Pet care is a billion-dollar industry, but tapping into it is easier said than done.
Making the transition from pet lover to pet care pro means figuring out the licenses, certifications, start-up costs and payroll considerations. A little soul searching is also required.
“Know before going into it that it’s more than just kissing kittens and playing with puppies,” says Sherry L. Suhosky, president of the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters. “It can be a very physically demanding job and you’re alone a lot. Treat this as a business — not a hobby.”
Starting your own pet care business can be daunting, but it can also be very rewarding. Follow these 11 steps and you’ll be on your way to a new career.
1. Decide what you want to be
When it comes to spatial needs and certifications, there’s a big difference between being a dog walker and running a multi-animal boarding business. Once you’ve settled on the what, you can start thinking about the where, why and how.
2. Develop a business plan
What will you call the business? How big do you want to be? Do you plan on hiring employees? What about marketing the business? As you develop your business plan, think about who can be your mentors and what resources are available to you. Be sure to look at the local and state requirements for running your own pet care business. Start with resources like the Small Business Administration and your State Labor Office.
3. Find a location
Whether you’re planning to board, groom or train animals, you’ll need to find a space that fits your needs. Tour similar businesses to get an idea about your spatial needs. Then, once you find a space you think will work, be sure to check with city hall about zoning regulations and any relevant permitting or use restrictions.
4. Get a lay of the land
In addition to making sure the location meets your physical needs, scout the location from a tactical perspective. “You should know the demographics, where your competition is and where are you going to draw from,” says C. Dennis Murphy, a SCORE counselor who advises small businesses, including pet care. Make sure you have a customer base big enough to sustain your business. For example, if you’re starting a dog walking or grooming business, make sure it’s located near plenty of pet-friendly housing. Identifying the customer base and competition around your location will help inform your business and marketing plans.
5. Take a step back
Ask yourself: What does starting this business mean for me and my family? Will this be a full-time or a part-time business? Remember, owning and operating a business can be like a job on top of a job, so make sure to discuss your plans with your loved ones.
6. Figure out financing
Do you need to negotiate a lease and build out a vacant space? What about insurance and licensing costs? As you calculate how much start-up capital you’ll need, begin to figure out how you’ll raise it. Determine how much of the cost you can put up, and then look at other financing options, such as small business loans. “First thing I ask a client is, ‘What bank are you dealing with now,’” says Murphy. “If you already have a good relationship, then it makes sense to start there.”
7. Square away your certifications
Not all pet care businesses require certifications, but most have some level of education or training. Consult your State Labor Office to learn about required certifications or permits, and how to obtain them. Beyond sharpening your skills, obtaining and playing up relevant certifications can be a great marketing tool.
8. Outline your policies
Think about your hours and your workflow. Make sure your pricing is competitive, but sustainable. Decide how you’ll handle client payments, and spell out liability and requirements in contracts. Plan how to notify clients about your time off and how to handle replacement care.
“A few things that might be overlooked would include creating emergency and contingency plans,” says Suhosky, who recommends obtaining veterinarian contact info, a vet release form and pet guardianship paperwork from clients.
9. Get your business license and inspections
Requirements, fees and inspections will vary depending on your city or town. In Chicago, for example, there’s a $275 fee to obtain a two-year license for an animal boarding, grooming or training business. And the city’s Animal Care and Control commission will perform onsite inspections.
10. Don’t forget about taxes
Visit the IRS Small Business Tax Center to sort out your tax obligations as a self-employed individual or small business owner and your responsibilities in terms of payroll taxes, state and federal requirements.
11. Start “selling” yourself
Establish your web presence before you’re open for business. Start with a website spelling out your business offerings, location, hours, rates and your bio. Use social media and community marketplaces, such as Care.com, to promote your services and engage clients. Think about what you can offer that other local companies can’t. “The big thing is you need a differentiator,” says Murphy. “Businesses always think they’re unique, but everybody has competition.”