Pet boarding is a great business opportunity for animal lovers. There are numerous organizations available to help novice pet boarders grow their business from a home-based hobby into one that produces a sizeable income. Not only that, it’s an opportunity to make a living doing something that you love—which can never be underestimated.
Try these 7 tips to help you start the pet boarding business of your dreams.
1. Treat Your Business as a Business
Many budding pet boarding business owners begin their practices because they’re pet lovers. They know how much keeping a beloved animal safe means to the proud pet owners, but don’t always see the business as a profit-making operation—which is a crucial mistake. The Paws Dog Day Care website shows that start-up costs for a pet boarding business can run anywhere from $24,000 to $81,000 depending on the size of the business, the geographical location, and local legislation/regulation.
The bottom line is, no matter how much you love animals and how much of a humanitarian you are, you have to be a little bit ruthless when it comes to running a business— or else you won’t be running it for very long. That doesn’t mean you have to be a mercenary and charge outrageous rates, but it does mean you have to be smart about money, staffing, insurance, expenses, etc.—you have to manage your business like a business and not like a hobby.
2. Track Time and Focus on Income-Production
As a small business owner, time is money. You hear that a lot but do you really understand the implications? If you spend the majority of your time doing things that don’t actively contribute to your bottom line (how long does the employee schedule take you?) you may squeak by every year but you’ll never grow your business into true profitability. Moneymaking activities include:
- Marketing your business
- Improving efficiency
- Reinvesting in your facility
- Mining existing clients for additional income (upselling grooming services or cross-selling complimentary products such as toys, treats, and other supplies).
Invest in time clock software. Keep track of everything you do and how long it takes you to do it. That includes bookkeeping, meeting with clients, caring for the animals, dealing with staff issues, etc. Review your notes and see how much time you spend doing what. There’s a very good chance that you’ll spot huge opportunities to improve your effectiveness and efficiency.
3. Know When (and What) to Delegate
You may start out as a one-man (or one-woman) show, but as your business grows you’ll need to become more comfortable with depending on others. Whether that means hiring staff members or relying on relatives, one thing is for certain: you must delegate wisely. Think of it as outsourcing within your own company!
One of the golden rules of outsourcing is to do what you do best and let somebody else do the rest. To do that, you have to evaluate your own skills first. For example, if you really know how to “close the deal” when talking to potential clients, you should be handling all the inquiries, not leaving it up to your receptionist. On the other hand, if a staff member has the “Midas Touch” when it comes to grooming, let them get their hands dirty.
4. Grow Your Savings
Breaking even just isn’t good enough. You need to accumulate savings (even as little as $20 per week) in order to run a sustainable business over time. That savings will help cushion you in the event of a disaster (plumbing problems, leaking roof, etc.), and will give you the capital you need to expand in the future.
A solid business plan is a good place to start, but you should also set (and do your darndest to hit) monthly financial goals. And those financial goals should grow over time. Doing so will force you to get better at the business of your business. You’ll find ways to be more efficient, be more effective, and build profit centers that you’d otherwise ignore. Yes, it sounds like work, but if you want your boarding business to succeed, you have to do more than just play fetch with your tenants.
5. Get Insurance
Cesar Milan (the Dog Whisperer) recommends that any budding boarders invest in insurance. The basic minimum should be $2,000 of coverage per animal under your care. However, if you can afford it, buy a better plan. The average cost of emergency pet surgery (the kind you’re most likely to run into) is $2,000. If an animal suffers something more devastating such as a broken limb, your liability could shoot as high as $5,000.
A general rule of thumb when buying any type of insurance is to purchase just a little more than you think you need. It’s better to be covered and never need the insurance than need it and not have it.
6. Ramp Up Your Marketing… Constantly!
If you’re serious about growing your business, you should constantly be ramping up your marketing efforts. You may start out posting fliers on publically accessible bulletin boards, but you should move on to getting referrals from veterinarians, cultivating customer referrals, placing ads in local publications (not always newspapers), and getting your business online.
The key to effective marketing is thinking like your clients. What TV programs do they watch? What newspaper sections do they read? Where do they congregate? What pet-oriented activities do they engage in? Are there local events (pet parades, dog park Olympics, talent shows) that they attend? Find these outlets and use them to your advantage.
7. Hire the Best Staff Possible (and Keep Them)
Of course you should hire animal lovers. But you should also screen applicants for prior experience, personality types, and how well they mesh with your existing team. Unlike other more “structured” businesses, pet boarding facilities often operate like small families.
Once you have a solid staff, you should do everything you can to keep them. This may include using technology to entice them (the next generation of workers wants their schedule on their phone), offering performance incentives (extra days off), working around their personal lives (following a schedule template they filled out), or just showing your appreciation (buying coffee for the clan or giving out an employee appreciation award).
Put Your Passion for Pets On Display
Above all, the thing that’s going to set your boarding business above the competition is your passion. Pet owners put the happiness and health of their furry friends high on their list of priorities and they’re not going to board their extended family with just anyone.
You have to let potential clients know that their animal means as much to you as your own. That dedication has to show in everything from your marketing to your facilities and especially your face-to-face consultations. When you lead with passion, your pet business will be far more likely to take off!