We are very excited to announce a new feature on the Time To Pet Blog. Every so often — one of Time To Pet’s extremely talented clients will be sharing some helpful hints, tips and pointers with other pet sitters. Today’s post is all about creating and managing a hiring process for your pet care company. 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!
You’ve asked yourself the question several times now but it’s becoming clear for many reasons that you need to hire staff for your dog walking or pet sitting company. I’ll review some of the important factors that should be taken into account before and during your hiring process.
First and foremost, IC or Employee?
This is often a hot debate on many pet sitter forums and your decision should be made based on the facts. This decision will be based on what control you want over your staff and the legality of independent contractors — the cost should be a small factor in the deciding process. I delivered a webinar on this to Pet Sitters International back in 2010 and the biggest thing that has changed is the IRS has really started to crack down on the classification of independent contractors versus employees. This crack down of course was in conjunction with the boom in the pet sitting industry because having IC’s is the cheapest way to have staff for any business owner. You avoid employment tax and in many states, unemployment insurance payments as well as mandatory worker’s compensation insurance.
The flip side is that person who you are contracting to do jobs for you must have their own insurance, business and cannot be told how to do a job; they are simply given jobs and compensated for their completion. That is the basics of an IC. Employee’s are far more expensive but the safer way to go. Employee’s can be trained, guided, told how to do their job, what to wear and often be paid a bit less up front since you are covering their insurance, taxes etc. Both employees and IC’s can be fired so to speak but if an IC tries to claim unemployment because they were confused about the employment relationship, you could be in serious trouble.
What to pay your staff?
Just for a second let’s think of an employee as a machine — just for a little bit because they are far from it — they are human beings. But for the sake of a business argument, you buy (hire) a machine that makes widgets. You were making them by hand and could make 15 a day. The machine can only make 15 a day as well but now your business output has doubled. That machine has a cost but without the machine you could not have as many widgets to sell. So the machine’s cost should be less than the amount you sell the widgets for, but enough to compensate the machine maker for their craft. Basically staff should be paid less than you for sits but they need to be compensated fairly for them and appropriately for the task at hand.
There are a few different ways you can pay your staff, generally most pay hourly or per job. Whether you pay hourly or per job you will definitely want to check with your state labor laws regarding type of pay, general labor laws and also check about things like travel time, overnight hours etc. The general laws are if you pay by hour it must be no less than minimum wage. If you pay per job, the hours the staff actually works must be equal to or greater than minimum wage. Some states consider work having dogs stay at your staff’s house or having your staff stay at a client’s houses overnight and require that to be paid at an hourly rate. Don’t get overwhelmed or bogged down with the details but keep the general picture in mind that if you ask an employee to do a task, they must be compensated. IC’s are a bit different but keep in mind that they will typically only agree to a job if the compensation is fair.
Pay your staff appropriately for the job to keep them happy, make certain you follow the labor laws, are covering the tax and insurance you have to pay them. Anything beyond that is your profit per staff number. Per hour usually starts around minimum wage for your state but many companies pay more to attract better candidates; this could be countered by raising your rates. Paid per job generally starts around 50% but depending on your staffing structure could go as high as 75%-80% if using IC’s.
Where to find your future staff?
Back when I started in 2003 there was lot more use in word of mouth or networking to find candidates. While that option still remains today — the ever expanding online hiring software has really taken off. Sites like indeed.com, glassdoor.com and hireology.com make it easy for the small business owner to find, sift through and get the right people through their doors. Monster.com is more for the corporate job and has a large upfront cost to employers seeking staff. Letting your vet or groomers know is still a great and very affordable option but hireology.com for example, allows you to post jobs and have them cross posted to sites like craigslist.org, indeed.com and even LinkedIn. It saves you time and with built-in hiring tools like employee assessment surveys, you can spend less time finding better candidates.
You’ve decided on your candidates and now it’s time to bring them in. Generally a phone interview is a great way to weed out people that seem great on paper. I usually have a set of smaller more general questions about their current work environment, their pets, experience etc. I wait to ask the heavier more in-depth questions in person so I can see facial expressions. This could be accomplished by using skype or google hangouts as well but then you still cannot see all of the body language.
If you’re like me, when I started I ran my business out of my house so having people that I might not end up offering a job come to my house was not ideal. I used the local Starbucks as my interview place. I didn’t have to ask permission but was a frequent customer and friendly with the manager.
As for questions, my in-person interview is 61 questions long. I can tell almost right away if I think the person will be a good fit and if not I skip ahead to my more general questions. If they are great, the interview can last upwards of 2 hours! In general it’s best to cover different types of questions like, get-to-know-you, philosophical, work ethic, personality traits, self-assessment etc. Here are some examples of my range of questions;
- Please list any special skills or training that you feel are relevant?
- What do you think dog walking and pet sitting entails.
- Do you have experience with dog training? If so what methods?
- How would you handle a pet that showed signs of illness during a visit?
- Are you allergic to cats?
- What would you do if a pet tried to bite/did bite you?
- What circumstances would cause you to call me or a manager regarding a concern?
- How would you handle an argumentative or complaining client?
- Why did you leave or why have you thought about leaving your current/last employment (if applicable)?
- What did/do you like most about your last/current job?
- What did/do you dislike most about your last/current job?
- What motivates you?
- What’s your favorite restaurant?
- What’s the funniest or most embarrassing thing you’ve experienced with an animal?
- If you opened your own business, what type of company would it be and why?
- Have you looked at our website? Do you know what services we offer?
- If I were your supervisor and I asked you to do something you disagreed with, what would you do?
- Can you describe a work conflict you’ve had with a colleague or supervisor and how you handled it?
- Can you teach an old dog new tricks?
- What are your faults?
- What are your strengths?
- What constitutes the perfect Sunday morning?
- Do you feel you are generally superior to your coworkers/classmates/etc., and if so, why?
- Do you like to work alone?
- How do you approach a task that you find challenging?
- Do you look at the big picture or are you focused on the details?
- What achievements are you most proud of? Can you tell me about your biggest work accomplishment, how you achieved it, and why you’re most proud of it?
- What goals have you set for yourself and where do you see yourself in 2 years?
- Have you ever played a sport? If so, which one and what position?
- What animal do you think you are most like and why?
- Do you believe the cat has a right to chase the mouse?
- Use 3 words to best describe your personality.
- What is the most important thing we should remember about you when we’re making our decision?
How to end the interview? I usually thank them for their time and give them a date by which I will be in touch. My ideal candidate will follow up before that date, thanking me for my time but nowadays that doesn’t always happen. I wouldn’t recommend hiring on the spot. While I have done it, it’s better to take your time and really think about how this person will work for you.
If I really like the candidate right then and there I do ask for a follow up interview which consists of riding along with one of my senior staff. I tell the potential new hire that this is a time when they get to see if this is the job they really think they want and if my staff thinks that they are suited for it. I highly recommend the “ride along” interview as a call it, or simply second interview.
Once you offer the position you will want them to come in first for paperwork. I have the sitter do this an hour before any training starts. For employees you will want the I-9 form, W-4 form and any state forms that are required. I also have an emergency contact form, employment agreement where I lay out a non-solicit to protect my company from client theft as well as some position contracts that put in writing their responsibilities. I also have a handbook which access is given prior to the first day and it is mandatory for the job to have read it prior to their first day — using that language avoids having to pay them for reading it as it is a requirement for the job.
This may all seem overwhelming but if you are at the point where you need to hire — then you are probably already overwhelmed. The legwork it takes to hire the right candidate will pay off in the end. You have to spend money in order to make money is the cliché but really here your biggest expense is your time. Do your due diligence and you will have fewer headaches later. Write an excellent and attractive job posting that would attract people like you — what made you want to be a pet sitter? Put all the pros in there, be honest while interviewing about the cons and enjoy moving your business from a self-propelled pet sitter, to a pet sitting machine that works for you!
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.