Burnout is one of the biggest hazards for a professional pet sitter, especially the owner of a microbusiness with 0-2 employees. A microbusiness owner is typically working in their business as well as on their business and may do everything themselves including marketing, meeting clients, scheduling visits, receiving payments, paying bills, managing accounts for taxes, managing staff (if they have any) as well as caring for pets. Pet sitting requests come in all year round including weekends and public holidays with higher seasonal demands.
The biggest contributor to burnout is ongoing stress. Here are some suggestions to reduce stress and avoid burnout.
Have Time Off
Working 7 days per week, 365 days per year on your own is the fastest path to burnout. As you grow your pet sitting business, requests are often longer than a few weeks, overlapping, over weekends, public holidays and even recurring on regular days. So you can soon have bookings every day of the year. If you are newly building a business, it may take time to build up a regular client base. You may want to have another form of income in the meantime.
If you are a solo pet sitter, you need to give yourself breaks and have backup in case of emergencies. You may have a trusted person as a volunteer (check they are covered by insurances and are experienced with dogs). Or you may just decline bookings at times (which has a risk clients may go elsewhere). Or you may network with another local pet sitter (but there may be sour grapes if clients chose to leave and another pet sitter may have peak times at the same time).
Or you may consider hiring workers. There are important legal implications with hiring to consider, especially ensuring you have correctly classified your worker as an employee or an independent contractor. Hiring workers allows you to have time off and allows you to scale your business if you choose to and even hire an office manager.
Managing employees may be an extra stress for some people though. For me, the stress involved with hiring outweighs the benefits so I don't want to go down that route again. I got burnt out in my first pet sitting business in Australia and I intend to stay small and solo starting over in New Zealand.
Train Clients How To Contact You
If you are a microbusiness owner, your phone ringing can become a nightmare. If you're an introvert like me, answering the phone can be exhausting. Plus people phone at times when you're busy with clients, busy with pet sits or just needing some time out.
I trained my clients to email me any time with their requests as my preferred option and text me as my second preference. This way messages are in writing to avoid misunderstandings and I can respond when I'm ready. They knew I'd respond within 24 hours and I'd reply earlier if it was more urgent. If someone does ring, they can leave an answerphone message. I have my email, calendar and pet sitting software all syncing to my phone but reply in my own time and I turn it off at night.
Be Selective With Clients
Many new pet sitters take on any job they can because they are desperate to make income. In my opinion, this is a mistake as taking on a client who is not a good fit may result in significant personal stress. In my opinion, the stress from difficult clients is not worth any income generated by them.
I choose clients who fit my ideal client. I will decline someone if their home is not suitable for pet sitting or their dog is too territorial even if otherwise they would be an ideal client.
My ideal client values my personalised service, requests rather than demands services, pays their bills on time and leaves their yards, litter trays and pet bowls in a clean state before each service. They share similar values to me including honesty and mutual respect and they only want the best care for their pets.
Learn to Say No
Learning to say no and developing assertiveness skills are essential to managing stress and minimising anxiety which is a major contributor to burnout. You can't be all things to all people. You can't control other people's reactions. Being assertive means saying what you need without being aggressive, passive-aggressive or avoidant. My natural tendency is to be avoidant, which increases anxiety. Learning to be assertive is a skill and it is the most effective way to communicate with mutual respect, to maintain boundaries and to minimise personal stress.
If you're like me, you tend to want to please people. This is very bad for your health and can result in anxiety, depression and burnout. Learn to say 'no' to requests you feel uncomfortable with. It may be hard at first, but learning to set boundaries with everyone you deal with whether at work or personally is critical in managing your stress levels and minimising anxiety and risk of burnout.
If you find dealing with difficult people very stressful, then consider writing a matter-of-fact reply and leave emotion out of it. I have felt a huge sense of relief when I have said no to difficult people. You are not obligated to continue providing services to people who don't respect you and your service.
You will need to learn to say 'no' to turn people away when you are booked to capacity, even if you have staff.
Have a Website
A website is one of the most important tools for a professional pet sitter. There are options to have an affordable website. All your marketing efforts should direct to your website, so people contacting you are already informed.
I recommend listing your prices on your website to screen out bargain shoppers wasting your time. Have your services and service area clearly described. I also recommend having your Terms and Conditions on your website. Having a website gives professional presence and allows non-ideal clients to screen themselves out.
Have a contact form on the home page of your website. Over 90% of new clients (including referrals) made first contact via my website. This sends me an email request and minimises having to deal with phone calls.
Consider Using Pet Sitting Software
Some pet sitters balk at the cost of pet sitting software, but I think the cost is very worth the time it saves, even for pet sitters who are part-time and/or solo or have only a few employees. The cost of cloud pet sitting software is typically the price of 1-2 pet sitting visits or less per month and allows greater efficiency. It is a secure way of managing your client and pet data, managing keys, scheduling visits and invoicing all in an integrated system. It would be very difficult to operate a medium to large pet sitting business efficiently without pet sitting software.
Weigh up whether you need to do all the functions of your business or can outsource some tasks. If you hate doing admin, you may hire a virtual assistant to create some forms or business cards for you or hire a book keeper to keep your cashbook or tax agent to do your tax returns. Usually people who work from home offer more reasonable rates than big corporate organisations.
Network With Other Pet Sitters
You may want to join a professional association. Or you can join free Facebook groups to for sharing ideas and support from other professional pet sitters around the world. They can provide mentoring and support so you don't feel isolated. Be aware though that any opinions shared are not a substitute for professional legal advice. Also most pet sitters are based in the US and many things aren't relevant to Australia and New Zealand.
Balance your life to recharge, restore and rejuvenate. Take time out to relax. Nurture your body and mind. If you're prone to anxiety like I am, learn techniques to calm yourself such as mindfulness and deep, slow breathing. Have complete breaks. Have people in your life who support and believe in you. Believe in yourself. Take care of yourself. I have regular massages and enjoy nature walks to help manage stress. If you don't take care of yourself, you can't take care of anyone else.
Xanthe founded an award-winning pet sitting business in QLD, Australia in 2011. After selling the business, she returned to Taupo, New Zealand.
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