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January 9, 2015 – It’s already nine days into our 365 Days of Pet Sitting and I haven’t given you an idea of how those days are set up. How do we know where to go for a call and when? One of the first things you need to set up before opening your business, is your pet sitting schedule. You can choose to track visits in your phone calendar, on the computer, or in a weekly planner book. There’s software on the market specifically for pet sitters to enable company sitters to update their schedule and even allow clients to book their own appointments! (Definitely NOT for me. I like to choose whether I’m available or not even if my schedule has a little blank line or three showing!)

Using Your Schedule to Its Best Advantage

Even though I gobble-down Kindle books on my iPad voraciously… when it comes to keeping our schedule on track, I prefer paper. We keep our book on the desk in our office and everything (everything) goes into it…dog walks, doctor’s appointments, invoicing notes.

If you’ll notice in the photo, there’s a full day available for Sunday. In our first year in the business I bought the same scheduling book as I use at my part time office job….but it has only a single column cut in half for the weekend, which doesn’t work in a busy pet sitting business. Notice also the yellow column to the right. In here I write-in my contractor’s hours so I can track her billing and hours, I jot down my own client’s names and their invoice number after I’ve billed to keep myself focused (sometimes we’re so busy walking we forget to invoice until it’s added-up to an embarrassing number! Ack!) And when we board, I run a colored highlighter down the edge of each day as well as cross-referencing it in the monthly calendar page the book offers between each month. [It’s by ACCO Brands and is called “At-A-Glance – QuickNotes” in case you’re looking. I buy mine at Staples in Canada.]

Most importantly…as soon as you get a call or text…go make the change in your appointment book! You’ll never inadvertently miss or show up at a cancelled call that way. It’s terribly easy to forget dates and times when you have the same people calling but with different days of the week needed.

Pet Sitting Calls Breakdown

Most visits fall into certain categories and times. It’s easier to price and to plan-out your days this way.

  • Regular visits – 30 minutes for a dog and 20 minutes for a cat. (Give yourself about 20-25 minutes for the walk. You’ll find you run late otherwise since there’s always the greeting to make at the start and the note-writing and often paw wiping and cookie time at the end!)
  • Long walks – 45 minutes or an hour.
  • Potty breaks – normally 15 minutes. They are often requested for puppies and old dogs who don’t need a full visit. We no longer offer these. They are practical in urban areas but not where we live. It takes us 15 minutes to drive almost everywhere so a 15-minute call isn’t worth the time. Plus it is very difficult to bump-up a call [i.e., the price] from a potty break to a full visit once the dog gets older. And if you think you can get a puppy out and inside and write a note in 15 minutes…without getting whiplash…good luck to you!
    • On the same note – we’ve looked after old or ill dogs who just need a helping hand and it truly has been a little out of our way, but it’s been our decision. We don’t advertise it, but we will often do it and charge accordingly for the shorter visit, though sometimes they take just as long to do because of the circumstances. Especially if you’ve looked after the dog for a long time and he’s failing, you’ll do just about anything to help out when he’s ill – even for no pay. It’s why we’re all in this business, right?
  • Vacation house checks – normally 10 minutes. We charge the same as a cat visit, though, because we’re still taking the same amount of time to get there and back and in fuel for the car.

 Rush Hours for the Pet Sitter

Always ensure clients know you have a window of time to get to their homes. You can’t pin it down because no day is the same.

Breakfast visits – If you have vacation pet sits in your book, you’ll be out the door early. Remember not to overbook. Those dogs all want to get out at the same time in the morning!

Lunch hour – You’ve got from about 11:30 until 1:30 as general start times. This is why I mention driving is so crucial to your business. Only so many visits will fit. Most everyone wants noon…but you have four more important points to consider:

  • When did the last person leave the house and when is the first person back in? This give you a better idea of the midway point.
  • Where does this client fit in your driving schedule? You can’t fly back and forth and back again across town.
  • Is there a puppy or ailing dog that might need to go out earlier than a midway point? Often they can’t hold the water they drank at breakfast, whereas they doze off again when you leave so they can make it through until someone is home unless you let them drink too much after their walk!
  • Medication schedules are also important game changers.

Dinner – The dogs on vacation sits are seen first since you might not have been there since morning, unless the client has asked for four visits a day.

Bed time – We start them around 8:30. These visits are often a little shorter (but not always) because we’re settling the dogs down, not over-exerting them. Also you will often spend more time at dinner or breakfast on a vacation sit, so this balances your day out, too.

In case you missed it… Always ensure clients know you have a window of time to get to their homes. You can’t pin it down because no day is the same. I can’t tell you how very messed-up things get when clients won’t buy into this even after you explain it. Sometimes you have to let them go as clients.

Time for You

Oh yes! You have a life in your pet sitting day too! You might think you’ll have all the freedom in the world to stop for lunch…pop into the drugstore…or check your emails, but the reality is, you probably won’t. Not when you’re into your lunch period of your pet sitting schedule. A word to the wise…pack a juice, an apple, and a few cookies at least. You probably have a pocketful of dog biscuits, so bring something for yourself as well. Otherwise you’ll be grabbing chocolate bars at the gas station as you fill up…yet again!

Once you’ve got the knack of your schedule and your regular clients are all fit in, your days will normally run smoothly and on time. It just takes a little up front planning to get it right.

Today, for day nine of 365, we still have the five dogs here…who are now with us until tomorrow because their family can’t get back with the horrible snow squalls we’ve been having all day, just as we thought might happen. Added to that, we went to four other mid-day dog visits and a cat visit, so things are fairly routine and quiet. Our little visitor from yesterday (see yesterday’s post on Introducing New Dogs) went home this morning. We were all awake a little more than we would have liked last night…not unusual for a first night, but I’m sure we’ll be in bed soon tonight!

Until next time, have fun out there!