Every so often — one of Time To Pet’s extremely talented clients likes to share some helpful hints, tips and pointers with other pet sitters. Today’s post is about some low cost ways to help grow your pet sitting or dog walking business. Cara Armour is our guest author and is the Owner & Alpha Female of Active Paws®, Inc. and product manager at PetProHero. Cara co-founder Active Paws in 2003 and is a Pet Sitter of the Year award winner. Enjoy!

There are a lot of options out there for someone looking for pet care. With the recent emergence of national pet care listing sites, it can be tricky to be found among the paid advertisements and SEO. Whether you’re on these sites or not, it’s now become a little more challenging to acquire new clients.

One of the advantages that will always remain with local pet sitters and dog walkers despite the national listing service sites is; you provide a service to a select target demographic in a very localized area. Meaning, while Rover might dominate the top of any google search, you can still very easily and inexpensively — dominate the local area market. Rover isn’t at your vet, your groomer, your local pet supply store or even your coffee shop. They don’t have press releases about charitable events they have done and they aren’t producing blogs about what’s going on with pets in your town. This leaves several areas for you to use to your benefit as the pet-trepreneur in acquiring new clients that are exactly your target — animal owners in your service area.

Here are 7 ways for you to capture new clients without breaking the bank.

Word-of-mouth

Now if you’re an introvert this can seem like an intimidating tactic but I challenge you to step outside of your comfort zone. Create an elevator pitch that you can articulate to anyone you meet that has a pet, has a family member with one or is even thinking of getting one themselves. Ask yourself why you got into this business, have a meaningful story and be proud to share it with people. In the digital age computer screens separate us from human interaction and people are starving to talk! The weather, food and now pets are exciting topics to discuss because they are experienced by most of us in person and require physical interaction. My husband and I have recently noted that whenever we go out to eat, at least one table near us (often more) somehow ends up discussing their dog, or their neighbor’s dog or how their cat took a bite out of the holiday ham! People love their pets, we know this from the boom in our industry but they love to talk about pets. Have you ever asked the receptionist at your dentist office if he or she has a pet? Not only can you boast about your business, but you can pass some time in a discussion about something you clearly love!

Marketing Collateral

I could write an entire blog about what and where to get good materials for cheap but for the purpose of this blog, let’s talk about inexpensive and creative marketing collateral.

Business cards — The obvious go-to but have you took a hard look at yours? If you posted it to a bulletin board would it stand out to someone with a pet? It might be time to redesign your card. Also, where are you leaving it? You have a 65% chance of a person with whom you interact having a pet, leave one behind for your server at your favorite restaurant.

===Pens- One of my favorites, almost better than a business card because they get used, lent out and lost. What someone else may leave behind, another pics up. Pens are very inexpensive and are useful marketing collateral.

Clothing- I know, you’re going to say clothes are not cheap but they are if you think about them as something you need and a walking billboard. I need shirts to wear to work, I always wear one so why shouldn’t it advertise my company? I know there are debates about the safety and each side could be argued until we’re blue in the face; if you don’t feel comfortable wearing one on the job, consider giving them to your top clients — that’s a conversation starter for them to brag about your service in public!

Brochures and Flyers- The advent of companies like Vistaprint, has made making, ordering and paying for these items cheaper than going to Staples. I have made some masterpieces from my pajamas with free design sites like Canva. Waiting rooms are an excellent place for these as well as coffee shops. Think of places where people spend time WAITING to be seen or to meet up with people. What about your local mechanic? Could you offer to recommend them to your clients or mention in a newsletter and then they allow you to leave your brochure behind?

I had a big surge in business when I was trying to boost daily dog walking clients, I mailed flyers to the licensed dog lists in the 3 towns I serviced. Nowadays with junk mail on the decline (it’s all in our email inbox now), people are paying closer attention to things they find in their mailbox.

Don’t forget to make your market work for you. If you have clients that love you, why not promote them to share you? Free t-shirts always help but leave behind business cards, postcards, brochures, anything letting them know about the referral program you have or just started. Let them be your boots on the ground plus — who knows more about the wonderful job you do than them?

Be Social

This should be a given and I know some of us just don’t have the time. You can pay a good chunk of change for social media schedulers that do seem to be worth it but if you could set your own schedule, connect a few accounts to save you some posting time and get posting — you would add so much value. Social media sites are free, they add a little to SEO with linking and they allow you to connect with people in your area. Boosted posts can be done for pretty cheap and interacting with clients and future clients can be marketing gold. Ask a weekly question, have people post a picture of their pets doing a trick, ask what their pets favorite food is, the options are endless.

Local Listing Sites

Hubspot wrote a great blog about 50 online local business directories where you can list your business. This is sort of like being listed in the yellow pages (they’re included on this list), but with a big advantage of SEO. Look into partnering up with community groups on Facebook, often these can act as resources to list your business; my community group has a business list.

Blogs & Podcasts

You’re probably sick of hearing about SEO but it is the way to get noticed. Blogs and Podcasts are not just another way to move you up the list in searches but they allow you to express just who your company is, or talk about what matters to your company. They allow you to connect to other like-minded people, folks in the same industry or people that just want to be entertained by whatever you have to say. Blogs can be done for free, they will only cost your time and a podcast will require equipment and some software to cleanup/edit the audio. There are options for affiliate advertising on your blog or podcasts so while they might cost you time, you could actually make money to help offset the time spent.

Don’t know what to write about, Time To Pet addresses this in their great blog on 7 blog ideas for your website.

Local Events

Farmers markets, home shows, town celebrations, craft fairs and especially rescue events are all great ways to advertise your company. It gets you out from behind the computer and puts a face to your company name directly to the pet owners in your area. Now these events can range from $25 booth rentals all the way up into the thousands but you can split booths with other companies or even just sponsor to get your name on the banner then attend the event in your company attire; armed of course with business cards and pens! You can easily stand out at these events not just with marketing but do you have a dog that can do a trick or could you display a video on an iPad of you entertaining a client cat (with permission of course)?

Press Releases

These can and will be a great way to generate SEO but will also give you some credit. Did you attend a rescue event or run a pet food drive that everyone should know about? Do you have a unique story to tell as to how you got into this business or did you just complete a certificate course and want to let your community know why you are the best choice in pet care? Did you just hit a milestone in years in business? These are all reasons I have had press releases sent out. We even got lucky and had a local newspaper looking to do a piece on people that had met and married in town, they wanted to write about how my husband and I met at the dog park.

There are so many reasons to get a press release out and while they are often free, they do take a concerted amount of effort on follow up. Reporters are inundated with stories, make certain to follow up and make yours stand above the noise.

All in all there are some great cheap ways to get your company marketed to the pet owners in your area. Put your creative cap on and at the very least, go start some conversations.

About the author: In 2003 Cara Armour co-founded Active Paws Inc., a professional pet care business based in the greater Boston, MA area. In 2009, Cara won Pet Sitter of the Year, many more accolades were to follow. Active Paws Inc. expanded into a grooming and holistic pet supply store, in addition to the pet sitting. Since 2003, Cara has hired over 50 employees in her pet care business and as a former retail store manager for larger corporate companies she has interviewed over 200 candidates. In late 2015 Active Paws Inc. began using Time To Pet software which opened up an incredible amount of time for Cara to pursue a career working with an online pet first aid and CPR company as the product and marketing manager for ProPetHero, the pet first aid and CPR division of ProTrainings. She still runs Active Paws Inc. thanks to the help of TTP and still has time left over to volunteer for The Boxer Rescue Inc, be a health conscious breeder of Boxers, and play in many dog sports such as agility, barn hunting, lure coursing and conformation.