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 differentiating your business from the pack. 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!
The dot coms have hit the pet sitting industry and they have hit us HARD!
It's almost impossible to find how we can rise above their dominance especially in the online marketplace, but do not despair --- there are still a few tricks up our sleeves to let the world know how we are different, what makes us different, and the biggie, WHY we are different.
First I want to briefly explain why dot com pet listing sites are flourishing; the main reason is because of the next generation, which many of us may in fact fall into.
*Millennials are the fastest growing and largest pet owning generation; 69% of them are likely to use technology to keep track of their pet's day compared to only 33% of the Boomers. They are also getting pets at a much younger age, 21 instead of the average 29 for Boomers. And while many Millennials do love their pets just like a family member; the pop culture of famous celebrity pets like Grumpy Cat, Maru, Boo, and Tuna are also turning pets into a form of social currency. How many likes did that cute picture of your pup get you on Instagram?
So we know Millennials will or already are becoming our target demographic, many of us are them and totally understand this. They will share their lives with more pets and there simply are more of them. How do you get found when a typical Millennial's nose is buried in their phone? Anytime you type "pet sitter in town X" an ad for one of the mega dot coms shows up. Your once position number 1 has fallen to 4th or even 5th! Rover, DogVacay and maybe your top competitor claimed the top ad spots, and then Yelp, Care.com and Thumbtack snagged the first true SEO spots. These may vary depending on your proximity to a large city but it is safe to say that many of us have noticed a pinch in SEO.
This post is not going to discuss SEO as that in itself could be its own very long post. There are tools you can use and algorithms to follow that will help you with SEO, I want to help you stand above the general noise by differentiating yourself from the pack of dot coms.
Know the Differences between You and Them
I have provided an infographic to illustrate some of the differences. The listing sites have studied us and they know what we do; they have done a great job at making it seem as if they do the same things. To a degree they do; they provide insurance, education, support, training, recommend meeting with clients etc. The difference is that they have a very different WHY for why they do this and that works to our advantage.
Rover --- to pick on the elephant in the room --- has been very clear in its message to the public that it's a tech company bringing pet owners to pet sitters. They haven't wavered from that despite boasting about community and having started with the CEO helping pet sit friend's dogs. We all know that their "why" they do things is not the same as ours. We have thousands of different why's but I can bet that not a single one of them revolves around technology. We have been lucky to have access to AMAZING software like Time To Pet to make our job of caring for people's pets easier but we started with our why we do what we do before our how and what. Most of the dot coms just focus on the how and what which is on capitalizing on bringing pet sitters business by listing them and advertising them to pet owners, thus playing a middle man and capturing profit from both the sitters and the clients. It's a great business model but it lacks getting across a definitive caring brand, just a solid tech brand. Rover uses technology to bring together pet sitters and owners. We use technology to help us provide the best care for our clients and that is the fundamental difference.
And that is where we can succeed. No, we might not ever break through their SEO barrier but the CEO of the dot com is not pounding the pavement wearing their company logo and meaning on their back --- you are. Rover isn't providing training for their sitters beyond the basics via an Internet quiz and they aren't validating that their sitters have actually completed pet first aid and CPR training; their sitters just check a box and up pops a badge in the sitter's profile.
Continue to take pride in what you do, continue to pound pavement, meet and connect with your clients. Wear your brand on your sleeve right beside your heart and empower your staff to be proud to represent you. Is your staff streaming Facebook live videos on your company's Facebook page? Are your employees wearing their company clothing out in public? Is your staff really connecting with your clients via the Time to Pet portal? Ever since I switched to Time To Pet I can finally watch the amazing relationships my staff are building with our clients further cementing our brand loyalty.
I want you to take a hard look at your why you do what you do and make that the focal point of your marketing because that is where you win against the listing companies. Sure, some pet sitters on their have similar passions and dream about having their own companies, independent of a large multi-million dollar magnate that is taking 15- 20% off the top of each booking, but you already have that! Most of us didn't have Rover or DogVacay to help get us started, and we should be glad for it. While it's nice to have the advertising power, that's really all they have. We have educational resources, a plethora of online Facebook groups for support, a software company that allows us to function as if we were a giant pet sitting company (which we can become by the way) and a very clear why we do what we do that we constantly sell to our clients. We have the power of word-of-mouth, we have the network connections, the roots within our communities, the bonds with the local vets and groomers. Is your favorite server from your local restaurant recommending your services to her patrons? Does your vet sing your praises and vice versa? I have countless referral programs around town, the canine physical therapist and chiropractor send me tons of business, and I do the same. The power of a true face to face recommendation is invaluable, but just as valuable is the person on the Facebook community forum that recommends your company because you have always taken such great care of her animals for the past 6 years!
If you are still worried about the dot coms I have a final thought for you that I have recently tried but promise me you won't stop reading and think I'm crazy?
If you can't beat them, join them!
I know, sounds absolutely absurd right? How in the world do you think I learned all that I know about them? I'm on them! When I moved 45 minutes from my service area and wanted to expand out to a new service area where I had little to no community involvement or the patience to rebuild 13 years of connections I already had; I got listed. While I can't list my company name, I have found clever ways to get employees on there and even get them free background checks, well free to the extent that they are included in the percentage taken off the top of each booking. You have nothing to lose and only exposure to gain. Access to new clients from a market that couldn't find you among the SEO noise. You would be providing independent contract services for the dot com, technically you have your own company as you should in many states like Massachusetts where I live in order to function as an Independent Contractor.
So don't despair, continue doing what you doing and always remember your why is what makes you different. It's your personal reason and passion for caring so much for people's pets and no listing site can ever capitalize on your story. If you're worried about SEO and not being found, go join one of them. Get yourself ranked in the top and increase your exposure in your current market or one in which you have thought about expanding. To help you with all of this, is Time To Pet, they keep us scheduled, communicating and growing at a pace we can handle!
*Information gathered from Wakefield Research
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.