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In Search of Excellence: Allyson Verdone
by Liz Fretz
Allyson Verdone ~ owner of a pet sitting service

Please introduce yourself: My name is Allyson Verdone, Owner of Paw-fect Pet Sitters. I have run my own pet sitting business for over 3 years. I have taken several pet first aid classes and I am the founder of a local network of pet sitters (Madison Area Pet Sitters Network). I also work with Bichon Rescue and help save dogs who need new homes or are in danger.

Tell us about your business. I offer in your home pet care. I go to people's homes while they are away do a variety of things including feeding, change water, walk dogs, playtime, check the home for break ins, taking in mail and newspaper, have packages held, water plants, transport pets to the vet/groomer/etc . . . I also occasionally stay overnight in people's homes. I also offer boarding in my home for small dogs. We care for dogs in our home as if they are ours. We do not leave them caged up all day and they have plenty of time to run and play with our own dogs.

How did you get started in this business? I have always wanted to work with animals and I have always wanted my own business so pet sitting seemed perfect! I did a lot of research on the Internet before starting by talking to other pet sitters and getting an idea of how much insurance and advertising would cost. When I met my fiance, I saw this as the perfect opportunity to start since we could live on his salary while I built my client base up.

What was your greatest career challenge and how did you over come it? I have two actually. One is being shy around people. I can be very relaxed with their pets but when it comes to people, it is sometimes hard for me. I just forced myself to be more open to people and friendly and not worry about saying something stupid. After the first few phone calls I realized how easy it was and stopped worrying.

My other challenge was organization. I knew that I have a tendency to be disorganized, especially when it came to paperwork and keeping track of how much money I am making. First I hired an accountant. That has helped immensely! Second, I made sure I had a separate spot for all my files and I keep all my appointments on a calendar program on my laptop. This has worked out great and I have not missed an appointment or been audited yet!

Do you work out of your house? What challenges do you face working at home and how do you deal with them? Yes, my office is in my home but most of my jobs are in other people's houses. I don't have many problems with working at home and I actually love it. It is harder to discipline myself to sit down and do the paperwork. Also, when boarding dogs here, there are sometimes problems with them not being house trained or chewing furniture. We fixed this problem by gating off our kitchen (which has ceramic floors) so when we get a problem dog, he or she can be put in the kitchen when we are not home. It all works out well.

What sets you apart from your competitors? One big issue is a lot of the pet sitters around me are working a full time job as well as pet sitting so their time is limited. I am always available for my customers. Mine is a family business so the customer always knows who will have access to their home (no unknown employees with be caring for their pets). I also have an elaborate emergency plan that I know many other sitters do not.

What accomplishment(s) are you most proud of? I am most proud of being about to stick it out through the first 3 years of pet sitting. Many pet sitters quit after the first couple of years because it is very difficult to make any money until you build up trust and a network of referrals in your community. I am proud of myself for being able to do this, on my own. I never needed a loan and although there were some hard times where we needed to tighten our belts for a few months, I never gave up!

Are there any books, classes, or other sources of education that you found helpful when you were starting up? Patti Moran's book, Pet Sitting for Profit is a great source for beginners. Also check out Pet Sitters International at www.petsit.com.

I also strongly advise new pet sitters to contact a local network of pet sitters to get together with. I get at least 40% of my customers from referrals from other sitters. If there isn't a network in their area, I suggest just calling all the pet sitters in the yellow pages and asking them if they want to get together someday for lunch. Many of them will say yes, I guarantee it.

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If you could give one piece of advice to someone just starting up, what would it be? Make sure you can afford to make close to no money for the first year or two. Either have a lot of savings, continue to work while building a client base or have an understanding spouse who will support you.

Is there anything else you would like to share? I just want to reiterate that networking with other pet sitters has made a world of difference for me. I cannot believe how much business I get from other sitters. It is also a great way to vent any frustrations to people who will understand what you are going through.

Also, I do currently supplement my income by writing and doing artwork.

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