My pet sitting clients come in all shapes and sizes. One of the main areas of variety is their ability to trust when they first call to book my services. I've had some people call me and say they'll leave a key hanging from the doorknob and to drop some food and water for whichever animals might be there, and I have others who send me 100-page pdf files on their pet's complete medical history and request a blood and urine sample from me. Thankfully, most of my clients are closer to the moderate portion of the spectrum. Regardless, I always conduct myself with integrity. Aside from knowledge of and love of animals, I believe integrity is the most important quality a professional pet sitter can have.
We all know what it means to have integrity, but how is it defined?
in•teg•ri•ty noun the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness. "he is know to be a man of integrity"
synonyms: honesty, probity, rectitude, honor, good character, principle(s), ethics, morals, righteousness, morality, virtue, decency, fairness, scrupulousness, sincerity, truthfulness, trustworthiness
We've all heard nightmare stories about the pet sitter who stole the diamond necklace or the pet sitter who had a rager in a client's home. Or–even worse–one that neglected or abused the animals. Thankfully, those stories are few and far between, but, unfortunately, they are the stories we remember, and they taint the whole industry.
So what can a pet sitter do show integrity? Here are a few examples of how I conduct myself with my clients and in my client's home:
• I do an initial consultation for new clients, and I don't charge them for it. It's important for a new client to meet their pet sitter, and it's equally important for the pet sitter to meet the client. By meeting the person who will have a key to their home and who their animals will be dependent on, a client should feel more at ease. This initial meeting gives me the opportunity to explain my process and my experience, and to meet and interact with the animals.
• I provide valid references. I keep my list of references up-to-date, and I periodically check with the people on the list to make sure they are still comfortable talking to new clients.
• I am bonded and insured. I know I'm not going to steal a diamond necklace, but my new client doesn't.
• I stay with the animals for the agreed-upon amount of time. And on the rare occasion that I have to leave ten minutes early because I'm running late for my kid's doctor's appointment, I let the client know, and add the time to the next visit. They appreciate my honesty and usually tell me not to worry about making up the time (but I do anyway).
• I am upfront about any change or issue with the animal. I don't pretend that everything is perfect if it's not. If the dog had an accident on the floor in-between visits, I clean it up thoroughly and let the client know. If I can't find the cat, I call the client and ask where she might be hiding.
• If I make a mistake, I'm upfront about it. I've occasionally left a client's home and realized I forgot to take the trash out, or there was that one pile of poop in the yard I was going to clean up, but didn't. Or maybe I forgot to pick up today's mail. I just call or text and apologize. Being contentious is important to integrity, even when you mess up.
• I conduct myself as if there is a live video feed of my behavior going straight to the client. Period. Sure, I act like a total goofball with the animals sometimes and that might be embarrassing if there is a video camera (and sometimes there is), but I behave as if the client can see absolutely everything I do.
Most of the time clients aren't watching, and most of the time they trust me completely, but I can hold my head high knowing that if they were watching, they would be happy with what they see, so I take pride in my work. For that reason, integrity in professional pet sitting is as important for the pet sitter as it is for the client. Pet sitters could often get away with a lot, and clients realize that. I tell my clients that aside from my experience and love of animals "my integrity is all I have." And that's the truth.
When I started pet sitting full time, I initially tried any advertising I could think of. In order to build an initial client base, I threw lots of time and money down every conceivable avenue, only to receive very little in return. I learned quickly that networking and building relationships in the community was the fastest and best way to build my client base. Though we're always accepting new clients, we're now a manageable size, considering it's basically just myself and one other sitter. I prefer to keep it small because, well, let's be real: I'm a control freak. That, and I love the fact that I know each of my clients very well. They are almost like family. We partner with our clients to make sure their pets get the best care. Many of our clients have been with us since the beginning in 2005, and we're so grateful to have these relationships that often last through multiple "generations" of pets.
We now build our business primarily from client and community referrals, which is the best way to go for us. Just as our clients want to have the best pet sitter in all the land, we want to have the most awesome clients. By gaining new clients through referrals and spending time in the community, we can more readily trust that this will be the case, and they usually feel very comfortable knowing that a trusted source has said we're the best.
Because we value referrals so highly, we offer our clients an ongoing, graduated referral reward that gets better each time the referred client uses our services. Our client who is kind enough to refer to us gets rewarded over and over! It's been a great success for us, and it's a good feeling to know that we can say thank you to those who spread the word about Well Minded.
Growing our business this way allows us to create a family bond with our clients. I love that when a client's name pops up on my phone, I know exactly who they are and who their pets are. Size does matter. And we prefer to keep it small.