Client Spotlight: Whistler Dog Sitting

by Nicole Gagnon in April 6th, 2023

Meet Sarah McMillan, owner of Whistler Dog Sitting. She took over the business from her former colleague, Anna, a couple of years ago. Like most of her clients, we had the pleasure of meeting Sarah while visiting the area for vacation. Sarah, who is originally from the UK, is now a Whistler local. She’s been living here for the past 8 years and is currently working on becoming an official citizen of Canada. During our time together, she was a fantastic tour guide—she knew all the good coffee shops, the best and least crowded trails, took us to a beautiful overlook of the mountain, and even knew all the dogs and humans on the trail during our hike together.

Getting started with Whistler Dog Sitting

You may be wondering how Sarah ended up at Whistler, nearly halfway around the world from her friends and family in the UK. Sarah took a job as a photographer at Whistler Blackcomb after spending 3 years as a photographer on a cruise ship. During her time working at Whistler Blackcomb, Sarah also worked at a local coffee shop and as a dog walker for Whistler Dog Sitting.

Eventually, Sarah transitioned from photography to working at the coffee shop and walking dogs full-time. Then 2020 happened and the world as we know it was briefly turned upside down. Due to staffing shortages, she had to work long hours at the coffee shop serving customers and taking time off became nearly impossible. Like most people who are in the pet industry, Sarah preferred the pets to the people; and after getting her own pup—a Husky named Koda, she decided to take the leap and walk full time for Whistler Dog Sitting. Over the course of four years, Sarah built relationships with many of her local clients, colleagues, and other businesses.

Her reliability and passion for pets are what got the attention of Anna, the former owner of Whistler Dog Sitting, many years of running the business, Anna was ready for a change and was thinking about selling the business. In the summer of 2021, Anna approached Sarah about buying the business and taking over. After thinking it over for about a month, Sarah decided to buy the business from Anna and start running things on her own.

When asked about the transition Sarah shared, “To be able to spend my time outside with the dogs doing what I love felt like a dream! I prefer working with dogs and thanks to PetPocketbook, I’m able to spend my time out on the trails with the dogs, and they’ll handle the people side of things. Before I took over the business, Anna started with PetPocketbook, and I could tell the difference right away. Before, all of the client information was on paper, and it was hard to share information. I was so thankful to have PetPocketbook during that time of transition because it was so easy to switch things over, and we didn’t have to figure out how to get everyone’s information over to me. It was all right there, in the app. I couldn’t have done it without PetPocketbook.”

What makes Whistler Dog Sitting different from other pet sitting businesses?

Whistler, British Columbia is home to North America’s largest ski mountain and resort, Whistler Blackcomb. The mountain draws in millions of tourists from all over the world year-round. With a local population of just over 15,000, Whistler is growing but the local economy relies heavily on tourists visiting the ski resort. Unlike most pet care businesses, many of Sarah’s clients are tourists visiting the area with their pets, not regulars. Even some of her team members are short-term and work for a season or a year or so in the area.

With so many new clients, there’s a constant flow of new client information. To streamline the onboarding process, she uses PetPocketbook. Whenever they receive an inquiry for services, they can easily invite the client to start using PetPocketbook right away, with just their email address. “Since we do a lot of tourist work, it’s really helpful to use PetPocketbook as part of our intake process to collect information about the pet, where they’re staying or where they live, have them sign our waiver, and add their credit card to their profile. It allows us to collect everything we need upfront in order to take care of their pet. Most people are up here to relax on vacation, so we don’t want it to feel like a ton of work getting care for their pets.”

With so many new, and sometimes one-time clients, billing can be a challenge. “Some of these people we’ll never see again, so we don’t want to have to chase down payment or lose out on payment. Since using PetPocketbook, we no longer have to worry about clients paying for services since invoices are generated and sent automatically, and their credit card can be automatically charged at the end of the visit.”

Her clients aren’t the only ones that are tourists. Some of her team members are temporarily in the area to work. “It can sometimes be a challenge to find reliable help with so many people being here for only a short period of time. Most importantly, they need to be able to care for the dogs, but they also need to be reliable and a team player. I have to be able to trust them to do the job right. When I find someone who is a fit, I can add them to the team on PetPocketbook, and they can view their schedule and compensation right from the app. It keeps things easy. To help everyone get to know each other and build relationships, we try to get together every now and then. It helps us feel like more of a team since we’re not together all that often. Just recently, we all got together and went cross-country skiing!”

Sarah’s advice to others

If you think you’d like to start a pet sitting business like Whistler Dog Sitting or are looking for advice on how to run your pet care business, Sarah has some advice for you. “If you’re just getting started, go slow. I was fortunate enough to take over the business when I did, everything was already quite established, but it was a bit overwhelming at first. If you’re just getting started, go slow. Figure out what works for you, start with a few clients, and build relationships with them.”

Treat your regulars well and network with the locals. “We’re very focused on vacation sitting for tourists, but it’s really important for us to maintain great relationships with our regular clients. They’re the ones that keep us going when things slow down, and they help spread the word about our services. You see so many new faces so it’s easy to recognize the locals—if you see them out and about, say hi and thank them for allowing us to care for their pets. A lot of tourists will ask their hotels for recommendations for pet care so I try to network with the hotels so they can recommend us to their guests. It’s always rewarding when we get to see a returning tourist client that may be visiting a couple of times a season or even once a year.”

It's hard to take time off but not impossible. “I am constantly working and hardly ever take time off, but when I need to, I know whom I can rely on. My friend Rachel has been so helpful and supportive. When I know I need to take some time off, I do my best to plan everything in advance. I’ll accept all of the clients’ visit requests in PetPocketbook, respond to any new inquiries for services, build the schedule for all of the team on the days I’ll be away, and prepare everyone. Having everything in PetPocketbook gives me the peace of mind that my team will have everything they need while I’m out.”

Lastly, invest in equipment for your business. Whether it’s long leads for the dogs while you’re out walking, a quality winter jacket for the cold days out on the trails, high-value treats to help with training and recall, or even software like PetPocketbook to help you run your business, what you use to help run your business can make a huge difference.

“The winter here can be quite brutal, so it’s important to be prepared. We also have wildlife that we need to be respectful and aware of. The priority is always the safety of the dogs in our care and our team. Our staff is trained to be prepared for anything and always use positive reinforcement with the dogs. We want every experience with us to be fun and positive, so we use fear-free training techniques.”

Sarah recommends investing in software for your business. “Sometimes your time is a bigger investment than anything else, so it can be a bit overwhelming to think about getting set up, but once you do, you’ll save so much time and make things a whole lot easier for you, your team, and your clients—even if you have over 2,000 of them!”

Want to follow along with Sarah and the Whistler Dog Sitting team? Follow them on Instagram and if you’re ever in the area with your pets, why not schedule an adventure? If you’d like to learn more about getting started with PetPocketbook, we’d love to chat! Book a demo to get started with a free 60-day trial.

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