Finding and hiring the right team members are essential steps towards growing your pet care business.
We speak to pet care businesses every day, and one thing that comes up repeatedly is how difficult it can be to find the right people to hire. Many dog walking and pet sitting businesses start off as solo, owner/operator businesses, or sometimes as partnerships between friends or family members. In the beginning, running and managing every aspect of the company is necessary (using the right pet sitting software definitely helps). However, as your client list grows and your time stretches thin, it might be time to consider hiring additional team members.
The prospect of hiring can be a little intimidating. Where do you even start? How do you find the perfect match for your business? Beyond that, you are trusting someone else to represent your business and care for your clients' pets and homes. How do you make sure that you are hiring someone honest and responsible? It might seem a little scary to bring on new team members, but adding to your staff will be essential if you plan to grow your business. We'll do our best to breakdown the hiring process. Hopefully, with the help of this guide, hiring your new dog walker, cat sitter, or pet sitter will be a breeze!
When is the right time to hire?
There are only so many hours in the day. That goes doubly so when you are trying to run a business, keep clients happy, keep pets safe, and also find time for your own life. In the beginning, when you only have a handful of clients, it's easy to manage the business and also personally complete all your pet sitting and dog walking events — this is especially true if you are using Time To Pet! With many dog walking and pet care companies that we spoke with, they didn't realize how quickly demand would grow. Once you have confirmation that your area has a need for your services and new bookings start rolling in, it's time to build a team you can trust to take care of all those sweet pets! If you find yourself having to turn clients away or struggle to get back and forth around town to make appointments, it's probably time to hire some help.
Many pet care business owners start their companies with the goal of growing their client list and expanding their service area. If this isn't you, that's okay, but there may still come a time when you need to find some help if you plan to go out of town for an extended period or are unable to meet the demand of your current pet parents.
Here is a quick checklist of reasons it might be time to hire additional staff:
- You are turning down business.
- You would like to offer services that your team doesn't currently have the skillset for, like training, grooming, or pet taxi services — there might be a specific service that clients keep requesting.
- You are having trouble keeping up with client correspondences and scheduling. Or your clients are having trouble reaching you.
- The quality of your services is suffering.
- You are working extra long hours just to keep up.
- You don't have time to take a break or vacation without your business suffering.
- You want to spend more time working on your business and less time working in the field.
What should you look for when hiring a new pet sitter or dog walker for your team?
Okay, now that you've decided it's time to hire, you'll need to decide what type of staff member you are looking for. Do you want someone with full-time availability? Someone with flexible hours? Someone with a particular skill set?
To decide what you need, you'll want to take a look at the current demand from your clients, what you might be lacking, and how you plan to grow your business. If you are booking a lot of overnight stays that require house sitting, you'll want to find someone that is available and comfortable spending the night in a client's home. If you are booking a large number of dog walks during a specific 4-hour window of the day, you might want to find a team member that is available just for that time period. Each business has different needs, so you will need to determine who the ideal candidate might be. And that brings us to one of the most controversial questions in the pet care industry: Should you classify your team as Employees or Independent Contractors?
The answer to this question will vary depending on where you operate your business and what duties your team members will be performing. The topic can be confusing, so we did our research and tried to lay it out as clearly as possible. Click here to read our very detailed blog post on the subject of classifying your dog walkers and pet sitters as employees or independent contractors.
The basics of Employees vs. Independent Contractors:
- Worker is trained and given instructions
- Worker has a set schedule
- Worker has an ongoing contract with company
- Worker may sign a non-compete
- Worker has insurance, worker's comp, and social security paid by company
- Worker doesn't receive special training
- Worker makes their own schedule
- Worker provides their own tools and equipment
- Worker can contract with any company, any time
Traditionally, many pet care companies have classified their team as independent contractors. But as Bob Dylan says, "the times they are a-changin'." With new legislation appearing and passing, like California's ABC Test, you may be legally required to classify certain team members as employees or face tax consequences down the road. More than twenty states are already using some form of the ABC Test, so you'll definitely want to check your local laws and consult an employment law attorney. We can't stress this point enough. It is very important to get the guidance of a legal professional when determining how to classify your staff members.
As we cover in our blog post on the subject of employees vs. ICs, there can be many benefits to classifying workers as employees.
Here are a few additional resources from the IRS and Small Business Association to help you determine the status of your staff:
- IRS — Independent Contractor Defined
- IRS — Topic 762 — Independent Contractor vs. Employee
- IRS — Publication 1779 — Independent Contractor or Employee
- IRS — Form SS-8 — Determination of Worker Status for Purposes of Federal Employment Taxes and Income Tax Withholding
- IRS — 20 Factor Test — Independent Contractor or Employee?
- SBA — Hire a Contractor or Employee
As a reminder, Time To Pet is not a law firm and does not provide legal advice. It is best to consult with a lawyer regarding specific questions relating to worker classification. Worker classification can vary by government agency and from state to state. This is meant to be a guide to help pet sitters, and dog walkers understand the general differences between Independent Contractors and Employees and to help direct them to more resources.
What should you include in your job posting?
Now that you know who you are looking for, you can create a job posting with your specific requirements and expectations. You want your job posting to be inviting, professional, and detailed. Make sure it's easy to read and free of spelling errors. It's also essential to make sure that all relevant information about the job is clearly listed in the posting. A good rule of thumb is to anticipate all the questions that a potential candidate might have and include those answers — maybe even some additional information to extra-anticipate questions! Here are a few of the elements your job posting should contain:
Information about your company or a company overview.
The opening paragraph of your job posting is your chance to tell job seekers about your business and what makes it special. You can talk about when your company was founded, what type of services you offer, and what differentiates you from other pet care businesses.
A description of the role you are hiring for.
Try to address the job seeker directly and give a clear idea of what their day-to-day duties will look like. If you are specifically looking for a certain number of hours a week or availability for certain days of the week, you can list that information here. If the hours and days are flexible, make sure to mention that, as many college students are drawn to positions like this because of the flexibility. If you plan to start your new hire with limited responsibilities but plan to add more hours and responsibilities over time, this is a great place to highlight the role's growth potential. You might also want to mention information about what specific services — like dog walking, cat sitting, or overnight pet sitting — your new team member will be responsible for. You can be lighthearted here, but make sure you are still coming across as professional.
A list of responsibilities.
This section is usually displayed in bullet points. Listed below are some examples of responsibilities that you might include. Your posting will look different depending on what you need.
Responsibilities and duties:
- Provide professional, compassionate care for pets
- Practice time management and keep to the schedule you are provided
- Safely travel across town to the homes of clients
- Have excellent communication skills, both written and verbal — with the office and clients
- Professionally represent the company and treat clients respectfully
- Use your smartphone to track services and send updates to clients
A list of requirements:
Also usually displayed in bullet points, this section will outline precisely what the position requires. This is where you would list specific skills or qualifications like a dog training certificate or pet first aid training. Here are some examples of qualifications and requirements you might list.
- You must have a working smartphone
- Have a valid driver's license
- Availability for the days and times you require
- Part-time or full-time
- Have reliable transportation
- Live within a reasonable distance of the service area
- You have excellent communication skills, both written and verbal
- Experience with and compassion for animals
- Comfortable around all types of animals
- The ability to work in all kinds of weather
- Have excellent time management skills and the ability to work autonomously
- Be able to pass a background check
Pay, benefits, and perks.
This is typically one of the more important sections for job seekers and often the one they might skip to first. They want to know how much they'll be paid and what other benefits and incentives you offer. You will need to determine for yourself what a fair wage is for your team. And it will definitely vary based on your location and whether your team is classified as employees or independent contractors. When determining your dog walking and pet care service rates, you'll want to factor in staff wages. We also have more information about the hiring process and deciding what to pay your team in an awesome guest post written by the Founder of Active Paws.
This section also provides an excellent opportunity to list some of your company's values and why someone would enjoy working for you.
Here are some examples of pay, perks, and benefits:
- Tips and bonuses (if you plan to offer these)
- Flexible schedule
- Casual dress code and fun company culture
- Internal promotion opportunities (if you plan to keep growing)
- Work with adorable animals!
- Get lots of exercise
It's always nice to end with something like “We look forward to receiving your resume!” Or “This position will fill quickly. Apply today!”
Bonus tip from a current Time To Pet team member, and former pet care business owner: “I used this trick to weed out the people who weren’t serious or were just auto applying. Add a sentence inside the job posting that they should include with their application. For example, “mention ‘Big Blue Dog’ in your cover letter.” Those who catch it are usually excited about the job and/or very detailed oriented and will read your client instructions for their visits."
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Where should you post your job listing?
Once you have a well-crafted job ad, you'll want to post it everywhere you can. This will up the chances of finding the perfect hire. Some websites like Indeed and ZipRecruiter require that you pay to post, but there are still many other free options, so decide if and how much you are willing to spend on creating the job posting. You might not want to spend any money at all, which is totally okay. In that case, you can get crafty and post the job on your social media accounts and put up flyers at local coffee shops or college campus boards. Definitely feel free to get creative!
Here are a few ideas for places to post your ad:
- Your website and social media accounts (Facebook and Instagram get the most traffic)
- Word of mouth from current employees and clients
- nextdoor.com — to find people in your neighborhood
- Pet stores
- Vet offices
- Coffee shops
- Campus bulletin boards
- For even more ideas, take a look at this great article from Pet Sitters International on where to find staff
The hiring process: applications, interviews, and background checks — oh my!
Alrighty! The ad is up, and messages are coming in. Many of the job posting sites like Indeed and LinkedIn have optional applications that job seekers can fill out. If you are using other posting methods like Facebook or coffee shop bulletin boards, you can easily create your own application to send out. There are many free templates online, like this general application from Microsoft, which you can download and print. You can also ask potential hires to send a resume and cover letter.
The initial messages and applications you receive from job seekers can be very representative of their qualifications for the position. You'll quickly be able to see how they communicate, what sort of employment experience they have, and which skills they possess. You can usually eliminate several potential hires just from the application process.
Once you have a candidate or a few that you think might be a good fit, the next step will be an over-the-phone or in-person interview. An in-person interview will give you a better chance to interact authentically. The interview is where you will probably decide if someone is the right fit, so make sure to be thorough. This new team member will be a representative of your pet care company. You want to find someone that you can trust to interact with your clients respectfully. That starts with how they interact with you. So trust your gut. If someone shows up late or has weird energy, that might be your first red flag.
Many people like to start interviews with a bit of small talk and then get into work history, goals, qualifications, and so on. There is no correct way to conduct an interview with a potential dog walker or pet sitter, but it might help if you have all of your important questions written out to act as an outline you can refer back to. You can also walk them through some hypothetical situations like dealing with an aggressive dog or damage to a client's home, just to see how they think on their toes. You're not trying to stump your candidate, but you want to make sure they can handle whatever comes at them.
The interview also offers an excellent opportunity to hammer out details like determining a candidate's exact availability and willingness to make a minimum time commitment. Some applicants might apply for the job and say they have full availability, but during the interview, they could mention that they have school or another commitment on a particular day or time. Also, asking for a minimum time commitment for the job is not unheard of in the pet care industry. You might ask if they are seeking a seasonal job or longer-term employment. When interviewing current college students, you can ask if they plan to head home for the summer or move away anytime soon.
The end of an interview can be awkward, but it doesn't have to be! Even if the candidate seems absolutely perfect and you shared lots of laughs, there is no need to make them a job offer on the spot. Just say thank you and tell them that you will be in touch soon. It helps if you can give a definite date by which you will let them know. On the flip side, if they do seem like a great fit and you want to get the process rolling, you can schedule a second, on the job interview where they can shadow you or one of your more experienced team members.
The Background Check.
Performing a background check on any potential new hires is essential. You need to be able to trust your team with pets, clients, and belongings. As the business owner, the final responsibility of your team's conduct will come back to you, so make sure to do the leg work upfront to choose the right people!
There are many online resources for performing background checks. Some of them are pretty expensive, so be sure to shop around. We don't have one in particular that we recommend but don't skimp too much, as this is an important step. A typical background check should include identity verification, a national and county criminal record check, and a sex offender registry check. For more information on background checks, take a look at this article from The Balance.
Another part of the background check process could include calling references if you require them. Many companies will require candidates to provide several references during the application process. Keep an eye out for references that are made up of only family or friends.
Hiring your new dog walker or pet sitter!
Going through the process above can be exhausting, especially if you need to do it several times. But just remember, doing the hard work upfront can save you lots of headaches down the road. You don't need to settle for someone you don't honestly believe will be a good fit. Trust your gut and wait for the right team member to come along. Hiring someone only to let them go a month later is no fun. And while this scenario is always possible, taking your time going through a thorough hiring process can help mitigate this risk. You can also hire someone for a trial period to see if they are a good fit. That said, if you've gone through the whole process above and you have found the perfect person or people, it's time for the fun part — hiring your new team member!
Depending on where you live and how you plan to classify your staff, there will be different requirements for the documents you need to file. The IRS website has lots of information on the federal requirements, but it might be best to check with local payroll processing companies, CPAs, or your tax preparer to determine exactly what steps you need to take. If you are hiring an employee, you will likely need to have them fill out a W-4 and I-9 form. Again, talking to a CPA or accountant might make sense and be extremely helpful in the hiring process. You'll also want to create an employment agreement for your new team member to sign. This is different from your service agreement and pet sitting contract with clients. The employment agreement defines employment terms like compensation, duration, benefits, and any other conditions of employment or reasons for dismissal. There are many templates for employment contracts available online, like this one from legaltemplates.net.
Once all the t's are crossed and the i's are dotted, it's time to get your new hire out into the field. In the beginning, it's best to have your new team member training with you or one of your more experienced staff members. This will give them a chance to learn the ropes of the business and see how you like things done. Encourage questions and try to be a patient teacher — they'll get the hang of things soon enough. And if you are using a pet sitting software like Time To Pet, it will be super easy to add staff, share client information with them, and plan their schedules.
Keeping your team happy.
In an industry with a fair amount of turnover, keeping good team members can almost be as difficult as finding the right ones to hire. It's a good idea to be proactive in creating a positive work environment and offering ways for your team to grow personally and professionally. Hiring the right people to begin with, ones that share similar values, will go a long way towards ensuring your team is content. Some turnover is inevitable, but keeping great team members on board should be a priority. Here a few more ideas for ways to keep your best workers around:
- Make sure your staff feels respected and valued
- Create a fun and enjoyable work environment
- Provide opportunities for growth like additional training and promotions
- Make certain work-life balance is a priority
- Offer bonuses and benefits
- Manage with trust and communication
Onboarding Staff with Time To Pet
If you are already using Time To Pet, it's incredibly easy to add a new staff member! As soon as the new staff member is added, they will be able to download the Mobile App for Staff and access important information like their schedule and client details. We have a whole section in our Help Center and Knowledge Base on Managing Staff. We also just released a very comprehensive video on the topic of Onboarding Staff with Time To Pet.
That wasn't so bad!
Yay, you did it! You have successfully hired or started the process of hiring for a new team member. It might seem overwhelming at first, but it's not so bad when broken down into a step-by-step process. And keep in mind why you are hiring staff. It means that your business is growing and that you will now have more time to focus on growing the business and living your own life. The first step is one new employee, the next step, one-hundred — well, maybe not that many, but anything is possible!