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Being A Good Neighbor vs Being a Bully

One of the great things about blogging is that you get to vent.   Today, I’m venting.  It’s better than talking to myself for 30 minutes and still being angry.

Pretend that you are sleeping and your outside dogs start barking non-stop at 11pm.  When you go to check on them, you notice that they are barking at a woman in your neighbor’s back yard that is fiddling with their back door.  You suspect foul play.  Here are a few scenarios, let me know in the comments which one sounds like the best way to handle the situation…

Stranger Danger

Possible Ways to Handle an Unknown Person at Your Neighbor’s House

A)  Call the police.  They can handle it.

B)  Call your neighbor and see if she was expecting anyone.

C)  Ask the stranger who she is and why she is fiddling with the back door.  Verify her response by calling your neighbor’s cell phone.  Then give your dogs some treats to keep them quiet and go back to bed.

D)  Wait until the unknown woman is inside your neighbor’s home.  Then walk to the front yard, see a car you don’t recognize with a young male driver, and ask the driver who he is and who the woman is.  Blow off his reply that he drove the woman to the house since she is their hired pet sitter.  Also blow off that he politely suggested that he should ask the pet sitter for any info since he just drove and doesn’t have any contact info himself.  Finally give up and find the strange woman in the house.  Ask the woman who she is and why she is at the house at 11pm.  Then get visibly angry when she lets you know that she’s a pet sitter who was letting the pups in for the night at an agreed upon late hour so that they wouldn’t have to hold their bladders longer than necessary.  Call her unprofessional and threaten to call the police, but then ignore her suggestion that you should so that she could show the police the contract.  She won’t show you the contract since she isn’t authorized to share that with you.  Stomp away and call the home owner and verify that she did indeed hire a pet sitter.  THEN, come back and tell the pet sitter yet again that she is unprofessional and should keep in mind your dogs, your sleep schedule, and that she should stop looking so suspicious.  Stomp away.  The next week, get the contact information for that same pet sitting service from your neighbor.  Two weeks later, your wife will call them and ask them to pet sit for you over Christmas.

If You Chose…

If you chose A, B, or C, yay!!!  Calling the police, calling your neighbor, or just figuring out what is happening are all great ways to get your questions answered and to protect your neighbor’s home.  If you answered D, then I would never pet sit for you and be flabbergasted that you would even call and ask.

The Situation

As you may have surmised, option D happened.  While I was in Dallas, Mandy handled a pet sitting job in the neighborhood near us.  She had met the family in advance since we knew that she would be covering the job.  The dogs were to be let out in the morning and brought into the house at night.  Mandy followed our plan and her boyfriend, our other roommate H, drove her to the home at night and waited in the car.  The next door neighbor incident happened the very first night.

No Bullies

Mandy called me to let me know what happened and I was dumbfounded.  I completely understand wanting to know what a stranger is up to, but I don’t understand why he kept harassing Mandy after he understood and verified what was going on.  Mandy changed her schedule to come at 9pm instead of 11pm for the rest of the week, but that did lead to one potty accident that I really think could have been avoided.

My Thoughts

But I will be honest, I was not frustrated because of the potty accident.  I was frustrated because the neighbor could have been polite or at least apologetic after he verified everything.  Instead, he decided to stay on the offensive and ended up berating Mandy until she called me while she was jittery and nearly crying.

I really couldn’t believe it when his wife called me late last week and asked if I could pet sit for their outside dogs.  She was explaining that the dogs could be aggressive if they didn’t know me and was planning on introducing me to them, but that is when I interrupted her and asked if her husband was the one that harassed Mandy even after he knew what was going on.  She said that he was just trying to figure out why she was fiddling with the door and why she didn’t know the home owner’s name.  I replied that he could have gone about figuring out the whole situation without being rude and bullying a lady until she cried.  I also mentioned that my pet sitter had all of the home owner’s info when he asked, but that her driver had explained that he wasn’t privy to that info since he was just driving and staying in the car.  I stated that we would never work for someone who would handle the situation in the way he handled it and hung up.

I then called the original client just to let them know why they may be receiving an irate call from their neighbor.  I was actually surprised that our client was pleased that her home was watched so well and didn’t seem to have a problem with the way her neighbor handled Mandy at all.  Wow.  Either she doesn’t know how long after the facts were clear that he continued to berate Mandy, or maybe I should just avoid that whole street.

Mean People

Bullying behavior should never be appreciated or encouraged.  It’s not just a good lesson for children.  And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why I generally like working with animals more than people.

Vacation Planning Gets Trickier with More Businesses…

It’s that time of year again.  Time for the Board Game Geek (BGG) Convention in Dallas!  Last year, I actually tackled someone.  I wonder how much more awesome this year will be?!

Oh, and the coolest part is that for the last two years, I was just a normal attendee.  This year, I’m a Team Geek volunteer and hope to get to know everybody by the end of our 5-6 days there!  It’ll mean more work since I will be helping where needed a lot of the time, but it also means getting to know the organizers and even other attendees better.  That’s my favorite part of any event.

real-gamers-meme

Juggling Work Requirements

As excited as I am to be throwing down with my fellow geeks, I have two full-time businesses to handle too.  For my online world, we’re getting free WiFi at the BGG hotel.  I plan to steal about 3 hours from each day to squirrel myself away to answer my emails and keep the blog ad campaigns chugging along.  I may miss a few days of posting, but I’ll try my best to stay on top of that as well.

For my pet sitting business, Crystal’s Cozy Care, I am in the midst of list-making for my two helpers.  Mandy will be handling morning and evening jobs at two homes from Wednesday through Sunday, and J will be staying overnight at the home I am currently living in with two Australian shepherds and a kitty.

I am making checklists to help each of them stay on track without having to waste time wondering if they missed anything.  They’ll also keep me apprised with daily pictures and updates.  My goal is for all of the animals to be properly spoiled and every human client to be happy with our services despite me not being there.  It’s actually a very attainable goal.  They already knew about the plan and everyone is on board.

Needing a Vacation from the Vacation and NOT Getting It

My only real worry right now is that I will be at a gaming convention, living in a hotel, for nearly a week.  When we get back, I am going to be exhausted, but still not done.  I will continue living at the Australian Shepherds’ home until early December 1.  So, I will be commuting from their house to my own and family homes throughout the Thanksgiving holidays.

All of that said, have some patience with me for the holidays if you notice a few missed posts or something.  Sometimes I operate better than ever when stressed.  Other days, I have problems tying my freaking shoes, LOL.

No matter what, let’s all look forward to a kick-butt end to 2014!  I plan for these holidays to ROCK!!!

Self-Employment Is Weird

Last month, we hit the lowest online business income total since May 2011, which was before I even went self-employed.  We made $4000.

But I didn’t have a heart attack or even get too worried.  We had a solid August online ($7800) and we knew a bunch of September payments were going to clear in October instead.  We also bring in rental income ($1800), pet sitting income ($1000+), and sports officiating income currently ($1000).  So we just sighed a big sigh and moved along.

As of yesterday, we hit $4400 online in October 2014.  That’s more than we made in all of September in the first week of October.  Does that mean that this will be a $16,000 month?  No.  But it does mean that we are guaranteed to have made more than in the previous month.  We take a win when we can.  ;-)

Yep, self-employment is weird.

Self-Employment Face

This is Liberty (aka, Princess), one of my pet sitting clients. She cracks me up!

Handling Unstable Income

I will admit, the unstable income of self-employment bothered me quite a bit for the first couple of years.  I’ve learned to cope and even thrive.  Here is what helps us:

  • Live based on your lowest income month.  If you base your living expenses on your worst months, then you can save/invest a ton during your best months.
  • Cash savings is key for the self-employed.  Having a few months of online income set aside keeps us from hyperventilating during bad months.
  • Diversify your income.  The more income streams you have, the less a bad month in one niche will hurt you overall.
  • Have a backup plan.  We keep in mind other employment options, bills that we could cut, we have about 30% equity in our current home, and our rental property is paid off.
  • Know your priorities.  We know that we are happier self-employed than when we weren’t.  That helps us feel better even when we have a slow month.

Are you self-employed or have you been before?  What helped you handle the unstable income?

Thinking Outside of the Box for Small Businesses

I’m a full-time blogger and blog ad manager, but I’m also a full-time professional pet sitter now.  I’m great at marketing myself for my online life, but I am slowly learning to market myself for the pet sitting.

Business Cards

I did have business cards made for Crystal’s Cozy Care nearly as soon as I started.  But I keep forgetting to put them out in restaurants and other facilities that wouldn’t mind.  I also have been meaning to go door-to-door in my neighborhood and deliver them like the lawn guys and maid services do all of the time.  Yesterday, I solved this issue!

A couple of maid service ladies handed me their business card while I was walking back from picking up my mail, and then they headed off to continue going door-to-door.  I had a light bulb moment.  I asked them to wait, ran inside and grabbed my business cards, and then asked them in my broken Spanish if I could pay them to deliver all of my cards throughout my neighborhood and the one next to it.  It took about 5 minutes to work out the details, hand over my cards and $80, and then they headed off.

A-HA!

I knew there was a chance that they would just throw away my cards.  I took a calculated risk.  Later that night though, I received an email from someone several streets over who had my card in the their door!  Woot!  I love it when my ideas pan out!!!

Thinking Outside of the Box

I know that hiring someone else to do the labor that you aren’t doing isn’t really thinking outside of the box.  But I felt like a freaking genius as those ladies hustled away!  My neighborhood has 300+ homes and I have just not found the time to walk the entire thing.  I also procrastinated at finding hired help to do it for me since that takes effort too.  This was just good luck and good thinking at the same time.  And those ladies probably think they stole the $80 since they were walking the same path either way.  WIN-WIN!

Have you ever had an A-HA moment that you’d like to share?  Please do!

Crystal’s Cozy Care Pet Sitting Update

I mention my pet sitting side hustle frequently, but haven’t written a thorough update post lately about Crystal’s Cozy Care.  I saw this question left in my newsletter post this month from Leilani (thank you for subscribing and commenting!) and thought it would make a good lead in, LOL:

I also have a pet care hobby business and so far have to limit the jobs I accept because of my day job. I’m hoping to grow this hustle. Right now, I only accept cash and checks, but would eventually like to accept credit cards. So, my question: What type of payments do you accept for your pet sitting gigs?

Payment Methods

I started at the very end of February 2013 by accepting just cash and checks.  But then I was asked about other methods in April 2014 so I started accepting Paypal.  Finally, about 3 months after I started, I came across a photographer client who highly suggest the Square payment system.  It’s fees are less than Paypal, so I use that now exclusively for credit card payments (although only one client uses it regularly).  I still have two ongoing clients that prefer Paypal.  The vast majority, more than 95%, still leave me cash and checks.

Payment Methods that I Accept

Business Growth

I still advertise my services mainly through Craigslist, word of mouth, and Nextdoor.com.  Craigslist has led to the most jobs.  I also apply to gigs on Care.com and Sittercity.com, but that has only amounted to a few positions.

Crystal's Cozy Care Pet Sitting

In super happy news, most of my monthly income now comes from repeat customers.  A couple of neighbors and families near me use me for every weekend trip or major vacation that they take.  Two mommies have such odd work hours that I pet sit for their pups for at least a few days if not more of every month since they met me.

Snake Drama

One proud papa of a 10 1/2 lavender reticulated python has hired me for one visit a week pretty consistently since the end of May 2014.  Her name is Sephoria and here she is under a black light:

Sephoria the Snake - Lavender Reticulated Python

Sephoria is gorgeous and has grown to be nearly 11 feet long in less than 18 months.

The drama behind Sephoria is that for about 3 weeks, I was replaced with a “snake specialist” only because her owner wasn’t comfortable with her size and me mixing when she was hungry (every 4-8 weeks depending).  Well, that specialist ended up being truly dumb and unethical…he stole Sephoria.  Within 5 days, her owner had posted a want ad for Sephoria on Craigslist that explained the whole situation and asked for help.  The stupid guy’s cousin saw the post, the guy freaked out, and he returned her.  Yay!

Needless to say, I have my job back since I can be completely trusted not to steal her.  Her owner has now requested to be allowed to go home from his trucking job at least once every 2-3 weeks so I won’t even need to feed her myself (her giant frozen rabbits take more than a day to thaw properly and the feeding process is too complex for my schedule).

For my non-snake loving readers, here are some of the cute mammals (mostly dogs and cats) that have become regulars:

Eisley

Fred and Ginger May 2014

Jackie and Daisy

Khaleesi

Khari and Kori

Nunchuck

Pendek

Ricai

Zim

Income

Unless I start taking on more employees, other than my close friend and roommate, Mandy, then I think I am pretty much around the most business that I can take on right now. School is back in session, so there will be a slow down. I’m totally okay with that since I was working 30 hours a week just for pet sitting in August 2014. Here have been my total income numbers so far (not taking into account my driving deductions and stuff like that):

  • March 2014 – $1100
  • April 2014 – $400
  • May 2014 – $580
  • June 2014 – $1640
  • July 2014 – $785
  • August 2014 – $1680

I have put more than 5000 miles on my new car.  I am slowly making sure to stay within a 15 mile radius from my house so that those driving numbers should decrease each month from now on while my income stays above $500.  The more popular I become, the pickier I can choose to be on the locations of the jobs that I accept.

Pricing

Along those lines, I have increased my pricing as I’ve developed my reputation as well.  I used to be $15 a visit or $50 for overnight care.  Now I’m $20-$30 per visit depending on location and $70-$90 for overnight care.  Yet, my business is growing.  I also still charge a little less for my returning clients since I grandfather in their rates unless I was being simply unrealistic (like $60 a night for more than 5 pets that are all high maintenance or $50 a night for locations about an hour away…I’ve changed those and informed those families of my actual rates with a slight discount just for them).

Overall, I’m enjoying myself and am honestly trying to keep myself to 30 hours or less per week of total time towards pet sitting.  That only became difficult during the craziest parts of the summer so far.  I expect the holidays will be packed too.

Did I miss anything that you wanted to know about?  Please let me know!

I Might Be an Uber Driver Soon…

Have you heard about Uber yet?  I read an article about a drunk guy using them exclusively in a classy part of Houston and keep seeing mentions about them around the web (like this guest post about being a driver at Budgets Are Sexy).  It’s a virtual taxi service that connects drivers with passengers, handles the bills with the passengers, and then pays the drivers 80%.  It’s super easy although a little pricey for the passengers.  For the drivers, there is a bit more to handle…

Why I’m Interested

My ears perked up a little because:

  • It’s a pricey service and 80% seems like a great commission.
  • My nearly new car is in great shape (see below).
  • You only “go online” (log in to the app) when you want to work.  I can’t find minimum requirements.
  • They only keep drivers that stay well-rated overall.
  • I already drive more than I generally would like to thanks to pet sitting – it would be great to make some real money off of the driving itself…
  • I live in a suburb outside of Houston by enough that I doubt I will actually be very busy.  I just want to test the waters.

An Uber Driver?

Applying to be an Uber Driver

Here are the basic things that stuck out to me while applying:

  • Your car has to be a 2005 model or newer that is in Excellent condition.  No body damage, interior problems, or missing hubcaps.
  • They verify that you have current insurance.
  • They verify that your car is properly registered.
  • You submit pictures of all of the above stuff including interior and exterior photos of your car from lots of requested angles.
  • They do a surprisingly thorough two-step background check.

Early Planning Stage

They said it would take 2-3 days for my application to be looked at and approved or not.  I’ve already received the results of my background check – all clear as expected.  I paid attention to their make-more suggestions and am planning to be a great car service that offers:

  • Getting the door for them.
  • Cool water bottles.
  • An android phone charging station.
  • Great company.
  • A clean vehicle.
  • Fast service.

I doubt this will become a big part of my life, but I am looking forward to trying this out and seeing if I’d like to add yet another side hustle to my growing list, LOL.

Have you heard of Uber?  Would you want to be a driver?

How I Market Myself

If you hadn’t seen it, I posted an “Ask Crystal Anything” article yesterday that received some great questions.  One of them was from Debs at http://debtdebs.com/:

Q:  How did you get your clients when you first started dog sitting? We’re thinking of doing this but don’t know how to get started.

I answered pretty quickly with:

I sold myself hard on Craigslist.  I also posted 2-3 ads on Craigslist for about 7 days straight (one each in several categories like pet services, community, etc.) and set my phone alarm to remind me to renew them every 3-5 days.

In those placements, I listed out my experience from personal pet sitting, my volunteer work with animal groups, and put emphasis on my dependability and professionalism.  I also priced myself slightly lower than my competition in the beginning month to grab my first jobs and earn my awesome references.  Now I charge more than most of my competition but am busier than ever because I’ve built a reputation for amazing customer service for my human and animal clients.  ;-)

I still create a new Craigslist post once or twice a week and renew my old ones or repost when they expire.

Other Ways I Reached Out

Crystals Cozy Care Car Magnet Sign

Here’s one of the signs on my car door…

It skipped my mind that I did other stuff to market myself too:

  • Magnetic signs on my car door
  • Printed business cards and hand them out frequently (I also leave little stacks at local restaurants when they have a spot for it)
  • Created a profile at Care.com
  • Created a profile at Sittercity.com
  • Posted about my new service on my home owner’s association website
  • Posted my services on Nextdoor.com
  • Let all of my friends and family know about it and they help spread the word
  • Leave summaries of my longer visits and all of my contact info is only every page
  • My contact info is automatically added to every email and I make sure to make it obvious on all Craigslist posts.

I am also considering other types of small business marketing like placing my business cards in every neighbor’s door possible, taping them to the group mailboxes like the lawn guys do, and maybe even making small leaflets.  Craigslist has just been my biggest draw so far – I know because my pre-care checklist has a question about how they found me.  :-)

There you go for anybody looking to start a service-oriented side hustle!  Good luck!

Can you think of any other great personal marketing methods for small businesses and hobby jobs?