Need more clients? Attract more clients!

 

Need more clients? 10 key ways to attract more customers
  1. Be visible on Google. I am always surprised when a small business owner tells me they haven’t a website and they don’t do anything to get found on Google. In the pet care sector, I get about 5% of my clients through our busy, frequently updated Facebook page. If you need more clients the first thing to do is stop relying on one online application, like Facebook. I polled my clients recently and over 50% of them didn’t even use Facebook. If you are relying solely on a Facebook page to generate clients online, 50 % of your prospective clients wouldn’t be able to find you if they wanted to. Create a website, teach yourself some basic SEO and regularly update your content. This has the double whammy of creating extra value for your clients if you include articles, videos and other items of interest.
  2. Make sure you are listed on Google My Business, Google Places and so on. There are also many free listing sites when you can advertise: FreeIndex, Cylex, Thompson Local, TouchLocal, Scoot amongst many others. If you need more clients these websites have millions of visitors and exist to put businesses in touch with prospective customers.
  3. Create a vibrant, frequently updated Facebook page, or even better a group where you can really engage your clients and attract new ones. Facebook can prove valuable in generating clients, but it’s just one part of the whole. need more clients
  4. Foster word of mouth by making recommendation easy. One way to do this that worked for me was to give each new client half a dozen business cards at the booking visit. Ask that once they have experienced your services, they offer these freely to other friends who have dogs. Many people are willing to recommend a service they value themselves, but putting a card in someone’s hands inceases the likelihood they will ring you, as they already have the details. Most people understand that you will need more clients, and will be only too happy to help.
  5. Use your doggy friends and family to spread the news too. Many will be happy to help you by handing out cards to other dog owners, while they are walking their dogs. If you have staff, make sure you encourage them to do the same.
  6. Incentivise recommendation. Word of mouth is the most effective way of securing a new client, because you don’t need to convince a stranger of your excellence – someone else has done that for you. Anything that incentivises a recommendation is useful. This could be offering discount vouchers to clients if they introduce a friend, or having a mnthly staff bonus for the person who generates the most new clients.

    need more clients
    Dog cakes.
  7. Add value. If you need more clients get out there and do something out of the ordinary to show prospective customers the kind of person you are. For instance, hand out treat bags in a local area that attracts a lot of walkers. Include information about your business, your online resources  (great website, Facebook group etc) and encourage them to join you whether they are likely to need your services or not. They may turn out to be our best source of new clients.
  8. Co-operate with other local pet professionals. It’s great to create a reciprocal referral arrangement, that benefits both businesses. An example might be working with your vet, by supplying promotionl information, and agreeing to refer clients in both directions. Grooming salons, agility/flyball classes or other dog care providers (who offer different services to you) are all possibilities.

    need more clients
    Like me!
  9. Ask your current clients for online reviews and recommendations. Many people who don’t have a personal referral will look for social proof before deciding to use a company. Personal stories and accounts of how you have helped people, can be hosted on your website, and these can be more convincing that simply relying on 5 star reviews on Facebook.
  10. Feedback publicly. Let the world see what a great time the dogs have in your care. Video yourself and your co-workers at work, and let people experience how friendly and caring your are, how you handle the dogs and so on. Always get permission before posting videos that might be deemed sensitive (property, area, identifying dogs etc). Post these to your website and Facebook page/group.
Need more clients? What to leave out

In the clamour to find more clients, it’s easy to spend a lot of time and resources doing things that won’t have much impact, such as blanket leafleting. This kind of approach will include many people who would never be your client because they don’t have – and possibly don’t even like – dogs. You’d be very fortunate if one in a thousand leaflets met a prospective client at their point of need.

This should be the acid test for all publicity. Try asking:

  • Will this help to get my message to the people who are actively looking for the serivces I offer?
  • (If not) Will this get publicity material into the hands of people who own dogs and who do (or might) need the services I offer?

If the prospective client (let’s say, any dog owner) isn’t hearing from or about you at their point of need, then they need enough written information in their hands – and enough impact – to ensure that they remember you, should the need for your services ever arise.

If you have enjoyed this article and would like a much more in depth look at how to find and keep new clients, you can purchase my ebook here or find out more.

Using Facebook for your dog business

You all know by now, that – in terms of web presence – I would recommend an easy to update, blog-based website to support your business. However, many people are more comfortable using Facebook, and I would suggest that using Facebook for your dog business is an essential part of getting started.

The majority of people still use Google to search for what they wish to find on the internet, and a good website will definitely bring clients to you, but increasingly, Facebook offers an alternative route to getting your message to prospective clients, as well as adding value to those you already have.

Using Facebook for your dog business

There are three main ways to use Facebook to promote your dog care business. These are a Facebook page, a Facebook group and Facebook promotions. Let’s look at each in turn.

Facebook page

Most dog care businesses seem to create a Facebook page. This contains their business details, services and reviews and is often updated with pictures of clients dogs while out and about, walking. This is a good beginning, but it is absolutely only a beginning. You see, this kind of page will only ever come to the attention of some of the people who search Facebook for dog care in your area. It will serve your current clients (who will visit to see their dogs) but it does little to build you an audience.

Facebook is so crammed with amazingly cute dog videos, dog related information and such like that no stranger is going to regularly spend time on your page, unless you work hard to make it appealing. This isn’t difficult, but if you aren’t going to have time to work on it at least a few times a week, then pay a Facebook savvy person a small amount, to keep posting interesting dog related items to your page.

Facebook for your dog care businessOur dog business page, is gradually building up an audience, and I pay one of my co-workers to post dog videos and information on a daily basis. She also posts pictures of our clients dogs, but that is very much a part of the whole. This results in a lively active page that is of interest to anyone ‘doggie’… and so we build an audience.

Your audience doesn’t have to be all “local people wanting dog care”, as the purpose is to build your presence and relevancy. Someone who lives in Cambridge, might easily have a friend in Newcastle who might – some time next year – get her first dog and need a dog walker. The Cambridge friend, being a great fan of your page, and feeling they know you well enough, will say – “I know a really great walking company in your area…”

A Facebook page is nice as a showcase for who you are and what you do, but it’s not hugely relational. Visitors can post, but their posts are not immediately obvious on the page, and while they can respond to posts in the usual manner with likes and comments, they can’t post a discussion topic, or ask you a question directly other than by private message. This makes it high value to you for marketing, but lower value to your clients.

Facebook Group

Using a Facebook group for your dog business can be a great way to engage with your clients and co-workers. You can have it as private, so that people need to be approved by you before joining, hence keeping out trolls and spammers, who may just want a captive audience.

Facebook for your dog businessA group gives you the capacity to really engage with the members in full discussion threads, the content of which is searchable, which is a really useful feature. I use a private group to communicate with my co-workers so that we all get the necessary information on changes with clients dogs, details of extra available work, notifications of illness etc. It means I can easily locate a piece of equipment, or check if someone has a particular key, without having to individually speak to each co-worker (there are 8 of us).

While I use an email newsletter to communicate with all my clients in one mailing, a Facebook group would also work for this.

Facebook promotions

From boosting important posts, to creating adverts to push out to a wider Facebook audience, promotions are an excellent way of marketing your business. Each promotion can be targeted by location, interests, age etc. Make sure your advert or post has a striking image – pixabay is an excellent free source – and clearly states its purpose without lots of words.

Promotions can also take the form of giveaways and competitions. These can work really well. I used a giveaway to ask for likes and shares on my rat nutrition page and  since then the organic reach of my average post is about 1,500. Before the giveaway, this averaged out around 300! This means when I release my next rat diet ebook, my audience has increased by 500% without having to pay for advertising.

Clearly there are a number of ways to use Facebook for your dog business, and you may wish to try them all and see what works for you. The important thing is to follow the general principles of marketing a service business:

  • Value to your clients
  • Value to your prospective clients..
  • Value to the people who might refer your clients to you.

Build relationship, add value and then you’ll be in an excellent position to sell your services when the time comes.

How to blog for a successful business

Question: What do chocolate, slug pellets and daffodil bulbs have in common?

Answer: They can all cause serious toxic reactions in dogs.

There you have it… the making of a blog post! Having looked at why it is beneficial to your business and your client attraction to blog, I thought you might appreciate a blog post on how to blog.

Reasons people don’t blog

  1. I can’t see the point.
  2. It takes too much time.
  3. I can’t write!
  4. I don’t know enough.
  5. No-one is interested in what I have to say.

If you can’t see the point then please revisit this blog post, which speaks to the value of dynamic content, for your current and future clients. After that, do a quick Google search for “reasons a business should blog”.

If time is your issue, then look at what you gain from blogging:

  • Increasing Google’s interest in your site.
  • Creating value for your clients.
  • Increasing the chance of new clients finding you.
  • Demonstrating your expertise to prospective clients.
  • Building client relationship and trust (they are getting to know you).
  • Building a mailing list so that any future product or service you want to unveil, has a wider audience.
  • Rising above your competition.
  • Developing your own knowledge and skills.
  • Speaking out of your brand. This will help to attract your ideal clients to you.
  • Feeding traffic to your Facebook page and vice versa.

Do you have time not to blog?

If you feel you can’t write well enough, there are so many ways of blogging that don’t involve essay writing. Here’s a few:

  • How to blog
    Every picture tells it’s own story.

    Picture stories – “A day in the life of a dog walker.”, “How to groom your husky.”, “Great dog walks in Wallsend.” and “How to make wholesome dog treats at home.” all lend themselves to predominantly being pictures.

  • Reviews of equipment, toys, food etc., you don’t even need to write them. Ask the other dog owners you know to do a review for you.
  • Blogs of the “10 great articles about separation anxiety.” or “My favourite YouTube training videos.” are perfect for almost zero writing but great value to others.
  • Interview – anyone of interest, like a groomer, trainer, behaviourist or vet.
  • Interview – your clients about their experience of your business. Keep it real, by inviting them to express the niggles as well as the joys.
  • Present a collection of dog poems.
  • Write any list based post. Then the writing kind of takes care of itself. Things like “10 reasons why…”
  • Invite others to write something for you.

If you feel you don’t know enough, you’re in good company. Almost all creative educators experience this from time to time. There are two responses to this.

How to blog
You can do it! Have fun…

Firstly, you don’t need to know all about every detail of a topic, to make what you have to say useful to someone else. If you need convincing this video might help. Secondly, the whole world wide web is available to you, to research a topic before you begin. This doesn’t have to take long. I generally start writing, and then Google things as they arise, if I am not 100% clear on what I am saying. This might be once or twice in the process of writing a blog post. Another option, is Googling before you begin and skimming the top 4 or 5 articles that come up. I tend to do this if writing about something I know really well, just to be sure I have all my ideas straight and haven’t missed anything out. It just save me time.

If you think no-one is interested in what you have to say, think again. I have a really high email open rate among my clients when I send newsletters out to showcase new blog posts. People are engaged. Your clients will want to engage with you; they actively want to know you better. After all, they are entrusting their canine family members to your care.

How to blog – the nuts and bolts

  1. Pick a topic
  2. Choose a keyword – a searchable word or phrase that your post will rank for in Google.
  3. Create a catchy title that includes the keyword.
  4. Decide on a suitable format (photos, bullets, question and answer etc.)
  5. Find a hook – something that will hold the reader’s attention at the beginning. Then, just write. If your inner critic tells you its not good enough, write anyway. Keep going, and don’t worry about perfection until the end. You can edit, improve and correct once it’s ‘finished’.
  6. Complete the body of the post using headings, short paragraphs, bullet lists and links to other interesting content. If you are writing, try story telling, and offer interesting examples to keep the reader focused. Try to use your keyword a few times in the headings and in the post.
  7. Keep the tone conversational – be authentically you. If you are ‘teaching’ you may want to be a little more formal.
  8. Include a call to action – this can be to sign up for your newsletter, to call you, to ask for comments, or even to purchase something, depending on the nature of the post.

Once you are finished, read it through out loud and check for errors, spelling and grammar mistakes. Tweak and re-read.

There are all kinds of apps and plugins that help with SEO, creating a meta description (that bit that you see on Google search results, under the website URL) and such like, depending on which web development software you use. I use WordPress, and Yoast SEO is an excellent plug in for that.

Above all enjoy the process. Use it to enrich your knowledge of subjects that interest you. Find out what’s new in the area you are writing about. Have fun!

 

 

 

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.

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.