Last year, I was bombarded with medical bills after a hospital stay. While my husband and I make a decent income, we realized it would take us years to pay off our debt if we only made the minimum payments each month.
We knew we needed to increase our income, but we needed a side gig that was flexible enough to work around our current schedules. Rather than work for someone else, we looked into starting a business ourselves.
We launched a small pet-sitting service, and within a few months, we were making over $500 a month. While we made many mistakes along the way, the business became so profitable that we ended up selling it after just one year, which helped eliminate my medical debt. Here’s how we built this lucrative side hustle and the lessons we learned.
Starting a business
We batted around several different ideas for a business, but as we did our research, we found the start-up costs for many of them were too high.
For example, we considered launching an airport transportation service using our car, but the cost of commercial driver’s insurance was thousands of dollars. Instead, we landed on starting a pet-sitting business.
My husband and I are both animal lovers, so a pet-sitting business sounded like a good idea. We both know how to care for all kinds of pets — from lizards to dogs — so it seemed like a natural fit.
What we liked about pet-sitting was that it was scalable. When we had the time, we could take on as many clients as we wanted. If we felt burned out or had a busy schedule, we could skip a week or two.
Because I work from home, I could easily watch clients’ pets during the workday. I could just bring my laptop to their home and work while keeping an eye on the animals. It was a way to earn money on the side without interfering with our full-time jobs.
Doing our research
Pet-sitting sounds like an easy side hustle to start, but there was a lot we didn’t know about until we did our research. Initially, we considered working through sites like Rover.com because starting a business sounded too complicated. However, those services take a significant cut of your earnings, so we decided to try it ourselves.
Before we got started, we met with successful pet-sitters who lived nearby and asked their advice. Thank goodness we did, because they saved us a lot of trouble with their guidance.
One of the biggest things we hadn’t considered was the need for insurance. It seemed silly to me, but the experts explained how necessary it was. They told us horror stories of sitters who went without a policy.
One lost a client’s house key and his home was robbed; she was held responsible and liable for damages. Another didn’t fasten a dog’s crate properly when she left for the day, and the dog escaped and destroyed an antique carpet. The homeowners took her to court, and she now has to replace a $30,000 rug.
If you work for a service like Rover, they offer insurance, but if you want to work on your own, you need to purchase insurance from another organization. We applied for a policy through Pet Sitter Associates, LLC.
Insurance can be expensive; our two-person policy was about $600 for the year. But it was a necessary investment, and having proof of insurance made us look more professional to potential clients.
Launching our company
We live in Celebration, Florida, a small town just outside of Orlando. We named our business “Your Celebration Concierge” because it was the first thing we thought of and it sounded cute. I knew we needed a website, so I bought a domain on WordPress and set up a bare bones site. I paid $5 for a designer to create a logo for me on Fiverr, and then we launched our site.
When we first started our business, we thought it would be best to serve a broad range of customers in many different neighborhoods. However, that turned out to be a terrible mistake. Getting from one area to another on time was a nightmare, and the extra driving and gas expenses hurt our profits.
After about six weeks, we decided to narrow our services to just the Celebration area. Beyond being our home, we picked it because it’s very pet-friendly. There’s a pet bakery, animal-themed town events, and dog-friendly restaurants. People in Celebration adore their pets and are willing to spend more to keep them happy and exercised.
Focusing our efforts helped our business become more profitable. As we slowly took on new customers, our quick responsiveness helped us gain traction thanks to positive reviews and client referrals.
Marketing our services
Celebration has a slightly older demographic than neighboring communities; 40 percent of the population is over 45. Because of that, we thought traditional advertising, such as ads in the local newspaper, would be effective. Unfortunately, we didn’t get much traction.
Facebook advertisements, however, proved to be a useful tool. The ads are fairly inexpensive, and you can target your ads based on specific demographics, including age, location, and interests. I decided to experiment and ran a $10 campaign. Within 48 hours, we had eight new clients.
Facebook became our primary source of business. Within a month of launching our new ads, we were making over $500 a month in profits. Over the winter holidays, our business spiked to over $2,000 a month. It became a consistent source of income we could rely on, and we were only working about 10 hours a week on it.
Our business made enough money to cover our expenses — including insurance, web maintenance, and advertising — within two months. Everything after that was extra money we could put towards our debt.
Selling the business
Facebook was a game changer for our business. We went from a handful of clients to dozens of regulars. Many of them needed daily care, such as dog-walking or feedings, as well as overnight care in the clients’ homes.
It quickly became too big for us to manage alone. We were regularly turning down new clients so we could continue providing our services to our current customers. But even when we turned people away, our schedules started to get complicated with so many clients.
My husband and I had a tough discussion to make. Our earnings from the business had helped pay off our debt, but we were both overwhelmed by how quickly our side gig had grown. We talked about hiring employees, but that would still require a lot of work for us. Instead, we decided to stop operations and sell the business.
We decided we wanted to recoup our setup costs since the business was already profitable. I posted a for-sale ad on a local small business Facebook page and set a price I thought was unreasonably high.
I listed everything we had spent on the business, such as purchasing an insurance policy, buying a domain name, and paying a designer for a logo and website help. We set our price as that total.
Within a few hours, I had a dozen messages from people who wanted to take over. They were so eager, they were bidding above and beyond the set price. We ended up talking with a business owner who lived and worked in Celebration. She was genuinely nice and well-respected in the community, so we decided to sell it to her.
She was willing to pay our asking price right away. Because the business was small and just a joint partnership, the transition was easy. We transferred the website to her name, turned over our logos and documents, and included recommendations on what worked for us regarding advertising and client management.
Because the business was already profitable, the selling price was a surprise windfall that helped us boost our savings. Our little pet-sitting service turned out to be a powerhouse when it came to improving our finances.
Launching your own side business
Starting your own business can sound overwhelming, but it’s completely doable. It doesn’t need to be a huge production or terribly expensive; you can launch a side hustle with just a small investment and grow it as your business becomes profitable. By focusing on what you’re good at, you can boost your cash flow without a huge time commitment.
For more ideas on starting a small business, check out 14 side hustles that require little or no investment.
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