14 Free ways for pet sitters to get the word out about their businesses
Be Smart About Publicizing Your Pet Sitting Business
It takes time and money to start a business and to acquire a good reputation and following so be wise with how you spend your money.
Pet sitters get a good amount of business by word-of-mouth. One client telling a friend, and on and on it goes.
When starting out in pet sitting it is tempting to want to get some good advertising out there and so one's first thought might be to reach out to their local community in ways other than free social media. In fact, it is often better to do other things to get the word out about your business than jumping only into cyberspace for all the world to see. Sometimes it is better to get the word out slowly at first and build a good foundation.
The question is, how can one do so without spending a fortune on ads in local newspapers, radio spots, and the like? Some pet sitters shell out a decent amount of money to join their local Chamber of Commerce right away when there are more economical and possibly more effective avenues of advertising when starting up. All these things may be good and helpful and hey, if you have the money, go for it. But most pet sitters (or any pet professional) usually have a limited budget when starting out and sometimes no budget at all.
I've always been a thrifty person and when I started pet sitting I did things the old fashioned way and did my best to get free advertising wherever I could. I did make a few mistakes at the beginning and shelled out a limited amount of money for paid ads in my local paper. The ads yielded some phone calls of inquiry but most of the calls were from people outside of my local service area. This meant I wasted valuable time talking to some great people, but they didn't end up being clients because the paper went far and wide and they were way out of my service area.
As I continued pet sitting I found what worked best for me and I never paid outright for ads again. I would like to share with you some of the things I did to promote my business in hopes that it might help you with your business.
1. Pet owners who are reading this and have pet sitters can help with free advertising by talking up your pet sitter to your friends, co-workers, and neighbors.
2. After you spend a small amount of money on business cards, spread them all over your service area. I recommend www.vistaprint.com for business cards. You can create your own and the prices are fair. Put the zipcodes you service on your business card. This will help people who receive your card know your service area and it will cut down on phone calls coming in from out of your area.
3. Take your business cards everywhere with you and hand them out freely and I mean really freely - hand them to the clerk at the store, the mail carrier, your immediate neighbors, your clients, give some to relatives to hand out (in your service area), your doctors, people at your church, local business owners whether they have anything to do with pets or not, local veterinarians, and local hotel lobbies (ask first before leaving some). Ask to put them in pet supply stores and on bulletin boards at the local home supply store or travel agencies. Don't forget stops at dog groomers, hair salons, police, and fire stations, animal shelters.
4. Whip up some flyers on your computer and post them at the local library, inquire with area vets to see if they'll post them for you on their office bulletin boards, grocery stores, etc....
5. When you open your business write up a press release and send it with a photo to your local newspaper and ask them to print it.
6. Call your local radio station and let them know about your business and ask them to interview you on their station (free) as a local start-up business. Do the same with your local TV stations.
7. Write up press releases when you start offering a new service, on your one year anniversary, if you want to share pet advice with your community. Ex: When I became a member of the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters (NAPPS) Board of Directors I wrote a press release notifying the community. Then, a few years later, I received an award from NAPPS so I sent a press release to the paper entitled "Local Pet Sitter Wins Award". All of this was free advertising.
As a result of one of the press releases the paper notified me and said they wanted to do a bigger article on me. So they had a photographer come and take photos of me in action with some parrot clients and they ended up putting a page and a half in the newspaper devoted just to me and my business. I gave the owner of the parrots a free pet visit for letting me use her parrot as a model for the newspaper story. This was a win-win-win situation: I got publicity, the newspaper got a community interest story, and the owner got a free pet visit. I could add another "win" to that because the bird also got a lot of attention and he loved every minute of it!
8. Offer your pet sitting clients a free visit if they recommend someone who ends up being a client.
9. Get a table at a local community event and give away free treats and have a few water bowls there to quench the thirst of dogs walking by. Have business cards and flyers available for the taking.
10. Offer to do seminars for free. Ex: I did a seminar at a Business After Hours sort of meeting for a local Real Estate group. I spoke about what professional pet sitting was and how it worked and I had business cards to hand out.
11. Get some good-sized dog biscuits, punch holes in the corner of your business cards and attach them to the biscuits with pretty ribbons. Deliver them to local realtor offices and ask them to give them to new homeowners entering the area. New homeowners often don't know people in the area so they are usually in need of pet sitters. While doing this I actually landed two clients from the realtors themselves!
12. Get a few t-shirts made up that say "Ask me about my pet sitting business" and wear them around town.
13. Be open to serendipity! You never know when speaking a word about your business to a friend, another service person, or even a stranger, will end up. It might produce new clients.
14. Car signs, after the initial minimal cost, produce free advertising whenever you have them on your car. I used Vista Print for this too. (Note: I don't recommend keeping the magnetic signs on your car when you are actually pet sitting at someone's home because it is a way for a potential crook to realize that someone is not home. Only use them when you are not actively doing pet sitting rounds.)
Final notes: When you are starting your business, take your time to build up your client list. The last thing a new pet sitting business needs is to be inundated with calls and clients to the point that you are overwhelmed and make mistakes like not showing up at the right house at the right time. You get my drift. Build the business slowly. Increase advertising as you feel more confident so the business builds at a nice pace. Overdoing it early on can result in mistakes that could create a negative business reputation which could take a long time to rebuild.
I hope this post has helped you. Notice that I didn't get heavy on the technology piece of promoting your business. It is important, but the hands-on, personal, community touch is what builds client relationships that will last a long time. It gives you a chance to have more control over your business growth.
What to do with the money you save on advertising? Save it for something you really need or want in the future!