As a cat sitter, I do pick up a lot of ‘trick of the trade’.
Some of them I learnt from mistakes…(oh yes, I do make mistakes and I don’t want to think about them right now…)
But my mistake is your gain.
Trick of the Trade (TOTT) is a series where I will tell you all about them. Some of them can be useful to your own cat(s), while some of them might be (hopefully) entertaining to you to brighten up your mid-week.
I ALWAYS ring the bell before turning the key to enter a presumably empty house, when I am cat sitting.
Because more than once, I turn the key and someone is still inside the house.
This most often happen on the first day or the last day of a booking.
My customer could have sent in the wrong booking date. Or it could be a case of flying through long haul and forgetting to add one more day to make up the time zone difference, or people realise their flight comes in early in the morning and don’t really need a visit that day.
Or once I have customer who overslept and missed the flight altogether.
So I ALWAYS ring the bell before entering a property.
Plus, if burglary is ongoing inside, the last thing I want is to open the door and we are at a standstill.
I ring the bell, if someone is inside, hopefully they will panic and start making noises or weird light from torches. If I see that, I can leave the scene and call 999.
The only exception is, if the cats inside are very nervous, then I wouldn’t do that in case they are scared. But I will still going ‘hello hello hello?’ once I got into the house. Just to be sure…
Who say cat sitting is all about fluffy purring cats?
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This happens to me all the time.
‘What are you doing in Ireland?’
‘I live here.’
‘Er..yes.’ (I always wonder if people are asking me this as in ‘are you on welfare? Taking advantage of my country?’ but I could be over-sensitive…)
‘What do you do?’
(I thought to myself, ‘oh gawd…not again.’)
‘Er…I am self employed.’
‘Oh what is that about?’
(‘Here we go again…’)
‘I have a ‘cat business’. I am a cat sitter.’
Then the reactions are usually one of the followings:
– ‘You are WHAT?’
– ‘Can you make money doing that?’ (I have a separate post to address this question. FOLLOW my blog if you want to know more.)
– ‘What do you actually do?’
So today, once and for all, I will tell you what does it mean to be a cat sitter.
It is A LOT more than just putting down food in the cat’s bowl…
Every business need to keep books. A lot of people like to use an accountant. I, however, am a strong believer that small family business like Maow Care should try to find time to do their own accounts. (A post on how to do your accounts will be up for SMOB series. FOLLOW MY BLOG!)
That way you can understand the cash flow of your business better. Plus, it’s quite expensive to pay for an accountant for a small business like mine. So I do my accounts.
Since I have a new baby recently, I am SOOO behind…
If you are a professional pet carer would it be sitter, groomer, trainer, etc, you SHOULD have regular training. There are new stuff coming out in the animal science world every year. I am surprise to see a lot of professional pet carers in Ireland are not actively seeking continuous education.
I suppose it’s a two-way issue. Most customers probably don’t see the importance of that and don’t value the time a sitter spend to learn more. As a result, some sitters might feel, ‘why bother?’
I have an extensive ‘cat library’ at home for my own use.
I attend cat conference regularly in the UK. I am a curious person by nature and I genuinely love cats, I want to learn as much about them as possible!
I also regularly seek education on the ‘business side of things’. Accounting, marketing, social media, etc. I have no formal business training, so it is important for me to educate myself to help run my business better.
Operation (actual cat sitting)
Now is the fun part – the actual minding of cats. You might not know, but there are soo sooo much more than just putting food out.
As a cat sitter, we are entering people’s home, we have to make sure to respect people’s privacy and make sure their home is secured. We have a lot of ‘trick of the trade’ in this business to ensure that.
Once we make sure the house is secured and cats are safe. We do the actual sitting. We follow customer’s instruction to feed cat, play with cat, change litter tray, give meds if needed, let cat out or let cat in, etc. To be honest, no two homes are the same, no two cats are the same. Every customer’s instruction are different! And I have taken care of close to a thousand cats! Take drinking device as an example, I have so far had, cat bowl, pint glass (half full, full to the beam, full but NOT to the beam), sink, bath, shower, bucket, fountain, etc. So being a cat sitter, one has to be very detail oriented to follow instruction to the T.
After each sitter, we keep a log to record what happened at the job in case customer ask us question later about a specific visit. We also send email or text message daily to report what happened at the job, so that customers can know their cats are fine.
We also follow up to make sure customers return home safety. In case of delay, we will cover extra days at the last minute notice. Sometimes, it might affect our previous engagement…
Key management is a huge part of this business. There are constantly about 100 keys I have to handle. Having a tidy and secure system to make sure all keys are label in code word is crucial.
We have to keep good record of customer profile and all other paper work customers hand in to us. I have to file them alphabetical and make sure to lock them safely in the file cabinet. There are so much personal information in these profiles that require high level of care and discretion.
Cat sitting, at the end of the day, is a customer service business. We provide a service to the human. We take good care of the cats of course, but making sure the human are crucial for the business to stay alive. Because, after all, the humans are the one who have the bank account, not the cats…(sadly…coz I think it will be easier to please cats, just bring treats! haha)
As a professional cat sitter, we are required to provide the first meeting called ‘Meet and Greet’ free of charge. That actually takes up a lot of our time to do that. We usually spend one hour talking to the potential customers. We do a presentation to explain what cat sitting is and how it works. Then answer any questions they might have. If the customers want to show us where all the cat stuff are, we will do a house tour. All of these are free and though it’s rare, sometimes it might not bring in an actual booking. So it’s time lost and we are not paid. But it’s part of being a professional pet carer, we have to provide this service for ethical reason so we are happy to do that. But at the same time, as a business owner, I do have to be careful to screen potential time wasters so to maximise our time to provide service our actual paid customers. For example, if someone ring me on the phone and ask about my service and immediately mention her neighbour’s teenage son can sit her cat for 5 Euro, I know immediately that my service is not for her. Not purely because of the difference in budget, but my experience tells me this person probably won’t see the value of hiring a highly trained professional.
My phone is on 24/7. I try to reply customers as quickly as possible. Texts are generally replied with a few minutes. Email within a few hours. I also replied Facebook comments, blog comments instantly. Phone calls are replied as they come in. If I am in the meeting and can’t pick up the phone, I call back the first moment I step out of the meeting. As a result, my customers trust me because I am very reliable. And yes, I reply my customers even during my holiday. The only time I haven’t replied is during the first month of my maternity leave. I am a nervous cat parent, I know how it feels when we want to get an instant reply about our cats, so I try to make myself available for any questions or concern immediately. My customers know if I don’t call back in a few hours, sometimes is wrong. e.g. I was giving birth to my son.
Having said that, I am slowly trying to delegate some of these to the wonderful help Sara. I am hoping I can get a better work life balance now that I have my son in the picture…
Cat sitting business is a business at the end. We need to do a lot of marketing to promote the business. I have been running a photo competition called ‘Maow Of The Week’ with great success since 2013. I will probably continue to do so. It takes about one hour a week of work, but it’s a lot of fun.
Almost every fortnight, there are advertising agents from different papers, website, magazine, even local school and rugby club (!) to ask us to advertise. It takes a lot of time to screen them and turn them down. I have huge success with online advertising and word of mouth so I don’t tend to do actual paper ad anymore. I used to do that when I first started my business on 2009 but that was because the whole social media thing takes off. Paper ad is too expensive and reach too little people in comparison to online ad. Plus, I notice most of my customers come from a certain group of people. They are the kind of people who will share cute cat photos on Facebook, and they don’t read actual newspaper…
That brought us to the subject of – Social Media.
What I am going to say might offend some people. It might be a stereotype but cat people do spend a lot of time on the internet, hanging out with other cat people, sharing cat photos, laughing at cat jokes, etc. Heck, you are reading my blog! haha
So I do need to spend significant amount of time every day to interact with customers and other cat lovers who might potentially turn into my customers or refer their cat loving friends to my business. This is the part of my daily duty that I quite enjoy. I love cats and I love to chat with cat people, so yeah!
I don’t like to deal with technology.
But unfortunately as a one-woman show, I need to deal with everything.
I have maintain my website (a revamp of my website is long due! I need to get it done before Christmas season!!! UGH!!!!)
I am also in the process of building a new CRM. With the growing number of customers every year, I need to have a better CRM. It’s a long term IT project, and I am pulling my hair out just talking about this now. So I stop.
People might be aware but it’s almost unavoidable to be involved with charities when one is in an animal business. Cat charities and Maow Care co-exist in a win-win situation. Cats helped by Maow Care will become potential customers. Charities helped by Maow Care will refer future adopters to use Maow Care. So everyone is happy.
At the end of the day, cat sitter are genuine cat lovers, it’s only natural that we want to help.
Often I got pet sitters who just started ask me how to get more customers, my standard answer is always this – you need to be patient and you need to do a lot of free work to build a reputation.
I started a cat food collection campaign recently. Click on the image to learn more!
Making sure insurance is in order. Sorting out piles of paperwork coming in the mailbox every day. Just like any other business. I bore myself just talking about this, so let’s move on.
Every cat sitter is required to have a back up person. In case of accident or injury, a cat sitter should provide a back up plan to take care of cats under their care. And since 2012, I have Sara, Oli, Laura and Grainne work with me as contractor sitters. They are all my existing customers and have been great fun working with people who are as cat mad as I do. (Happy face!)
But as a result of expanding the team, it comes more paperwork and accounting to do! (Sad face…)
After being a cat sitter for over 5 years, I realise writing about cats is the natural next step. I work with and talk about cats 90% of my waking hours. I have so much to say on the subject. Plus, seeing so many ignorant people and general horrible attitude toward cats in Ireland, I feel a calling to educate the general public. Hence, I started writing this blog.
As you can see it’s a constant struggling to put different hats on every day to run a cat sitting business!
Some people complains the price we charge is too expensive for ‘just putting food down’. But the thing is, we don’t just put food down! As you can see, there are so much more! We are only being paid for one item out of this list of 10 – the actual cat sitting visit. But the other stuff all needs to be done and absolutely necessary.
Being a cat sitter is A LOT more than just taking care of the actual cat. It’s a huge responsibility and require high level of problem solving skill and organisational skill. If you are not a multitasker, being a cat sitter is not for you.
During the past 5 years, I have seen so many pet sitting business and pet grooming business opening up, only to close down in a few months down the line. Most of the time, it has nothing to deal with not getting enough business. There are more than enough business in Ireland to have many more pet sitters, trust me! Usually it has a lot to deal with the person not suitable to be self employed. Either having wrong expectation (e.g. thinking ‘playing with animals, yeah!’ or thinking ‘I am going to make a lot of money JUST playing with animals! Yeah!’ ) or just don’t have what it takes to run a business (‘I can’t do customer service.’ WHAT?) A lot of people think ‘I love animals, so I play with them and take good care of them.’ Well, I am sorry to say, being good with animals is only one of the item on the job duty list. As you can see, there are so much more.
I am pleased to say it has been over 5 years I am a cat sitter and I am still here! I don’t make huge amount of money, but I really enjoy my job and can’t imagine doing something else!
Before I go, I will show you a picture of my office, so you can see where I pull my hair out doing my account and paperwork…haha.
Coming up – I will bring you to my round on a typical day (if there is such a thing) and an atypical cat sitting day. I will also show you my gear. So FOLLOW my blog if you don’t want to miss these fun posts.
Here is the thing: when people think about being a cat-sitting, they tend to think of me hanging out in people’s home with a cat on lap. Well, it is part of it. In fact, I dare say it is only HALF of it, might even be less than half some days. What people fail to realise is, the ‘getting from point A to point B’ part make up a big part of my day.
If you live in Dublin like I do, where transport is a nightmare, then you know I spend A LOT of time on the road.
Brunchnal and Bindi lives in Druncondra area in Dublin. If you know Dublin, you will know that this neighbourhood is not far from one of the nation’s stadium – the Croke Park.
Brunchnal is a friendly ginger boy. When his human signed up to use my service at first, he was the only cat in the house.
A few months after, Bindi, a tuxedo girl with determined personality joined the family.
They are great friends together. It’s fun to watch them playing together. Plus, it’s pretty straightforward to take care of them, so it’s always a joy to be booked to see them.
Their humans prefer to have them looked after in the evening. Since their neighbourhood is only next to mine, I usually book them in as the last job of the day before heading home.
What I am trying to tell you is – it is an easy-peasy job that round up a cat sitting day nicely!
The exception is on 23 June 2012, the day that shall remain in the “History Book of Boy Bands”, when Westlife had their last concert EVER before breaking up. It took me 4 hours to finish the job for Bindi and Bruchnal!
And I just HAD to leave Brunchnal and Bindi at the EXACT SAME TIME when the concert is over. If I would have known the trouble I had to go through to go home that day, I would have adjust my route so that I wouldn’t run into the crowd that comes out from the concert. Unfortunately, I don’t follow celebrity news and whatnot.
That’s what happened.
A picture is better than a thousand word. This is Drumcondra after midnight!
Just to prove that this real-life incident did happen, look at the news report on the matter. For good measure, I toss in the event info just for laugh as well.
Thanks to these four men, I was stuck in traffic for three hours.
Technically speaking, I wasn’t stuck in traffic as I couldn’t even get into the traffic. I was standing hopelessly on the side of the road! It took me more than an hour to get on a Night Bus so that I could eventually be part of the traffic!
You might ask, ‘why don’t you just take a taxi?’ Well, my friend, have you been in in the crowd with West Life fans? I was in the crowd with thousands of people, with 99.99% being female, they are all high on excitement to be part of the History of the Book of Boy Band, screaming, jumping all over the place. And then occasionally you will run into one sulking male (possibly father, husband, boyfriend, etc) tagging along like zombie and you can see their thought bubbles said ‘get me out of here!’
So no, there is no way I could fight for a taxi over these people and plus there were only a few taxi scattering around.
How did I go home at the end? Oh well, it’s part of the ‘trick of the trade’ in my business to know about bus route. When I saw a Bus N33 going up Santry, I jumped on it. I knew this will take me up the road to Santry where the crowd will disperse. I would have a better chance to get a taxi from Santry back down to Clontarf.
And that’s what I did. I managed to get on a taxi in Santry at 1am.
It took me 3 hours to get home for a distance that normally take 15 minutes.
Oh well, at least I got to live to tell my grandchildren one day.
‘Your grandma was in the crowd at the last EVER West Life concert!’
After this saga, you would have thought we learn our lesson. But no, we didn’t, we were still convinced that we were smarter than cats and we could get them under control.
Of course, Monkey knows better and was determined to show us how wrong we were (again).
After the ‘Monkey gone missing’ incident, I had a long discussion with Monkey’s mum and asked how we should proceed going forward. We decided we will continue to let cats out, it’s a beautiful summer after all, but I will make sure to be in the garden with them at all time. The idea is, I shall be able to stop her immediately if she attempts to jump over the wall again.
Or that’s what we thought we could do.
Problem is she didn’t use the same tactic this time. She didn’t need to jump over the wall…
Monkey probably thought, ‘huh? Sure! I haven’t even lifted my paw yet to show you human. Oh well, I suppose I have to put things right this time once and for all.’
Did our plan work out? No. Not even on the first day.
But you might ask ‘what can go wrong?!’
A gap in the garden…
A gap so narrow we never pay any attention to.
Oh but Monkey knows…
On the first day since the ‘new plan’ is put in place, I arrived to the house as always. It was a lovely morning.
I let the cat out like I did before. The cats did their usual thing, dashed out like lighting only to stop after 3 seconds because they got distracted and forgot they were supposed to dash out.
We walked around the yard. Jake smelt the grass, went to the corner to go to the loo. Freddie disappeared into the neighbour’s garden immediately. Monkey walked normally around the garden.
But she looks too “normal”…
On hindsight, she was almost pacing herself to make sure I won’t suspect anything. Almost going ‘la la la la, I am acting as causal as possible…la la la la…’
After half an hour, I told the cats it’s time to go back inside. Jake went straight back not a problem, but Monkey stood there hesitated. So I stepped in her direction, but I was too late!
She dashed into this little gap and disappeared into darkness.
I have never noticed this gap before so I wasn’t sure where this gap lead to. As it turns out, it doesn’t lead to anywhere, but it doesn’t matter, Monkey has her own plan in mind.
She knew I usually only stay in the house for one hour, she KNEW if she wait it out, I would leave the house eventually, then she could have her freedom to roam the garden, then jumped outside the garden like she did a few days ago.
She had smelt the taste of freedom; there is no going back.
She would get to do whatever she wants to do during the day. Nothing, NOTHING is holding her back!
I tried to coax her out with food, but soon I realised I got myself into a war of attrition. It’s meaningless. I have to let go.
I called Monkey’s mum, and she agreed that there is nothing we could do.
If you are wondering if a cat can plan the whole plot all along, I’d like to believe she could. She probably figured out the gap is too narrow for human to access.
And another thing she knows if we were going to get into a war of attrition to ‘wait it out’, she would win, because after a few minutes of me trying to coax her out, she decided to close her eyes to take a nap to pass her time.
Since that fateful day, Monkey has been given (not really given but we have no choice…) freedom to roam during the day. She always comes back just before sunset. And she always demands to be served her dinner immediately…in her majestic style as always.
Moral of the lesson? One needs to be humble when one is to work with animals. The longer I work with cats, the more I realise I don’t know anything about cats. Monkey is one of the most memorable cats I have ever worked with because she always put me back in my place whenever I get cheeky.
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