How To Start A Pooper Scooper Business

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How to start a pooper scooper business.

Ashley Simonds and her husband Jasper are the owners of Clean Paw, Pet Waste Removal.

I started Clean Paw Pet Waste Removal in 2005. It grew rapidly and within roughly 2 years my route included over 220 residential clients and several commercial accounts. Not counting the 2008 economic crash my route held steady until I sold my company in late 2019. Over most of the time that I owned my company I had 2 employees that handled the weekly route. I answered the phone and emails, did the accounting, filled in when employees were sick and cleaned all new customer yards on their first visit.

Before I started Clean Paw I had attempted at least 4 other businesses that either never got off the ground or failed. As I watched my company take off in 2005 it was evident to me that something about it was very different.

Why do pet waste removal companies have a good chance to become successful?

  1. The demand for the service is relatively high.

    Roughly 50% of US households own dogs. In most homes family members, maids and landscapers are assigned the task of pet waste cleanup. However, this isn’t true in millions of households and these homes form the basis of an enormous market. When I started my company I assumed that most of my customers would be wealthy but I was wrong. As it turned out many upper-class households have this job assigned to stay-at-home moms, housekeepers, and landscapers. Most of my customers came from middle and working-class neighborhoods. In these homes both people might work. They didn’t have a landscaper or maid service nor the time and energy at the end of the day to handle this job.

  2. The competition is relatively low.

    Every city has scoopers but they aren’t on every corner like Starbucks or Subway. When I started my company in 2005 I had maybe 10 competitors in the city of Phoenix. Although that might sound like a lot it’s not. At that time my metro area contained over 3 million people and there was plenty of work available. You might worry about franchise companies but in my experience they aren’t significant competitors. When people choose a pet service provider most seem to prefer a small company with an owner they know as opposed to a large, impersonal corporation. Regardless of who your competition is the key to success isn’t being the only service provider or the cheapest. Today the most important factor is your web presence. If your website and social media pages are ranked near the top of search results you will generate sales. If your pages don’t rank in the top 3 or at least on the first page it will be difficult to attract customers. Nearly every new business owner starts out in this position. Don’t worry, there are ways to get around this problem and attract customers. We will go over that later.

  3. The profit margin is very high.

    Not counting employees the largest costs involved in running a pet waste removal company are vehicle expenses. If you’re busy you might drive 3,000 miles per month. Compared to fuel and maintenance, your equipment and supplies won’t cost very much. For example, on each stop you’ll use a fresh bag, a pair of disposable gloves and several sprays of bleach. At the time of this writing the cost for those items is less than 50 cents per yard. If your service is priced correctly you should be able to generate a respectable profit on each cleaning even after you have employees.


What tools do I need to scoop dog waste?

  • A debris pan is required to hold the waste.

    Don’t use any of the standard scooper tools marketed to the public. These tools cost too much, they will slow you down and they’ll rapidly fall apart. Buy a commercial grade debris pan and use it as your bucket.

    I customized my debris pans with a metal hinge. The hinge added considerable strength and allowed me to put a disposable bag inside without needing clips to secure it. I paid a machine shop a few hundred dollars to build hinges and customize my tools. It was worth every penny. The shop sawed off the bottom of the stock handles, screwed each handle into a metal hinge and then screwed those into the bins below. In nearly 15 years not a single metal hinge wore out. A typical plastic debris pan would last a year or so before holes wore through the bottom. When a pan wore out the replacement process was straightforward and took about 30 minutes. The only tools required were a wrench to remove and replace 2 nuts and a drill to make holes in the new debris pan.

  • A shrub rake is needed to collect dog waste.

    The best tool to collect dog waste is a shrub rake with a steel head. This type of rake is strong enough to pick up large pieces of waste and the metal tines are narrow enough to work in grass and rocks. The last tine on either outer edge is perfect for snapping up small pieces of waste that get between rocks. This may take some practice but you’ll become great at it within a few months. Your rake should be able to scoop 95% of the dog waste you encounter.

  • Disposable bags are used to keep your debris pan clean.

    To reduce the risk of the spread of harmful pathogens between yards use a new bag at each stop. I always used Flex-Tech 13 gallon kitchen bags from Costco. They fit snugly in my customized debris pans and didn’t need to be secured in any way. If bags don’t fit securely in your bucket you will need to find a way to keep them from shifting or falling out. Some companies use binder clips for this purpose.

  • Disposable gloves are used to keep your hands clean.

    You’ll need to wear gloves to protect your hands from bleach and pet waste. Always use a new pair of disposable gloves at each house to reduce the spread of disease. I used so many pairs of gloves that I bought them by the case. Although your rake can handle 95% of the waste you'll encounter sometimes it's not the best choice. The remaining 5% is picked up using gloves.

  • Bleach is needed to disinfect your tools and shoes.

    Make a 10% bleach / 90% water solution and store it in a 32 ounce squirt bottle. On a busy day you may need to bring 2 squirt bottles to ensure that you have enough. Before and after each cleaning spray the bottom of your debris pan, the head of your rake and the bottom of your shoes. This constant deluge of bleach makes it very difficult for harmful pathogens to survive and reproduce. The bleach solution is hard on spray bottles and they will only last a month or two before they need to be replaced.

  • T-handles are used to keep your tools ergonomically friendly.

    Motus T-handles attached to your rake and debris pan allow you to keep your wrists straight while you work. This position protects your joints and increases your strength, endurance and speed. T-handles are made of plastic and when used fulltime they last roughly 3 to 4 months before they wear out and break.

    Motus T-handles.

    T-handles make the job much easier.

  • A step stool is needed to reach over and unlatch tall gates.

    Most gates can be opened without any help. However, some gates are tall and have latches on the back side. Other gates have locks that must be secured on the back side. In these instances you will need a step stool to get the job done.

  • Use a cell phone to give customers reminder calls or texts before their visit. This device is also important for your safety.

    On the day of service a few owners will request that you call or text 15 to 30 minutes ahead so they can put their dogs up before you arrive. In most cases this is because they are afraid that their dog will escape when you open the gate. Sometimes they need the call because their dog is aggressive and must be inside to ensure your safety. In addition to communication with customers always bring a cell phone for your own safety. Don’t go to work or enter a yard without one.

What is the best way to clean a yard full of dog waste?

  1. Use an efficient search pattern.

    Walk the yard in rows that are approximately 4 feet wide. For example, if the yard is 40 feet wide, break it up into 10 even, 4 foot wide rows and walk it in 10 passes. After you’ve finished your first pass walk it a second time in rows that are perpendicular to your first pass to get anything you missed. For example, if on your first pass you walked north to south on your second pass walk east to west. You might be surprised how much you missed on the first pass. This is in part because the shadows change how the ground appears when it is viewed from a different direction. A piece of pet waste that is nearly invisible one way can be easily seen from another.

    Yard scooping pattern

    Walk the yard in 2 different directions to ensure you find everything.

  2. Clean one type of terrain at a time.

    Your eyes will be less efficient at spotting waste if you constantly switch between two types of terrain. In most cases it’s better to clean the grass areas and then do the rock areas or visa versa. Your eyes will do a better job.

  3. Under most circumstances the rake is best. For everything else use gloves.

    Existing homes on your route shouldn't have a significant buildup. You can do nearly all of these yards with your rake. However, even on these yards there can be places where it’s faster and easier to pick up some of the waste with your gloves. It might sound gross but most of the time the waste is dry. This isn't as bad as it sounds and you'll get used to it.

  4. Set aside several hours for one-time or initial cleanups.

    On a one-time or initial cleanup the work can be difficult. Most of the time these yards haven’t been cleaned in months or even years. If this is a grass or dirt yard the rake is almost always the best tool for the job. In rock yards that have significant buildup the rake is too slow. If you want to finish in a reasonable amount of time gloves are the only good choice. Sit down in a corner, start cleaning and slowly work your way across the yard. Even with gloves some of these yard will take hours. Make sure you have water available because you’ll need it.

quick tip

To make your life easier bring a rough, canvas work glove when you do a one-time or initial cleanup. These come in handy in rock yards with a significant accumulation of waste. The tougher and stiffer the glove is the better. Assuming you’re right handed pick up the waste with your right hand and wear the canvas glove on your left. Once you’ve picked up everything possible with your disposable glove you may notice waste that was too small to get. Use the canvas glove to push under and then through the rocks. This will cause the small pieces to filter underneath where they can’t be seen. These tiny crumbles will biodegrade after a few months. They are too insignificant to smell when they are under the rocks and after a few rainstorms they’ll be gone.

How long does it take to clean a yard full of dog waste?

The average home on a weekly route will take 10 to 15 minutes to clean. The quickest home will take 5 minutes and the longest shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes. If a home takes much longer than 30 minutes on a regular basis you are going to have an unhappy employee. The terrain of the yard is the most important factor that impacts time. Flat, dirt yards are by far the easiest to clean. Grass yards aren’t much harder, although the difficulty increases if the yard isn’t mowed regularly. Rock yards are the hardest to work in. As the size of the rock increases so does the difficulty. Large, river rocks will really slow you down. These difficult yards probably need to be cleaned up using gloves instead of a rake.

One-time and initial clean-ups eat up much more time than the regular yards on your route. These cleanings can take hours and for that reason don’t schedule more than 3 in a single day. Because of the time involved it’s best to schedule these cleanings on days in which you don’t have any standard route work. If that is not possible it’s usually best to complete the homes on your existing route first and do new customers afterwards.

One-time cleanups tend to be ordered for yards that haven’t been cleaned in months or even years. Even so most of these should take less than 2 hours and only a handful will take longer than 4 hours. Initial cleanups for new customers that sign up for regular service don’t typically take as long as one-time cleanups. The vast majority of these should take less than 2 hours.

quick tip

I never offered firm estimates when I did one-time or initial cleanups. After years of practice I became fairly good at predicting how long it might take to clean a yard but I was never precise. If the customer was available before I started work I gave them a time estimate with a wide range of up to 2 hours. I made sure they understood that this was a guess and that the actual time might fall outside of my estimate. If a customer needed a precise estimate I didn’t clean their yard and referred them to a competitor. I always promised to do a great job and at the same time work as fast as I could. These jobs were tough and so I worked fast because I wanted out of those yards just as much as customers wanted to save money.

What are some basic practices I should follow while I work?

In nearly every case you should park your truck on the street. Only park in the driveway if there is a special reason and the customer has given you permission. For example, I had a customer that lived in large, custom home behind a security gate. I had to drive past the gate and park on the driveway to get inside. All of the workers that came to this woman’s home had to do the same thing. If you’re parked on the street don’t block the driveway, garbage cans, mailboxes, etc. People will get mad. Some may complain on Yelp or social media and in a worst case scenario you’ll be confronted. Be thoughtful and avoid this conflict.

After you get out of your vehicle the first thing you should do is put on a pair of disposable gloves. Gloves protect your hands from anything that might be dirty or covered in germs. Use a fresh pair at every home to stop cross-contamination.

Now that your hands are covered get out your shrub rake and debris pan. The surface of your tools and bottom of your shoes come in contact with every type of potentially harmful pathogen. Grab your spray bottle filled with 10% bleach solution and spray the bottom of your shoes, the head of your rake and the bottom of your debris pan. Don’t worry about using too much spray because you want to ensure the safety of your customer’s pets.

Place a 13 gallon garbage bag inside your debris pan. If you use a standard bin you’ll need to secure the bag with a binder clip or something similar. I didn’t need this because my bin had a custom hinge and the bags stayed secure without help.

After you've finished cleaning the yard walk to your vehicle and stand on the sidewalk for safety. If you stand in the street it’s possible that a driver who isn’t paying attention might run into you. Lean your tools against the bed of your truck. Take the bag out of the debris pan and tie it shut. If possible, remove any air in the bag before it’s tied so that the it will take up less space. Throw the bag of poop into the bed of your truck.

Once again spray bleach on the head of your rake, the bottom of your bin and the bottom of your shoes. By continually spraying all day your tools become increasingly inhospitable to germs and viruses. Put your tools in the back of the truck. Take off your disposable gloves and throw them away.

Get in your truck and look at your route sheet to determine where your next home is located. Check to see if it needs a call or text before you arrive. Once everything is organized drive to your next house.

quick tip

Always carry an extra 13 gallon bag through one of the belt loops on your jeans. I’m right handed and so I carried the bag through a belt loop on my left side. If your bin fills up or becomes too heavy in the middle of a cleaning take out the old bag, tie it off and replace it with your spare.

Should I deposit dog waste in my customer's trash or haul it away?

Before you make a decision about this determine if the city, county or state you work in has special rules that govern the disposal of pet waste. Some regions classify pet feces as hazardous waste and require special permits to dump it at designated landfills. If the rules aren’t too burdensome it’s always best to haul away everything that you scoop. Most customers prefer this because dog waste deposited in an outdoor trash can will attract flies. If the trash can is stored in a garage it will fill it with an awful smell in addition to the flies.

In the city of Phoenix where I worked, during the time that I owned my company there were no special rules that governed the disposal of dog waste. I hauled away all customer waste in the back of my truck. At the end of the day I double bagged everything that I had collected to minimize odor and flies. I deposited these bags in an extra trash can that I ordered from the city that cost less than $20 per month. This made the job easy and inexpensive. Employees did the same at their homes. Hopefully the city you live in makes it easy to deal with this problem.

How do I let a customer know I've cleaned her yard?

This may sound odd but you won't meet a significant portion of your customers even once. Most of your communication with customers will take place over the phone or email. During the day while you scoop you probably won't talk to more than a few people. For that reason you need to let people know that you've done your job. Create a simple, one color door hanger that you can place on the front door after their yard is clean. Include your logo and contact information. Leave an open spot on the door hanger so that you can write down the time you arrived in pen. Some people will request that you leave their door hanger on the back door.

This door hanger only contains a few things and so you'll have a lot of extra space. At my company I used that space to offer customers a free month of service if they referred a customer to me. This generated a small amount of sales but it was worth it.

door hangers
quick tip

Make sure you store either a printed or electronic record of arrival times at every cleaning you perform. Keep these records for a year before you toss them. Every so often you will be contacted by a customer that is certain you didn't clean their yard. This is especially true of customers that receive service every other week because they tend to forget which week you stopped by. If you don't know what time you cleaned a customer's yard they are going to be certain they were correct. Keep your customers happy by maintaining accurate records. You'll be glad you did.

How many yards can I clean in an hour?

On a well organized route with respectable density 3 to 5 homes per hour should be the average. If a majority of your route’s yards are grass you may hit 5 per hour. If a majority of your route’s yards are rock your average may fall towards 3.

How many yards can I clean in a single day?

20 to 30 homes is a nice, comfortable work day for an employee. If you schedule any more than 30 you risk burning out your workers. An owner can be expected to clean as many as 50 homes in a day during a worst case scenario. That’s an extremely difficult work day that starts at sun up and lasts until sun down. Most likely you won’t have enough daylight to clean that many homes unless it’s summer.

What yard cleaning frequencies should I offer?

All companies should offer weekly service and nearly all should offer an every other week option. Don't offer monthly or quarterly service because there will be too much accumulation of waste and a cleaning will take forever. Twice per week service is typically ordered by wealthy customers but these jobs aren't always convenient to position on a route. You may have a zone in which twice per week service is easy to accommodate but that depends on your service map. It's almost certainly not convenient or profitable for you to offer cleanings more than twice per week.

At my company roughly half of my customers had weekly service and the other half had every other week. I offered twice per week service in a wealthy part of town. My employees took care of that zone on Wednesday and I did it on Saturday mornings. This was never a huge profit maker. If I had to go back and do it all over again I wouldn't offer twice per week service on my route.

What should I wear when I work?

  1. Wear a large hat to protect your face and head from the sun. When your route becomes successful you’ll be outside 8 hours per day or more. I used a hat with a neck flap to minimize sun exposure. These hats usually lasted several years before I needed to replace them.

  2. Wear a light-colored t-shirt with your company logo printed on it. Customers may recognize you, but house-sitters or guests won’t. Your logo tells everyone that sees you that you are a worker and belong in the yard. If you and your employees don’t have a problem with heat choose a long sleeved shirt for added sun protection. Long sleeves also protect your skin from brush and other unpleasant things that you will bump into. You can purchase custom, company shirts on sites like Vistaprint.

  3. Wear jeans to protect your skin from brush and bleach. Most yards are in great shape but not all of them. You’ll run into tall grass, weeds and thorny plants that grow across pathways that you need to walk. Jeans will protect your skin from bleach overspray when you spray your tools before and after each stop. I wore plain, Kirkland Jeans from Costco. They were inexpensive and usually lasted a year or so.

  4. Wear comfortable shoes that you don’t mind destroying. I wore generic, black work shoes from Payless. My shoes lasted about 6 months of full time use before they fell apart from bleach and general wear and tear.

What SHOULDN’T I wear when I work?

  1. Sunglasses reduce the amount of light that reaches your eyes. If you wear sunglasses on the job shadows will hide a surprising amount of dog waste. I’ve experimented with this and no matter how well I thought I did as soon as I removed my sunglasses I’d spot a large amount of waste. Don’t wear these unless you have a medical or other important reason because the quality of your work will drop significantly.

  2. Under no circumstances should you wear headphones or AirPods while you are on the job. When you wear these you put yourself in extreme, physical danger. If an aggressive dog unexpectedly enters a yard and you don’t hear it approach you could be seriously injured. In addition to dangerous animals you’ll also occasionally run into dangerous situations. Construction work on roofs and in backyards is common. It’s important that you are able hear a warning shout because it might save your life.

What is the best work vehicle for a pooper scooper service?

A compact, single cab truck with a 4-cylinder engine is the ideal vehicle to use on a pet waste removal route. Your gas mileage will be in the 25mpg range. A small truck will be low enough to easily lean over the side and grab your equipment at each stop. The truck’s bed is the perfect place to haul the pet waste that you scoop at each stop and you’ll never smell a thing.

If you don’t have access to a truck the next best vehicle is a car or van with a rear hatch or very large trunk. If this is what you drive you’re going to have to deal with the smell of dog waste. You can minimize the smell by storing the waste in large buckets with bags inside that hang out the top. When the lid presses against the bag it creates a seal that traps the odor inside the bucket. I would never use a back seat to haul customer pet waste or scooper equipment. Everything you put on the seat will slide around. In addition, your equipment is always covered in bleach which will rub off onto your seats and eventually cause damage.

Pooper scooper equipment in back of truck.

The back of a truck is the ideal place to store your tools.

Rules And Safety

Dog safety rules.

Most dogs are friendly. Unfortunately, a small percentage of dogs may become aggressive. When you work around animals no set of rules can ensure 100% safety. However, if you follow the rules below you will greatly reduce your chance of injury.

  1. Your health and safety is worth far more than any customer’s business. If you don’t feel safe in a yard or near a particular dog don’t work at that home. Inform your customer that you don’t feel comfortable cleaning their property and refer them to a competitor. Don’t feel guilty or ashamed about protecting yourself or your employees.

  2. Never under any circumstance enter a yard without your debris pan and rake. Dogs view these tools as extensions of your body. If disaster strikes and you run into an aggressive dog position your tools towards its face. If you need protection on 2 sides position the debris pan in front of your legs and the rake behind your legs. An aggressive dog will almost always bite the closest thing to its mouth. Make sure that’s your tools.

  3. Never under any circumstance enter a yard without your cell phone. If for some reason you get trapped in a corner and an aggressive dog blocks your exit you can use your phone to call for help. In addition, if you get hurt for any number of reasons your cell phone can be a life saver. I had an employee trip in a backyard and break his leg. You never expect these things to happen but sooner or later they do.

  4. Never enter a yard with an aggressive dog in it. If a dog bites your tools it is too aggressive to be in the yard while you work. In addition, if a dog behaves in a “spooky” or unpredictable manner and you feel it might become aggressive it must be inside while you work.

  5. Don’t show your back to a dog, especially one that you don’t know. Dogs instinctively view the front of your body as strong and your back as vulnerable. An aggressive or unstable dog will charge and bite if it is allowed to get behind you. Never give it that opportunity.

  6. Always keep a mental note of where a close wall is. If 1 or more aggressive dogs enter the yard, position your back close to the wall for protection. Always remember that dogs respect your front more than your back.

  7. Whenever possible face an aggressive dog directly but never stare into its eyes. Calmly look in the dog’s general direction but position your gaze just a bit off to either side or below. When you stare at a dog’s eyes or even its face this signals you are aggressive and an imminent threat. When you calmly look in the general direction of a dog it signals you are confident and unafraid. This usually won’t calm down an excited dog but it reduces the chance that aggression will escalate.

  8. If an aggressive dog enters the yard don’t run. Carefully move towards the exit while you protect your legs and especially your back. Keep your tools positioned towards the animal’s face.

  9. Never yell at a dog for barking but biting is a different story. If a dog bites your tools don't hesitate to yell at it with a loud and or angry tone as you safely move to exit the yard.

  10. After you encounter an aggressive dog contact the owner about the incident. Always be friendly but let them know what happened so that you can be safe in the future. Let your employees know that if they encounter an aggressive dog they need to contact you so that you can get in touch with the owner.

quick tip

If a dog is barking at you and one of her toys is nearby you might be able to diffuse the situation. In a friendly voice ask her if she wants to play and gently toss the toy near her. Occasionally this will calm down the dog and make her want to play. When that doesn't happen the dog will usually back up and give you more space to work. Remember, you aren't doing this to be aggressive. Don't throw the toy fast and definitely don't hit the dog. Don't use this on an aggressive dog because it won't work. Leave the yard immediately.

Gate safety rules.

Opening and shutting gates securely is one of the most important parts of the job. It would be far better to do a terrible job scooping and securely shut the gate than to do an amazing job scooping and leave the gate open. If a dog gets out your company might be finished. If a dog gets out and bites someone your company is almost certainly finished. If you follow the guidelines below you will increase your safety and reduce the chance that a dog escapes from a yard.

  1. Your rake should always be the first thing that enters a customer’s yard. As you walk inside the rake should be positioned in front of your body to guard your legs. Your rake should also be the last thing to exit a customer’s yard. As you walk out the rake should drag lightly on the ground behind your legs. This tool will cause dogs to back up which reduces the chance that one will sneak out. It also protects the backs of your feet and legs because an aggressive dog should bite the rake instead of you.

  2. Before you enter a yard hold your rake so that the rake head is positioned on the ground on the side where the gate swings open. As you slowly open the gate rotate the rake head around the side of the gate and just into the yard. The rake should cause any dog on the inside to back up. A highly aggressive dog will bite your rake which is much better than your foot or leg. If the dog is hostile don’t enter the yard, shut the gate and contact the owner about the incident. Using your rake like this may seem awkward at first but it’s easy after a few tries.

  3. After a yard is cleaned and you’ve turned towards the gate hold your rake so that it can drag lightly on the ground behind your legs. If there are dogs ahead of you hold your debris pan in front of your body. Using your tools this way protects both your front and back at the same time. Drag the rake behind your legs as you walk to the gate. After you arrive at the gate place your debris pan behind your legs. Once again the debris pan and rake will cause dogs to back up. Open the gate with your free hand no wider than necessary to safely pass through. Any extra space gives dogs room to sneak through and get out. Pick up your debris pan and walk through the gate as you drag the rake behind your legs. Shut the gate. This is how to exit a yard under most circumstances. Make adjustments if necessary but always use your tools to motivate dogs to stay away from your legs and the gate.

  4. Never enter a customer’s yard quietly. If possible make noise by gently shaking the gate before you open it. Wait 5 or 10 seconds to make sure everything is fine. If for some reason there is an aggressive dog inside it will hear the noise, bark and charge the gate. Since you’re still outside you’ll be safe. If for some reason a hostile dog reacts slowly and you’ve already entered the yard chances are good you won’t be too far in. It’s almost always safer to be 10 feet inside of a yard rather than 100 feet inside.

  5. A gate should never remain open while you clean. If a customer’s dog unexpectedly enters the yard it may run free and you won’t be able to stop it. There is also a slight chance that a neighborhood dog will enter the yard through the open gate. Both of these things are potential disasters that you need to avoid.

  6. Always doublecheck and make sure the gate is securely latched before you begin cleaning and after you exit the yard. A little less than 1% of the time the gate will be tricky and it won't be fully secured after you latch it. Less than 1% might not seem like much but when you open and shut gates thousands of times per year it is inevitable that you will miss a gate if you don't doublecheck.

At my company we used the rules listed above. If my memory serves correct only 1 dog escaped during a cleaning. Thankfully it was caught by my employee before it got too far. Not a single employee was seriously injured by a dog. No employee was ever bitten by a large dog but several employees were nipped on the back of their legs by small dogs. I think this is because when a large dog is around people instinctively keep their guard up. The same isn’t necessarily true with small dogs. Even so, these bites were nips and nobody needed a single stitch. The rules above are not a definitive safety list. You may know of other safety measures that are as good or better than the one’s I have listed. If so please use them because your safety is always number one.

It’s important to know that even when you follow every rule there is always risk when you work around animals. The following is an account of the most dangerous incident that occurred at my company. During a service visit in which I did almost everything correct I still came close to suffering a serious injury. Keep this story in mind when you consider working around animals as a profession.

Not long after I started my company a customer signed up that owned 2 aggressive, medium-sized dogs. I put this new customer on my call list. Each week on the night before service I left a message on her phone to remind her to keep the dogs locked up the following day. This system worked fine until one unlucky visit. I arrived at the house in the morning, prepped my tools and walked to the back gate. The home was in a wealthy neighborhood and had a large, grass backyard with tall, mature trees. As I opened the gate I made sure to shake it to create noise. I knew that if the dogs weren’t locked inside and they heard the racket at the gate they would charge me and I could quickly exit. After I finished shaking the gate I stood in the opening for 10 seconds or so and watched for the dogs. I didn’t hear any noise and I assumed that the coast was clear. I shut the gate behind me and walked into the yard. I got about 20 feet when suddenly I heard the dogs loudly bash against the door. I froze. One after the other each animal shot through the doggy door. They must have been sleeping and so they reacted slowly to the noise at the gate. No safety measure is 100% effective and on this visit making noise didn’t draw them out fast enough. The yard was large and the doggy door was maybe 100 feet away. They ran towards me snarling at full sprint. I instinctively raised my tools towards their approaching faces and backed up towards the gate. I got just a few steps when disaster struck. The back of my foot caught on a large tree root and I fell to the ground. As I laid on my side facing the dogs I had the presence of mind to hold my tools at full length towards them. Within a second or two they were on me. To my surprise the first dog bit down on my rake and the other on my debris pan. They shook their heads back and forth as they tried to kill my tools. I kept hold of both handles and managed to stand up as the dogs continued to attack my tools. I walked backwards to the gate, this time with more caution. I let go of my debris pan and used that hand to open the gate. The gate cracked open behind me while I protected myself with the rake. The dogs continued to attack both tools while I reached down and grabbed the handle of my debris pan. I exited the yard, pulled out my badly bitten tools and shut the gate on the snarling dogs. I got out without a scratch. I told the owner what happened and informed her that I could no longer clean her yard.

This story is the perfect illustration of why you should never enter a yard without your tools. Even if everything goes wrong your tools can be the difference between getting mauled or getting out safely. On one other occasion an employee was unexpectedly charged by 2 angry pit bulls. They chewed up his tools but he got out without a scratch. Those 2 attacks happened over the course of over 100,000 cleanings. Even though years may go by between serious incidents make sure you are equipped and prepared for the worst on every cleaning. Sooner or later you will be glad that you were prepared for a disaster.

Should I enter a customer's home?

Never enter a customer's home. If a customer asks you to come inside politely decline and tell them it is against your company's policy. Before you clean a yard for the first time ask the owner if you can enter through a gate. If they tell you that's not an option refer them to a competitor. There are a multitude of reasons why you shouldn't enter a customer's house.

  • Your tools and shoes are bound to track dirt, mud, debris and bleach across the carpet.

  • 99% of your customers will be great but there are strange and dangerous people out there. Once you enter someone's house you are at their mercy.

  • You don't want to be blamed if something goes missing inside the house. The best way to avoid this is to never enter in the first place.

  • If a customer on your weekly route requires that you enter through the front door you are going to waste lots of time on each cleaning. Sometimes you'll wait at the front door for minutes until they answer.

How should I handle my customer's keys?

Some customers will give you one or more keys to open a locked gate. For their safety never write a name or address on a key tag that holds a key. If you lose your key ring and someone finds it they will be able to unlock all of your customer's gates. This opens your company up to tremendous liability. Create a simple code system and write codes on each customer's key tag. Any system is fine as long as it's indecipherable to someone that doesn't understand it.

At my company I used numbers and letters to identify keys. I took the first letter of the customer's name and assigned it a number that corresponded to that letter's position in the alphabet. Using this method the name Barbara would be a 2 and Zachary would be a 26. Next I did the same with the last name. Davis would be a 4 and Smith would be a 19. Last I added the 2nd and 3rd letters from the last name. Davis would be the letters av, Smith would be mi. Putting that all together Barbara Davis would be written 2-4-av and Zachary Smith would be 26-19-mi. If a common thief got ahold of my keys there is no way they would be able to decipher these code and find my customer's homes.

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Make sure you have 2 copies of all keys. To save time an employee needs to keep his key ring in his vehicle rather than ask for keys as he needs them. When an employee calls in sick you want to swing into action and do the route immediately. If your employee has the only copies you will be forced to visit his house to get your keys and then return them after you're done. You won't have time for that.

What is the most efficient way to organize a service route?

To maximize efficiency schedule each customer’s service day based on location. Section off your service map based on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday zones. You’ll never get this perfect but when you initially lay out your service zones try to size them so that each zone contains roughly the same number of customers. A reasonable guess is good enough for this task. You will inevitably have busy areas and slow areas and over time the number of customers in each zone will rise and fall.

Never allow customers to pick their service day. If a new customer requires a specific day it’s probably best if you refer them to a competitor. This may sound harsh but if your route isn’t efficient you won’t earn a profit. If you assign an inefficient route to an employee they’ll start looking for a new job. It’s not worth it.

Don’t give customers a specific service time or window when their yard will be cleaned. Your route will evolve every week as customers sign up and others drop off. Today it might be easy to clean a specific yard at 3pm. 10 weeks from now it might be impossible to arrive at that time. Moreover, your arrival time will vary with the season. In the summer you may start at 6am to beat the heat. On the coldest days of the winter you might not start until 9am. It’s not practical or profitable to offer a specific service time.

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One thing to watch out for is an employee that agrees to a special service day or time because it is convenient for them. If you catch this happening nip it in the bud. Although a special time may be temporarily easy for your employee what happens when he quits? If you don’t follow strict rules and instead let your route evolve unnaturally it won’t be long until you have an unmanageable mess on your hands. Don’t let this happen. Make sure all scheduling is done through you.

How large should your service area be?

Set your outermost boundary no further than a 45 minute drive from your start location. A 30 minute boundary is even better. The first thing to keep in mind is that the smaller your service area is the more efficient your company will be. A smaller service area leads to shorter drive times and lower vehicle expenses. Both you and your employees will appreciate that. The only reason a tiny service area won’t work is because it won’t contain enough customers. For that reason 30 minutes is the sweet spot because it should be large enough to generate respectable sales without being so large that it becomes inefficient.

On my route 3 of my edges were 30 minutes away from my home and the 4th to my west was 45 minutes away. I chose a western boundary that was farther out because that side of my city contained a large cluster of middle-class homes that generated a lot of sales. If that area was sparse I would have kept all boundaries at 30 minutes. At one point I decided to increase my sales by including homes located more than an hour away. What a mistake. I quickly discovered that if something went wrong for an employee on the other side of the city I had no way to get there. After about a year I sold off that part of my route to a competitor. The smaller route was much easier to manage.


How much should I charge for residential pooper scooper service?

Do online reconnaissance to determine what successful companies in your area charge. Make a list of all the companies that rank on the first page of Google and Yelp search results. Visit their sites and write down each company’s pricing model. Pay particular attention to companies that rank in the top 3 because they’re getting over half of the calls. Do not worry about companies that don’t rank on the first page of search results because they may not be successful or have a significant route. Unsuccessful companies may be desperate and their prices might not accurately reflect the market. If you price your service competitively with the companies you find on the first page of Google and Yelp you’ll never have to worry about being too expensive.

The next thing you should consider is profit. Make sure that your prices are high enough so that after all expenses are paid including the theoretical cost of an employee your profit is about 50%. In other words you should keep roughly $5 out of every $10 in sales. Compared to large companies on Wall Street that typically earn just 10% your profit needs to be much higher. You won’t have a management team to handle things that go wrong. This is going to be a full-time job and you won’t get a vacation or benefits. If you don’t earn as much running your company as you would at a job you will eventually shut down. I’ve seen several competitors with small routes liquidate their pet waste removal companies and get regular jobs because the pay was better. Keep that in mind when you consider working cheap to attract more customers. It’s probably not worth it.

How much should I charge for a one-time cleanup or a new customer’s initial cleanup?

The price for a one-time cleanup should be based on the time involved not a flat rate. If you clean new yards at a flat rate, for example $50 you will attract customers that you don’t want. Real estate investors will contact you to clean rental properties with hoarder backyards that haven’t been mowed or scooped in years. You don’t want these jobs and if you work cheap you’ll get every one of them.

On one-time cleanups I charged $29 per half hour or essentially $1 per minute. Your market may support prices that are more or less than $1 per minute but the concept is the same. Although $1 per minute might sound expensive it’s not. These cleanings require hard work and since they won’t be on your regular route you’ll probably have to drive out of your way to do them. The absolute minimum charge on a one-time cleanup should be 30 minutes. A 1 hour minimum isn’t unreasonable.

When I calculated the price of an initial cleanup for a new weekly customer I considered the first half hour to be part of the monthly service at no extra cost. After the first half hour I charged $29 for each additional half hour.

Should I offer free estimates before I do a one-time cleanup or a new customer’s initial cleanup?

You probably can't charge enough money to pay for the time and gas required to give estimates. Most of these cleanings will be done for less than $100. When a customer contacts you tell them what you charge per half hour. Explain to them that you will do a great job and work hard but you can't make a special trip to give an estimate.

After you arrive at a home and inspect the yard if you sense that the cleaning will take several hours always notify the customer before you start. Some people aren't willing to spend that kind of money for pooper scooper service.

How much should I charge for commercial pooper scooper service?

The price for commercial service should be based on the time involved. Get a map of the property, a clipboard and walk it with a timer. Rather than time the entire property as one large unit break it into zones and time each zone separately. Most of the time it’s convenient to break up the property by buildings. Walk each zone at roughly twice the speed you’d travel if you were scooping. When you finish a zone look at your time and multiply it by 2. Write that number on the map. Do this for each zone and add up all of your times. This will give you a rough idea of how long it will take to scoop the property. To determine the cost per cleaning multiply the number of minutes involved by your rate. For example if your total time is 45 minutes and you bill $1 per minute the cost per cleaning is $45 (45 minutes * $1 per minute = $45).

If your company bills each visit separately you’re done. If your company bills by the month you’ll need to do one more step. There are 4.3 weeks in the average month. Multiply your price per cleaning by 4.3. For example $45 * 4.3 weeks = $193.50 per month. That will be their monthly bill.

For every-other-week service the multiple is 2.15 instead of 4.3. Under most circumstances I would discourage you from offering every-other-week commercial service. Two weeks of pet waste buildup at a large, commercial property can be overwhelming for you or an employee.

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After 7 or 8 years I stopped offering commercial service because I felt they weren't great deals. At a residential home I had only 1 owner to please. On a commercial job I had to please every person that lived in the apartment complex. A few days after I worked tenants would occasionally complain that I missed a piece of pet waste near their unit. In reality a dog pooped in front of their unit 1 or 2 days after I left. To make the property management company happy I'd return at no charge and take care of the problem. This was never an efficient or profitable use of my time. I could never charge high enough prices to make these extra trips worth my while. Last but not least, employees didn't want to walk these large properties. Your experience may be different but commercial work was never a large part of my business and it was a relief when I dropped it.

Should I charge customers by the visit or by the month?

Charging by the month or visit are the two main methods to calculate customer invoices. There is no right answer on which one to pick. It all comes down to personal preference.

I always charged by the month. For example, weekly service with 1 dog was $49 per month. Each additional dog was another $9 per month. When a potential customer called they always wanted a price. No matter how busy or distracted I might be it was easy to calculate and explain the price for their yard. When it came to billing I never had to determine if a customer received 4 or 5 cleanings during the month because the price was always $49. This kept billing simple, saved time and reduced customer questions and complaints. The only exceptions I had to deal with were when a customer missed a cleaning. In those cases I calculated the value of 1 cleaning and subtracted that by hand from their invoice.

Many successful companies charge by the visit. I’m sure that if used properly this method can be efficient for the owner and popular with customers. However, from my perspective this appears to be more complicated than it is worth.

One benefit of charging by the visit is that it allows an owner to calculate profit in a more granular way. For example, I always billed $49 per month even though months contained either 4 or 5 service visits. To keep things simple let’s say that each cleaning cost me $2 for supplies and vehicle expenses. On a month with 4 cleanings my expenses would be $8 ($2 * 4 weeks = $8). On a month with 5 cleanings my expenses would be $10 ($2 * 5 weeks = $10). Since the invoice was always $49 and my monthly costs alternated between $8 and $10 my profit per visit also changed each month. However, if I charged by the visit my profit per visit would never change. For example, $12 per visit minus $2 for expenses equals $10 in profit every single visit. This type of granular accounting was not something I felt was important. The way I looked at it everything averaged out over the long run. Most landlords calculate rent this way for the same reason. However, if you prefer to know exactly what the profit is on each visit, charging by the visit may be the right choice for your company.

Should I give discounts to customers?

There is no right answer to this question. The more discounts you offer the more complicated billing becomes. Discounts also encourage people to lie to get a lower price. On the flip side some people appreciate discounts and it may attract more customers.

At my company I offered a $5 off coupon for a customer’s first month of service. That’s the only discount I offered. I wanted my prices to be as fair and equal as possible. When someone asked for a special discount I told them that every customer paid the same price. It was the truth and nobody complained about it.


Build your company’s website before you do any other marketing.

Your website is the central hub for every promotional effort. It can contain as many pages of detailed information and photos as you want. Flyers, door hangers, direct mail, business cards and online ads all have very little space for info and photos. Their job isn’t to make the sale but instead to lead potential customers back to your website.

If you aren’t a graphic designer or web developer you’ll need help building your company’s website. If you have a budget of several hundred to a thousand dollars this job is best handled by a local web developer. When you work with a local, reputable developer you can expect excellent quality and service. If you’re on a tight budget consider using a freelance site like upwork. When working with a freelancer expect a great price but not perfect work. I want to warn you in advance that the level of quality and communication you’ll receive from a freelancer can range from good to very poor. I remember one project in which I went through 3 freelance workers until I was able get what I needed. This was not an isolated incident. I’m not against freelancers and I’m sure I will use them in the future but remember to be cautious and selective about who you pick.

WordPress is the best platform for most small company websites. These sites are relatively affordable to buy, they look great and are easy for most non-technical people to update and maintain. Wordpress Themes are inexpensive and allow you to choose a style and layout for your company website. You can browse through hundreds of themes that cost less than $100 at Envato and other similar sites. Unfortunately, WordPress sites contain a lot of internal bloat and tend to load slowly especially on phones. Google uses page speed as an important ranking factor in search results. Because WordPress sites tend to load slowly they may rank lower than they otherwise would. If you have the skills necessary to build and maintain a standard, HTML website I encourage you to do so. It should load quicker than a WordPress site and this will help it rank a little higher in search results than it otherwise would.

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Make sure to include a photo of yourself somewhere near the top of the home page. Most companies miss this but it’s important. People connect with faces much more than company logos or branding. Your face builds trust which makes people more comfortable and more likely to contact you. I’m a graphic designer and web developer and I built the Clean Paw brand and several other brands. I’m very proud of my work. However, none of the images I’ve created are as powerful as an average photo of a face. A nice photo of yourself on your company homepage is more relevant and interesting to potential customers than $100,000 worth of stylish, graphic design. Just make sure it’s a nice photo. Let your friends and family see your picture and listen to their feedback because an unflattering photo can hurt your brand and reduce sales.

Get a Yelp account.

Register your business on Yelp as soon as you’ve built your website. Yelp is a tremendous resource for attracting customers. I never focused on Yelp when I owned Clean Paw because I was already number one on Google. It wasn’t until I started my tree service company that I learned how much work Yelp generated. After 2 years in the tree industry I had 55 honest Yelp reviews and a majority of the work I did came from Yelp.

At my tree company I actively worked to get reviews by mailing out thank you cards after each customer's job was completed. In my first year I received maybe 10 reviews and in my second year I received another 45 reviews. Part of the growth from 10 to 45 represents the increase in annual sales at my company. The other part represents the mechanics of how Yelp works. When I started my tree company I had 0 reviews and Yelp didn’t get me any work. People that use Yelp are looking for reviews and if you don’t have any they’ll scroll past your listing. As I got work from flyers and other sources my reviews began to slowly trickle in. As my reviews increased people that regularly searched Yelp began to contact me and order service. I discovered that Yelpers were significantly more likely to give me a review than the customers I got from door hangers. The more reviews I received the easier it became to attract Yelpers that gave me even more reviews. Furthermore, as my reviews increased so did my rank on Yelp’s search page. As my rank climbed in search results Yelpers contacted me at an ever-increasing rate. I had created a tremendous, positive feedback loop.

My reviews on Yelp seemed to improve my websites rank on Google and other search engines. It is believed that search engines use Yelp reviews as a ranking signal for their search results. This is another reason why Yelp reviews are critical for your company’s success.

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Yelp offers pay ads but I would not invest in these until you have several reviews. I had a friend in the tree industry that purchased Yelp ads for his brand new profile. It was so new that he didn’t have any reviews. The salesman talked him into spending hundreds of dollars on ads that didn’t produce a single customer. People on Yelp want to see reviews and until you have a few don’t expect many sales.

Build up your online marketing.

Build an online web presence to generate traffic to your website. This type of marketing should be free or inexpensive and it provides the best bang for the buck. Search engines have ways to monitor how people interact with your site and how long they stay on it. For this reason all honest traffic is good traffic because it helps search engines learn about your site and place it in results. If at the same time your marketing pages and profiles generate direct sales that's even better.

  • Create business profiles on social media sites.

    Create pages on sites like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Post dog photos, work stories or anything creative you can think of to attract views. This costs nothing and if it generates traffic even from competitors it's more than worth it.

  • Advertise on free or inexpensive directories.

    There are numerous pet service directories and other websites that you can use to direct traffic to your website. This site has the National Directory Of Pet Service Providers and there are other sites like Pet Sitters Associates.

  • Create a video channel on YouTube or TikTok.

    If you know how to create and edit videos promote yourself on sites like YouTube and TikTok. Commercials aren't going to generate traffic to your website but fun videos will. For example, Girl With The Dogs posts videos of her dog grooming work on YouTube and at this time she has received over 100 million channel views. People love this type of content. If you can think of a fun or creative angle to get visitors to your website it has the potential to pay huge dividends because search engines will notice.

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It is critical that you attract visitors to your website but it's never worth it to pay for fake traffic or fake reviews. Search engines use AI to scour the web and look for signs of fraud. There is no doubt these robots get better at finding misbehavior every day. There was a tree company on the far side of my city that was ranked near the top of Google and Yelp. I checked my Yelp reviews every day and one morning I noticed that this company hadn't popped up in search results. I checked and all of its reviews on Yelp had been taken down. Within a few weeks this company dropped off the first page of Google. Whatever caused the penalty I guarantee it triggered a sales crushing disaster. Always build your traffic and reviews using honest methods. It's worth it in the long run.

How do I attract my first potential customer to my website?

After you finish your website you’ll need to promote it online. When I started in 2005 my site ranked poorly and didn’t show up on the first page of search results. Not being on the first page meant that my site generated almost no customers from Google. You will almost certainly be in the same boat that I was. In my experience it may take a year or more before your website has generated enough traffic and interest to become interesting to search engines and become relevant in search results. Until that happens you’ll need something to draw traffic to your site.

If you can’t generate enough traffic with social media and business directories but have a small advertising budget I would try a Google Ad campaign. Google Ads aren’t cheap but if you don’t have other good options they might be worth it. The main reason these ads generate sales is that they appear in search results at the precise time customers are searching and ready to buy. Sooner or later a decent ad should get a hit from a potential customer. After they click through it’s up to your website to convince them to call or email. Once they contact you it’s on your shoulders to make the sale. Don’t get too nervous about this. In my experience most of the people that contact you will be ready to buy. All they want you to do is answer their questions and sign them up. Of the people that call and say they are just looking for information only a tiny fraction will contact you later and sign up.

Facebook and other social media sites sell pay ads but I believe they are inferior to Google and Yelp ads because of when they show up. Facebook ads show up at no particular time during the buying process. The person that sees them is much less likely to take action. At some point you might want to test these types of ads, but not until you have surplus money to run experiments.

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If you are approached by a local media company to do an interview take it. Search engines view an interview from a reputable news source as a vote of confidence. This adds credibility to your brand and can have a significant impact on how you are positioned in search results. I was contacted by a local TV station to do an interview and I was terrified. I'm glad I did the interview because not long after my search results began to improve.

How do I build my route after I’ve attracted my first customer?

After you’ve signed up your first customer and cleaned their home it’s time to begin the process of building out your route. The plan is simple, place door hangers in the same area that your existing customer is located. If you grow your route this way it creates customer density which saves time and improves profitability. Don’t expect door hangers to generate enormous sales. Even a good door hanger may only generate 1 new customer per 100 hangers. However, that ratio is worth it because a dense route is a profitable route. It probably won’t be practical or affordable to hire a company that hangs door hangers in the exact neighborhood you need. When you start out and have a limited budget it’s going to be your job to place door hangers. Depending on how the homes are laid out you should be able to hang perhaps 50 to 100 door hangers per hour. Some people will see a door hanger and call right away but most people require several exposures before they feel comfortable enough to respond. To get results you may need to hang the same neighborhood several times over a period of months.

What should you include on your door hanger?

Before you make your first door hanger I encourage you to understand IEEO. This acronym stands for Interrupt, Engage, Educate and Offer. It is a framework that advertisers use to create effective marketing. I follow the IEEO pattern on every piece of marketing that I create because it works. IEEO has been around for a long time and descriptions of how it works can be found all over the web.

When choosing your style of door hanger I would pick full color. The first word in IEEO is Interrupt and if your door hanger doesn’t succeed at this task it will end up in the garbage before anyone reads it. Full color probably increases the odds that you interrupt someone’s attention with your door hanger and for that reason it’s worth the added cost.

On the front of your door hanger include the basics such as your phone number, website and pricing information. Include a photo of yourself just like you did on your website. If you aren’t a graphic designer you’ll need help with this job. If a company built your website they probably have a designer that can handle this as well. If that’s not an option the print shop may have an in-house designer or you can use a freelance site like upwork.

Order your door hangers online and you'll probably save a lot of money. Keep in mind that you may have to wait a week or two until they arrive. I ordered my door hangers at

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The first time you order door hangers it’s a good idea to get 1,000 or less. This is considered a small order by print shops so you're price per hanger will be higher than it would be on large volume orders. However, as you learn about the market and get feedback there is a good chance you will want to make adjustments to your door hanger. It’s not smart to order 10,000 door hangers until you are certain your design works and you’re going to stick with it for a long time.

How do I get referrals?

The best way to get referrals is to give referrals. Although it might be tempting to sell referrals to competitors that’s probably shortsighted. If you try to squeeze a few extra dollars from a competitor you will look like a moneygrubber. It’s better to give referrals away for free because they are the number one way you can network with your competitors. Over time you’ll receive plenty of referrals in return.

As your business gets off the ground customers will begin to trickle in from neighborhoods outside of your service area. At first you won’t get many of these but as your website and Yelp profile rise so will the flow of calls from outside your area. These might seem like an annoying interruption because you don’t work in their neighborhoods but in fact they are valuable. Look at your service map and find service providers for the areas that you don’t support. Pick competitors that don’t appear to be so large that they won’t notice your referrals and not so small they’ll have nothing to send you in return. Don’t pick someone with lots of negative reviews or that has a bad reputation because you might get blowback when something goes wrong. Whenever a customer calls or emails from outside your area refer them to someone on your list. It won’t be long until your competitor calls or emails a thank you and begins returning the favor.

When I started out I received a slow but steady stream of calls and emails from people that lived below the southeast boundary of my service area. Initially I told these people that I didn’t work that far east and I wasn’t sure who did. When the calls from this area didn’t stop I realized that I needed to give a more helpful answer. I looked online and found a small but successful company that worked on the east side of my city. From that point on I referred every call and email from that area to the company I found online. After a few months I received an email from the owner thanking me for the referrals. It wasn’t long until I began receiving referrals from the owner of that company. Work flowed in both directions until that owner retired from the business.

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Make friends with the competitors in your industry. Even if it never earns you a dollar it's worth it. I went to dinner several times with a guy that owned a franchise scooper company in my city. Our routes overlapped and we were direct competitors. However, he was a great guy and we both learned from each other. I was happy that we thought of each other as friends rather than competitors. There was enough work for both of us. Play the long game and make friends whenever possible.

If the economy goes into a recession what will happen to my company?

Your sales will float up and down with the economy. I live in the southwest which was the epicenter of the 2008 housing meltdown. As foreclosures surged I began to see vacant homes everywhere. When I drove through working class neighborhoods I saw new front door hardware on house after house. I placed a help wanted ad to replace an employee that left and I was flooded with resumes from every type of professional that worked in the real estate industry. I received a couple of hundred responses off Cragislist within 48 hours. I even received a resume from a former Miss Teen Arizona. The economy was in worse shape than I had ever seen before and my route went into decline. Existing customers disappeared many times without paying what they owed. New customers continued to sign up but at a much slower rate. Over the course of a year or two my route declined from over 200 customers down to about 140 at my lowest point. I had shrunk by about a third but that was as low as it went. My sales sat on the bottom for a couple of years and then they began to increase. Within a couple of years my route had regrown to as big as it had ever been.

This taught me that owning a small company could in some ways be safer than having a job. At my company I lost a third of my revenue over 1 to 2 years. However, if I was laid off from a job I would have lost 100% of my income overnight. Having 200 customers makes it feel like you are getting 200 small paychecks. Having gone through this experience I would never start a company that had 1 large client for my work. That would be as risky as having a job.

What types of promotion and marketing should I avoid?

  1. Don't offer a free cleaning to try the service.

    One of the first marketing ideas I tried was giving away free, 30 minute yard cleanings. I bought space in a direct mail magazine that was delivered to tens of thousands of people. To me this was a sizeable investment. I spent several days creating my ad and by the time I was done it was pixel perfect. I knew this was a can’t miss idea and my phone would ring off the hook. Who could say no to a free cleaning? As it turned out nearly everyone. Over the course of a month I did a total of 3 free cleanings. Not one of these customers signed up for regular service after the fact. I remember when I arrived at one home the owner looked at me skeptically and was barely polite. I couldn’t believe that I was treated so badly. People didn’t like this offer and I don’t think the people that responded respected me. This was my worst idea ever. I never tried this again.

  2. Don't scoop for free at a pet event.

    Over the years I was contacted by various pet event promoters and asked if I would scoop at their functions for free. In return they would allow me to hand out business cards or put up a sign. I never took them up on this offer but I knew 2 different pet service owners that did. In both cases I was told that this arrangement was a waste of time. They worked for hours, handed out cards and neither of them got a single customer.

  3. Don't hand out business cards or flyers at a dog park.

    I never tried this strategy but from my perspective I don’t think it would work. Approaching people at random is uncomfortable and in a worst case scenario can turn confrontational. I doubt this is something most pet service business owners would want to do over a long period of time. In any case how many hours would it take to hand out 100 business cards at a dog park? Your time would be better spent if you placed 100 door hangers in the neighborhood that you wanted to work.

  4. Don't advertise on bus stop signs.

    I was good friends with a guy that owned a pooper scooper franchise in my city. The franchise company made him spend money on marketing and one thing that he tried was bus stop signs. Long story short they didn’t generate any sales for his company. One of the problems with bus stop signs is that when people drive by, even if they want the service they don’t have time to take action. By the time they get home they’ve forgotten the name of the company. They go to Google and look up pooper scooper service. Whoever is ranked number one gets the call and that could be anyone. Your money is better spent on pay ads or door hangers.

  5. Don't advertise in newspapers, radio or TV.

    Unless you live in a very special market, legacy media won’t work for a small, pooper scooper company. This type of advertising requires lots of repetition before a potential customer feels comfortable enough to call. You probably don’t have the kind of budget necessary to run a successful, legacy media campaign. Unless you have a lot of money I’d stay away from this.

  6. Don't advertise in the phonebook.

    As of 2021 phonebooks still exist although they are physically smaller and infrequently used. Everyone under the age of 60 uses search engines and probably 90% of the people over 60 also use search engines. The target market for pooper scooper service is working professionals. I would be surprised if the phone book generated any sales at all.


How should I attract and select employees?

Use a job board like Indeed to attract candidates. These sites charge money but your help wanted ad should receive piles of resumes in a short amount of time. When you need an employee you don't have time to wait. In a large metro area during a normal economy you should receive between 50 and 100 applicants within 1 or 2 days. This may sound like a lot of resumes but you'll probably have to filter through that many to find a few solid candidates to interview.

Narrow your candidate pool down to 3 to 5 people. Schedule interviews for each but don't expect every one of them to show up. Most of the time 1 or 2 people will disappear and you'll never hear from them again. Keep your interviews friendly. Go over the tools, job requirements and then let the candidate do a majority of the talking. Before you offer anyone a job it's usually a good idea to wait 24 hours to give yourself time to think.

Look for an employee that you believe will stay with you for 1 year or more. Finding and training people can be an enormous burden and the less you are forced to do it the better. The items listed below make an applicant more likely to be a good, long-term employee.

  1. The applicant lives inside of your service area.

    The closer an employee is to the center of your route the better. They will spend less on gas and save time. If an employee is not located in your service area that means they are outside an edge. On some days they will be forced to drive across the entire width of your service area to clean homes on the far edge. This will get old fast and when it does they will look for a new job.

  2. The applicant has a steady employment history.

    Look for someone that has held most or all of their jobs for at least 1 year. If the applicant has worked a series of short-term jobs this might indicate they are irresponsible or difficult to work with.

  3. The applicant is not overqualified.

    If the applicant has a college degree or strong, technical skills there is a good chance they consider your job temporary. They will continue to look for a job in their profession and as soon as they find something they'll quit.

  4. The applicant looks at this as his 1st job.

    Scooping isn't a hard job but it's more physically demanding than many people think. If an employee is worn out because he worked all day at another job he probably won't have the energy left to do a good job for you. Nobody has an endless supply of motivation or stamina.

  5. The applicant is at least 5'6".

    You need a certain amount of height to do this job. Employees reach over the top of gates and unlatch them all day long. If someone is 5'6" or more they will only need to use a step stool a few times per day. A shorter employee might need to use a step stool at a majority of their homes. This will slow them down, cost them money and they won't like it.

  6. The applicant owns a small truck.

    A small truck makes this job a breeze and you want your employee to be happy. Unfortunately, most applicants won't have access to a small truck so you may be forced to pick someone with a minivan or SUV. Never pick someone that must use their back seat to store tools and waste because they will hate their job.

quick tip

The employees that tended to be a good long-term fit at my company were people that weren't trying to build a career. They were looking for steady work at a place where they would be treated fairly and paid well. My best employees weren't job hoppers and had decades of work experience before they met me. Don't beat yourself up if you hire a subpar employee. About half the people I hired didn't work out.

Can my workers be contractors or do they need to be employees?

Your workers cannot be contractors that file 1099 forms. They must be employees that file W-2 forms. My CPA explained this to me early on. Contractors must be temporary workers or perform jobs that aren't the central focus of the company. Since scooping dog waste is the central focus of the company my workers had to be employees, not contractors. I am not a legal expert and so if you have any questions about this contact a CPA.

How should I pay employees?

If you pay employees by the hour they will be incentivized to work slowly. This automatically places both of you in direct conflict with each other. The best way to pay employees is a flat rate per yard. This encourages an employee to work hard and be efficient because the faster he's done the faster he can go home. If a customer has a reasonable complaint the employee will have to go back and fix the problem. This is a tremendous motivator to do a good job because nobody wants to make a special trip. If a customer is being unreasonable go to the house yourself and fix the problem.

Make sure that your flat rate covers reasonable vehicle costs plus the employee's time. You would never pay this low but as an example imagine a $2 flat rate per home. If an employee cleaned 100 homes in a week he would be paid $200 (100 homes * $2). Some yards are hard while others are easy but it all averages out. I used this system during the entire time I owned my company and my employees averaged almost double minimum wage.

How do I keep track of employees during the day?

Require your employees to text in each morning after they leave for their first home and text out after their last home. This is essentially the same as clocking in and clocking out. If they don't text in or out you will know something is wrong and you can swing into action. If anything goes wrong during the day or if a customer has a question make sure they know to contact you immediately. I believe today there are more advanced ways to keep tabs on employees by monitoring their positions through their cell phones. However, at my company texting in and out worked good enough.

How do I give employees their supplies?

Every week your employees will need supplies such as bags, gloves, bleach not to mention the occasional replacement of worn out tools. Your home will be located in one of the daily service zones. Once per week on that day have your employee stop by your house in the morning to pick up supplies. At my company this was usually the only day I saw my employees.

How do I train employees?

It should take 1 week to train a new employee. Have him show up at your house in the morning before work. Put 2 sets of equipment in the back of your truck and take him on his route. He should work with you all day. Make sure you focus on dog safety and how to properly open, shut and secure gates. I told my new workers that they were in the gate opening and shutting business and cleaning up dog poop was secondary. At my company I paid my new employees their normal wage during training because I wanted to motivate them.


Do I need to form an LLC or corporation?

You will need to create a legal entity for your company to help protect your personal assets in case of a lawsuit. If you have questions about which type of structure works best in your state and under your unique circumstances contact a local attorney. An attorney can draft your legal documents but you can also do this on sites like Legal Zoom.

A simple and inexpensive LLC is what I've used for all of my businesses in the state of Arizona. In my state these documents are filed at the Corporation Commission. Once my paperwork was submitted it usually took a few weeks until my LLC was approved.

Do I need a Federal Employee Identification Number?

Every company operating inside the United States needs a Federal Employee Identification Number commonly referred to as an EIN. You won't be able to pay your taxes or open a business bank account without this ID. You can apply for an EIN for free on the IRS website. Once everything is filled out correctly you should receive an EIN instantly.

Do I need a business bank account?

Once you've committed to start your company and have your legal structure set up plus an EIN you need to open a business bank account. If you mix your personal money and business money it will be difficult if not impossible for you and your CPA to sort things out at tax time. Just as important you have to consider that you might someday sell your company. Do you want potential buyers to look through your personal finances? Absolutely not.

Do I need insurance?

I am not an insurance expert. Contact an insurance agent in your state to get the latest and best information and advice. That being said, you must have insurance when you run any type of service company. The 3 types of insurance listed below are important and possibly legally required in your state. You may need other types of insurance but only an expert in your state will know what type of coverage your company needs.

  1. Liability insurance.

    Liability insurance covers accidental damage that you cause to your customer's property. The cost of liability insurance is low because the risk is low. In nearly 15 years I never had a claim. Even so, this insurance was important because without it some people wouldn't have used my service. You can purchase liability insurance locally or on sites like Pet Sitters Associates.

  2. Workers compensation insurance.

    Workers compensation insurance covers the cost of injuries that occur on the job. In most if not all states you are legally required to carry this insurance if you employ 1 or more people. There may be other circumstances specific to your state that mandate workers compensation insurance. Contact an insurance agent in your state to make sure your company is in compliance with the law.

    I never had to file a workers compensation claim until a couple of months before I sold my company. An employee that had worked for me full time for over a decade tripped in a backyard and broke his leg. These sorts of accidents should be rare but they happen and when they do you'll be glad you were insured.

  3. Business auto insurance.

    You will need business auto insurance if you use your vehicle for work. After you hire employees you will need to include their work miles on your policy. For this reason you can't afford to hire an employee with a bad driving record.

What software do I need to manage a pooper scooper business?

If you have just a few customers you may not need software to keep your company organized. Once your company begins to grow you'll probably need a computer and a few programs to keep everything running smoothly.

  1. Calendar

    The first piece of software your company needs is a calendar. When your route is small a simple calendar is adequate for job scheduling. In addition, you'll always need a calendar for reminder calls, texts and emails. Some customers need to be contacted the night before their service day to remind them to unlock the gate or keep their dogs up. Google Calendar works fine and there are plenty of other free or inexpensive options.

  2. Accounting

    The next piece of software you'll need is something to manage your money and send customers their invoices. At the end of the year and / or once per quarter your CPA will use this program to calculate your company's taxes. At my company we used QuickBooks Online because it is relatively easy to use has an enormous user base. Whenever I didn't know how to do something and got stuck I could find help online. I used the "Plus" version because it allowed me to enter recurring transactions. Once I entered an invoice into the system I could set it to run each month on billing day. This saved me hundreds of hours of work per year. There are plenty of other options and you may want to get suggestions from your CPA.

    Screenshot of Quickbooks
  3. Scheduling

    Once you've grown beyond a small route you'll need scheduling and routing software. These programs do more than list the homes on your daily route. They store and display all of the information you'll need to do your job once you arrive at a home. This can include everything from customer contact information to notes about each yard. Scheduling software saves you time and money by listing your jobs in an efficient order. For these and other reasons no significant pet waste removal company can operate without this software.

    There are several software packages to chose from but at my company I used Jobber. This program is designed to integrate with QuickBooks. When customers are added in QuickBooks they become available in Jobber for scheduling. Without this program or something like it I would have had to hire 1 full time employee to manage my route of roughly 200 clients.

    Screenshot of Jobber

Do I need a CPA or a bookkeeper?

You will receive a steady stream of letters from the IRS that won't make sense unless you have a background doing taxes. You'll also have to file quarterly taxes and calculate withholding for payroll. It's not a bad idea to hire a CPA to handle these things. I've never undertsood anything about taxes and withholding and I always needed a CPA to make sure I followed the rules.

Bookkeepers document the day to day inflow and outflow of money at a company. You probably won't need this kind of help because modern accounting software is built for non-technical people. I never had a problem entering expenses or sending invoices to customers in QuickBooks. You may need some help setting up and learning the basics but with a little practice you shouldn't have too much trouble.

Should I bill in advance or after service is complete?

If you charge by the visit you'll probably bill after each job is complete. If you charge by the month you'll probably bill in advance. At my company I billed in advance to reduce the amount of time customers could get behind on their bills. I sent invoices on the 15th of each month. Payment was due on the 1st of the month just like rent. For example, January's bill was sent out on December 15th and due on January 1st. This worked well and I received only a handful of complaints from people that didn't want to pay in advance. I was always respectful and understanding but I stood firm and explained to them that was my system.

Do I need a business address?

Yes. You need to rent a business mailbox at a UPS Store or someplace similar. When choosing a location there are two important things to consider.

  1. Google Maps uses business addresses to determine how high or low listings are ranked in results. Companies located closer to the searcher have a higher chance to rank well. Companies located further away have a lower chance to rank well. For this reason pick a mailbox that is located in your most desired area.

  2. Even though many customers pay their bills online you will still have to stop by your mailbox at least once per week. You will receive checks, letters and important mail from the IRS. Don't pick an address that is inconvenient because you'll have to visit this mailbox countless times.

In Conclusion

Before you start your company consider the business you’re getting into.

Before you start any small business keep in mind that you’ll have to do the work just like an employee. Even if you have a crew that handles your route there will be days when an employee calls in sick and you have to cover for him. On several occasions I've covered for employees that were out for a month or more. These disasters don't happen often but they do happen. You will also be the person that trains new employees during their first week. If you don’t know how to do the work at an expert level it will be obvious. Your new employee won’t respect you or work hard. In the back of your mind know that no matter how big your company gets, from time-to-time circumstance will place you on the front line.

Weather is another factor to consider. In Phoenix, Arizona where I live, June high temperatures reach almost 120 degrees. On the flip side, each year a few January mornings have low temperatures just above 20 degrees. That’s a nearly 100 degree temperature range over the course of a year. My weather problems were all temperature related but every city has weather to deal with. In Seattle it rains most of the year. In Nebraska it snows. In Florida it’s humid and full of mosquitoes. If you don’t want to work outside in occasionally unpleasant conditions this isn’t the profession for you.

Another consideration is your physical strength and health. I remember training a new employee on her first day. Halfway through the day she looked at me with her tired face and remarked that the job was harder than she expected. She quit after 1 day. Scooping isn’t a strenuous job like roofing or plumbing, but it’s not an easy job either. On many of the homes you clean you will leave the yard with a bin that weighs 10 to 20 pounds. You don’t need enormous muscles to carry that much weight but you do need a healthy amount of strength and stamina.

The last thing to consider is the “yuck” factor. Scooping dog poop isn’t the cleanest work. Even though you don’t touch anything directly, you’ll have to deal with a bit of smell. In Phoenix we have warm weather and low humidity so pet waste dries out fast which keeps the smell down to a minimum. In many cities that might not be the case. Another thing to keep in mind is that 95% of dog waste is cleaned up with your rake, but the last 5% is cleaned up with gloves. If working around dog poop makes your stomach turn this isn’t the business for you.

You can do it!

If you want to become an entrepreneur this business is a great place to start. It doesn't require a lot of money, inventory or rented space in a shopping center. You won't be competing against entrenched, national competitors that operate under such tight margins that you can't earn a profit. You will learn the fundamentals of online marketing, bookkeeping, budgeting, managing and dealing with the public. Your humble pooper scooper company will teach you more practical business lessons than a business major learns at any Ivy League university. That's not hyperbole.

Success in this industry depends on the same thing as every other industry. Can you generate sales? All of the other obstacles you'll encounter will be small compared to that. If you can make your phone ring you can probably find a way to solve your other problems. If you can't make your phone ring nothing else matters. That's Business 101. At any private sector job you've ever had, you worked for someone that knew how to generate sales. That's what being a business owner is and now it's up to you.

When you start you'll need to build a professional, web presence. You'll probably need to hang thousands of door hangers. You'll need to make adjustments to your marketing when it doesn't produce. You're going to work hard and at first you won't see any return. Sometimes you're going to fail. If you can do those things you have a good chance of success. Understand that people who aren't as smart or hard working as you are have already found ways to become successful in business. You can do it too!

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