How to start a pet sitting and dog walking business: The insider’s view
After being made redundant, Lisa Murray-Lang used the New Enterprise Allowance to “follow her heart” and turn a passion for animals into a business
About our Insider
Founder: Lisa Murray-Lang
Launch date: March 2012
Based in: South Birmingham
Number of clients: 82
Tell us why your pet sitting / dog walking business stands out?
I offer a very personal and professional service with great customer care. I do what I would expect and want for my own pets.
For over 10 years I have been volunteering at Cramar Cat Rescue and Sanctuary. I helped with cleaning out, feeding and looking after the cats. I was also asked to become a trustee for the charity, a position I held for six years. I have also taken part in a half marathon dressed as a homeless cat as well as doing a 15,000ft skydive to raise money for the charity. As a trustee I also helped them to set up the vet practice, which is part of the premises.
I have a number of best practice rules that I follow:
One-to-one care. The dog walking service I provide is strictly on a one-to-one basis. I never take groups of dogs out together. At the end of the day, dogs, like people, are individuals whose personalities can clash when brought together.
Respond personally. I respond to any query as soon as possible. If I’m not able to help I’ll always try and offer an alternative solution.
It may be worth considering seeing if you can get a Start Up Loan (external partner site, link opens in a new tab) to help you with financing, and mentoring to start this business idea. You'll also need to think about registering your business, either as a sole trader or as a company - if a company, then Smarta Formations (external partner site, link opens in a new tab) are an organisation that can help you set up.
Be discreet. I have an unmarked car and don’t wear a uniform. It’s not advertising the fact that you’re away when I make my visit. I’m just a friend calling round. I’m not just an anonymous voice at the end of the phone; I think it’s important that I meet the owners and their pets in their own homes, which gives it a personal touch.
Build a relationship with the pet. Clients deal direct with me, not a new face each time. The pet builds up a good relationship with me and isn’t upset when their owners go on holiday. They still have a friendly face to provide them with love and care when their owners can’t be there, and because they remain in their own home they’re in familiar surroundings and it’s a lot less stressful especially for old/timid pets that get stressed when they go into kennels and catteries. Plus, it’s peace of mind for the owner that their home is being looked after too.
Why did you become a pet sitter / dog walker?
In 2011, after working in the Cadbury Design Studio for 13 years, I was unfortunately a casualty of the takeover and was made redundant just before Christmas. I looked at trying to get another design job but as always at that time of year there wasn’t a lot out there. So after six months of trying I decided to follow my heart, and do something with animals!
What was essential to get the business up and running?
Carry out market research. I needed to do my research, to gain further insight into the business I was going to set up, I also did a lot of research online to evaluate the need for this service in my local area. This meant sourcing other existing pet sitting and dog walking services that were near to me and referencing the prices and services they offered.
Join a trade association. I then enrolled with NarpsUK (National Association of Pet Sitters and dog walkers), got a CRB check done and sorted out public liability insurance.
Gain the necessary qualifications. Then I attended various courses including a First Aid course for both dogs and cats; a feline medication course in Edinburgh and earned a diploma in animal psychology, plus had inside help and advice from my vets and cat rescue charity.
Get good advice. I had the support of the New Enterprise Allowance at the Jobcentre Plus, which was able to give me help and advice setting up a business on my own.
What is your average working day like?
There is no average day, because every day is different – which I love. Each day throws up new challenges!
The summer months can be very, very busy and can see me getting up and starting my day at 5.30am. It’s a seven-day working week and some days up to 14 hours a day. In fact one day in August last year I had 34 cats, six dogs and two rabbits to look after!!! It’s busy but so rewarding!
What rules do you have for how you approach each client?
Every time I get a call from a new client, I check where they live and if I cover that area. I then take some basic details from them and arrange to come out and see them and their pet and find out what is required and meet the pet so I’m familiar to them when I come to look after them. The more information I have the better. Some owners apologise for leaving me pages of information but I’d rather have too much, than not enough.
What’s the biggest challenge for pet sitters / dog walkers right now?
The biggest challenge I think is that the market is getting bigger. And a lot of people think it’s an easy occupation. Just going round and petting someone’s cat or dog all day. They don’t see that you’re on call every day. It’s about keeping a close eye on the animal especially if it is old or ill. Special needs (such as incontinence), diabetic and epileptic pets need extra care and attention. It can be stressful as they are your responsibility. You have to meet the needs of both the pets and their owners.
I’ve also had phone calls from potentially new clients who have approached less professional pet sitters out there, and have been let down by them. I always ask if my clients have been happy and satisfied with the level of service I have provided them with and whereever possible invite them to provide testimonials to say this.
What’s the best business advice you’ve been given?
- Keep all your receipts
- Document everything
- Plan your time and route before heading out! Organisation is key.
What do you think the pet sitting / dog walking space will look like in two years?
I think it will be even bigger and the pets and owners will be even happier!!!
What’s the best resource for pet sitters / dog walkers?
Joining the NarpsUK and having all their help and support on hand when needed has been amazing. Plus, as much information and support from other animal centres and vets.
What regulations affect you most as a pet sitter / dog walker?
A lot is down to common sense, most pet owners are aware of and understand what responsibilities are required, which I fully endorse as it is vital to my job.
You need to be CRB checked, along with following the NarpsUK Code of Conduct and learning about the Control of Dogs Order 1992 along with the Clean Neighbourhood and Environment Act 2005 when picking up and disposing of dog faeces when taking dogs out for exercise. It’s the not very nice side of being a pet sitter and dog walker but it needs doing and any responsible owner or walker must do it.
It’s just sitting around petting the animals. It can be very stressful at times and time management is key! It’s great in the summer when the weather is nice but then you have to go out in the hail, sleet, wind, rain and snow! All animals are different and possess personalities which can prove challenging at times, this can be taken for granted by the inexperienced.
If you launched your company again, what would you do differently?
In hindsight there’s not a lot I would change, having been given sound advice and support from friends and family. If anything, I just wish that I had made the decision to change my career sooner!
If you’re interested in becoming a pet sitter and dog walker, check out our comprehensive guide on how to start a dog walking business.