Business ideas for 2015: Pet sitting

A rise in pet ownership and time-poor pet owners makes now the perfect time for animal lovers to capitalise on this rewarding freelance opportunity…

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  • Megan Dunsby

Professional pet sitters are currently in high demand, making this a great opportunity for those who love animals.

A quick browse of sites such as Indeed and Gumtree returns a wealth of pet sitter requests nationwide and the early-stage growth of new pet sitter platforms such as BorrowMyDoggy, which claims to have thousands of members, reflects a steady increase in the number of pet owners looking to connect with people who can care for their animals on a flexible basis.

Although pet sitting is not a new business opportunity by any stretch of the imagination, the amount that people are willing to spend on their pets, rising demand for premium pet products and services, and the complication of busy lives, lends weight to a swelling market for pet sitters.

In August last year, Euromonitor published new statistics which showed 4% growth of the pet care market with reports that “pet owners are keen to get the best for their pets”.

Starting a pet sitting company: Why it’s a good business idea

More people are working longer hours than ever before which has led to a growing reliance on domestic services. From the traditional house cleaning and child care to daily meal catering, the domestic services industry is booming and pet sitting is one area of the market which is seeing solid growth; boosted by the growing number of pet owners.

The Pet Food Manufacturer’s Association’s (PFMA) Pet Population report for 2014 estimates that 46% of UK households (13 million) now have pets with 24% of the UK population dog owners and 17% cat owners so there’s no shortage of prospective customers to target. These figures, combined with the personal benefits of starting a pet sitting services business – emotional rewards, flexible working hours and more – point to the potential prospects.

Although there is a definite shift in more people looking for short-term pet care, there’s also a business opportunity in re-engaging with pet owners who have previously been put off by the idea of using a pet sitter. A 2013 survey from PetAround reported that a quarter of families with pets avoided taking holidays or cut down the length of their holidays because of the “hassle and cost of kennels and cat homes”, as well as guilt over leaving their pets and concerns about their welfare. A personalised, affordable pet sitting service which tackles these gripes could go far.

Pet sitting business opportunities

While pet sitting won't make you rich overnight, it's a business opportunity that can provide a decent living wage and, as it's home-based and can be operated both part-time and full-time, you can start up as a pet sitter quickly and inexpensively.

The success rate of your pet sitting business will depend on the region you target; for instance the South West has the largest proportion of cat owners (23%) whilst London has the least (12%), and the North East has the largest population of dogs (36% of people in the North East own a dog), so you will need to take this into account when marketing yourself as a pet sitter. As demand varies in different areas, you should also look to tailor your pet sitting service to your market. If, say, you decided to target the capital's pet owners then you may want to add dog, and potentially even cat, walking to your offering given the density of flats and apartments and lack of garden space.

In terms of pricing strategy, you'll need to create rates based on the type of animal you're going to sit, how many animals you're going to look after, the times you’re offering pet care, and the specific requirements for each pet. You'll also need to ensure you have all the necessary paperwork in place to get your pet sitting business off the ground such as pet insurance for animal care and custody and paperwork from the pet owner such as vet release forms. It's best to draw up a service contract which can then be provided to each customer.

References and testimonials will form the basis of your business so it goes without saying that great customer service is a must to generate the word-of-mouth marketing you will need. As a pet sitting business relies so heavily on the local community, you should also look to place ads in local vets, pet shops and local newspapers and it's recommended that you create a website – even a basic web page – to help those in the locale find you.

Ideal for those who have already worked with animals and have a passion for pet care, if you're serious about becoming a pet sitter then you may also want to consider investing in pet care training. Although this is not essential, it will help to demonstrate your abilities as a pet sitter – skills educators such as City and Guilds have Level 2 and Level 3 animal care qualifications available which provide introductory and advanced training respectively.

It's essential that you have insurance for your pet business. View our step-by-step guide to pet business insurance here.

The National Association of Pet Sitters and Dog Walkers (NarpsUK) is another good resource as it provides research and advice on starting a pet sitting business and runs an online Lantra accredited pet sitting and dog walking business course which teaches the basics of the industry.

For those looking to minimise the risks of starting a pet sitting business there are a range of franchise opportunities available which allow you to offer your services to a specific territory for a fixed fee with the branding and support of an established brand such as Barking Mad and PetPals.

Who else has started a pet sitting business?

Pet sitters operate across the UK so it's difficult to pinpoint those joining the sector but new regional pet care start-ups are performing well. Wet Nose Waggy Tail is a Coventry-based business which offers pet sitting, dog sitting and dog walking and since its launch in June 2013, it has continued to grow by gaining “loyal customers” through networking at pet shops, parks and pet shows.

Insider opinion

Wet Nose Waggy Tail founder, Michelle Hughes, says there is an expanding industry for pet sitting services:

“The pet sitting and dog walking industry is certainly a growing sector, we've seen a lot of new competition in our local area since we've been operating and there always seems to be enough work for all of us.

“Our team only started 18 months ago and there are now five of us operating under the brand. The demand from pet owners is increasing, I think a lot of this is due to an increased awareness of the correct way to look after pets and care for their instinctual needs. The popularity of TV programmes such as Paul O'Grady's For The Love Of Dogs has certainly helped pets with their situations. Dogs for example are pack animals, they need social interaction to stay happy and healthy, they can't be locked away all day, it impacts their welfare.

“For us we see the pet as the client, an approach our customers appreciate, we will always do whatever is right for the animal and offer advice to owners to help make both their lives happier. I think this is an expanding industry with the opportunity to grow business further by offering complementary services to enhance the lives of pets.”

Published Jan 2015

Megan Dunsby

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