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Starting a business after 55: Become a pet sitter

Oct 14, 2011, 9:04 a.m.

What did Lynn Kindsvatter of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, do after she retired from a corporate career? She started a new business, of course! She turned her love of animals into a paycheck she can make on her own terms, enjoying herself while still serving her community.

Lynn started Time 4 Pets pet sitting five years ago. She charges $14 per 30-minute visit to homes in her own zip code, and has a few part-time people on call. Her startup costs were minimal, she has no website, and you can do it, too! Here's how:

Business first, then play

You can start your new pet sitting business by sitting for your friends and neighbors, sure. But for safety and professionalism, consider joining an organization like Pet Sitters International (PSI) and obtaining liability insurance. PSI offers its members resources and tools for building their business, insurance discounts, pet sitting software, a business listing and more for under $150 per year.

Insurance will assure your clients that you are covered should anything happen to their pet or property while you are caring for their furry friend.

Mouth to snout

Another skill that will woo potential clients is pet CPR certification. Pet First Aid classes are offered by the American Red Cross. Enter your zip code on its site to find upcoming courses near you.

Pick a niche, any niche

Some people are reluctant to pick a niche for fear of losing potential customers, but don't try to do it all. Customers take comfort in hiring an "expert" who specializes in just what they need, and you can always offer more services later, especially if you get busy enough to hire some help.

More of a cat person, or don't want to deal with oversized dogs? Choose a cat-focused name for your business or specialize in "small pets." If you do have to turn away a customer, make sure you know and befriend your competition so you can refer them if they offer a service you don't. They'll remember and return the favor if they get the chance.

Set the terms

Now, set your rules. Write out a business plan of sorts so that the prices you want to charge are in writing and you don't undersell yourself or your time. Feel free to pick your own hours and charge more if a client needs you after, say, 8 p.m. Decide whether you are "open" during the holidays and how far you're willing to travel. Will you charge extra for more than two pets? Will you give a discount for muliple days of service booked? Do you want to be paid in advance or will you send an invoice?

Remember, they might be hiring you, but you have the freedom to take on any and as many clients as you choose. You don't have to please everyone, but please have fun in your new career! This time, it's just for you.

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