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.

Advertising a pet sitting business

There are two main ways of promoting any business; marketing and advertising. These are two different things and shouldn’t be confused. There are many definitions of both concepts but I like these:

  • Marketing “is the art of inspiring desire that leads to action.” Jerry Beale.
  • Advertising is bringing a product/service to the attention of (potential) customers.
Both marketing and advertising are essential for a new business to grow and thrive, but for a pet sitting business I think that advertising becomes less important over time and marketing, more important. This is down to the relational nature of choosing someone to look after your beloved pets. One way to look at this, is to think of advertising as informational and marketing as relational.
Ways of advertising a pet sitting business

Each type of advertising listed has been rated for effectiveness for a pet sitting business from 1 to 10, where 1 is barely effective and 10 is extremely effective.*

  • Word of mouth – for example, talking to attendees via a stand at a dog show in your area. This method can  involve written information, such as when you pass over of a business card to someone you meet out walking dogs. (6)
  • Recommendation – for example, when a client of yours recommends you to a work colleague. Essentially word of mouth from a person who has used your service. (10)
  • Google AdWords – this is where you pay Google to feature your advert on the first page for a relevant search. You only pay when the searcher clicks through the advert to your website. These adverts appear to the right and also above the organic listings. (8)
  • Organic first page ranking for your website on Google – this is when, by building an information rich site, that is regularly updated, optimised for search engines to find and well linked from other sites and blogs, you rank on the first page of Google for a relevant search. (10)
  • Flyer and business cards left at a vet with whom you have relationship – these are then distributed by the receptionist or vet and serve as a personal recommendation of sorts. (7)
  • Flyer and business cards left with any other vet – here the people do not know who you are and are less likely to be ready to recommend you. In this scenario, your information will usually be presented alongside that of any other similar businesses who have left their advertising material at the surgery. (variable 1 to 5)
  • Leafleting an area – for example posting an A5 flyer or business card through the doors of an estate in your area. (2)
  • Social media, especially Facebook – for example having a thriving Facebook page with useful information, photos, videos and events. (6)
  • Cards in post office or shop window – usually, these are printed postcards of A5 flyers. (2)
  • Newspaper advert – often placed in a local newspaper or  free paper. (1)
  • Listing on online sites such as Gumtree – these sites take paid advertisements and you can pay extra to have your advert placed at the top of the listing for your category of business. These sites tend to be seen as places to pick up a bargain and customers are just as likely to go with the cheap, often uninsured dog walkers that abound. (2)
  • Listing on pet specific agency-type online sites, such as Dog Walking Now – these sites essentially introduce service users to service providers, and usually charge a fee for doing so. I’ve never had a successful client introduction through one of these sites, but you might get lucky.  (variable 1 to 5)

*Based on my own experience, the comments of other pet sitters and research into Google ranking.

You may notice a pattern – information is more effective when it is targeted specifically at a dog-owning audience, but relationship is always more powerful. Ranking highly on Google is the exception to this.

advertising a pet sitting business
AdWords will put you straight onto the first page of Google. Beware of cold callers who promise to get you there organically in a matter of weeks.

I would suggest choosing advertising methods that you think will give you the best return within your budget of both money and time. Then monitor how your clients found out about you, to see what works for your area and type of business.


I used many of the above methods when I was starting up, but over recent years I have settled on four alongside continually building my website to increase its organic ranking. These are:

  1. Recommendation (my holy grail).
  2. Google AdWords
  3. Facebook (occasionally paid adverts)
  4. Publicity material in my vet’s surgery

I currently only pay for the Google advertising and the occasional Facebook campaign. AdWords is charged on a daily basis and you only pay when someone searches, sees your advert and then clicks through to your website. I pay around £1 a day, which is a tiny campaign, but I still get the majority of my clients through Google. I am aiming towards my business website ranking highly organically and then I will stop using AdWords continually. This, of course, requires building the site over time.

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?