How to incentivize training for your independent contractors

FF premium-2

By Cara Armour, Founder of Active Paws Inc and marketing manager of ProPetHero

The employee vs independent contractor debate is a hot topic on many pet sitter forums. The decision to use one or the other should only be made based on legal and financial facts, and how much control you want to have over your staff.

I presented a webinar on this topic to Pet Sitters International back in 2010, and the biggest thing that has changed since then is that the IRS has really started to crack down on the classification of independent contractors versus employees. This crackdown coincided with the boom in the pet industry and the gig economy, because having ICs is the cheapest staffing method for any business owner. If  your staff is classified incorrectly, this can send up a red flag and the next thing you know, you’re being audited. 

By using ICs, you can avoid employment tax and, in many states, unemployment insurance payments as well as mandatory worker’s compensation insurance. The flip side is that person contracted to do jobs for you must have their own business, should have their own insurance, and cannot be told how to do a job; they are simply given jobs and compensated for their completion. They cannot be trained, told to wear a company uniform, or scheduled for work. (See what I mean about having control?)

Employees are far more expensive, but the safer way to go. Employees can be trained and guided, told how to do their job and what to wear, and can often be paid a bit less up front since you are covering their insurance, taxes, etc. Both employees and ICs can be fired, but if an IC later tries to claim unemployment because they were confused about the nature of their employment relationship, you could be in serious trouble.

If you’re not sure that your ICs are classified correctly, check the IRS’s 20 Factor Test. Also keep in mind that individual states may have their own employment laws regarding worker classifications.

If you’ve considered the legalities of your situation and have decided to use ICs versus employees, how can you incentivize them to use FetchFind?

Since you can’t require ICs to take training like you can with an employee, that doesn’t mean that you can’t use many of the same incentivizing tactics from our previously blog on how to get the most out of your FetchFind subscription. The key difference is that they are incentives, and not directives or requirements.  Here are some of the easiest ways to incentivize the learning process:

Gift cards: Out of those ICs who choose to take the provided education, whoever scores the highest gets a $100 gas card or a $50 Starbucks card. 

Lunch and learn: If you have meetings, events, or dinners with your ICs, these are great opportunities to throw in some training (and you do not have to pay for their time). Just invite them over for a meal, but have FetchFind locked and loaded on your smart TV, ready for them to learn while they eat and socialize.

Educational benefits: Offer training as an additional benefit of performing jobs for your company. It’s a boost to their educational toolbox and their portable skill set, and they can say they are FetchFind approved through your company.

Just ask: The most cost effective way to get your ICs trained on FetchFind is to just ask! Ask them to have a look at the courses provided, let them know the benefits for their own businesses and with your clients, and remind them about the experience and credentials they can gain.

Charge for access: Finally, the most awesome way to get your ICs to indulge in FetchFind content is to buy a subscription for your company, and charge your ICs a smaller fee for access. This makes the learning process completely voluntarily on their part. ICs can be entered into the system just like any other staff, but you can choose who you add to the platform based on if they’ve paid for access.

Let’s break it down.

Your company pays for a FetchFind Premium subscription that gives you all of our content with weekly updates, plus Feline Fundamentals and the ability to upload your own content so that all your staff (including ICs) has access. Then, you can charge each of the ICs $10 a month. If you have ten ICs doing this, your monthly subscription is nearly covered! Even if you have only five ICs paying, that still gives your entire company access to an incredible training solution for a fraction of the cost.

It’s akin to group buying power. As an independent  pet care business owner, I pay into a small business association with other small business owners to get big buying power for health insurance (that’s a blog topic for another day). So why not have your ICs pay a small amount to buy into the amazing investment of pet care education? It’s a win-win for everyone involved.

So that’s the scoop on incentivizing your ICs to take advantage of FetchFind staff training. And now that we’re all busily preparing for tax day, it’s a good time to check your staff classifications with your accountant or lawyer to make sure you are making the right choices regarding ICs versus employees. While employees certainly cost more, that classification can save you the time, money, and hassle of an audit or steep misclassification fees.

 

How to help your pet business stand out in a crowded market

erin's pet sitting

By Erin Schneider, CPDT-KA and Director of Customer Relations – FetchFind

If you own a pet care business, you probably spend a lot of time and energy trying to differentiate yourself from the competition. Because there is a lot of competition out there. A LOT.

But the good news is that you already have access to a great differentiator … FetchFind Monthly Pro! It may seem that a staff training program is something that you just do as part of your drive to have a great business, but the fact is that your clients want (and need) to know that their pets are in the best possible hands. And there is no better way to demonstrate your commitment to their pet’s well-being than the fact that you care enough to train your staff.

Here are some easy ways to inform clients (both current and potential) about your ongoing commitment to excellence:

FetchFind Approved BadgeDisplay your FetchFind Approved badge with pride (because you’ve earned it)! All FetchFind Monthly Pro members receive FetchFind Approved badges in both physical and electronic formats. If you have a bricks and mortar location, you can put the badge on your front door or a window near the entry. I also recommend framing your FetchFind Approved certificate and placing it on your front desk where clients can see it when they check in. This also gives your staff the opportunity to start a conversation with clients when they inquire about it. (If you need more badges, please let me know!)

Educate your staff on how to talk about FetchFind. Your staff will already be familiar with FetchFind because they take the courses. But do they know how to talk about it to your clients? It’s a huge bonus for your company when employees can speak knowledgeably and enthusiastically about what FetchFind is, what they’ve learned, and how it helps them to be better employees. Clients want to hear that everyone within the company takes the safety and comfort of their pets seriously; so if they talk to the front desk staff, dog walker, or daycare attendants, they know their pets are receiving the best care possible because the people who take care of them are receiving the best training possible.

Include information in your blogs, newsletters, website, and social media. Post pictures of your staff in training, share fun snippets of recently acquired knowledge (dog breed info is always a favorite), and mention employees who are “killing it” in training. A great place to mention your FetchFind Monthly Pro training is on your website’s  “About Us” page, where you share your philosophy and mission statement. The more places you can talk about your dedication to education and safety, the better.

If you’re excited about it, your staff will be too. Company culture says a lot about how staff will react to a new training program. If you’re excited about their education and make it a priority, so will your employees. Be proud that you offer this great educational and career development tool to your staff, because it clearly communicates that you are investing in THEM as well. The best business owners are those who treat their employees like valuable resources – because they are! There is no better recommendation for your company than happy, knowledgeable employees.

Update your staff bios to include FetchFind Monthly Pro training. A great way to showcase your staff training is to update their bios on your website. Include a little something about how an employee is working hard to complete their FetchFind Monthly Pro training, mention what their favorite topic is, or talk about how they love New Content Fridays. This makes your staff feel included and invested in the process, while also showing current and potential clients that your entire company values ongoing education.

Let us know how you use FetchFind Monthly Pro to differentiate yourself from the competition, or post it on the FetchFind Approved Facebook page! And remember, we’re always here to help you succeed.

Help – I have to leave my dog home alone all day while I’m at work!

dog-2817560_960_720

By Jamie Migdal, CEO of FetchFind

I see it happen all the time – people who have worked from home for years end up getting office jobs, and immediately start stressing about how their beloved pups are going to handle being home alone for 8+ hours a day.

Before I give you some tips on helping your dog with that transition, I’ll let you in on a little secret – there’s a pretty good chance that you’ll miss your dog more than she’ll miss you. 🙂

With that having been said, here are some tips to help you acclimate your dog to lengthy absences.

Crate training

If your dog isn’t already crate trained, or needs a refresher, now is the time to work on that. Crate training is a great tool for creating boundaries and security for both of you. I know people sometimes balk at the idea of having their dogs crated for extended periods of time, but keep in mind that the average dog sleeps 16-18 hours a day. As long as the crate is appropriately sized — allowing room to stand up, stretch, get a drink of water, and move about a bit before going back to sleep — it’s a great tool.

Keeping your dog crated while you are gone also mitigates any destructive tendencies; it also provides a safe environment for other people who may need to enter your home while you are gone, like the dog walker, maintenance personnel, housecleaners, etc.

If you are confident that your dog will accept your schedule change without needing the crate, then you can simply apply the schedule framework as outlined above and let her be free-range while you are away. Generally speaking, this isn’t an option I would recommend for puppies or younger dogs. Another option is to put your dog into a single area of the house, such as a kitchen or mudroom, that can be blocked off from the rest of the house. Just make sure you dog-proof the room by securing cabinets and putting food or hazardous substances well out of reach.

Keep a consistent schedule. Once the crate training is well underway, start working on a very consistent schedule for your dog. Make sure she gets her first walk within the same half hour every morning. Then, take her out again in the afternoon during the same time period and for the same duration that a dog walker will be walking her. Figure out the most likely time that you will get home from work, and walk her within approximately that same half hour every day. What you’re doing here is creating consistent expectations for interaction and for bladder/bowel control, which will provide a reliable framework for your dog’s days.

Extend the crate time. While you are working on the consistent walk/potty schedule, gradually start crating your dog for longer and longer periods during the day. I find that it’s easier for dogs to get used to crating if they can still see you (which is why I prefer wire crates over plastic travel crates). Then, start going out for longer blocks of time when she is crated – 10 minutes the first day, 15 minutes the second, 20 minutes the third, etc. If she is prone to separation anxiety when you leave the house, distract her with a stuffed Kong right before you leave, and have the crate positioned or partially covered so that she can’t see you walking out the door.

No fussing! Don’t make a big deal of leaving the house. Put your dog in the crate, give her the Kong if necessary, and go out. Don’t stage an emotional scene every time you leave or come back; it’s disruptive to the dog, and will set her up for failure. If it’s not a big deal to you, it won’t be a big deal to her.

Consistency is key. The key to an easy transition is consistency and calm behavior on your part. I almost always find that the humans have a much harder time in this situation than the dogs. However, if your dog doesn’t seem to be adjusting to the new situation within a reasonable amount of time (say, a couple of weeks), or if you feel that her behavior is getting worse, schedule an appointment with a highly regarded trainer or your vet (who may refer you to a veterinary behaviorist). Some dogs just naturally have more anxiety than others, and it’s always best to consult with a professional to make sure you are aware of all of your medical and behavioral treatment options.

Service providers

Unless you have a dog that is completely trained to use indoor pee pads, you’ll want to find a good dog walker. Ask your friends and neighbors for recommendations, call to ask about staff training and education, and set up a couple of trial walks. It’s important for your dog to have a chance to get used to this strange person, and you’ll want enough time to make sure that the walker and the company are the right fit for you as well as your dog.

If you absolutely hate the idea of leaving your dog home alone all day, then consider doggy daycare. This is another area where you’ll want to give yourself ample time to find the perfect situation for your pup. Every daycare/boarding facility has a different vibe and clientele mix, and taking your shy elderly shih tzu to a place that specializes in day-long puppy playgroups is going to backfire. Ask about their professional affiliations (such as FetchFind Approved, IBPSA, NAPPS, and PSI) and accreditations, and don’t be afraid to try out a few different places before making a commitment.

********

FetchFind Approved Badge copyDid you know that the best service providers are the ones that make staff training and education a priority? To see some of the things that every professional dog care specialist should know, check out the curriculum on FetchFind Monthly Pro!