Sunday, October 12, 2008

Pet sitting in a slow economy

What is a self-employed small-business owner to do when the economy comes to a standstill? Pet sitters certainly fall into that category. We are lucky that the holidays, traditionally our busiest season of the year, are going to keep us busy through December, but then what? 

I am taking action to maximize my holiday income. I have set up my yard so I can board more dogs than usual. I don't have kennels, but now I can separate dogs into separate sections of the yard during the day so I am not overwhelmed in the house and everyone stays a little calmer. Everyone sleeps inside at night, preferably in the house, so I have baby gates set up and crates so I can separate them without isolating them. Then the midnight play parties will be minimized! 

The problem with boarding at my home is that I am essentially working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It's a grind, so I treasure my breaks when I get them. My maximum is usually 6 dogs. This Christmas it will be 10, and I am fully booked already. Plus my own four, so the house will be full.

On top of that, of course, are pet sitting visits. I have not taken in very many new clients for visits the past two years, preferring to concentrate on boarding. This year I will market my pet sitting to kennels and veterinarians so they have someone to refer their clients to when they are fully booked. This has been more successful for me than advertising in the past. 

I am sending out a letter to all of my existing clients to announce that I now accept credit cards. I am a member of the NASE (National Association for the Self Employed), and process my payments through their Bank of America merchant program. There are no monthly minimum fees to pay, which is important when you only have a few transactions per month. 

I am also announcing to my clients that I will NOT be raising my rates until at least 2010, over a year away. And I offer a 10% discount to any boarding or pet sitting assignments that are over 10 days in length. I want to thank my existing clients for sticking with me, many for 10 years or more, and give new clients a financial reason to choose me.

Word of mouth is the best advertising of all. Recommendations from existing clients are rewarded with a free visit or free day of boarding. 

I am a member of Petsitters International, and have gotten several new clients from their referral service. Other online referral services I use are through Zootoo.com,  and Petsitters Associates LLC. Try Craigslist and Angie's list in your areas for extra exposure. 

Once the holidays are over, business may slow down substantially. I hope that my holiday income will hold me over for January and February. I have some savings put away for slow times. I keep close track of school holidays in my area, like Martin Luther King Day and President's Day-- these busy weekends will help me through the winter. 

January and February are months for a short vacation, even if it's in my own backyard. I will try not to sweat the slow season, continue marketing my business and take exceptional care of my customers. I will paint some pictures, ride my horse, enjoy my own dogs, and thank God I have been so fortunate to have this wonderful job and lifestyle.

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