The purpose of this guide to to cover all of the common questions pet sitters and dog walkers have about pricing. I also cover common fees, policies, and pricing for various services I have tried throughout the years. The types of services you provide are directly tied to your pricing strategy. So, this article covers the pros and cons of offering various types of pet sitting and dog walking service so you can make a better informed decision about which services your company offers.
Table of Contents
Getting Started With Pricing
Setting your prices for dog walking and pet sitting correctly is one of the best things you can do to guarantee the success of your business. When your prices match your market, you will have consistent sales coming in, and cash to invest in the growth of your company.
Although setting your prices to match your market may feel daunting, don’t worry. This step-by-step guide will cover everything you need to know. We will cover a lot in this article so feel free to look for the sections that will help your business the most.
To start, here are two ground rules:
If you set your prices too low, you may have plenty of work, but not enough margin (profit) to cover the expenses associated with scaling and growing your company. Specifically, when your prices are too low, you may not have enough cash flow to cover the cost of hiring people to help you visits and dog walks. Also, setting low prices can signal you are a budget brand, which can attract flaky customers that are looking to get the most benefit out of the least amount of pay.
If you set your prices too high, you may not be able to win your sales calls and achieve the volume of visits you need to grow your company. Eventually, as you increase your prices, you will find a point when your potential clients end the sales call after you tell them the price. In general, when you find you are losing more than 20% of your sales calls because of the price, you are charging too much.
Your want to set your price high enough so you are not selling yourself short but still low enough to achieve a high volume of sales to spread your fixed costs over more visits. The key to getting this right is competitor research and A/B testing your prices during your sales calls.
How to Research Your Competitor's Prices
Later we will cover how to hone in on your optimal price by A/B testing your prices, but first you need a good starting point. The best way to get a good starting point for your prices is to research your competitors.
I use an Excel workbook or Google Sheet to track the prices of my top competitors. Download the easy to use Price Research Spreadsheet using the button below.
Download The Free Competitor Pricing Research Spreadsheet
Twice per year, usually in January and July, I check my competitors’ websites to see what services they offer, and how much they charge for each service. If they do not post prices on their website, I will call to ‘shop around’ for pet sitting. Then a week or two later, I ‘shop around’ for dog walking.
When you talk to your competitors as a client, you get an inside look at how they position (market) their services, and how they handle their onboarding process—which is just as important as knowing as their prices.
When you know how your competitors are selling and positioning their services, you will likely see some ways you can improve your own sales process.
Small tweaks in policy, tweaks that cost you nothing to implement, can often justify you charging higher prices, because you are offering more value to your clients. Any time you can make your service easier to use, less risky to try, or even just easier to understand, you are adding value to your service and you can charge for the value you provide.
Every business needs to know how much their competition is charging. Otherwise, it is easy to undercharge and sell yourself short, or overcharge and lose out on good clients.
It may sound deceptive to call your competition and act like a client, but trust me, if your company is gaining traction in your town or local market, your competition is doing the same, calling you to research your service and prices.
Also, be sure to check out Time to Pet’s Regional Pricing Calculator. I have found it is a bit off sometimes, likely because of minimal data in some regions, but it is another tool you should use before you start testing your prices.
Get Creative with Your Visit Lengths
When I first started my business, everyone in town offered a 15-minute visit as the minimum. For years, my competition and I fought to keep the price of a 15-minute visit low, because the low price for a minimum service tends to subconsciously anchor prices at a lower rate.
Later, I decided to change my minimum visit length to 20 minutes. I explained in the sales call that 15 minutes is really not enough time, especially for dogs. I would talk about how the slightly longer visit gives us enough time to double checking everything, ensuring we are doing a good job. This also allowed me to charge more for the minimum service, since I had positioned it as bringing more value.
I also changed our 45 minute visit to 40 minute, and raised the price. I save the money in labor, and can charge more because my lowest price is higher.
Figure In How Much To Pay Your Employees or Independent Contractors
Now that you know what your competition is charging, you can figure in the cost of paying employees or Independent Contractors (ICs). Even if you don’t plan on hiring, I recommend to figure in this cost from the beginning. Your market is paying a price high enough to cover the cost of a team. You should not leave that money on the table.
Later if you want to grow your company to be a full time job and make it sustainable by hiring a team, you will already have this cost worked into your price.
If you are not sure how much you should pay your staff check out our article how much to pay pet sitters and dog walking staff.
A/B Test Your Prices
Once I decide on my new prices, I put them on my sales sheet for easy reference. You can see how I set up a ‘cheat sheet’ on the bottom half of the back of my sales sheet.
Then, for the next five or so new clients who call, I complete my sales process just as I normally would—but I use my new prices.
A/B testing allows me to see how potential clients react to the new pricing structure before I change my prices for everyone. I make a note of how the client reacts to the new price, and track the percentage of sales calls I am winning.
I recommend using your new price during at least five new client calls before you either adjust your price and run another test, or commit to your new prices.
How To Know When Your Prices Are Set Correctly
Let’s assume your sales process is set up in a way that invites your new clients to do business with you. If this is the case and you are winning 95% of your new sales calls, your price is likely too low.
If you are winning less than 80% of your sales calls, your price might be too high. The market in which you live, and what your clients are willing to pay, is the true barometer for what you can charge. The only way to know what you can charge is to test your prices during sales calls.
Don’t Underestimate The Power of 50 Cents
When you get close to the highest price your market will pay, your potential clients make “microdecisions.” This means a small change in the price will determine if the prospective client will book service with you, or continue shopping.
One year I raised my prices to be the highest in town. I was excited about how much more profit I was projected to make. But when I started A/B testing my prices, we went from booking 90% of our sales calls to almost 0%.
So, I lowered the price of every one of my services by $0.50, and miraculously I started booking over 80% of my calls again. Right in the sweet spot. I left my prices that way for a year without trouble.
Your Clients Will Stay With You Through a Price Increase
When I first raised my prices, I was worried all of my clients would look elsewhere for service. I felt I was taking advantage of the opportunity they had given me. But, it turned out I had nothing to worry about.
Not only did none of my clients leave when I raised my prices, some of them started tipping more. This is because my price increase signaled that my team and I deserved more money for our hard work and the service we provide.
Client’s Don’t Leave Because of Switching Cost's
The ‘Switching Cost’ is an economic term that refers to the cost the client incurs when switching from one service to another.
The client does not always pay a dollar amount to switch from one service to another, rather the client incurs costs associated with:
- Time spent researching alternative services
- Uncertainty if the new company will stand behind their service or product
- Effort and time spent building a relationship with a new service
- Time spent re-explaining the details of their pets’ care
- The time it takes to understand the new service’s policies and scheduling procedures
In other words, your good clients understand the time and effort it takes to start care with a new service and want to avoid the headache associated with switching just to save a few dollars. Good clients would rather pay the higher price and stick with the service they already know and trust.
Pricing For Profit
If you are not convinced you should raise your prices, don’t skip this section! One of the most important things to know about pricing is this—a small increase in price has a large impact on profit.
Some may find the reason to be a bit technical, but let’s go though why this is.
Let’s say a company has these prices and expenses for a service:
- The previous price for service is $23
- The new price for the service is raised to $25 (an 8% increase in price)
- The company pays their sitter $14.10 to complete this service
- With the old price, profit per service is $8.90
- With the new price, profit per service is $10.90
- This means the price increases by 8%, but profit increase by 22%
- Assuming your expenses remain the same, your bottom line also increases by 22%
How can you see such a large increase in profit by such a small increase in price? Because your expenses stay the same and your revenue goes up. The entirety of your price increase goes straight to your bottom line.
Said another way, if your company completes 400 visits per month and you increase your price by $2 per service, you will see an increase in your bottom line of $800 per month.
Said yet another way, if the bottom line (your net income after all expenses) is $30,000, and you increase your profit by 22%, you can expect the next year’s revenue to be $36,000, assuming your expenses and the number of visits you book per month stays the same.
Increasing Your Price For Inflation - Cost of Living Adjustment
I recommend increasing your prices and your employees’ pay at least 3% every year to keep up with inflation.
Again, it’s a bit technical, but if you increase your price by 3%, and your employees pay by 3%, you still come out ahead.
Let’s look at another example:
- Company increases the price of a service by 3%. From $23 to $23.69
- Company increases the pay of a service by 3%. From $14.10 to $14.53
- The profit increased from $8.90 to $9.16
Since we are taking the same percentage from both numbers, the percentage of the larger numbers are also larger, which leaves more profit for you.
Announcing Your Price Change
Many individuals recommend sending a letter to your clients announcing your pricing change. I do not send out a letter.
Personally, I have never received a letter from any company announcing their price change, yet nearly every company is increasing their prices every year.
I think the anxiety around sending a formal letter to clients keeps many companies from changing their prices. So, I do what nearly every other company does. I just change it in my invoicing system, and leave it at that.
The exception to this rule would be if you are increasing your price by more than 15-20%. If you have advertised very low prices and now you need to increase them (perhaps to cover the cost of staff), you could benefit from alerting your clients rather than shocking them with a much higher bill.
How I Set my Prices
I like to set my prices above most of my competition, but a bit lower than the most expensive service in town. If you are looking for a quick and dirty way to set your prices, this is a good starting point.
As of 2020, here are my prices for pet sitting and dog walking services.
- Pet Sitting, 20-min: $21.50
- Pet Sitting, 30-min: $25.50
- Pet Sitting, 40-min: $29.50
- Pet Sitting, 50-min: $36.50
- Dog Walking 20-min: $18.50
- Dog Walking 35-min: $21.50
- Dog Walking 45-min: $26.50
The Importance of Specialization
A big part of a pricing strategy is deciding what services you offer and, more importantly, what services you don’t offer. I only offer two main services, drop in pet sitting and private dog walking. The service you offer might be different depending on what works in your area. However, when you offer too many types of service it becomes much harder to hire and you are more likely to end up with customer concentration. It took me years to learn this. The importance of specializing should not be overlooked.
Why I Charge Less For Dog Walks
Charging less for dog walks transformed my company. In the beginning, I followed my competitors’ lead, and charged the same amount for pet sitting and dog walking.
For years, I booked almost zero dog walks. I thought I just couldn’t sell them in my area.
I talked to my competitors about the challenge, and they felt the same way. I was told, “Dog walks just don’t sell in medium-sized cities.”
However, I had one competitor in my area that was super busy doing majority dog walks. The difference was the price. This company charged only slightly more than what I paid my sitters to complete service.
At first I thought there was no way I could charge such a low price, but one day it clicked. I finally realized it was more important to have consistent work for my sitters and walkers than it was to have a good profit margin on every service.
Having a high volume of visits available to my team is critical to keeping their paychecks consistent, especially during our slow months. Consistent work and pay reduced my staff turnover considerably.
When people don’t have much work for a month, they forget they work for you. You become less of a priority, and your highly trained staff move on to new opportunities. Don’t get stuck in this trap.
Should I Charge For Time or The Number of Pets?
I recommend keeping your pricing strategy as simple as possible. So, I recommend you charge for the amount of time the client schedules, rather than charging for multiple pets.
To make sure clients don’t take advantage of this pricing structure and book a 20-minute visit for 20 cats, I frame our policy during the initial sales call like this: “We don’t charge extra for multiple pets. We just ask that you book long enough visits so we have time to complete everything we are responsible for.” I go on to say, “If our sitters are constantly going over the booked amount of time, we will need to increase the length of your visits.”
I tell my sitters to notify me in Slack (our team chat app) if they are going over the scheduled amount of time, so we can update the visits in our system.
Should I Charge Last Minute Booking Fees?
Again, I keep it simple. I don’t charge any last minute booking fees. Here’s why. Small fees literally punish your clients for doing business with you and clients hate hidden fees.
I know this because I used to charge all kinds of little hidden fees. That is until I had a client tell me why they are such a bad idea.
Here’s the story: A client called me telling me he and his wife wanted to extend their trip by a day. I happily added the visits to the schedule and added the last minute booking fee. A few hours later I saw the cancelation notice come through. I thought, well he’s going to get the cancelation fee too! Luckily I waited to update his invoice.
He and his wife cut their trip short and drove nearly 7 hours back home just to avoid a $7 last minute booking fee. Plus, the next day he called me to tell me all about it. He said he was a small business owner himself and told me his company does not charge last minute ‘dock fees’ because he wants to make it easy for his clients to do business with him. No matter if it’s last minute. He went on to tell me he landed some of his biggest clients because he does not charge a last minute fee. I took notice.
I refunded my client’s last minute booking fee and right there on the phone, I told him I was dropping our last minute booking fee policy altogether. I later looked into my reports. In the previous year I charged $63 dollars worth of cancellation fees. After ending the policy I estimate I booked over 30 last minute visits making me an extra $750, plus who knows how many clients I would have lost at the sales call because of an unnecessary policy.
Now I always keep a couple slots open just in case someone’s flight is delayed or the client decides to extend their trip. It’s a good idea to do this anyway in case you have an emergency. You never want to book completely solid. I tell clients about this during my sales call and during the meet & greet. I frame it as a feature of doing business with us. Clients love it.
How Should I Handle Cancellations?
I don’t charge any kind of cancellation fee. In most cases, I don’t offer a refund either. Rather, my standard policy is to keep a credit on the client’s account for the amount of the canceled visit, for the client to use any time within one year. This way, I keep the money.
Just be sure to set aside the cash needed to pay your sitters for credited visits otherwise you might trick yourself into thinking your business is doing better financially than it actually is.
But keep in mind, since you only pay your sitters 60% – 70% of the visit cost, you can use the remaining 40% – 70% to cover expenses, save for a rainy day, or to pay yourself. I keep this money in a separate account so it is easier to keep track of. I also recommend looking over your reports to make sure you have been saving enough for your credited visits.
How Much To Charge For Vet Visits or Picking Up Supplies?
I charge $35 per hour if we need to bring a dog to the vet, or run to the store to pick up supplies. In the past, I charged a minimum of one hour. In recent years I have become more lax with the minimum one hour charge.
I have my sitters keep track of extra time spent on items like this on a paper timesheet they email me at the end of every pay cycle.
If the trip to the vet was because of something I had done wrong (which has luckily never happened), I would not charge.
Should I Charge More For Holidays?
This is a personal choice. Personally, I don’t charge more for holiday visits. I don’t want to take advantage of my customers when they need me most.
Should I Charge More/Less For Dogs Compared To Cats?
Again this is a personal choice. But, I charge the same for any type of pet because I like to keep it simple. Client’s appreciate this.
I just ask the client to book enough time so we can take care of everything we are responsible for.
Should I Charge For A Meet & Greet?
I don’t charge for meet & greets. Rather, I charge a minimum fee of $100 for the first time booking of service.
During the initial sales call, I make it clear that the minimum fee only applies to the very first time a client is booking service. Once they pay that first time fee, they can book a single visit and that is no problem at all. I tell my clients that the minimum fee just covers us getting them set up in the system.
My minimum fee also covers the cost of:
- An office admin handling the sales call
- Getting the client set up in our online system
- A lockbox or time it takes to set up a key
How Much Should I Charge For Overnights?
Most companies will charge between $60 – $70 for overnight service.
Keep in mind, you don’t need to offer overnights to be a pet sitter. Personally, I don’t offer overnights, and it works well for my team.
When I made the decision to no longer offer overnights, I found it was much easier to hire new sitters, and I felt like I got my life back.
I think clients get a better deal out of booking four drop in visits per day. In my opinion, overnights are not necessary unless there is a medical issue.
Refunding The Visit Cost Because Of A Mistake
Some clients are hard to please. Inevitably, you will end up with a client who gets upset about something at a visit, even if it is not your fault. The best way to disarm an unhappy client, and avoid a bad review, is to refund their visits.
Remember, when you give away a free service, you are only giving away the cost to you. For example, if you pay your sitter $15 for a visit, but you charge $25, you are only losing $15 when you offer that service for free. However, the client gets $25worth of value.
This is an important distinction to make when you are offering free services, or giving a client a visit for free because you or a sitter made a mistake.
I never take the refunded visits out of a sitter’s pay. In most states this would be illegal, but it also sends a message that you punish your sitters for their mistakes. Although it might not seem fair to you as a business owner, the mistakes your sitters make are your fault as a boss, so it’s your loss.
Beware of Customer Concentration
When you offer all day service or multiple hour service, you might get a big paycheck, but in the long run these clients hold your company back.
Here’s why: You are only able to take care of one client during a large part of the day. When you block off an entire chunk of the day (or even your whole day) and new clients call to book service, you are less likely to have availability. Large time slots are taken up with just one client. Further, when your big client is not booking, you don’t have work.
If you let customer concentration run rampant in your company, a single large client might contribute to 30-40% of your total revenue. Remember this simple truth in business: Every client will eventually no longer be your client.
When they finally move on, you lose all of that revenue, and you are left trying to grow your company before your staff quits or your bills come due. Trust me, I’ve been there. You don’t want this for your company.
How Much Should I Charge For Multiple Hour Service
In my early days, I would stay at a client’s home for 3-4 hours at a time, but I quickly found this type of service was holding my company back because it was causing massive customer concentration.
How Much Should I Charge For All Day Service
I found that I would need to charge $170 per day to cover the opportunity cost associated with ‘all day type service’. I don’t recommend offering this type of service for the same reason I don’t recommend offering multiple hour service, customer concentration.
For more information on how these types of services can keep your company from growing, see the section about Customer Concentration.
Should I Offer Package Deals?
Again, I don’t offer package deals because I like to keep my pricing simple. I tried packages for a while, but many clients did not want to book enough service to get the price breaks. So, one year I lowered all of my prices to my package rates, and my sales took off.
I found many new clients wanted to try my service with just a few walks, or a weekend set of visits to start. When they could start with a lower rate, they were happy to give our service a shot, which led to a client who would stay with us for years.
Should I Offer A Concierge Service?
A concierge service is a service where you kind of become a personal assistant. It can make you a lot of money but it has some drawbacks. I only had one client that took advantage of the service, but he seemed to have an endless pile of money, and an endless list of tasks. I charged $50/per hour with a minimum of one hour for any task. I essentially turned into a butler rather than a pet care service.
Every week he had a new list of tasks, I did everything from set up contractors to remodel his house to doing the dishes. I spent so much time figuring out how to get his service perfect, we were not able to take on new clients for a couple of years. This led to a huge amount of customer concentration. Our concierge service made up almost 40% of our total revenue.
Our concierge client ran a large business in town and when it took a downturn, he decided to cancel service with us. This left us with a huge hole in our revenue. Luckily we got through it, but it was a difficult time for our business. I no longer offer this service. If you decide to offer this service, go into it knowing the risks.
Pricing For Your First Year
When you first start out you may want to compete on price, but not too much. You could set your prices below the top competition, but you want to make sure you do not position yourself as a budget brand. If your prices are far below your competition, and your clients tend to be price shoppers, you will need to increase your prices over time to not risk losing those customers.
Again, you can A/B test your prices during the sales call, and experiment to zero in on what you can charge.
How To Charge The Highest Price In Town
If you are the most popular service in town, you can likely get away with charging the most. Charging a premium for your service can be a good idea, especially when you have built a website that is bringing in more clients than your team can handle.
A high price will portray you are offering a premium and proven service. If you have been Google’s top listing in your town’s local results for a while, it would be worth experimenting with charging the highest prices in town.
Beware, you will not get as much volume. Consequently, you will not have as many visits to spread your fixed cost over. In contrast, when you can run more volume your company will typically have a better bottom line.