Monday, January 25, 2010

Pet sitter kidnapped

Pet sitter kidnapped by homeowner’s ex-boyfriend.

This article is every pet sitter's nightmare.

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© 2009 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Hiring independent contractors

Expanding a small business

Poway Pet Care is not a startup, in fact I have been doing this for over 10 years now. But I hope this year will be a transition year for me, where I expand and add subcontractors to help me handle the workload. I will continue to do all the pet sitting visits, but I need help with in-home boarding for dogs.

It’s a scary proposition. I worry about entrusting my precious clients’ pets to someone new. Will they care for them like I do? Will they know what to do in an emergency? Do they really know a lot about caring for dogs? Can they handle doggy conflicts? Housetraining issues? Chewing? Hiring the right people is the key.

On the other hand, some dogs will do better in a home where they with just a few dogs. When I am really busy with boarding, I sometimes have up to 11 dogs here plus my own. That is like a doggy daycare, and pretty hectic. Older dogs and those that are not very sociable will do better in a quiet environment. Some dogs are just overwhelmed in a big group. You see it all the time at the dog park—a dog cowering under his owner or the nearby picnic table.

Independent Contractors

So I am researching how to go about hiring independent contractors. There’s a lot of information out there, and legal requirements vary by state. The penalties are stiff if you do it wrong. A good place to start your research is your state’s Department of Labor website.

Federal requirements (and penalties) are also very specific. Go to and enter independent contractor in the search box for a series of articles on how to determine if your workers fit the profile. This one is a good place to start: “Independent Contractor or employee”

Here are two sources for hiring “kits” that do a lot of the preparation (paperwork, etc.) for you:

If you are a member of PSI, The forums have discussions about hiring and managing independent contractors and employees.

There’s lot to do before you hire that first helper. Prepare contracts, schedules, interview question, want ads, payment and procedures before you start looking for people. I am still in the research phase. It’s a big leap to go to the next step. I’ll keep you posted!

Photo above: Rex the Lab and Oliver the terrier share a stick.

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© 2009 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The organized pet sitter: progress report on Quickbooks

I am making progress on my goals for 2010. If you recall from my previous post, one goal is to set up an accounting system. Enough of hand written lists and folders overflowing with receipts. The advice I received was unanimous. Quickbooks is the way to go. Maybe.

Quickbooks for Mac
If you are looking for new software, I recommend reading reviews on the product website. I started on Amazon, and Quickbooks for Mac gets horrible reviews. Everything it does right on a PC is a disaster on a Mac. The Mac version is clearly a neglected stepchild of the original. I downloaded a free trial from the Quickbooks site and soon found out that the user interface is a nightmare.

Many of us have used Microsoft Office or the Adobe Creative Suite, and we are used to the programs working in a predictable way. When a new program from a different manufacturer doesn't do it "right," we get frustrated.

One of the support people on Intuit's web site (Intuit is the developer of Quickbooks) posted that they invented an accounting program, not a graphics program, and users shouldn't expect a WYSIWYG (What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get) environment. No kidding. Their Layout Designer is difficult to navigate and customize. Be sure you have defined your business carefully, or a lot of the features just won't work. If you look in the help menu you won't find any instructions for customizing forms. What should take less than an hour took at least 2 hours. Trial and error was the only way to figure it out. And I swear I'd do something and it worked, then five seconds later, the same thing wouldn't work. Like changing text colors, for example.

Quickbooks pretty much has the market cornered on accounting software for small businesses, so you'd think they'd listen to their customers and fix these problems. The same support person posted that Intuit doesn't have the "resources" to spend on developing the Layout Designer. You must be kidding. This is a big opportunity for their competitors.

A friend likened using Quickbooks to taking the space shuttle to work: overkill for what I need to do. Possibly, but if I can get the darn thing working, it will be a big help. I'm hoping to integrate my client care sheets in the customer list. We'll see. I'll keep you posted. If this doesn't work, I will probably develop the whole thing in Microsoft Excel.

Two last points:
1) I hope for your sake that the program is easier to use for PC owners.
2) If you buy it, be sure to download the latest updates from the Quickbooks website. Hopefully, some of the obvious bugs will get fixed.

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© 2009 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Someone stole my client!

Dear Labby,

I was so busy over the holidays I couldn’t take care of all my clients. So I referred one client to Pam, another pet sitter in our town. Now I find out that my client has switched to her permanently! I am so mad! What can I say to Pam to make her give my client back?

Signed, Grrrrr

Dear Grrrr,

I’m sorry you lost a client, and it sounds like it wasn’t your fault. But the cold hard truth is that the client decides whom to hire as a pet sitter, and Pam may have had nothing to do with it.

This has happened to me, and I wasn’t very happy about it either. But I realized there is nothing I can do about it. Clients come and go over the years for many reasons, often having nothing to do with the pet sitter. They often leave without telling you. They may move, the pet may die, or they found a neighbor to care for Fluffy for them. It’s hard to lose a client, but it is a fact of life. You wish they would tell you, but people tend to avoid difficult conversations, so don’t be surprised if you don’t get a call.

Try this: call your clients and say you haven’t heard from them in awhile, and you just want to touch base and see if they have any travel plans coming up. You could ask if they were happy with the service they got from the pet sitter you referred them to. They might, or might not, tell you that they are using someone else now, and why.

When one of my clients left for another pet sitter (actually it was a boarding client), I ran into them at the park one day and asked them if they were now using “Sue” instead of me. They were very nice. One of their dogs was clearly happier at Sue’s place, they told me. My house had too much commotion and the dog was overwhelmed. At Sue’s they were the only guests, and their dog was happy to go there. I wished them the best, and told them I was available if they ever needed me.

Really, what else can you say? It’s their choice and they had a valid reason to switch. There is no reason to burn bridges and get angry. They may come back to you one day. And if you get mad, they’ll be sure to tell everyone they know, hurting your reputation.

So, buck up buckaroo; bite your tongue and keep your frustration to yourself. It’s not your fault, and it’s something you can’t control. You may decide not to refer to this pet sitter again, and that’s your privilege.

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© 2009 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved. Photo above: Oliver and Kenna get acquainted.