roughly 50/50 for personal and  business, then you would claim half the cost of the contract. If you have a separate business phone then, of course, all costs can be claimed for that.
  6. Goods used for services would include your dog care equipment, treats, poo bags, leads and the like. Also equipment that is necessary to allow you provide the service such as walking boots, outdoor coat, high visibility jacket, stair gate, dog grill or seat belt harnesses for the car, crates and similar. If the life expectancy of the item is under 2 years, it goes here. Longer lasting equipment would be claimed in category 9.
  7. With in-home costs, we are back to working out a percentage usage. For instance, if you have 5 rooms in your house and you use two of them for 24 hour dog care, seven days a week, you would claim 2 fifths (40%) of your council tax, heating, lighting, water costs. You can also claim cleaning equipment and laundry costs. If you only took dogs for weekday day care then you would divide this again proportionately. Divide the 40% by 7 to get the amount per 24 hours and again by 3 to get the amount per 8 hours. Then multiply by 5, to get the total for 5 days. It sounds complicated but you only need to work it out once. If you generally work from home for only a few hours each week – just doing admin for a dog walking business, or the odd dog sit – then the easy option is to go for the flat rate for working at home. If you work 25 to 50 hours per month, this is £10 (per month), 51 to 100 is £18 and 101 and above is £26. if you are doing 24 hour boarding for most of the month, your hours would be around 400 per month, so you would be much better off claiming for the pro rata actual costs. Insurance in this category would be your business insurance, not house insurance which, almost certainly, won’t cover anything related to your business eg. damage to property and furniture.
  8. “Other” simply means anything else. This might include training, professional memberships, journals or books. On the short self assessment form (which you will use unless you have a large and complicated business model or a limited company) you’ll have to put advertising costs here as category 2 doesn’t exist separately.
  9. Repairs and renewal of property and equipment. This refers to business premises and equipment owned by the business, and would mainly be appropriate for companies with separate premises (like the bigger day care facilities). Most of your equipment will be small items with a short life expectancy, when in full use within your business. As such it would come under category 6. While it’s hard to get home insurance that will cover repairs to property that are due to pet business usage, you can still list these expenses (which the business will have to pay for) against tax.
  10. A large section of expense for anyone who doesn’t work alone is paying contractors or employees. Contractors invoice you, then you pay the invoice  – so this section is just the total of those invoices for the tax period. Employees are registered (by you) into the PAYE scheme and this generates totals paid out for wages, NICs and sick pay. If you don’t have co-workers this section will be zero. It does not include anything you pay yourself – that is called drawings and is part of the business profit.

Casio MX8 Desk Top Calculator

I realise that this article on pet sitting business accounts, will raise many questions, and some areas that I will be posting about soon include:

  • Do I need a separate bank account?
  • Do I need a business phone?
  • Why contractors suit the pet care service industry.
  • Using PAYE for your employees.

If you have any questions please feel free to comment below and I will answer you as soon as I am able.

 

How to set up a small business

When considering how to set up a small business, there are a number of requirements that – from a legal point of view – must be met. Firstly you will need to decide on your trading name and your business structure. From the point of view of your prospective clients, advertising and marketing materials you will probably want to give your new business a name. However, it is perfectly possible to register as self employed in your own name and trade for yourself or contract your services to other businesses.

Your business structure can be:

  • sole trader (a business run by an individual)
  • partnership (a business with shared ownership and responsibility)
  • limited company (a company with shareholders and directors).

Assuming you have decided to give your business a name, there are a few points to consider. The name must be unique and different enough from other similar businesses and trademarks, so as not to be confusing. There are rules to be followed on this and it is important to be sure that you search for your chosen name, both online and at Companies House. Many pet sitting businesses are sole traders, working alone or with contractors, and sole traders do not need to register with companies house.  It’s still in your interests not to choose a name too similar to either a large national company, like Barking Mad, or other local companies in your area. Remember, if prospective clients can easily confuse you with someone else, you may stand or fall on their reputation, which is a powerless position to put yourself in. You also can’t use terms like Ltd, PLC etc. There are a number of other considerations when choosing a name for your business – a process which is it wise not to hurry – and you can find a wider discussion here.

As a sole trader you can use a business name to trade and on headed paper, invoices and such like, but you also need to include your own name on such documents.

How to set up a small business – registering with HMRC

The next step when considering how to set up a small business is to register the business with HMRC. This is actually a relatively straight forward procedure and the HMRC website will walk you through the steps needed. You need to register as a sole trader (unless you have decided to enter a business partnership with another person). To clarify, being a sole trader simply means that it is only you who owns and is responsible for the business. It doesn’t mean you can’t have co-workers or employees. You need to register by October 5th in your second tax year. For example, if you begin trading during the tax year 6th April 2015 to 5th April 2016, then the latest you can register and be certain of no penalties is October 5th 2016. However, it is best to register as soon as possible so that you are prepared for the process of submitting your first tax return.

If you’ve completed a self assessment tax return in the past, you will still need to register your new business, but you’ll need to use the same self assessment account and the same unique 10 digit taxpayer reference number (UTR), as this enables HMRC to link all your interests together.

How to set up a small business – accounting

As a sole trader you are responsible for keeping accurate, complete and readable business records and accounts. Your income for the first few years will almost certainly be under the threshold for cash basis accounting, and this style of accounting works well for a pet service business. In essence this means that you only record actual cash flow in and out of your business. So while you might invoice for a dog board a few months ahead of the payment becoming due, you would only add the income to your accounts when the payment is actually made. This keeps everything very simple in a system where many of your invoices can remain unpaid for months. The threshold for maintaining cash basis accounts is £83,000 turnover per annum.

Whatever income and expenses you add to your accounts you need to be able to prove. With this in mind you are responsible for keeping all invoices, bank statements, cheque book stubs and expense receipts for at least 5 years from the self assessment submission deadline for that tax year. You’ll need a system for keeping records in some semblance of order. Once again, I recommend Pet Sitter plus software because it does everything for you in terms of record keeping, other than store the hard copy receipts and contractor invoices (if you contract services out). An A4 document file with sections can be good for this:


A4 Expanding 13 Part Expanding File Folder Stud Wallet Case Tabbed Organiser

or a small, 2-drawer filing cabinet when you outgrow this:


Bisley 660x400x400mm A4 Steel Filing Cabinet – Black

If you don’t want to use a software package for all of your client information, bookings, invoicing, accounting and receipts, then I would recommend this pre-prepared small business accounts book. It will record income and expenditure, but you’ll have to have other manual systems for recording client information, bookings, invoicing and receipts of payment.

The Best Small Business Accounts Book (Blue Version): For a non-VAT Registered Small Business [Author: Peter Hingston]

How to set up a small business – NICs, tax and VAT

When you first register your business you will also register for Class 2 NICs. These are paid once you make a profit of more than £5,965 per annum, at a rate of £2.70 per week in two 6 monthly installments by direct debit.

Once your yearly profit exceeds £8,060, you will also pay 9% of all profits over this amount as Class 4 NICs. This is part of your yearly self assessment procedure and any amount due will be generated automatically when you make your submission. If your profit is over £43,00 you will only pay 2% on anything above this threshold.

The threshold for tax is £11,000 for a single person, and any profit over that is taxed at 20%. For tax purposes, you are the business and the business is you, so you’ll be taxed on the profit, regardless of whether or not you have paid yourself any income. You should also note that if you have other sources of income these will also be part of your self assessment and will count towards reaching your tax threshold.

Your business won’t need to be registered for VAT until the turnover exceeds £83,000.

I’ll go on to discuss the detail of financial record keeping and tax relief for self assessment in another post.

 

When should I take on staff?

Almost everyone that I have spoken to, who does this kind of work, has started out running their pet sitting business alone. It seems to be what we do, unless our chosen model is – by definition – one that requires staff. To be honest, when I first conceived the idea of earning a living wage from providing pet care, the thought of finding co-workers never entered my head. Since then I have worked alone, used casual workers, had employees and engaged independent contractors to support my business and now, five years later, I wish I had taken a different approach from the beginning. So, let’s look at the question “When should I take on staff?” I use the term staff to mean co-workers, not just employees.

Do I really need co-workers?
should I take on staff
Together or alone?

In order to decide whether you need co-workers, I would suggest that you determine what you want your business to be and how you want it to progress. Try answering yes or no to the following questions:

  • A. Do I want to continue to work alone for the lifespan of my business?
  • B. Do I see myself working in the business with a team in the future?
  • A. Is my vision to build a client base for my own income and then stop expanding the business?
  • B. Do I want to grow the business as much as I am able to?
  • A. Am I happy with the prospect of a modest, reliable income from doing my own pet care work, but have no expectation of financial growth beyond that?
  • B. Would I like to receive an income from the business that I don’t have to earn myself?
  • A: Am I willing to focus down on offering either home based services, or out of the house services, but not the whole package?
  • B: Would I prefer to provide for all of my clients needs, by offering a full package of pet care services?

Depending on your current vision for your business, you will have answered “Yes” to mainly A’s or mainly B’s. Both are viable ways to earn a living, but let’s look at them in more depth.

should I take on staff
Should I take on staff?
The ‘A’ business – should I take on staff ? Probably not!

Your business falls into this category if:

  • you want to keep things small and under your full control.
  • you want to do your own work and get paid for it.
  • you don’t want to worry about growing the business beyond what you can do yourself.

If you envisage running an A-type business, I would advise you to consider setting up a home based business providing day care and home boarding for dogs. With this model, it is possible to earn up to about £100 a day (minus costs), looking after 4 dogs in the average house. Obviously you will have quiet days and take holidays, so your actual income will more likely be around £400 per week (averaged out overall). It’s hard to achieve that kind of income doing dog walking on your own, and you’ll have the extra cost of buying, fitting, maintaing and running a fit-for-purpose vehicle.

should I take on staff
Working alone

Another possibility is house-sitting, where you offer to stay in other people’s houses to care for their animals, however this service is difficult to ‘sell’ unless you already know your clients well. The American model of pet-sitting offers a greater return because people leave their dogs ‘home-alone’ while they go on holiday, and pay for 3 or 4 visits to the house a day. This service is not palatable to the UK pet-owning population, who favour the home boarding approach. I have been asked once or twice over the years to provide home visits for home-alone dogs, but have politely refused, as I have not felt comfortable with what was being requested, from a welfare perspective. People in the UK are expecting to pay around £20 per day for their dog’s holiday care, and the number of visits/amount of care needed to make visiting a home-alone dog ethically viable, would be prohibitively expensive in comparison.

Potential problems of working alone

The difficulties you will have to overcome to succeed with this model include:

  • Covering your work when you are ill or on holiday.
  • Coping with lean periods when your income will fall.
  • Planning for time off when your income will be zero.
  • Balancing the unrelenting nature of this work with having a personal and social life.
  • Finding a level that will give you longevity as a business, without you burning out.
The ‘B’ business- should I take on staff ? Probably now!

Your business falls into this category if:

  • you want your business to grow in terms of workers, clients and income.
  • you want to offer more services than you can provide yourself.

The rest of this article is aimed at those who want B-type businesses.

If you are reading this before you have even started the foundational work of getting your business up and running, that’s great. If you are already running a fledgling business, this might help you to progress more quickly towards your goals. If you have been flying solo for a while and are worn out and stressed most of the time, please know that I have been there too, and there is a way out without letting your business fold.

Should I take on staff *before* I get oversubscribed myself? An unequivocal, resounding “Yes!”

Even if you are just setting up, but you want to work towards a team approach, then *now* is the time to begin finding your first worker. I remember well, how daunting it was to first take on a co-worker. I had been in business a year, and so far had only paid my young adult offspring – and one or two of their friends – to cover the odd walk for me, or to babysit the dogs who were on holiday in our home. I was busiest on the home boarding front and a long-term friend of mine, who had three dogs of her own, offered to home board some dogs herself. She got herself licensed and I upgraded my insurance (as she didn’t plan to source clients herself), worked out a contract and off we went. She could only take single dogs because of her own little gang, but even this was an immediate help, which in turn allowed me to realise that being able to tap into other boarding homes was something I wanted for the future.

should I take on staff
Sharing the load.

Next came a neighbour, who I didn’t already know, but who contacted me to see if she could work with me. She came along just as the walking side of the business was getting overwhelming, and I knew that I would have get help with that too. We met up for a trial run, one very snowy day in early 2013, and we did 7 ‘one to one’ walks together, on the trot. Rather that be put off, she has become my right hand woman – totally dependable and trustworthy – and she remains one of our team today. She is self employed and contracts her services to me, tried home boarding and decided it wasn’t for her, so now contracts her walking services only.

Since then I have employed a number of walkers through advertising – some great, some damaging – most were temporary; in-between jobs or at university. I also have a working relationship with one of my adult kids, one of my clients – both of whom are dog walkers – and two wonderful women who board our clients’ dogs in their homes. I am currently on a sabbatical year, living in my motorhome, running the business in a less hands-on way, but still doing some house-sits for longstanding clients. A year ago, I wouldnt have thought this degree of freedom remotely possble.

I wish I’d had the advice – or the vision – to engage co-workers from the outset. Also to hone my own contribution, and that of those who worked with me, to be either in or out of the home. I dont think any one person can do home based services and a full programme of out of the house walks, and do it all excellently. House dogs will be left alone while walking, and most councils stipulate that this is for 3 hours only. If you use your away from the house time walking dogs, when do you get to do anything else? This was my dilemma for a couple of years, because I began by offering multiple services with no co-workers. Years 3 and 4 found me home-based, doing day care and home boarding, while others walked my walking cients’ dogs. This was a far preferable arrangement.

should I take on staff
Building together

If you wait until the extra work is available, before finding co-workers, your expansion is likely to be slow or traumatic. You can easily get over-stressed and that’s when it becomes more likely that you will make mistakes. Get the structure of your business in place (in terms of who will provide which services) and the clients will follow, because you’ll be able to easilysay “yes”. Take on people who are either willing for their work to increase gradually over time, or are working their own business and contracting to you for extra work. This will ensure that not having a full client-load to give them straight away, isn’t an issue.

Home boarding dogs – the pros and cons

Home boarding dogs can be a life-invasive service to provide, but when it is well managed it can be great fun and extremely rewarding. So let’s take a closer look at the nuts and bolts of home boarding dogs, how things can go wrong and what you can do to breathe longevity into this service.

The really great things about home boarding dogs

  • You can work entirely from home. People bring their dogs to you and providing you have good local walking – a prerequisite, I would say – you don’t even really need a car to transport them.
  • Home boarding dogs is our number one, most frequently requested service, making up about three quarters of all our initial enquiry calls. Unless you are very specific about which dogs you will take, you are very likely to be able to build a full work load from home boarding dogs, if that’s what you want.
  • Most councils allow up to 4 dogs to be boarded at one time in an average sized home. You can, of course, set your own limits if you feel you want to board less than this. The average pay for boarding is around £20 per day, per dog, so you could earn anything from a full time wage to a top up wage (perhaps in early retirement).
  • You are in full control of how many dogs you care for and how frequently you have time off.
  • If you have a sociable dog at home the incoming dogs can offer an added dimension to your own dog’s life. This will however reduce the number of dogs you can host.
  • If you don’t own your own dog, home boarding dogs is a lovely way of sharing your home with canine loveliness for short periods.
  • You are working from home, so will have plenty of time to do other things at home if you fit them around the dogs’ care.

Difficulties that crop up with home boarding dogs

home boarding dogs
It’s fun to play with a new friend

1. Sociable dogs, who do not usually live together, may get on very well in your home, but they are likely to play more frequently and exuberantly with each other during their stay, than they would if they were used to living together.

Solutions:

  • board single dogs and board them on their own.
  • board adult dogs over 3 years who have usually settled a great deal and only take a second dog if he’s a good match.
  • board multiple dogs from the same household.
  • provide a playroom for the dogs without any of your special furniture or possessions.

2. Your garden will doubtless suffer from having a throughput of dogs in your home, with everything from urine burns on the grass to digging in the flowerbeds.

Solutions:

  • consider getting an area of artificial grass and an outside hosepipe which is the ideal set up for toileting.
  • fence off an area of garden for growing beautiful things.
  • if the garden is a real issue for you, board small breeds only, as they will do much less damage.
home boarding dogs
Be prepared for extra cleaning!

3. Your house will require more cleaning, and there will be greater wear and tear on flooring, glass doors (scratches) and furniture – many dogs are used to being allowed on sofas and beds.

Solutions:

  • choose easily cleaned flooring (not carpet) for the areas of your home where the dogs will be allowed
  • have a good supply of large dog towels, wipes etc., and always clean dogs well after a walk
  • use washable throws to protect furniture
  • again, if the house is a real issue for you, board small breeds only, as they will usually, bring in less dirt and do less damage.

4. Dogs sometimes regress in their behaviours when boarded,  because of the loss of routine and their familiar environment. Male dogs – especially those who aren’t castrated – often mark inside a home where many dogs have been before them. 

Solutions:

  • Give time at the initial booking visit to ensure that you understand the dog’s usual routines and behaviors. Try to replicate these and encourage the owners to bring the dog’s own equipment. Familiarity is comforting.
  • Only board neutered dogs.
  • Choose easily cleaned floor coverings for the accidents that do occur.
home boarding dogs
Just say no!

5. Unless you are ruthless about saying “no”, it can be very hard to get time off once you have a regular client base. We all realise that if we can’t provide for our clients’ needs, they will find another company who can. Unless our service is exceptional,  or our client relationships very strong that may be the last we see of them.

Solutions:

  • Work out your own parameters and stick to them, unless, of course, they stop working for you, in which case,  tweak them.
  • Bear in mind that you are working – at least in the sense of being responsible for the dogs – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Since most licencing requirements include only leaving the dogs for a maximum of three hours (and not repeatedly), you will need to specifically pencil gaps into your boarding schedule for time off and holidays.
  • Know when to say “no”!
  • Make good use of any quieter periods to really look after yourself and your family.
  • If you only have one or two dogs staying, take the opportunity to do social things where they can come with you.

6. When booking a dog in, it is important that you get an accurate picture of the dog’s problem behaviours. Many negative behaviours can go unreported by an owner eager to get a home boarding placement for their dog.

Solutions:

  • Ask direct questions about problem behaviour, such as, “Does your dog bark in the house?” Most owners won’t lie if asked directly.
  • Have a clause in the terms and conditions that states that you must be supplied with relevant information about any problem behaviours, and list those that are important to you.
  • Set your own parameters for which behaviours you will and won’t accommodate.  Excessive barking is always an issue for me as I am noise sensitive, and it saps my strength and resilience.
Home boarding dogs
How to manage pulling…

7. Some clients may want you to sort out their dog’s negative behaviours during a stay. To some extent you’ll want to at least minimise the impact of such behaviour on yourself,  your family and your neighbours. But don’t forget – you aren’t being contracted as a behaviourist or trainer, and even if you are qualified to give this kind of help, you’re not being paid to do so.

Solutions:

  • Be very clear at the booking visit exactly what you are willing and able to offer. It’s fair enough to adjust and manage behaviour to make a dog’s stay more pleasant for both of you, but you aren’t obligated to do so.
  • Have a good supply of equipment that will help you to manage dogs who pull, or are anxious or destructive and such like.

8. Some behaviour – notably barking – can have an impact on your relationship with your neighbours.

Solutions:

  • Keep the dogs – especially when left alone for periods – away from any rooms that are attached to the neighbours property.
  • Try to address the barking if possible, using tools such as calming bands, distraction and removing visual cues (by closing blinds).
  • If you host a particularly noisy dog, drop in on your neighbours and apologise for the barking, assuring them that the dog will be going home in a few days. Try to be proactive in keeping relations good, rather than letting things escalate.

 

 

Who is your ideal client?

I am fairly certain that one of the keys to running a successful pet care business is focus – zooming in on the detail of what you want to do, how you want to do it and who you want to do it for. This post looks at the WHO. Who is your ideal client?

Before you say anyone and everyone, let me remind you why that’s not true. It’s so easy, especially at the beginning, to get caught up in trying to be all things to all prospective clients, for fear of having no actual clients. Being unfocussed is the perfect route to doing nothing with flourish and getting overwhelmed and burned out by your business. You can’t do it all, for everyone, and I hope that this post will help you to find out who your ideal client is, so that you can focus on doing it beautifully for them. Once you do, you’re one step closer to that ideal client finding you, because you can market yourself and your business more effectively.

So, who is your ideal client?

Take a few moments to answer these questions in as much detail as you can:

  • Where would my ideal client live?
  • Which service would they want me to provide?
  • What species would they need care for?
  • What gender would they be?
  • What kind of job would they do?

    Who is your ideal client
    Ideal client?
  • How old would they be?
  • Would they use the internet? A mobile phone?
  • What would they be most motivated by? [Price? Flexibility? Experience? Personality?]
  • What would the client’s animal(s) be like?

In my early days, I would have responded to these questions vaguely, truly believing that we could cater for almost anyone who enquired about our services. Over the years this has shown itself to be patently untrue, and my own answers to the question “who is your ideal client?” are now clear and defined. It makes screening clients so much easier, and screen them, we all must!

I am now essentially the admin hub for 7 independent contractors, one of whom is me. My answers are to a degree defined by what my ICs will do, and because of this they do get refined over time. This is how I would answer in April of 2016:

  • Within a 15 minute drive through daytime traffic from the business address. [Makes sense for walking clients, boarding clients come from as far away as they are willing to travel but long distances may cause them to go with someone more local in the future, and I am always looking for client longevity.]
  • Dog walking, home boarding. [We also provide house sitting and day care, but I would only take on new clients for those services if they met very tight criteria.]
  • Dogs [We no longer provide services for any other species.]
  • Female [Although we have male clients, almost all of my fully engaged clients – those who I anticipate lifetime service use from, are female.]
  • Teacher, nurse, shift worker. [Our ideal client wants our unique selling point – flexibility]
  • 25 to 55 [Again, most of my fully engaged clients fall into this age range, but I have some clients of all ages].
  • Yes and Yes [Because I use Pet Software I do need clients to have an active email address, and a mobile phone for things to run seamlessly. This also means that they can access our info-site and e-newsletter, offers, diary dates etc.]
  • Flexibility and experience [These are our unique selling points and we know that we will be a better fit with these clients because we will be able to give them exactly what they need.]
  • A cheerful, dog-friendly, doesn’t pull on the lead dog, or two!
Who is your deal client pet sitting business
Ideal client?

Now, just because my ideal client is this person, that doesn’t mean I don’t accommodate any clients who fall outside of these parameters.

However, knowing these criteria, helps me to spot a client who would present me with a number of difficulties, and I am usually happy for these clients to go elsewhere.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to focus on what you really want (and are able) to provide, and then focus on finding the clients who genuinely want what you are offering. We’ll look at marketing to find your ideal client in a future post.

 

12 Pet sitting business models

There are many permutations and combinations of pet sitting business models, but these seem to be the most common.

  1. Dog walking business which focuses on group walks using a van to transport the dogs. Minimum of two staff to enable safety and control should there be any unforeseen occurrence on the walk or at one of the houses.
  2. Dog walking business which focuses on one-to-one walks on foot from the house (no van needed, but transport to get between houses in minimal time is essential). Where two dogs live very close together – and are compatible – walks could be paired. This type of business can survive and thrive with only one person other than the issue of cover for emergencies/illness or holiday.

    pet sitting business models
    Small animals need home boarding too.
  3. The popular ‘catch-all’ of pet sitting business models, that is often used interchangeably with  the term “petsitting”, at least in the UK. This model offers every conceivable kind of pet care service, including in-home boarding (for dogs, reptiles and smaller caged animals), walking (dogs), day care (dogs), home visits (any pets) and so on. A team approach is needed.
  4. Home-based dog boarding business, which only takes dogs for weekend and holiday boards. An excellent model for a sole trader, working alone in the first instance, so long as you have an emergency plan in place for extreme situations.
  5. Dog day care business, which offers day care only. Another good model for someone working alone in the first instance, so long as you have an emergency plan in place for extreme situations.
  6. Hub model for home boarding, where a central administrative hub manages a number of satellite boarding homes. The hub markets the business and generates clients who are then matched to a suitable boarding home. Hub boarding businesses can be small and in one geographical area, right through to being nationwide.
  7. Large premises dog day care facility, often providing transport for the dogs to the centre as well. This model needs a premises, a team of staff and a vehicle. This is one form of pet care business that probably benefits from employing staff, rather than using independent contractors.
  8. Home-based dog care, which is a combination of 4 and 5, covering both day care and home boarding. Works well for one person working alone in the first instance, so long as you have an emergency plan in place for extreme situations.
  9. House sitting service – this can be one person, in one area of the country – or indeed one person covering a much wider area, so long as they are not firmly rooted in their own home for any reason.
  10. Hub model of the house sitting service, where a central administrative hub manages a number of individuals willing to carry out house sitting duties. These are usually national organisations.
  11. Pet sitting service that only does home visits (for any animal) or walks, but does not also offer boarding or day care in the sitters own home. May offer overnight sits too.

    pet sitting business models
    Reptile holiday cover can be a popular service.
  12. Speciality service, such as reptiles only, small animals, or – in some areas – horses or smallholding care.

I started with the catch-all model (as many people do) as a sole trader, without co-workers. With hindsight, I wish someone had told me that this model requires a team approach. I worked for almost 18 months doing it all, with the support of a house full of young adults who ensured that no holidaying dogs were left alone, while I went off to do a list of walks and the odd cat visit each day. I was soon exhausted and struggled to build any part of the business, other than home boarding, which is such a popular service it kind of grows itself. How much more productive I could it have been, had I begun to build a team from the beginning? I would suggest that – unless you want to do your own work for yourself and never grow your business – you consider the merits of building a team from the very beginning. More on this in the co-workers section of the site.

pet sitting business models
House sitting can involve multi species households

With a name like Custom Canine Care, it was almost inevitable that we would end up as a dog-only service provider, but it took over 4 years and a lot of heartache getting there. As a company we provide home boarding, walking, day care, home visits and house sitting – all for dogs. However, each individual member of the team, bar one, specialises in either ‘in home’ or ‘out of the home’ care. It’s rarely satisfactory in the long term to try to do both.

Taking all this into consideration, it’s wise, before you start up your business, to have a clear idea of which of the pet sitting business models you want to pursue and where you would like to end up. If your chosen model involves co-workers, I would encourage you to get them on board from the earliest possible opportunity.

10 essential traits for running a pet sitting business

Here are the top 10 essential traits for running a pet sitting business. I haven’t included animal lover… we’ll take that as assumed!

  1. Dogged determination.
    10 essential traits for running a pet sitting business
    Never give up!

    This is an important character trait in setting up any business as your resolve will be tested over and over again. No-one can cover all bases and get things right 100% of the time, but our mistakes are particularly challenging when there is no shared responsibility. As the business owner, you are the place where the buck stops and you’ll need determination just to keep going at times.

  2. Great organisational skills. Clients value reliability and time keeping, neither of which is easy to achieve consistently within a frenetic daily schedule. Sickness, injury, vehicle malfunction, unforeseen occurrences, accidents and the need for time off all crop up from time to time to derail your best made plans.  Clients will inevitably want to make last minute bookings and cancellations. I recommend purchasing pet business software as soon as you can afford it (from the beginning if possible), as an ultra reliable electronic member of your team.
  3. A robust self esteem. Your success relies on your ability to believe that you can do this – and you can! When I started my business in 2011, I wasn’t fluid in many of the skills I would need to succeed. Accounting, advertising, marketing, team building, branding, unique selling points, business software, contracts and so on, were all words without a great deal of meaning to me. I was, however, certain of two things, which have made all of the difference. Firstly, you can learn what you need to know, with the right resources – and by doing – and secondly, if something doesn’t work for you, there is always something else to try. Never stop learning and adapting and you will make it happen.
  4. Great time keeping skills. This is one of our clients’ primary concerns, and one of the recurring reasons why clients leave one business for another. A half hour visit, is a half hour visit and just as you don’t leave after 25 minutes, you shouldn’t get into the habit of staying for 40 minutes. Once you have a busy daily schedule, time keeping for you later clients will depend on you keeping to the schedule with your earlier clients, so it’s a good habit to get into. Time keeping isn’t just about giving the agreed amount of time to any one client’s pets, it’s also about being there when you said you would be there, and that is very important to many clients.
  5. The ability to forgive mistakes. We would all agree, I am sure, that we are human and imperfect and that mistakes do happen in every sphere of life, including our work. Owning a pet services business will require you to forgive mistakes – both large and small – and move on, because there isn’t time or space to harbour resentment. You will be faced with your own mistakes, which are always best admitted and dealt with. Go easy on yourself, but take the time to tweak your methods or practice to prevent the same things happening again.   Your team and your clients will also make mistakes, but there is little point in harbouring resentment, as you only ever really have two choices; build good will with your team/clients or let them go.
  6. A good honest relationship with the weather!
    10 essential traits for running a pet sitting business
    I love the wind in my hair!

    Anyone considering working for a pet services business that includes dogs, needs to honestly appraise how you will feel about hours of walking in rain, snow, wind, and full sun. You should also consider your relationship with mud! The only thing certain about our weather is its inconsistency and capacity for extremes. Since walking dogs is a non-negotiable part of this work you need to be sure you’re up for it, and the same applies to all members of your team.

  7. A willingness to subject your home to some wear and tear. If you wish to provide pet care services within your own home such as home boarding or day care for dogs and small animal boarding, you can be certain that there will be mess. At best this will be mess that’s easy to clean up, at worst your lovely plants will get uprooted, a dog will chew your skirting board or scratch your expensive flooring. It’s inevitable, so if this horrifies you it is probably best to stick to walking, home visits and house sitting.
  8. Enjoyment of driving.
    10 essential traits for running a pet sitting business.
    Expect delays.

    Okay, well maybe tolerance would be a better word. Not only will you have to drive to book clients in, but you’ll drive to provide any of your services that are not home based. You’ll drive in all weathers and in a variety of local areas, so a good navigation system will serve you well. You’ll find yourself frequently dealing with road works, delays and time pressure. If you’re likely to find this very stressful you might want to consider only offering home based services. If your house proud *and* prone to road rage, perhaps a career rethink is in order!

  9. Patience. Your need for patience begins with all your dealings with the animals themselves. All animals have the potential to be frustrating (lack of training, toilet accidents in the house, the destruction of something you value, reactivity and irrational fear) but they usually can’t help any of it and still need a calm and steady response. Co-workers, busy roads, other dog walkers, constant rain, mud and constant interruptions can similarly try our patience. Whilst we all lose the plot from time to time when things get particularly stressful, you really don’t want to be living with constant stress and frustration.
  10. Calmness in a crisis. Though rarely tested, this trait is a great asset because occasionally you will face situations that cause panic to rise within you, at the very time you need to keep a clear head. The worst pet sitting experience I have ever had was when a young, untrained spaniel I was walking stuck his head into a bush and came out disconnected from his lead, as the clip had caught on something. We were in a satellite village on the edge of a busy city, right next to the airport, a metro line and a dual carriageway, and he was off! He ran madly without any consideration for his environment and despite a number of people stopping to help, he actively avoided all of us and just kept zigzagging over roads and into fields. It was almost impossible to even keep sight of where he was, let alone keep up with him. After about 45 minutes of chasing we did manage to corner him… and that’s another story. The point is that you just need to keep going no matter what life throws at you, and being calm enough to leave your number with people you pass who might then be able to tell you where he is – and such like – is crucial.
So that’s it – my own essential traits for running a pet sitting business. Are there any you’d like to add?