Rich Mintzer’s new book, Start Your Own Pet Business, outlines everything you need to know about launching and growing an animal-based business from your home. In this excerpt, he dives into the specifics of managing your finances to keep your business as healthy and happy as your tail-wagging clients.
Sign up for an accounting workshop
No matter if you are caring for two dogs or two hundred, every business needs to keep track of money coming in and money going out. One way to make the accounting and financial framework of your business less daunting is to take an accounting class. You can find many online classes, as well as articles, on basic accounting and/or managing finances for a small business. You can also check with your local Small Business Development Center (SBDC), which may offer small-business accounting classes or keep a list of classes offered through local community colleges or continuing-education programs at a local university. Be logical when you sign up for an accounting class—don’t sign up for a class that covers information beyond your current need or ability to understand. You don’t need to know how to read the financial report of a $60 million international company to run your $20,000 local pet-sitting operation.
If you have ever had even the smallest business or if you have ever worked for anyone else, you probably have heard this before, but it bears repeating: Keep every receipt for any dime you spend on the business. Keep them in one place and record them in your ledger at least weekly. These records tell you a lot about your business. You may notice patterns, expenditures that seem excessive, or other changes you could make for your business to be more efficient.
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Set up a separate checking account
Because pet-sitting businesses often don’t take a lot of capital to set up, you have to be careful not to fall into the trap of starting your business and simply using your personal checking account to pay for expenses and to deposit income. Set up a separate checking account and designate it for the business. Pay for everything with this account, even if you use its debit card instead of actually writing a check. It doesn’t have to be a “business” checking account—another personal account will do—just give the business an account all its own. Not only is it good for keeping accurate track of expenses, but some psychological aspects result from having separate accounts and ledgers for taking yourself and your business seriously. Have the business name printed on your business-specific checking account—it lends an air of professionalism.
Get bookkeeping software
Many software programs exist for easy setup of bookkeeping for your small business. Two commonly used ones are QuickBooks and Microsoft Office. Set aside a large chunk of time to get yourself set up, and then set aside time on an ongoing basis, maybe an hour weekly and a morning monthly. Be sure to keep these software products up-to-date by signing up for automatic updates or reminders so you can keep as up-to-date as possible. Although the bookkeeping programs probably won’t have as much in the way of updates, tax programs have constant updates. If you know yourself well enough to know you are not going to set aside this time to feed your bookkeeping software, then hire an accountant. The same goes for tax time. You may want to enlist a small business tax expert to decipher what expenses can and can not be deducted, at least for the first year of running your business.
Creating invoices and receipts
Even if you require payment on the spot, you always want to provide your client with an invoice for your services. This allows both of you to keep a record of your visits. Depending on how fast your business plan shows your business increasing revenue and adding clients, you may want to think early on about having client software that keeps records of your clients. If you look to have only ten clients for the first year, you could create a spreadsheet using Excel or Google Sheets. As you grow, you may want to invest in a business software package. Besides generating invoices, it keeps an easy-to-access history of services you provided.
The easiest manner in which to collect money in a business such as pet-sitting might be good old cash or a simple account transfer via an app like Venmo or PayPal because your fees are typically for only a few hours at a time. As your company grows, you’ll want to look into having credit card options, such as the easy-to-use Square payment system, which allows you to use your cell phone as a mobile cash register (https://squareup.com). This will entail setting up a credit card merchant account, a bank account, and a way to process payments. Some startup payment fees and fees per transaction (which are usually around 2 to 4 percent) apply. The merchant account will allow you to accept payments through Visa, Mastercard, American Express, and other credit card companies. You can Google merchant services and compare options.
One of the perks of opening a low-cost, no-overhead business is you can usually start taking some money for yourself early on while putting the rest into the business. If you know your ongoing expenses, you can cover them and have some money left over. If, however, you are looking to build a large pet-sitting business with offices and many employees, then—like most startups—you will need to put nearly all the money earned back into the business for the first year or two. This means you need to have some money set aside to help you pay your bills when starting the business. If you can afford to do this, that’s great—you should probably plan to do this for at least the first year, depending on how complex a business you establish.