If you’re working in animal care and looking for more flexible working opportunities, you may have considered starting your own animal care business or becoming self-employed – whether that be as a dog walker, pet sitter, dog groomer or something else.
Whether you’re just beginning to think about starting your own animal care business, or it’s something you’ve been thinking about for a long time; take a look at some of the things you may need to think about before making the leap.
1. Is it right for you?
Becoming self-employed has its benefits. You have more flexibility and control over your work, and the challenge can release a more creative and entrepreneurial side as you build your own business.
However, it’s important to understand the risks of being self-employed too. Your income isn’t guaranteed, and if you go on holiday or can’t work because you’re ill you won’t have an employer to rely on for cover. What’s more – you will face start-up costs, and growing your new venture may be challenging, especially in the beginning.
2. A company name
You will need to choose a name, and decide what you want that name to do. It could describe what you do, what you stand for, who you are or be more abstract. It’s also worth checking that your name hasn’t already been taken if you’re planning on becoming a limited company, and that there isn’t tons of competition for your business name online.
3. Company structure
When starting a business, you need to decide what structure works best for you: sole trader, limited company or business partnership? The structure you choose will influence responsibilities such as what paperwork you need to complete and when, the taxes you pay, how you take profit out and what happens if you make a loss.
When you go self-employed, you’re effectively setting up your own business, even if you don’t see it that way. This means that you need to decide on a business structure and tell HMRC that you’re self-employed for tax purposes.
4. Animal care business plan and research
You need make sensible conclusions about your business’ viability and make decisions about how you are going to grow your new venture. You should research your target market and ensure there is demand for the product or service you plan to offer.
Take a look at your competitor activity, and what the demand is like in your area. Understand what your USP is, and ask yourself: how bright is your idea really? This isn’t about creating doubts or being negative, it’s simply about having realistic expectations for success, risk and growth opportunities before you get started.
5. Skills gaps, experience and training
Even if you have a brilliant service or product, you need to be realistic about what skills and training you need to put yourself in the best position to make your new business a success. For example, do you have the digital skills to create an online presence or marketing skills to spread the word generally. Do you have management skills if you’re planning on recruiting members of staff?
Consumers often look for professional animal care qualifications and experience in animal care when looking for pet care services, so it may be worth studying a formal animal care qualification to reflect your skills and experience if you haven’t already done so.
You’ll never know absolutely everything needed and unexpected things will come up all the time when running a business, but it’s important to keep boosting your professional skills.
6. Space and equipment
Whether that’s investing in your own premises, or finding somewhere quiet if you’re working from home; you need to have a space where you can focus on your new animal care business. What’s more – no matter what size your business will be, chances are you’ll need some basic equipment such as a computer and company phone in order to get started. Make sure you account for this equipment in your start-up costs.
7. Finance and accounting
If you wish to separate your personal and business finances, the simplest way to do so is creating a business bank account. You also need to decide how you will deal with your finances. You could handle your own finances and complete your tax returns and company accounts. Or you could invest in an accountant, who is professionally trained to ensure your accounts are legal, and can help you save money by ensuring you’re making the most of tax breaks.
You could have the best business idea in the world, but if no one knows you exist you won’t get very far. How will you spread the word and create a buzz about what you do? Whether you’re a dog walker, pet sitter, dog groomer or another type of animal care worker – you need to know who your target market is and how you can reach them!
Come up with a plan for how you will promote your product or service. This could include networking/personal selling, PR, social media and email marketing – and much more. You also need to consider any materials you may need, such as roller banners, posters and business cards.
9. Licensing, insurance and legality
You need to speak to your local authority about whether you need any special licenses to sell in your area. For example, running a business that serves food or alcohol legally requires you to be licensed. Equally, tradespeople such as gas engineers are required by law to be on an official register of qualified people. You also need to make sure any software package your business uses is licensed, and that you have appropriate business insurance in place.
Consider insurance for your business, for example professional indemnity insurance and public liability insurance, as well as employers’ liability insurance if you are going to be employing someone. If you’ll be working from home, you may also need to notify your landlord/mortgage lender of your plans and check your tenancy or mortgage agreement to ensure you’re not violating any contractual terms.
10. Your online presence
Setting up a website is good way to kick-start your business’ online presence. You might also want to think about setting up social media accounts, and looking at how you can spread the word about what you do online.
Growing a new animal care business is hard work. It’s worth connecting with people who can help you grow as a businessperson and entrepreneur. You could connect with local business groups, and show your face at local networking events. This way, you begin to build up your bank of professional contacts that you may be able to seek help and support from (and equally for you to help).
There’s plenty of online resources for new business owners. You could also consider finding a mentor; someone who has been there, done it, and knows what you’re going through will be invaluable as someone you can turn to for guidance, or simply to bounce ideas off.
You may also wish to consider whether you will need to employ any staff to help you grow your new venture, and how you will recruit and develop the right people to make this happen. There are some cost effective training options available to animal care business owners to help recruit and develop staff members who meet their business needs, for example recruiting an animal care apprentice via a programme such as the Level 2 Animal Care and Welfare Assistant Apprenticeship.
How will you get your business going and cover any start-up costs needed to launch? Do you need to consider finding a business partner or applying for a loan? You will also need to work out how you will pay yourself. With the best intentions of ploughing profits straight back into your animal care business; you’re going to have to eat, drink and put a roof over your head too. Include this in your outgoings. Do you have enough to pay your bills if you quit? Have you planned ahead by saving money so you do not need to work? Is it viable to keep your job and run the business at the same time?
Self-employed people do not have a workplace pension to pay into; therefore it would be a good idea to set up a private pension so that you’re still putting money aside for retirement. You won’t benefit from employer contributions, but you’ll still receive government help towards your pension in the form of tax relief.
14. Financial cover for periods of unemployment
If you’re self-employed, or thinking about going down that road, it’s practical to have a financial buffer in place, that will provide you with an income for a period of unemployment due to ill health. This is because, as a self-employed person, you wouldn’t be entitled to statutory sick pay, or have an employer to rely on for health insurance. In other words – no working means no income!
If you’re self-employed and unable to work because of illness, injury of disability; you may be eligible for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) from the government. Alternatively, you may wish to see a professional advisor for help in setting up a formal income protection plan. Further information about personal insurance options can be found on the Money Advice Service website.
It is also a good idea to have a contingency plan in place for times when work may be short. You could put aside a minimum of one month’s regular income in a savings account; strictly to be used for this purpose only, and top it up if it ever gets used or when your normal monthly bills increase.
Financial allowances and help for self-employed workers
When it comes to working out what benefits you may be eligible for, the same rules apply whether you work for an employer or are self-employed. There are a few benefits you may wish to apply for. For example, you may be eligible to claim universal credit (a monthly payment to help with your living costs) if you can prove you’re ‘gainfully self-employed’, which can relieve you of financial pressure in periods where there is less work available. See all government benefits
15. Passion and dedication
Starting your own animal care business can be rewarding, but it’s also hard work and will require endurance to make it the success you want it to be. You need to have the drive and self-belief needed to weather storms and frustrations, dead ends, late nights and weekends.
Sometimes the difference between the failure and success of a business is the determination to see it through and not give up when challenges arise. You will also need a high level of discipline in order to stick to your business plan, make and respect your budget, dedicate time to developing your business, and meet the goals you’ve set for yourself.