One of the ways that you can make more money in your pet sitting business is by attracting brand new customers consistently. Here are five ways to do that.
Increase your direct mail marketing.
I feel like so many people forget about snail mail in this day and age. They’re only focused on online strategies, but I tell you that people read snail mail. Create a direct mail marketing campaign to attract new customers to promote your pet sitting business.
Build an online presence to attract website visitors.
You want to make sure that when people are online, which they are every day, they can find you. First of all, make sure that you have a professional website.
Second, you have your Google My Business listing updated and optimized. Maybe starting a blog. Different ways that you are attracting new customers to your website, which is your conversion mechanism, which is going to convert them into paying customers. Make sure that you have your website listed on as many backend websites with all of the traffic leading back to your site.
Create a social presence.
Social media, guess what, people use it because it works. You want to make sure that you are creating valuable content for your ideal clients on your social media channels. But again, direct them back to your website to convert them into paying customers. You’re not using social media for your business, just for its fun. The end goal is to convert your social media followers into paying customers.
Offer a referral incentive for customers who refer their friends.
Educate your current customers about your referral program, saying, “Hey, we love and appreciate referrals. This is the best way to do it. And we are going to incentivize it by giving you credits off of your next booking.”
Develop strategic alliance relationships.
Creating these relationships with other business owners that target the same market as you do but provide a different service. I’m not talking about pet sitters. I’m talking about pet groomers, pet photographers, pet stores, and vets. And the idea is that you’re sharing each other’s customer lists and referring business back and forth to each other.
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Today, our question comes from a member of my Scholars group, and she wrote, “I’m curious how and if you respond when your pet sitting company is recommended for service in local Facebook groups. Do you comment on the person who recommended your service or comment separately? I hesitate to throw our name out there in these groups if we haven’t been mentioned since some people are not so nice.”
My answer to her was to comment on the person who referred you, comment separately, and DM the person looking for a fantastic sitter. Be proud of your service.
Don’t let some trolls that are sitting behind their computers, who may say something negative about you, hold you back from getting your message out to the people that need you most.
When you respond, something you can offer is a PDF download of all the amazing testimonials that your clients have given your pet sitting company, or you can give them a high-value coupon. There are many cool ways to respond in these instances, but again, do not let fear of judgment hold you back from being so proud of your service and what you have to offer.
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Today, I want to talk to you about your dog walking business newsletters. When anybody goes to your website and signs up for your irresistible free offer should be included in your newsletter bucket. This is a vehicle and a way for you to stay in touch with your current customer list and all of the people on your customer prospect list.
Then, you need to pick an email autoresponder—something like MailChimp or ActiveCampaign, which my students use. Choose one, and then create a template that you will use each month. You’re going to want to include a personal message on your list.
Next, choose one of your blog articles. Something that your customer avatar will find valuable, and then you can promote your dog walking business referral partnerships and strategic alliances. It’s a way for you to support the businesses that you refer.
I had a student in my Multiply Mastermind program who had an amazing idea this week to contact her local humane society and offer to do a highlight of one of their pets every month in their newsletter, and the humane society was thrilled. Not only is she cultivating that relationship with the strategic alliance, but she’s doing something wonderful for the pets as well.
Lastly, you always want to include a call to action for your customers to schedule service or for those who haven’t used your dog walking business yet to sign up for service.
I hope you found this helpful. Get a newsletter started. Send one every single month. Pick a set day of the month that you will send it out, whether it’s the third Thursday the first Tuesday. It doesn’t matter, but be consistent and get that out. You can delegate it to somebody, too.
If this is something that you were like, “Yes, I want to do this, but I don’t have the time,” there are people out there that will do your monthly newsletter for you. You can go to Upwork.com or Fiverr.com and find somebody there.
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Today we’re talking about three simple steps for you to create consistent five figure months in your pet sitting business.
Step 1: Create a sales system that attracts new clients to your business.
Create a sales system that attracts new clients to your business while incentivizing your current customers to book from you more frequently.
Step 2: Systematize every single thing in your business.
It’s taking everything out of your head. It is documenting it onto an online business hub into some manual to easily delegate it to your support team.
Step 3: Have a Support Team
You will make a substantial income in your pet sitting business by leveraging yourself through a team of heart-centered pet care professionals that will take amazing care of your client’s pets. Then eventually, your support team will get even larger with a manager, a virtual assistant, and such.
Those are the three steps. You need to be acquiring new customers. You need to be systematizing every last thing in your business so one, you’re creating something of value that you’ll be able to sell down the road, and two, it makes it easy to run. It establishes that turnkey business where you’re not the person that’s having to do everything.
Lastly, you’re delegating to other people to do the work of running your pet sitting business.
As the business owner, you are not supposed to do the client work.
You are supposed to be the visionary. You’re supposed to be the person behind the scenes, and you delegate the client work to your team. It’s that simple.
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The biggest mistake I see when pet sitters want to expand is today’s topic. I coached my multiply mastermind group last night on this topic. I go through the 12 steps they need to do when they are ready to expand.
Before I even started teaching the expansion formula, I let everybody know that the biggest mistake that I see is pet sitters getting excited about the opportunity of expansion, but they haven’t done the work that they need to do on their current territory.
In the multiply mastermind program, I teach you the seven activators that you need to have to create consistent results in your business, generating $10,000 or more a month. Everything is running like a well-oiled machine. When that is running consistently, you can duplicate it into different territories.
Most pet sitters expand too fast, and they haven’t done the behind-the-scenes work that they need to get done on the current business and their current territory.
It never turns out good. Then they get disappointed in the results, and then they stay where they are.
Create a business machine that consistently brings you new clients daily.
You are consistently building your support team. You have a manager who can help you with behind-scenes, scheduling, administrative tasks.
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Most business owners think they shouldn’t market if their pet sitting business is flush with clients. This is incorrect thinking! To always have clients you must always be marketing. You should not count on the fact that customers are yours forever once they sign up with your service. You must implement a variety of marketing strategies to create a consistent pipeline of new business.
Here are 30 ways a professional pet sitter can get more pet sitting business.
1. You need to build a client-attractive website.
I talk way too often to pet sitters that don’t have a website. Guess what? Everybody is online. Everybody’s on their phones. Everybody’s on their computers. Everybody is Googling how to find out how to do things or find services they want to use. You need a website so that people can find you. And then, on top of that, you want to make it client-attractive so that when people hit your website, they immediately have the know, like, and trust factor. You have all of the important aspects to your website so that people are going to convert into paying customers. I go in-depth in this in my Launch and Grow program. It is so, so, so, so important.
2. On that website, you need to add a lead magnet.
What’s a lead magnet? It is something of value that you are giving to your website visitors in exchange for their first name and email address. The idea here is that you want to follow up with these people, and you want to follow up with those who hit your website but don’t buy or don’t become customers. And that’s how you do it. So currently, my lead magnet on my website is an information packet coupled with a high-value coupon.
3. Create a sales funnel with a time-sensitive offer to create urgency.
When someone visits my website they say, oh, this looks pretty good. I will give them my first name and email address. We provide them with an information packet that they can download. Then they get the $25 off coupon. Then they are dropped into a sales funnel where they’re going to get consecutive emails from me.
I’m going to speak to different pain points and the benefits of using my service. And in the end, I’m going to say, “all right, now’s the time. If you want to cash in on that coupon, do it before the deadline ends.” Time-sensitive offers create an urgency that compels people to take action and buy and use their coupons.
4. Join a networking group.
One of the easiest ways to build your client list when starting your business is to join a networking group. You could try LeTip, and I loved BNI, Business Network International.
The deal is, if you are going to join one of these groups, you need to commit to it. You need to show up to every meeting, and you need to be referring other people in that group. Another tip I have for you, try to find an established group. A lot of BNI chapters are new, and you don’t want that. You want to a chapter that’s been around for a while. You want people in that group who know what they’re doing and are committed to the networking process—one of the easiest ways to get clients.
5. Actively participate in local Facebook groups.
This is a free method. Join all the local Facebook groups, and they don’t even have to be pet-related. It could be moms, and it could be recipes, and it could be restaurants. And they can be pet-related.
People are always asking about pet sitting services and dog walking services in those groups. If you spend 20 minutes a day to show up in these groups and keep an eye out, you can also add value by posting relevant articles about the importance or benefits of using pet sitting businesses. It’s just such an easy way to connect with members of your community and to get clients.
6. You want to blog and guest blog.
Blogging is going to position you as an expert in the industry. And here’s a little known fact: People like doing business with experts and not novices. So that’s the number one thing a blog is going to do for you. It’s going to position you as an expert in your industry.
The second thing it’s going to do is create relevant content for your pet sitting prospects.
The third thing it’s going to do is create search engine optimization opportunities for your client-attractive website. Because you’re going to be using keywords that your pet sitting business prospects are going to use – that’s what they’re typing into Google search to find you.
Then there’s guest blogging. You submit your articles to other blogs, which then back-links them to your website. This gives your client-attractive website credibility. It’s going to increase that search engine optimization, where people will be able to find you. So get into the habit. Like networking, you have to commit to the process, and you need to be doing it every week, or it’s not worth doing.
7. SEO your website.
A blog is a way to SEO your website, but there’s also many other ways to SEO your website. SEO stands for search engine optimization. We want Google to be able to find your website and index it so that people looking for your service will be able to find you. SEO will increase how high you’re going to show up in those search results. So you want to be using keywords, and you want to add meta descriptions to your images. This is an easy way to get clients because now they’re going to be able to find you. You can find out more here.
8. Showcase your testimonials.
So when you get positive feedback, or you get a review from a client, showcase it. Include it in emails. Make sure you have a page on your website that has all of your testimonials on there. Make sure that you’re putting it out on social media. Let people see the social proof and testimonials.
9. You can run contests.
Contests are fun and an inexpensive way to build buzz for your business. Everyone loves free stuff, and it’s a very easy way to build your email list. So get creative and have fun with this.
10. Build strategic alliances.
Strategic alliances are business owners that target the same target market as you, pet owners, but they don’t provide the same service. We’re not talking about pet sitters or dog walkers, but about vets, pet stores, pet groomers, pet photographers, and pet massage masseuses. That’s who you want to build these relationships with, where basically, you are promoting your services to each other’s client lists. It’s a win-win.
11. Create referral partnerships.
This is any business that is going to refer business to you. It doesn’t have to be pet-related. I partner with my friend who owns a carpet cleaning business. We’re always running promotions back and forth to each other’s lists. My neighbor Claire owns HomeCooked and always puts out my business cards. When I’m hiring, she always puts out my hiring postcards. I also let my clients know about her amazing business. So developing these referral partnerships and making sure that you include them in your marketing plan is an easy way to get clients.
12. Run online paid advertising.
Google AdWords is one of the best things I’ve ever done for my business, honestly. I am always running Google AdWords campaigns. The money that I spend for those advertising campaigns pays for itself, When you consider my customers’ lifetime value, it comes back to me a hundredfold.
So don’t be scared. I would look into delegating this to someone who knows what they’re doing and can set it up for you. You can find people on Upwork or Fiverr, and you can also run Facebook ad campaigns or Instagram campaigns or run YouTube ads. There are all different types of marketing strategies.
Don’t be afraid of paid online advertising because it works. I love seeing the ads. When I’m on social media, I’m like, oh, who’s advertising to me? I find it so fascinating. And guess what? I’m always buying stuff, especially when I’m on Instagram.
13. Create a referral program.
You want to turn the people that use your service into a non-paid sales force. So incentivize the clients that love you to refer you to the people they are friends with.
Then you have to educate these people about how your referral program works. You can’t just make it, put it out into the universe, and be like, okay, done. No, you need to communicate with your referral partners at least on a monthly or bimonthly basis.
This is the best way to do it: Hey, just a reminder, we love and appreciate referrals. And when you refer a client to me, they get $25 off, and so do you. And you’re just constantly reminding them of your referral program.
14. Run a direct mail campaign.
People forget about direct mail. People read and love snail mail. Emails a lot of times get deleted nowadays. In my Multiply Mastermind training program, one of my students’ strategies is called the Five House Marketing Rule. That’s another video, and you can click here to check that out.
15. Write a warm letter.
This would be a specific direct mail campaign. So a warm letter is a letter that you create and send out to everybody on your contact list. This is clients, past clients, friends, family, anyone that’s on there. Anyone that knows, likes, and trusts you is going to get a warm letter. The warm letter is simply updating them about your business.
Let them know that you love and appreciate referrals. If there’s anything that you can do in return for them, just let you know—such an easy, simple strategy to get clients.
16. Run promotions to prospects that never signed up for service.
So you have your client-attractive website. People come; they give you their first name and email address. They get dropped into that sales funnel, but they don’t end up converting into a paying client.
Don’t forget about these people. You can continue to market to them and run promotions. You can do 40% off if you book by the end of the week, so on and so forth. Get creative.
17. Donate your pet sitting services to charity.
I donate high-value gift certificates to so many animal-centered charities in my area and all types of shelters. So I usually do $250, and it’s such a great way to get new clients and get your name out in the community.
18. Use car magnets to advertise your business.
I have never done this, guys, but so many of my students do it and swear by it. And guess what? I always read car magnets. So I’m sure it is a great strategy. You can get them inexpensive nowadays. And you want to have your phone number nice and clear with a call to action.
19. Use your email signature.
This is valuable real estate that people forget about. Every email that you send out, you could have a call to action in your email signature. It could be a booking service. It could be to leave a review. It could be to leave a Yelp review. I mean, there are a million things that you can do with your email signature. Every time you’re sending that out, people will see it, and it’s a way to get clients and get them to take action.
20. Host live events.
Hosting a community event is a sure-fire way to build trust with your community members and showcase your services. It’s also a way to get free local press coverage. So a common one that many of my students do is have pet Halloween costume contest live events, where everyone in the community brings their pets. Such a great way to meet people in your community. And then you want to let the local press know about it to run stories about it.
21. Send out a press release to your local media.
Again, suppose you’re hosting a live event or hosting a contest, or something’s changing in your business, or something big happens in the pet sitting industry. In that case, local media is always looking for stories, and they want your press release. So don’t forget about that. That’s old-school marketing. But guess what, it works.
22. Hang flyers in local establishments.
Old school, but it works. I was in the bagel shop the other day, and there was a bulletin board. I just sat there, and I read through every single one. I was in the G Lodge, a restaurant around the corner from me, the other day. Again, bulletin board. Waiting for my table, I read every single thing on the bulletin board. It’s a great way to find sitters and to get clients.
23. Used social media.
People are on social media, guys, TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube. Send out relevant articles about pet care. You can post memes, and you can do videos, and you can do word puzzles. I mean, there are a million different things that you can do on social media to attract clients to your pet sitting business. Take advantage of these channels because they’re free.
24. List your business on business directories.
Getting your business listed on as many online directories as possible is an excellent strategy for boosting your company’s visibility, and this adds to that credibility factor of your website.
In my Launching Growth program, I give my students, I think it’s about 78 different websites that they can go to and get their business listed, which gives clout to your website, which increases your rankings. It’s an easy way for your clients to be able to find you.
25. Claim and optimize your Google My Business page.
Google My Business is a free marketing tool available to you, and you should have it optimized. People are online Google looking for pet sitting business services. If you have your Google My Business optimized and up to date, it’s such an easy way to get clients.
26. Contact pet friendly apartment complexes.
So you want to reach out to the managers of these apartment complexes. Why am I having a hard time saying that? Let them know about your business, and ask if you could be included in the welcome packages they give out to new renters or new buyers.
27. Partner with a shelter, and all offer a discount for newly adopted pets.
Somebody goes and adopts a new pet, and the shelter says, hey, if you ever need a pet sitter, Pet Nanny-Pet Sitters of The Main Line is the premier service in this area. And then you can give them a coupon as well, and they’ll take action.
28. Market to neighbors of your existing clients.
This goes back to that five-house marketing campaign that I told you about earlier. If you get a client in a neighborhood, you want this entire neighborhood to know about your pet sitting business. It’s an easy way to get clients because if they know that their neighbor trusts you with their pets, they are more likely to trust you. It’s also much more convenient, with a lot less drive time between clients. So you should always be focusing on the immediate neighbors of your clients.
29. Target new homeowners.
This information is public. You can easily get the information for new homeowners in your area, and you could do direct mail campaigns to them. There’s also a service called Welcome Wagon that you could look into.
30. Oh, the last one. So run a reengagement campaign to inactive clients.
If we have not heard from a client in over a year, we run what we call a reengagement campaign, where we send them an email with a high-value offer for them to book service within, say, 14 days.
Then you’re going to continue to stay in touch with them and incentivize them to book service. Don’t forget about the people that have already raised their hands and said, yes, I want to hire your pet sitting service. Get in touch with them, and give them an offer. Get them back and onto your active list.
So there we have it. Thirty ways a professional pet sitter can get more pet sitting business, or for short, 30 ways to get clients. I hope you guys found this helpful.
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I was recently interviewed by Meghan and Collin from Pet Sitter Confessional. What follows is the discussion of a wide range of topics for pet sitters and pet sitting business owners including Employees vs Independent Contractors (IC’s), pet sitting business technology, how to handle price increases and much more.
You can listen to the interview recording by clicking the Play button on the MP3 file. You can also read along with the Interview Transcript below.
Hi, I’m Meghan.
I’m Collin, and this is a Pet Sitter Confessional.
An open and honest discussion about life as a pet sitter.
How do you appropriately use an independent contractor? Have you ever thought about using one yourself? In today’s episode, Colleen Sedgwick, the Pet Nanny, answers some very specific questions about the right ways to use an independent contractor. Many of us are looking for ways to fill temporary schedules and cover more sits during the busy holiday time. Independent contractors may be the way to go for us. However, as always, there are many things to consider. Let’s get started.
I want to say, hi, I’m Colleen Sedgwick. I am the owner of Pet Nanny Coach, and I teach pet sitting business owners how to make $10,000 or more a month in their business. And I’m also the owner of Pet Nanny – Pet Sitters of the Main Line, which is on the main line of Philadelphia, so the suburban area of Philadelphia, and I’ve had my business for 20 years. It was 20 years in June. I’ve been through it, but I’ve created this amazing business that gives me a passive revenue stream, because I leverage myself through my team of pet sitters, my team of managers, and it just serves me and I have a lot of knowledge that I love to share with other pet sitters who want to create something similar for themselves.
Yeah, well you’ve been doing this for a long time and I know you’ve got a lot of insights and so I… We’re talking about the difference of using independent contractors appropriately and what that means. I would love to have you define what the difference is between an employee and an independent contractor.
Okay, so independent contractors, in essence, and for simplicity’s sake, they run their own business. And as a pet sitting business owner, if you are going to use IC’s and use that model, you have to understand that you’re contracting their services to service your customers. They do not work directly for you. They own their own business. They’re responsible for their own taxes, paying their own taxes. They’re responsible for providing their own equipment. And the biggest thing is direction and control. As the business owner, you do not have any direction and control over your independent contractors. The client has the control over the independent contractor. And that is a main shift that needs to be made with a lot of pet sitting businesses that are using IC’s. They are treating them as employees because they are telling them what to do. They’re defining what it is that they want, how they want the job to be done, where in essence, it needs to be the client that is directing the independent contractor. And you, as the pet sitting business owner are the connector. You’re the bridge between the IC and the client.
Yeah, I think maybe… It is confusing because the job gets done, but it’s all the backend work, I think, the unseen relationship that we don’t think about, that where that real difference is when we’re trying to bring people on and hire staff. There seems to be a lot of changes with IC’s, state, national levels. From your perspective, how has it been regulation wise? What changes have you seen and how they’ve applied to the industry when it comes to using independent contractors?
Oh, they’re just much more stringent now. When I started using IC’s… I use IC’s successfully for 17 years. I now use employees. But when I first started contracting independent contractors to work with Pet Nanny, not for Pet Nanny, working with Pet Nanny, it wasn’t a big deal. The government wasn’t sniffing businesses out, trying basically… You’re going to make more money for the government if you use employees. And they got hip to that and they’ve found these small industries like the pet sitting industry that was using independent contractors and they’re trying to shut it down because they, in essence, want to make the most money that they can from you.
I’m a big fan of IC’s. I loved the IC model. Like I said, 17 years of my business, I used it successfully. I just got a little tired of them hunting me down. So yeah, I went through two audits and they tried to audit me a third time. But by then I just said, “All right, Uncle, I’m just going to switch to employees,” and that’s fine too. I have more direction and control, but it’s a lot more expensive to have employees.
Walk us through what an audit looks like. You’ve gone through two, almost were going through a third. What are they looking for? And what do people need to have on hand if they do get audited?
Oh my goodness. Yeah, that was a very scary situation, the first one, but I had everything. I knew what I was doing in terms of how my business was set up using IC’s. You have to make sure that your IC’s are paying their own insurance. You’re not paying their insurance. In essence, they need to be giving you their pay… What would you call it? Their time sheets and their invoices to you, which I did. I was able to utilize through my software, but basically they were submitting their time worked through the software, so I was able to show to the government that I was not… that they were invoicing me. Let’s think another one. So, it was the insurance, it was the… Oh, that they were using their own equipment, that they’re paying their own taxes, that I was not defining when they needed to be at a client’s house, that the client was the one doing that. That I wasn’t providing them with any type of handbook or any type of instructions, detailed instructions on how the job was supposed to be done.
And yeah, the big thing I’m going to say… There wasn’t any vacation time they could schedule. They were in charge of their own calendars by blocking out when they couldn’t work, we call it the Do Not Schedule system. So, the sitters would go in and block out, basically manage their own calendars. And when they were available, the program would know, and we would go ahead and schedule that. Those were the big things.
Yeah, well, it sounds like a lot to keep track of and some people may see that and go, “Wow, that sounds like a lot of headaches.” How did you make that work so successfully for 17 years and managing all of that?
Being very, very organized. It’s one of my superpowers. I’m gifted with that. A lot of flaws, but that’s one of my superpowers. You just have to stay on top of it. You have to make sure that your language is in line with what the government wants. And you have to be very careful with… I know a lot of pet sitting business owners are using IC’s and having them wear shirts with the company name on it. Absolutely no, no. No car magnets, no handbooks. You just have to be really diligent about how you’re communicating with them and how you’re presenting them and how everything is organized on the backend. In terms of… and using your software program. The IRS, the two audits, they had no problem with the invoicing coming through the software program. And that was really helpful in keeping track of a lot of this.
Yeah. Well now, when it comes to hiring, I know hiring is a big topic right now for a lot of people and they’re really struggling to figure out how to hire good people. And if they’re interested in hiring an independent contractor, how do I, as a business owner, set standards, then, of who I’m hiring and not be imposing on that individual. Because they’re an independent contractor, they’re running and operating their own business. They’re going to have their own policies. How do I hire an independent contractor appropriately with the right ad and make sure it’s communicated well?
Yeah, well, you’re, in essence, the customer. So, you can pick and choose which service you choose to contract to represent your company. Just making sure the language, like I said, you don’t send a job description. You don’t have an application on your website. You have a questionnaire. Being very careful about the questions that you’re asking on that questionnaire. Second thing is, you do not send them a job description. You send them, what I call my working with Pet Nanny, where basically I’m telling them about my business, what we do, our standards, the services we offer, how they would work with your company through an independent contractor status. And then when you interview them, or I wouldn’t even say interview. When you meet with them to discuss the opportunity, you go over that in detail so that they understand what the relationship is, what their responsibilities are as being an IC. And that’s it. Again, you just want to make sure that relationship is very clear from day one.
Yeah, well it sounds like, again, getting back to what exactly it is. It’s two businesses coming together to agree on a set of operating procedures that they both feel suits them best. It’s not one telling the other how to operate and vice versa. It’s going, “Okay, here are my five things. What are your five things? Do we agree on these? Okay, great.” And then we can move forward. And if not, you can’t impose on them. I think that’s, again, where we get this confusion of what exactly that relationship is.
Yeah, exactly. You guys have to be on the same page on how the relationships are going to work. What we do, did, I should say, at Pet Nanny, when I was using IC’s. We have what’s called a resource center and it’s basically educational materials that the independent contractors could access on how they can become even better pet sitters. And basically, what that included was everything about my company, how I liked it to be run. And they would go in and read the resources. And if they were in line with the same values and how they were going to provide service, it was a go. And if not, it’s not. It’s not a good fit.
Yeah. Again, and not viewing that as a training opportunity, but just, “Hey, do you agree to these terms? Yes, no.” And then move on.
Right. Are we in line together with how we’re going to provide pet care to our clients?
Yeah. Have you heard of Time to Pet? Dan from NYC Pooch has this to say
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I have a feeling people listening to this may feel like we’re being very pedantic about the kind of words that we’re using. It’s just all semantics. But as you’ve experienced, these kind of wording and these really help define the relationship and to when people come in and when you do get audited or how you operate, like… All of these ways of operating are extremely important.
Absolutely. Yeah, it was a very stressful situation going through those audits. And if I had been… I guess if I had lost the audit, I guess that’s the way you would put it. I would’ve owed a large amount of money in back taxes for all the year… I mean, I would use over 40 IC’s. I was using over 40 IC’s a year. And if they had been defined as an employee classification, it would’ve been a big deal, which was very scary, very stressful, but both audits, they found that I was using them appropriately. But they just kept coming for me. And I thought, “Nope, I’m just ready to move on.”
An audit, is that something that is triggered at tax filing? Is that just a random audit that you happen to get picked up in? Or do you feel like those are more targeted these days?
I think one thing that was triggering them onto my business was that people that were independent contractors were then filing for unemployment. Let’s say they had a full-time job and then they were in IC for my company. And then they would file for unemployment if they lost their job, their full-time job. And that was getting the… having the government notice what was going on. And they came in and they said, “All right, let’s just make sure these people are really independent contractors.” So that’s a very important point when you are working with IC’s. They cannot file for unemployment. And make sure… I mean, crystal clear, because that’s a huge trigger.
Right, for you and for them. Again, I think a lot of that is educating ourselves on what an IC is, but also educating the IC on what an IC is a little bit, about that they really are running and operating their own business.
Yeah. And that they do also have the ability to work for other companies as well, not just yours. So, that’s another perk of having employees. They can be 100% a representative of only your company. Where independent contractors, they have their own clients. They can work for different companies. Make sure that they understand that as well.
Now, when it came to paying them, I know there are different models for paying staff. Are you able to pay an independent contractor per hour or does it have to be per service?
You could do it per hour. I always did per visit. And now that I’m using employees, in Pennsylvania, you don’t have to pay for mileage and drive time. It’s a write off on their state and local taxes. So, I do by visit, but in some states where you have to pay for that time, you might want to do an hourly rate versus the per visit pay model.
Yeah. That gets into a lot of things that you are required to cover. When it comes to things as a business, what am I required to pay for, for an IC versus an employee? You’ve made that transition, so what are you paying for an employee versus that you weren’t paying for in an independent contractor?
Okay. Well the biggest things are the employment taxes. I need to withhold. I use Gusto for my payroll company and we withhold their federal, state and local income taxes from their paychecks. We withhold their FICA taxes. We withhold their unemployment taxes based on their pay and we’re also responsible for workers compensation. This really adds up. Now, if you have an IC, you’re just paying them the gross amount of your agreed upon percentage. So, let’s say you’re paying them 50% of every assignment. At the end of every two weeks, we would do a direct deposit. And that would just be the gross number that would be automatically deposited into their accounts. And then, they were responsible for filing their taxes through a 1099. And they were responsible for their own car and their own gas and all of their own supplies. Which, being a self-employed person, that’s a write off for them. So, they need to keep track of all of this.
Wow. Now, if you have independent contractors, do you, as a business, get in trouble if your IC isn’t doing those things?
That’s a good question. I’m trying to remember. If they don’t file?
I don’t recall ever having an issue with that, but that is a really good question. I also want to just mention, Colin, that to everyone that’s listening, I am not a lawyer. I am not an accountant. And I just want you to all definitely… If you are trying to decide between which business model that you should implement in your business, definitely talk to a lawyer and an accountant in your state. I’m just giving you my experience with having IC’s versus employees.
Yeah, exactly. I think that’s a really, really good point to note, is that not just at the federal level, but at the state by state level, there are very key distinctions on what we can and can’t do and what we should, and shouldn’t be doing with our staff members. So, while we can get some general direction from talking with other people, it really does behoove us to go and talk with local business groups in our tax and in our attorney, for sure.
Yes, exactly. I meant to mention that at the beginning. [crosstalk 00:16:30]
Better late than never. It’s always good. In your mind, who should be using, or in what capacity should independent contractors be used in pet sitting? Is it a model that can work for people or should we really be focusing more on employees?
Yeah, this is where people are going to be like, [inaudible 00:16:53]. In the pet sitting industry, people have such strong opinions about this. I don’t understand why. If you like using IC’s, great. If you like using employees, great. I love the IC model. I would’ve used IC’s forever if the government was not hell bent on me switching their classification. With the last audit, when they tried to audit me the third time, I had five years safe harbor after winning the audit the year before. And my accountant said, “You’re not able to audit her again.” And they said, “Well, she needs to… We don’t have any record that we audited her last year, so she needs to prove to us that she was audited.” I mean, have you ever heard of something so crazy? So my accountant had to go to the basement, pull out all of the information and literally deliver it to the IRS office.
And I thought, you know what? They’re just going to keep coming for me. So anyway, that was my point. I love IC’s. You can use them legally like I did. And probably not have a lot… if you don’t have a ton of people like I do, you’re probably not going to… they’re not going to be sniffing you out. But you have to be very diligent on how you’re using them. Everything that we went through, if you’re willing to do all of that, great. If you want more direction and control, if you want them wearing shirts, if you want them wearing car magnets, if you want to have team meetings, if you want to have in-depth trainings with them, that’s an employee relationship. So, it just depends on what kind of relationship you want with the people that are representing your company.
Yeah. Does it matter to your clients how you communicate who your staff members are? Or did you ever communicate to your clients, “This is an independent contractor for me versus an employee model.”
No, that was not told to my clients, I don’t believe at any time. When we did switch to employees, we did frame it as these are the benefits now. “We are switching from using independent contractors to employees, and this is why this is so great for you.” Basically saying we can have more direction and control. We can monitor them much more closely. So on and so forth. We sold it to our clients when we made the switch, that it was a good thing.
Did you have any existing staff members that were hesitant to become employees when you made that switch?
At first, yes, but we had a team meeting and I had graphs and I had all the explanation of how this was going to go and at the end, because they weren’t paying self-employment tax, they would actually net more at the end of the year. It may look less paycheck to paycheck, but by the end, when all is said and done, they were actually going to net more in income. And they were like, “Okay, that’s fine. That’s great. More money, that’s better.”
Now for you though, it did require absorbing some more costs. Was that switch associated with a price increase or did you just bite that a little bit and move on?
Yes, we definitely did a price increase. I have a whole plan that I teach my students for those that are switching from IC’s to E’s. But I had a whole plan where I was able to… From what I implemented, it was not as big of a hit as I had anticipated. I still look at that every month, I look at the payroll reports. I’m like, “Ouch.” I mean, it’s expensive. It’s expensive, but you can raise your rates. You can negotiate the pay with the employees. There’s lots of things that you can do to offset the costs of bringing on or transitioning to employees.
Yeah. Again, finding out what’s going to work best for you and seeing where those numbers line out. I think procedurally, we’ve mentioned that with employees, you can direct them a little more. You have more control over their schedule. And I do want to talk about that for just a little bit more, because I feel like that may be something that people get hung up on, is how exactly do I schedule my independent contractor? I know you’ve mentioned you had times where they would list they weren’t available, but it sounds like an awful lot. I’ve tried to schedule a meeting with three people before, and it took nine months to find dates that worked for everybody. How did you ultimately make it work scheduling wise and make it consistent for your clients?
I just utilized the calendar in my software program. So, they would just go in and block out whenever they couldn’t work, and then you would go in and say, “Okay, Collin [Funkhouser 00:21:23] needs three visits a day tomorrow.” And I would go and pick the IC, and if it said unavailable, I would move on the next IC. And if they were unavailable, you’d go on the next IC. And in terms of them meeting with clients and such, I really stressed the relationship between the sitter and the client. So, “Your Pet Nanny will be calling you within 24 hours,” and then they would find a convenient time. I didn’t really micromanage that process in terms of registration meetings, pre departure meetings, meet and greets, all of that.
Because again, I know you mentioned this earlier, but again, you were directing that client, independent contractor relationship and focusing on their-
… And you’re just coordinating and matching them together.
Correct. I always… and something else that I always… We have a primary sitter. So, if you’re the independent contractor that was assigned to this client and that relationship was created, I always would try to schedule that IC first based on their availability. And then I would move down the down the list if they weren’t available.
Did you ever have an independent contractor come to you with changing their policies or how they wanted the relationship to work for you, that you then had to let them go because they wanted to operate in a different way?
Yeah, absolutely. And then it’s just, “Okay, well, thank you very much for your service. I will no longer be assigning any jobs to you.”
And was it just as easy as that to fire somebody? Or how do you even term firing an independent contractor? Is it the same process?
It wouldn’t be firing, it would just be the end of a business relationship. So again, I’m not their employer, so I can’t fire them. I just will no longer assign any jobs to them, contract any work to them. And that’s it, and that’s just the end of the relationship.
Do you have an example of something that they came to you or not really?
Their availability. So, basically, you have an expectation of availability. I say that to all the people that I meet with, employees or independent contractors. “I don’t want to waste your time. You don’t want to waste my time. This is when the clients are going to need service. If you’re available, great. But if it’s going to be here and there and you’re never available, I don’t want to waste your time, don’t waste my time,” type of thing. If it gets to a point where they’re constantly changing when they’re available and they’re never available to work, I mean, I just call it a day.
Yeah. It’s too much headache to bother with at that point. And you can move on to somebody else.
Exactly, exactly. And that’s the biggest sicking point I could think of, in terms of anything that happened with independent contractors. I’m trying to think. I mean, gosh, 17 years, I’m sure I have some great stories, but I’m drawing a blank.
What about pricing? Because if they’re their own independent business and you’re your independent business, if they decide to raise their rates or have an expectation of higher pay, how do you handle that?
I have never had that situation because we had the agreed upon percentage and they signed the agreement. And if they did want an increase in pay, that would be a discussion. And if they were an amazing sitter that I was willing to do that for, then I would consider it. And if not, again, I would call it a day.
Right, because again, we’re looking at from their position too, they’re an independent contractor. They could go and find another company to partner with other than your yours to charge higher rates for and see… kind of like placing out bids for the pet care, to see who can get the best rate for them.
Great, sure. And they have every right to do that.
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So, because they have every right to do that and they have managed that client relationship, many people who are hiring are concerned of their staff member stealing clients or bringing them under their own. Was that something that you could manage with an independent contractor? Or how did you go about making sure that they didn’t run off with a client?
I was hit hard by this. I had an independent contractor once who worked for me for years and years, who I trusted implicitly and then found out that she was stealing clients behind my back. It ended up being about $5,000 a month in revenue. It was a really big deal. And then, I was going to bring her to court, and then I found out that my independent contractor agreement, that had a non-compete clause in it, would never hold water in court. So basically, non-competes don’t work because it takes the right of work away from somebody. And Pennsylvania is a right to work state. So that was a big learning lesson through that experience. Moving forward, basically, whenever I am onboarding a new sitter, I would just make it perfectly clear that they would sign a non-solicitation clause versus a non-compete.
And the difference is, if you ever want to start your own pet sitting business on your own, by all means, I wish you the very best of luck, but you cannot do it with Pet Nanny clients. That would be against your non-solicitation clause. If you do, I will take you to court and you will be charged $2,000 for every single client that you solicited from my business. And I had a lawyer. I mean, when I tell you the amount of money I spent getting this independent contractor agreement updated after the first experience, and I’m serious, I’m a hundred percent serious. So, I let them know, “Do you understand?” “Yes.” And I had them actually initial right there on the clause. And then at that point I let it go. I really don’t stress about it. I used to make up the most crazy systems where I would be checking on these people. And I just don’t stress about that anymore.
Yeah. You brought somebody on to help you, so you didn’t have stress. And then to spend your time sitting there stressing about them is a little silly. You need to build your processes, make sure that agreement and that relationship is good and you’ve agreed upon the same conditions. And then you do have to step back and go, “Okay, I got to trust this, and know that I’m protected if something does happen.”
Right. And here’s the thing, you’re a business owner and you’re a human being. Things are going to happen. Not everything is going to go perfectly, but I always try to look like that experience with the first IC I just told you about. What can I learn from this to make it better? What system can I create from this to make my business better? If you have that mindset with your business and pitfalls happen and road blocks come up, but you can take something away from everything that happens, you are going to create an amazing business.
Yeah. Mindset is so huge regarding everything that we do, whether from the big things, to the small things, hiring staff, and then our own relationship that we have with our clients too. If we are approaching problems or even opportunities with the wrong mindset, we’re not going to get to where we ultimately want to go.
No, no, exactly. I try to keep a positive mindset. I pull one of these cards every day. What’s today’s? “When I’m tuned into the energy of abundance, I become abundant. I just put it right here on my desk. I try to stay positive every day. [crosstalk 00:29:27]
Yeah, you’re just trying to… We talk about the power of words in our life and the mindset that it gives us. The words that we speak when we speak abundance, it’s not like we are necessarily magically manifesting anything in our lives, but we look for more abundance. We look for those opportunities. We look for things that we have agency and control over, and that just changes our entire outlook.
Well, so reflecting on 17 years of working with independent contractors, what’s some advice that you would give, maybe that we haven’t discussed, that you would really recommend somebody do or somebody use before they enter into that relationship with an independent contractor?
I think meeting with an accountant is really important. Understanding exactly what you can and cannot do as the business owner, while contracting IC’s. Making sure that you have everything documented. Making sure that you have an iron clad independent contractor agreement with that non-solicitation clause. Making sure that you’re making everything perfectly clear to the IC as they’re being onboarded with your company. So, basically, information, getting organized and making sure that you understand exactly what you can and can’t do.
And again, because that does… that’s going to depend on states and that’s going to depend on how you want to operate your business. I think that too, of what do you want your business to do and how do you want to be operating it?
Exactly. You can create any result that you want in your business. What do you want your business to look like? Clarity equals power. So, write it down. If you could create your dream pet sitting business, what exactly does it look like? And then from there, you can decide, what relationship you want with the team that you build.
I know you are a big reader. And so, I did want to ask you what book that you’re reading and what recommendation you’d have for people for more resources?
Oh my goodness, yes. We do a book club with my students every month and the book that we just actually scrapped this month’s book, because it was terrible. I’m not even going to say it. It was called The 5 AM Club and it was just bad. So we’re like, “All right, we’re going to get rid of that.” So, we’re actually reading, Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself by Dr. Joe Dispenza. It’s all about meta-physics and your brain and creating the reality that you want. I mean, it’s some deep stuff, but I love all that stuff. And I loved You’re a Badass at Making Money by Jen Sincero. I thought that was one of my favorites. I have the audio book and she just makes me laugh and she’s hilarious, so listening to it. And then she also has a workbook that goes with it. Filling out the workbook in the morning was something that I really enjoyed, so I highly recommend that book.
Awesome. I really appreciate those. It’s something that I feel is a very simple step that we can do in our business, is just read and read broadly and get connected with more ideas because that’s going to help us be, again, have more clarity and understanding of what we want. Whether we are running with IC’s or employees and knowing those distinctions. And then, just being able to think outside the box in some scenarios too.
Yes. Two more. I’m going to say, [inaudible 00:32:38] my head. Absolutely a staple for businesses, small businesses is The E-Myth Revisited. That’s talking about how as the business owner, you’re not supposed to be the technician in the business and creating systems so that the system runs the business, the person runs the system. Huge. And then the book Traction, we also did that with my mastermind a couple months ago. I mean that was gold for any business. So Traction, The E-Myth Revisited, You’re a Badass at Making Money, are my top three right now.
Perfect. Colleen, I really appreciate you taking time today to break down some misconceptions about using independent contractors and how to make it work for us and make sure it’s what we want in our business. But I know it’s a big, big topic in that you’ve got a lot of resources and knowledge on it. So, how can people get connected, pick your brain and start looking at all that you do?
Okay, well you can go to my website at petnannycoach.com. There’s tons of free resources there. I also have a bundle created for your listeners today, Colin. If they go to petsittingfreebie.com, they’re going to get three resources. The first is the COVID Recovery Report. How to Get Your Pet Sitting Business Back and Multiply it After COVID 19. Then we have 35 Marketing Strategies for Pet Sitting Businesses and 37 Systems for Pet Sitting Businesses. So again, that URL is petsittingfreebie.com. And then, also if anyone’s ever interested in chatting with me about your businesses and coming up with an action plan, you can go to meetwithcolleen.com.
Perfect. And I will have all of those links in the show notes so people can click right to those, get those resources and start learning from all that you have to share. Again, Colleen, I really appreciate you coming on the show today. Thank you so much.
Absolutely. Anytime, anytime Colin.
My biggest takeaway from my conversation with Colleen, is the fact that terms and conditions matter, who knew? When we don’t understand what kind of control we want to have and when we don’t communicate that effectively to those that we’re hiring, we can wind up in trouble. When Colleen outlined all of the things that you can’t do with an independent contractor, you really have to make sure that what you are looking for is an independent contractor. For one off jobs, temporary positions, or filling in last minute booking, they may really work out well for many of us. The problem is, is that most of us tend to have bigger plans beyond that, or we get stuck using them and it just becomes something about what we do and we look up and we might get audited after a while.
You can still legally use them and we think there are places where they are still totally appropriate. Let us know if you’ve ever used an independent contractor and what does it look like for you? We want to thank our sponsors, Time To Pet and Pet Sitters International for making today’s show possible. And we really want to thank you for listening and for all the work that you’re doing out there and getting ready for the busy holiday times and making your business the best that it can be. We’ll be back again soon.
‘Tis the season, pet sitters! Have you thought yet about your holiday marketing and how you can maximize your profits this holiday season or are you just dreading the arrival of the holidays with no plan in place?
My guess is that most of you are in the second group of pet sitters who haven’t planned any holiday offerings, sales or discounts. Let’s change that with some ideas for Holiday Marketing for Pet Sitters!
This is a great time of year to attract new prospective clients, show appreciation to our current customers and ensure a profitable New Year, which will be here before you know it.
Below are some ideas to get your creative juices flowing.
Holiday Marketing for Pet Sitters
Customize your website with a holiday theme.
Holiday countdown timer
Create holiday infographics for your pet-loving clients
Write holiday blog posts
Create a holiday email series
Holiday posts on Facebook
Holiday Facebook Ads
Create a time-limited saving offer
Design a holiday-themed Facebook Timeline image
Run a holiday contest
Run a direct mail promotion
Thank your current customers with a gift
Here are Some Examples of our Holiday Logos:
Tip: You can have these created on www.Fiverr.com for just five bucks!
Here is our Christmas Video
Here are Some Examples of our Holiday Email Templates
Your Homework Assignment:
Create a holiday marketing calendar.
Break down everything you will need to implement the calendar, ex. images, videos, email copy etc.
Put your plan into action and watch the sales roll in.
Howdy, Pet Lover! Are you struggling with attracting new clients to your pet sitting business? Would you like to have a consistent pipeline of new clients coming to your business? Well, wait no longer, my friend. Grab my FREE report, 125 Ways To Get More Pet Sitting Clients.This resource is 100% FREE and is my gift to you. Enjoy!
YES! Send Me The Complete Checklist of 125 ways to get more PET SITTING CLIENTS!
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