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Entrepreneur: 'Animal Nanny' provides service more common in larger cities

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Entrepreneur: 'Animal Nanny' provides service more common in larger cities
LARRY MAYER/Gazette staffJamie Porch, left, and Kendra Herzog walk dogs at Lake Elmo State Park. Porch’s business, Big Sky Animal Nanny, will take care of your animals while you’re away.

Gazette Staff

Sure, you can ask a neighbor to watch your pets and your house while you're away on vacation or on a business trip.

It had better be a pretty good neighbor, though, if you're going to get away with that every time.

For people who don't want to impose on their neighbors and their pets, there's Big Sky Animal Nanny.

Jamie Porch started the business because being with her own animals wasn't enough. She wanted to find a way to make a living at hanging around animals. Her company grew so fast, she took on a partner, Kendra Herzog, and together they have baby-sat dogs, cats, horses, a parrot, a lizard, even a chinchilla. But, so far, no pet snakes.

"I'm not too partial to snakes," said Porch, "although I wouldn't have any trouble taking care of one if I was asked."

Porch charges by the visit, about $10, and that includes an offer to provide your house with a "lived-in look" by alternating lights, collecting mail and newspapers, and adjusting blinds or curtains.

The company can be reached at 855-9622 or by email at . Here's what else she had to say about starting and running her own business:

Nature of the business: Big Sky Animal Nanny is an at-home pet sitting service. We come to clients' homes so that their pets can remain in their own familiar environment. Our service is personalized for our clients and their pets. We tailor each visit to their needs.

We can do midday checks for people who work long hours and cannot make it home or we can also visit pets up to three times per day when their owners are out of town.

Hiring a professional pet sitter can be an alternative to imposing on friends and family. Each partner of Big Sky Animal Nanny is bonded and insured. Knowing that their pets are well cared for and their home is secure gives our clients peace of mind, which is priceless.

Why start this business? A few years back my folks were in Colorado and noticed an ad in the paper for a pet service. Knowing that I had always wanted to work with animals, they told me about the idea, and I immediately knew it could be a perfect way to make a living. Because I had a business degree, I decided to combine this background with my love of animals to start Big Sky Animal Nanny.

With 65 percent of the population owning pets, I found that this is a very needed service. I later discovered I could take on more clients and better serve my existing clients if I had some help and getting a partner was a good solution. Of course, I wanted someone who loved animals as much I did and also someone who I could work well with. Kendra and I had such a good friendship for so long that we knew we could also have a great business relationship.

Where did start-up funding come from? The start-up costs were minimal, so they came from our own reserves. The main costs are on-going such as the liability insurance, dishonesty bond, license, gasoline and general maintenance, and advertising.

How long have you been in business? Big Sky Animal Nanny was started in February 2001. Since then, I have developed the business to the point that I felt adding a partner would not only be beneficial to the business but to the clients as well.

Biggest challenges in running the business? We think the biggest challenge so far has been educating people about the service. Many do not even know that it is an option. Pet sitting as a professional service has been around for years in bigger cities, but it is a fairly new concept in the Billings area.

What was done to overcome those challenges? We just try to educate people however we can. We tell everyone we know about the service. We also send out information to all pet-related industries including veterinarians, groomers and pet shops.

What is being done to expand the business? The main business expansion was collaborating our efforts so that more clients can be served. We are distributing flyers, brochures, business cards, and doing the usual advertising methods.

Your worst business mistake? Not starting this business sooner. We have been friends for nearly 17 years, so we could have pursued this a long time ago. We are sure that we will make some mistakes along the way, as everyone does, and we will learn from those to continue to improve our business.

Advice for someone running a business? Research all aspects in your industry and identify the factors which will help you succeed. Do something you enjoy since you will be spending more hours doing this than a regular 9-to-5 job. On the same token, make sure that you also take necessary time for yourself.

Number of workers? Currently just the two of us are handling the business.

What's your five-year plan for the business? Our five-year plan is to be a top pet sitting business in the Billings area. By hiring independent contractors we could expand to include Shepherd, Worden, Lockwood and Laurel. We also plan to attend Pet Sitters International conventions yearly so we can keep up with the industry. Here we can take classes in pet first aid, animal behavior and media training, among many others.

A question you would ask other entrepreneurs? What are the major factors that allowed you to succeed as an entrepreneur?

If you weren't doing what you are now, what would be your dream job? Both of our husbands comment on how perfect this job is for us. We have both grown up with animals and always plan to have pets in our lives. Being able to take care of others' pets as we do our own really is a dream job. Both of us have always wanted to be in business for ourselves, so if it was not for Big Sky Animal Nanny, it would be some other venture.

“Entrepreneurs” appears regularly in the WorkWeek section. The feature will help readers become familiar with new businesses, as well as educate others in the challenges of starting a business. If you have been in business for at least one year and would like to tell your story, please contact:Chris Jorgensen Billings Gazette 401 N. Broadway Billings, MT, 59101 657-1311, office 657-1208, fax cjorgensen@billingsgazette.com

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