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How to Onboard Staff

By: Kyle Haubrich

By: Kyle Haubrich

Dog walker and online course creator

This article will cover the onboarding process for a new staff member at a pet sitting and dog walking company. 

I use this process to successfully onboard new employees in my pet sitting company and I’ve found when I follow all of the steps, our new staff members stick with us for many years and they also become productive faster. 

This article covers how to onboard employees. If you have independent contractors (ICs), you will need to adapt this process to fit the rules of using ICs.

I am only going to cover a high-level overview of the onboarding process here. If you are still sorting out your hiring process, this article will be helpful to you.

However, if you want all of the:

  • Example documents & checklists
  • The exact wording of emails and forms
  • Interview questions and the full hiring process

Please enroll in our hiring course for pet sittings and dog walkers, here:

Set Up Your Staff for Success

I have found that onboarding a new staff member is sort of like launching a rocket. It takes careful planning and preparation to be successful.

Also, much like launching a rocket, if I make some mistake in the early stage of takeoff (or if I don’t follow a proven preflight checklist) my new hire tends to crash and burn.  

This article covers all of the steps I follow when onboarding a new staff member. The process covered in this article is one of the keys to growing a successful business that does not burn you out. 

The best part is, when you follow all of these steps, it makes hiring and keeping your staff easy.

Rocket launch - Space X

Offer Email / Offer Letter

The onboarding process starts with the Offer Letter. An offer letter is sent before you do a background check. 

It’s important to wait until you have a signed offer letter before you do a background check because in many states and regions it’s illegal to do a background check before you send an offer letter. 

Here is what I include in my offer letter:

  • Propose a time for the onboarding meeting
    • Attach the offer letter 
    • Attach level system explainer 
  • Once offer letter is accepted
    • Send an email confirming the date, time, and location of orientation (I use my home office)
      • Let them know to look for emails inviting them to your systems
      • Let them know an email about their background check is coming there way
      • Tell them what to bring to the first day
        • Proof of car insurance
        • Proof they can work in the country (ID, Passport, etc)
  • Invite new hire to systems
    • Onboard with Gusto
      • Handles I-9, direct deposit, employment reporting, and payroll
    • Invite to Precise Pet Care
    • Invite to Slack (Team chat)
Cute Cat

Do a Background Check

Once the offer letter is accepted, you can do a background check.

  • Use Acutrak to do a background check
  • Usually takes 2-3 days to get the background check back

Onboarding Folder

Next, I prepare an onboarding folder. The onboarding folder has every onboarding form, checklist, and document I want my sitters to have. 

Here is what goes in the onboarding folder:

  • Visit checklist
    • A checklist of every step a sitter needs to complete at a visit
    • Laminated so a sitter can reuse it
  • Procedures and Policy Highlights Sheet
    • Company addresses and contact information
    • What to do in an emergency
    • Expectations around accepting visits
    • No guests in the clients home policy
    • How to sign in and out of visits
    • Client update procedure
    • Basic pet handling and training guidelines 
    • Procedure if there is a pet health issue
    • Key policies
    • What to wear
    • Client confidentiality & social media policy
    • Information about paydays
  • Mission Statement
  • Hot Weather / Cold Weather dog walking safety charts (laminated)
  • Emergency procedure charts (laminated)
    • Covers what to do for each type of potential health issue
  • Non-compete agreement
    • States new hires can not take my clients if they leave
  • Acknowledgment of receipt of company property
    • Covers all of the supplies and kit we give to sitters
    • See the Equipment 101 section of our certification course for information about what supplies and kit we give to dog walkers and sitters.
  • Pay Stub Explainer
    • We had a lot of sitters not understand the numbers on their pay stubs, so we made a little explainer doc that covers what money is taxed, mileage reimbursement, take-home pay, etc
    • This pay stub explainer lowered turnover
  • A timesheet
    • For any hours not logged in our online system
  • Instructions for writing a team page bio
  • Level system explainer
    • We have Levels 1-3 (and higher levels for sitters who have been with us longer)
    • Higher levels get higher pay
    • We offer a clear explanation of what sitters need to do to achieve a higher level of pay
  • Handbook Acknowledgement
    • Needs to be signed after we go over the employee handbook
  • A flyer
    • I throw this in just for fun
  • HR Information
    • Talk to an HR professional to know what documents you need to present during onboarding, every state and region is different
  • Cat body language chart
  • Dog body language chart

Onboarding Checklist

I also print an onboarding checklist and start filling it out as I go. I like checklists because they keep me from forgetting any step.

Dog walking staff onboarding checklist
Onboarding Checklist - Page 1 of 2

First Onboarding Meeting

I try to keep our first onboarding meeting to 2-3 hours. Any longer than that and I find new hires start to glaze over and retain less. 

Here is what I cover during our first meeting

  • Set up a test visit in Precise Pet Care / Time to Pet
    • Have the new hire accept and complete it so they can get used to the steps
    • Ensure phone notifications are working
  • Cover emergency procedures
  • Cover mission statement
  • Send a test message in slack (team chat)
    • Get notifications working
    • Explain use for various slack channels
    • Explain how to reach out to the office and other staff members
  • Go over paydays and paystub explainer
  • Explain how drivetime and milage is paid
  • Explain that they will get tips
  • Show visit checklist
  • Cover expectations around accepting visits
    • Must be accepted within 12 hours of visit being assigned
  • Cover when the sitter needs to show up for visits
    • Within timeslots
  • When and how to send visit updates
    • They should send at least three pictures from every visit
  • Explain when the sitter should get the office in the loop
    • Emergency procedures
    • Potential health issues
    • Questions about a visit
  • Show Where to find visit information in Precise Pet Care 
    • Mealtimes, medications, etc
    • The importance of visit notes
  • Explain sick pay
    • Paid at the average amount daily amount they made in the past 6 months
  • It’s up to the sitter to find coverage for visits they can’t complete
    • They need to coordinate with other team members
  • Explain guests and other pets are not allowed at visits
  • Get and scan proof of car insurance
  • Enter ID / passport information into Gusto
  • Explain 90 day probationary period
  • Show HR documents
  • Show dog & cat body language sheet
  • Show hot weather / cold weather dog walking safety
  • Invite new staff member to PetSitterCourse.com
  • Tell the new staff member to take everything home and study procedures as needed
    • Tell them to keep track of the hours they spend studying
  • Try to keep this meeting to 2-3 hours max
Cat Pet Sitter Training

Online Training for Pet Sitter

Training a new sitter is much easier when you set them up with the PetSitterCourse.com certification course for dog walkers and pet sitters. 

I invite new staff members, via email, to our team training page. I can see reporting, sitter’s progress, and quiz scores. 

The PetSitterCourse.com online certification course covers all of the details new sitters need to know to keep pets safe and to do an excellent job pet sitting and dog walking. 

Companies that use PetSitterCourse.com find they get their staff members up and running faster and they provide a higher quality service. 

The course covers the following topics, and more:

  • Bloat & Blockages
  • How to complete a meet & greet
  • Dog walking safety
  • How to stop a dog fight
  • Understanding triggers, reactivity, and aggression issues
  • How to evaluate for aggression at the meet & greet
  • Setting expectations with clients at the meet & greet
  • Which topics, questions, and issues should be brought to the attention of the office
  • How to send great client updates
  • What to do if you encounter an off-leash dog
  • What supplies to bring to visits
  • How to ask about medications and medical issues at the meet & greet
  • Why sitters should develop a mental model of each pet in their care
  • How to notice small changes in a pet’s health
  • The importance of double checking your work
  • How to make sure you never make a medication mistake (and what to do if you do)
  • Why it’s important to clean litter boxes every day
  • 13 part meet & greet guide
  • Example medication chart
  • Example meet & greet checklists
  • 8 part guide to completing visits
  • Dog walking safety
  • Which training methods cause problems and should be avoided

The course takes most sitters between 5-6 hours to complete and I pay new hires for the time they spend on the course. Sitters report these hours on their timesheet and I ask new sitters to complete the course within the first week they are with my company. 

Team training page for dog walking staff and pet sitters
Example Team Training Page

I have found the course to be the perfect tool for getting new sitters and dog walkers up to speed quickly

Many other dog walking companies that now use our course, report that when a sitter does poorly on the course or does not take the course seriously, they can infer that person will not take their job seriously, and even further, is probably not a good fit for the job.

Second Onboarding Meeting

    • Scheduled 2-3 days after their first onboarding meeting 
    • Go over the employee handbook
    • Give them their backpack, supplies, and kit
      • I wait until the second onboarding meeting to give sitters their kit, because some new hires will quit after their first orientation day. This happens and is unavoidable.
      • You will spend less time tracking down kit if you wait to give it to them until their second day
      • See the Equipment 101 section of our certification course for information about what supplies and kit we give to dog walkers and sitters.
    • Ask if they have any questions
    • Explain details as needed
    • Check progress on the course
    • Give new hire first aid training videos
      • We use the Red Cross cat and dog pet first aid DVDs
      • We also have a few pages of notes about the videos we give to the new team member
      • These notes are also available in our hiring course
      • The new staff member can take the DVDs home or watch them in the office
      • I tell them to keep track of the hours they spend studying the material
    • Schedule 1-2 weeks of shadow visits
      • These are visits with another experienced sitter 
  • The in-person instruction is very important
    • I often have sitters doing shadow visits for 2-3 weeks
    • Shadow visits also get them trained up of various clients
  • Schedule a second week check-in meeting
Dog walking online training and certification

Schedule 20 - 25 Shadow Visits

The shadow visits are a critical part of the process. Even though you may be using the PetSitterCourse.com training course to train foundational knowledge for doing the job, online training should only be considered part of a new hire’s training. 

Most pet sitters learn best from hands-on experience. Shadow visits are a chance for sitters to go to visits and learn all of the motions of completing a visit, from an experienced sitter.

Even further, your experienced sitter, who is leading the shadow visits, can evaluate if the new hire is going to work out or not. 

I always check in with my experienced sitters during the first few weeks when a new sitter is onboard to see if the new sitter is throwing up any red flags or issues.

If a sitter is not working out within the first couple of weeks, let that person go. If you terminate someone’s employment within the 90-day probationary period (and you cite the probationary period on your offer letter) no employment lawyer will pick up that case. 

Hire slowly. Fire quickly (when necessary). 

Second Week Check-in Meeting

The second week check-in meeting is an opportunity to cover any questions a sitter still might have. It’s also an opportunity for you to set more expectations that you might have forgot to cover earlier.

I also ask this series of questions to get a feel for what the sitter thinks about the job.

  • Is your job what you expected it to be when you accepted it?
  • How do you feel your work-life balance is?
  • Do you feel overworked, underworked, or just the right workload?
  • Are there any areas of the company you would like to learn more about?
  • How do you prefer to receive feedback?

Here are some other items I cover:

  • Set a deadline for team training page bio
  • Cover any questions the new staff member has
  • Schedule a time to take a team page photo
  • Schedule more shadow visits or onboard new clients with the team member as needed

Continue to Check-in as Needed

In the beginning stages of onboarding a new team member you should be checking in more often, but as the new hire gains more experience they should get more freedom in their work. I do everything I can to empower my team to make their own decisions. I don’t want to have to do the thinking for them.

If you want more information about this management style, check out the One Minute Manager by management guru, Ken Blanchard.

Summary

I have found that onboarding a new staff member is sort of like launching a rocket. It takes careful planning and preparation to be successful.

Also, much like launching a rocket, if I make some mistake in the early stage of takeoff, or if I don’t follow a proven preflight checklist, that new hire tends to crash and burn.  

This article covers all of the steps I follow when onboarding a new staff member. The process covered in this article is one of the keys to growing a successful business that does not burn you out. 

The best part is, when you follow all of these steps, it makes hiring and keeping your staff easy.

Rocket launch - Space X

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