Chatting with Marlene Richardson, Former Pet Care Professional – Part Two

Southern Duchess Pet Care Service Logo, created by Megan Belanger and provided by Marlene Richardson, former owner of Southern Duchess

In Part One I introduced you to my neighbor Marly Richardson, a former pet care professional. She shared how she got into the biz, but in this part she talks about the biz from a different perspective: things those who are interested in getting into it should take into consideration.

Courtney Mroch: What kind of advice would you recommend to anyone thinking of starting their own pet care business?

Marly Richardson: Pet sitting is so much more than playing with cuddly critters all day long; to be successful will require education, excellent communication and terrific “people skills” as well! Pet sitting is a serious business, in an upcoming industry. Clients rely on their pet sitters just as they rely on their human babysitters. Pet care is about providing quality care for pets, and about providing peace-of-mind for people.

I offer this advice to anyone interested in the pet care field:

• Do your research and due diligence!

• Acquire insurance and bonding (I cannot stress this enough!)

• Realize that pet care isn’t a 9-5 job. While there is sometimes “down” time between appointments, a pet sitter is often go-go-going from 7:00AM til sometimes 10:00pm. Weekends, summer, and holidays are THE busiest time in the industry.

• Read this book: Pet Sitting for Profit by Patti Moran. Patti Moran spear-headed the pet sitting industry over a decade ago, and is currently the president of Pet Sitters International. Pet Sitting for Profit is, in my opinion, the most comprehensive manual pertaining to starting, maintaining and growing all facets of a pet care business! Any additional advice I can give will be covered in this book.

• Always follow-up and return client (and prospective client) phone calls in a timely manner. Excellent customer service skills will really set you apart from the competition.

CM: What does a person need to have if they’re going to become a pet care professional? Are there certain supplies they’ll need to buy or qualifications they should get?

MR: Starting a pet care/sitting service requires a relatively low amount of start-up capital for the “bare necessities.” A person will, however, need reliable transportation, a phone with voice mail, and an organized scheduling and record-keeping system, along with general office supplies and reference books. A professional service contract is highly recommended (PSI offers a generic service contract for $50 which can then be customized). I personally feel a computer with email and internet is a “must,” but there are many who run highly successful businesses without the aide of cyberspace. Advertising materials and printing (business cards, flyers, brochures, etc…) are additional costs that will be incurred (I created all my own advertising and networking materials, so the cost I incurred for this was $0 and a ton of hard work!)

Regarding qualifications, love and knowledge of animals is the major -but not the only- prerequisite. I highly recommend joining PSI, as members are privy to a plethora of educational information, materials and forums on the PSI website. PSI also offers an accreditation course and subsequent exam, as I mentioned earlier. Liability insurance and a dishonesty bond should be purchased (I wouldn’t DREAM of running such a business without being properly insured and bonded!), and a course in pet first aid/CPR (offered by the Red Cross) is always a good idea!

CM: What should pet owners look for when hiring a pet care professional?

MR: PSI offers the following recommended quality standards (taken directly from the PSI site):

The sitter exhibits courtesy and professionalism in all dealings with customers, staff and industry colleagues to positively represent the pet sitter and the pet-sitting industry.

The sitter is bonded and insured.

The sitter provides references.

The sitter visits the client’s home before the first pet-sitting assignment to meet the pets and get detailed information about their care.

The sitter displays a positive attitude during the initial meeting and is comfortable and competent in dealing with the animals.

The sitter is courteous, interested and well informed.

The sitter provides literature to describe services and communicate fees.

The sitter provides a service contract that specifies services, fees and time allocated per visit.

The sitter wants to learn as much as possible about the animals in his or her care.

The sitter has adequate knowledge and experience in caring for pets and is clearly mindful of their safety and well being.

The sitter takes precautions to make sure a client’s absence from home is not detectable because of any careless actions or disclosures by the sitter.

The sitter phones to confirm or has the client phone to confirm that the client has returned home.

The sitter provides a service rating form for clients.

The sitter conducts business with honesty and integrity and observes all federal, state and local laws pertaining to business operations and animal care.

The sitter keeps regular office hours and responds to client inquiries and complaints promptly.

The sitter has a veterinarian on call for emergency service.

The sitter has a contingency plan for pet care in case of inclement weather or personal illness.

The sitter refrains from criticizing competitors.

The sitting service screens applicants for employment carefully.

The sitting service provides initial and ongoing training for its sitters.

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