Today’s episode is all about how to start a babysitting business. This is my interview with Cristina Twigg, the owner of Easy Care Sitters, a NYC-based babysitting business/agency.
Three years ago, as a receptionist at an advertising agency, Cristina started her own NYC-based babysitting agency. She has been running it on the side for the past 3 years now, and as it’s been doing great!
She’s been growing at her current job as well (she’s now a copywriter) and with her babysitting agency she has opened a second location in DC, and now has plans to make it profitable enough in the next two years so that she can leave her full-time job.
Listen to the Podcast
Highlights from the interview:
0:00 Intro and What motivated Cristina to start the business.
2:00 Cristina explains the business setup/process.
3:30 Why people in the city use her vs sittercity.com or other service.
6:00 Making the leap from employee to entrepreneur.
8:00 The personal finance aspect of starting this business.
10:00 The number of sitters she has and the number of gigs each week.
10:30 How she makes her cut. i.e. the booking fee.
11:15 Getting CPR certifications and background checks.
11:45 How she deals with the legal issues involved with this business.
13:45 The agreement she has with the sitters.
14:45 How she will grow the babysitting business.
15:15 Where she plans to advertise her business.
17:15 Forming an LLC, getting a Tax ID, and building the website.
20:45 Doing taxes and accounting.
21:15 Revenue and hours spent on the business.
22:30 Taking payments from parents.
23:15 Services to use for background check and CPR certification.
25:30 The key to the business: solid communication with the parents.
27:00 Mistakes she’s made along the way.
29:00 Her plan for going full-time with the business.
Mentioned in the Interview:
- Yelp Advertising
- Help a Reporter Out
- Wix.com Website Builder
- Square Payment App
- Sittercity Background Check through LexisNexis
Watch the How to Start a Babysitting Business Google Hangout
Thank you so much for listening!
Transcription: Just click show
Philip Taylor: Welcome to the Part-time Money podcast. I have with me today, Christina Twigg from Easy Care Sitters. That’s easycaresitters.com. And today we’re going to be talking to Christina about her story— starting her business on the side. She also has a fulltime job that she manages as well so we’re going to be talking about that, and about her business which is a babysitting service that she runs— multiple families, multiple sitters it sounds like. So I’m excited to hear about it. I’ve seen her website. It looks really cool so you guys need to go check it out. It’s at easycaresitters.com. Welcome, Christina.
Christina Twigg: Thank you, hi.
Philip Taylor: So the first question I always ask folks is, why did you decide to start making some part-time money?
Christina Twigg: Well, I had worked a long time, almost two years, for a child care company where they did everything, but I ran the babysitting aspect. When I left that company I started fresh as a receptionist. I remembered the time I had there and how much I enjoyed it, and I thought if I were to run a babysitting agency only, not just a childcare company that focused on so many things, but just babysitting, I’d be able to give parents really focused and personalized service— something they could really trust and rely on. I decided that I may as well give it a try. I had great connections with all the sitters I had worked with in the past and I decided, “Why not try?” If I succeed, that’s wonderful and I’d get to do my own thing. And if I didn’t, at least I can always say, “I tried,” and not regret it. So, that’s what happened a little bit over three years ago.
Philip Taylor: Awesome. So tell us about the business. Explain what services you provide.
Christina Twigg: Sure. It’s very simple. Basically I have a pool of sitters that have been background checked and CPR certified. I hire them all based on either friend referrals, sitter referrals or even parent referrals so I have a level of connection with them. There is no Craig’s List hiring or anything like that. And, what happens then is a parent can email me or call me—usually it’s by email, and they say they need a sitter for a particular date and time. I contact the sitters for them. So, the parents don’t need to call 30 people themselves, I do it for them. And once I find somebody, I set it up. I give the sitter all the information she or he needs to get there and the parents are then given a confirmation with a picture of the sitter along with a little bio, letting them know a little bit more about the sitter. They are explained the hourly rate, and that’s basically how it works.
Philip Taylor: Awesome. So you’re like the sitter dispatch?
Christina Twigg: Yeah, I’m kind of like an agent in a way, for babysitting.
Philip Taylor: Yeah, a broker of sorts. So, why would people come to your business versus something like the babysitter down the street or something like— I think it’s called sittercity.com or something. It’s more of a generic, bigger website.
Christina Twigg: I think the benefit of Easy Care Sitters over Sitter City is that it’s a small company and it’s owned by me, a person you actually know. I’m the actual person who runs it so it’s a very personalized service. You always talk to me. Sittercity.com on the other hand, you do have access to many sitters and you’re able to see their profile online, but you don’t really talk to somebody. You pay online and then contact the sitter directly which can be great, but if you’re in a pinch and you need somebody last minute, having to contact sitters separately time and time again can be difficult. Whereas, by contacting me, you call one person— or email one person, and I’m the one that does the web work and contacts the 30 plus sitters for you. In terms of the babysitter down the street, I think that’s why the system works in big cities like, New York City or, you know, hopefully someday L.A, San Francisco. It’s because the whole, “sitter down the street” thing isn’t as common here as it would be in the suburbs where you’re in a neighborhood. Very often parents very much need somebody and they don’t have a neighbor that they can rely on, so it’s really made for a metropolitan sort of destination.
Philip Taylor: Yep, that makes a lot of sense. You’ve found yourself a great niche there. Do you have competitors that are doing a similar thing?
Christina Twigg: Yes, there are definitely a few. I can think of four or five in the New York area. Some of them have been around for a very long time like the Babysitters Guild of New York. But from what I’ve seen on their website and from what I’ve heard, they haven’t been very active lately. And so luckily they’re not much of a competitor. The other ones around that are a little bit more similar to my model, are priced a little bit more than mine. I definitely price my service competitively so I can gain the upper hand.
Philip Taylor: Very good. Well, I like the sound of the way you started the business. You were actually working in a daycare facility so you sort of learned the nuts and bolts behind the process of engaging with parents and you saw an opportunity there to take certain elements of that and use it as a business. A lot of people sitting at a job like that wouldn’t necessarily think entrepreneurially that way. So what motivated you to think that way? Or what is it you think is different about you that said, “I can actually go do that?”
Christina Twigg: I think it’s that—my husband likes to say that I’m a little bit crazy because I’m a multi-tasker so I always want to do something, and the idea kind of just popped into my head. And one of the sitters I used to work with, I said to her as a joke, “Maybe I’ll start my own babysitting agency,” and she was so supportive and said, “Absolutely! You should do it.” Having somebody actually back you up on what you thought was just a silly incline is really helpful. I think I’m a bit of an over-achiever and I like doing my own thing and being able to say that I’m providing a service that’s very helpful, knowing that parents are able to get to work or go on their date night or when their nanny calls out they’re not in a jam, it feels really good to be that person to help. And I think that’s the attractive part of it, knowing that I’m running a business that helps their life go more smoothly.
Philip Taylor: I like it. That sounds great. Let’s back up a little bit before we go forward and talk about— and you may have mentioned this a little bit, but maybe talk— If you can, share with me your financial situation when you first decided to run this business of the side. Did you look at this as a way to bring in some extra income for your family?
Christina Twigg: Yes, I knew that at first it would be a bit of a risk only because obviously it’s to setup a LLC and get a website, etcetera, you do have to put some money into it. But, I also knew that in general, in terms of starting your own company, this particular business has little to no capital to begin it. I just have to set up the LLC, hire the sitters, etcetera, but it wasn’t like opening a restaurant where I’d need thousands of dollars to even realize that. So my thought was it’d be great to kind of start this up and have it be kind of like a secret savings account that I would never access unless there were an emergency. And that’s why I run it while working a fulltime job. But, what I’ve found is that in these past few years there really is a market for it. Especially in New York. And because I’ve been focused on providing good service, obviously I want to be there for the parent and I want to give them the attention they deserve, I haven’t been reaching out or trying to expand my client base too much because having the fulltime job means I kind of actually have to work my fulltime job too. So, for now it’s kind of a savings account, but my hope is that I will gain confidence and then just bite the bullet and make it a fulltime thing and really grow it. Hopefully it will not be a savings account— it will be “the” account.
Philip Taylor: Right. Awesome. That sounds good. So how many sitters do you have?
Christina Twigg: I have 30 sitters on the list right now.
Philip Taylor: Okay, and how many do you use a week?
Christina Twigg: You know, it’s really sporadic, but I would say somewhere between at least 5 a week to 20.
Philip Taylor: Okay.
Christina Twigg: It’s kind of all over the place. Some weeks are really busy and I feel like almost every sitter is out there, but others are a little bit more relaxed. So it’s always changing.
Philip Taylor: Do you get a standard cut out of each sit?
Christina Twigg: Actually, how I do it is I don’t take a cut from the sitter’s hourly rate. What I do instead, is parents have to pay me a booking fee.
Philip Taylor: Oh, that’s right. You mentioned that.
Christina Twigg: It’s either a $10 booking fee for one booking or they can buy a booking bundle which is, you know, they get 12 bookings for the price of 10. That’s what I take and the rest goes to the girls.
Philip Taylor: So the $10 justifies you going out and finding the sitter and being the broker?
Christina Twigg: Yeah, and it also pays for the background checks and the CPR certification so it’s kind of all-in-one.
Philip Taylor: Oh, okay. Is that a one-time deal or do you have to always update that with your sitters?
Christina Twigg; Well, CPR certifications usually expire within one or two years so they need to be recertified and the background check I believe is the same, every two years you need to perform a new one.
Philip Taylor: That was going to be one of my earlier questions. I mean, I would think going into any kind of service where you’re dealing with someone’s kid, you know, the legal issues involved here might scare someone away. So, maybe you can talk about how you got over the hurdle of doing that?
Christina Twigg: Sure. Well, this is another scenario where working at that childcare company really did help me with this, so I wasn’t as new to it. But, of course the background check is essential so that was one way to face that hurdle. I knew it was something that needed to be done. It’s common sense. Then, because of how the business is run, I am basically an agent. But these—all these sitters are freelancers technically. They’re not under my employ. So what I do is have parents sign a liability waiver form that I keep on file, and that’s basically protecting the company from any sort of lawsuit. Unless, of course, there’s some gross neglect on the part of the sitter which then, of course, I would have to face that. But that is signed by every single parent before a sitter even goes there. That’s how I safeguard myself against the fear.
Philip Taylor: Did you talk to a lawyer on how to develop that form?
Christina Twigg: Well, I actually based the form on what my previous employer at the childcare company did. I did change a few of the stipulations, but I believe theirs had been drawn up by a lawyer.
Philip Taylor: Good deal.
Christina Twigg: Yeah.
Philip Taylor: Do you have any sort of contractual relationship with the sitters?
Christina Twigg: Yeah. They sign a contract when they start. Basically, aside from the basic code of conduct and how they should act, it also states that they should not be working at another babysitting agency. And it also alerts them that if a parent were to ask them if they wanted to work with them directly and not with the agency, they’re more than welcome to do so. But that will result in immediate termination from Easy Care Sitters.
Philip Taylor: Very good. So, contracts with the parents, contracts with the sitters themselves. You don’t have to deal with any kind of payment with the sitters and of course, you take the booking fee from the parents. Then to grow your business is a matter of either increasing your booking fee or increasing the volume of babysitting that goes on, right?
Christina Twigg: Right. Ultimately it’ll have to be a mixture of both. I’m finding that for the New York area, the $10 booking fee is really low, so chances are next year that will go up. And I will also finally start advertising so that will, of course, bring in more volume.
Philip Taylor: What are you going to do advertising-wise?
Christina Twigg: Well, I’m thinking that I’m definitely going to put up ads on parents message boards. There’s so many all over Brooklyn that many parents go to that ask for advice on, not only on nannies, but on food, garage sales, etcetera. So that’s a great place to target them. I started doing some Yelp advertising. Today, actually, was day one. And I believe I’m also going to talk to Google about having Google paid search. That’s for the beginning.
Philip Taylor: And have you had much luck with some of the PR that you’re doing? I know that’s what got us in contact.
Christina Twigg: You know, I’ve had one other thing published, I guess. They were asking business owners for tips on how to best treat your clients and that was something that was published in the blog a few months ago. So, it’s definitely been great. This “Help a Reporter out” has definitely been helpful.
Philip Taylor: Yeah, yeah. For listeners, if you have a business or if you have a brand, definitely check out, “Help a Reporter out,” HARO for short. Get yourself out there and start promoting yourself with some of these options. I put myself out there as an expert in personal finance and I contribute to other sites. And then also, I source my podcasts using HARO often times to find people who fit the mold. It’s hard to find someone who started a business on a part-time basis, like yourself Christina. So, I use that service and I would highly recommend anyone out there to use it on either side of the equation. Okay, so backing up for a bit, when you first started out did you— I mean, you mentioned the website and LLC. Was that easy for you? Or did you have to maybe help someone out in order to get that started? How did you do that?
Christina Twigg: Well, I did it in the most cost effective way possible. For me the LLC, there’s no way around it so I compiled all the paperwork, it’s super quick and easy, and you get a tax ID number. Then when it came to building the website I wanted to be able to do something myself as opposed to paying someone to design it and host it, because that can be very expensive. So, what I did was I found wix.com. It’s a really great service. It makes it super easy to build a website and you can customize it. It’s got backgrounds, etcetera. You can’t bring in your own branding, so you can’t upload your own background, but there are so many options that it is really flexible. That was the most cost effective way for me to get a website done, by me doing it as opposed to somebody else. Once that was done I was kind of ready to go, you know. I had the website and the LLC and now it was time to find sitters. So, because I had contacts from my other agency I spoke to those sitters and some of them wanted to work for me so they moved over and that’s how it all started. I mean, it’s a lot of word-of-mouth but once you have one sitter you’re able to get many others. It was the same thing with finding clients and potential parents. You know, people like to talk. And when they’re talking about something new and exciting and that hopefully they like, word gets around.
Philip Taylor: So the LLC, did you do that yourself? File that online?
Christina Twigg: Yeah, just online. It was $300 or something to get it all done properly with the service and they made sure all the paperwork was inline and it was very easy and not stressful.
Philip Taylor: Oh, you used a service?
Christina Twigg: Yes. I cannot remember the name of the service but a co-worker of mine at the time had just done it. He recommended this portal basically, that makes sure you fill out the right forms, sends everything in for you and keeps track of it so you don’t have to worry about it. Everything is in one place.
Philip Taylor: Is it sort of like legalzoom.com?
Christina Twigg: I think it was Legal Zoom, yeah!
Philip Taylor: Okay, well there you go. For $300— that’s New York. It included their service as well. Three-hundred dollars is the total fee— either $200 or $300, I can’t remember. But, yeah, that’s something that everyone should definitely go out and do to provide themselves separation between their personal and their business. From a tax prospective have you brought an accountant on?
Christina Twigg: Well, you know, when I file my personal taxes I also do the Easy Care taxes. And because we’re still a very small company I haven’t really noticed much of an effect. Because there’s no payroll, since I’m not paying any of the sitters, I thus far have really not had to worry about anything tax-wise.
Philip Taylor: Gotcha. All right, so you mentioned somewhere between 10 and 30 sittings a week? Is that right?
Christina Twigg: Yeah, about that.
Philip Taylor: At $10 a pop, you’re talking $1,200 to maybe $1,500 a month in total sales?
Christina Twigg: That’s a really good month, yes.
Philip Taylor: Okay. Okay, very good. That’s a solid— that’ll pay your mortgage right there.
Christina Twigg: Yes.
Philip Taylor: Let’s talk about hours. How long does it take you to manage all of this?
Christina Twigg: Well, I would say that I spend at least 3 hours a day at the very least, emailing parents, sending confirmations to sitters, managing the schedules. And it could take up to 6 hours. Sometimes I’ll find myself getting back from my day job but still working from home dealing with whatever Easy Care thing I’ve left for last.
Philip Taylor: Gotcha. So at this point it’s pretty time-heavy but it’s good cash. How do they pay you?
Christina Twigg: I use the Square app and I take their credit card information and run it through.
Philip Taylor: Does it have to be face-to-face or do you have an online payment system?
Christina Twigg: No, it’s— what they do is give me their credit card information and I keep it on file. Then anytime they make a booking I let them know I’m going to charge them and then I just run it through.
Philip Taylor: Awesome.
Christina Twigg: Mm-hmm. (Affirmative).
Philip Taylor: All right. Good deal. And like you said, no overhead at all, so it’s just your time?
Christina Twigg: Yeah, it’s very nice. I mean, the only time there is overhead is when I’m paying for a background check or the CPR certification, but that’s minimal.
Philip Taylor: Okay, let’s talk about that. What services do you use for those?
Christina Twigg: What I’ve been doing is— and I’m actually in the market for a new provider, so if you by any chance know, I’m eager for your advice. But, I’ve been using the Sitter City background check options. That way I know it’s done properly and it’s legitimate. For CPR certification, at least in the greater New York area, there are lots of options like the Red Cross, but there are smaller companies as well. I actually recently started a partnership with somebody who runs her own CPR certification in the neighborhood, so we provide each other discounts. That way the sitters are able to get CPR certification for a little less than usual and her clients are able to get babysitting through me at a discount.
Philip Taylor: Nice! I have a rental property and I have to do a background check. I can’t remember the service right now but I’ll email it to you after. It’s a great service. I think it’s $19 per application.
Christina Twigg: Great.
Philip Taylor: But I would doubt it’s as thorough as probably what you need. It’s more of a financial background check.
Christina Twigg: Right, so it’s more like credit check?
Philip Taylor: Right, right. It does have a criminal background check too. So I’ll forward that to you.
Christina Twigg: All right. That’d be great. Thank you.
Philip Taylor: And I’ll include that in the show notes for everyone paying attention online. Okay, a couple more questions. I know it’s getting late out where you’re at. Have you ever sat? Do you ever do it?
Christina Twigg: Absolutely. If there are any last minute requests that none of the sitters can do that I happen to be available for, I’ll take it. Or, if a sitter ends up being very sick and I’m not able to get somebody to cover for her but I can make it, I will absolutely do it.
Philip Taylor: Gotcha. All right, two more questions. Let’s end on these. The first one is, what have you done right in the business that you’d look back and say, “I’m set up now. I’m having success now,” because I did this?
Christina Twigg: I would say the thing that I have done right is my ability to communicate with the parents effectively. I over-communicate almost. I make a point to reply to them as soon as possible. I give them as many details as I can and I’m always eager to make sure they know what’s happening. I don’t ever want them to feel any doubt about anything, so I’d say it’s my customer service that’s the reason why the business has done so well, being responsive and available.
Philip Taylor: Awesome, awesome. That’s something that can’t be— well, I guess you could replicate that if you ever needed to outsource your job, but you would need to sort of, you know, get that message across to whoever you had doing that.
Christina Twigg: Yes.
Philip Taylor: Like, it’s a big part of your business, meeting that middle niche you talked about, where you’re in between the babysitter down the street and the big boys— the big block. That’s got to be your differentiator, right?
Christina Twigg: Absolutely.
Philip Taylor: I mean, like you said, people that know you, trust you and are comfortable working with you. That’s good, that’s good stuff. Now, what about any things along the way where you look back and say, “Well, if I hadn’t of done that,” or, “That was probably one thing that slowed me down from having success earlier.” Or maybe something that’s currently a pain in your side that you’re looking to change in the next few periods.
Christina Twigg: I think what it is, is it would actually be my lack of advertising.
Philip Taylor: Okay.
Christina Twigg: I’ve done none. I’ve relied very much on word-of-mouth. And granted, that’s been great, but it’s time to do some actual advertising. Because, at the end of the day, that’s the only way that people will know who I am and get my name out there. So, I think definitely… You know, I’ve been around for 3 years but I’m not as big as one would expect after 3 years. I think that’s where I should have stepped it up a little bit earlier.
Philip Taylor: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm (affirmative). Very good. Well, I like the website so I know when people land there— and obviously when people talk to you on the phone, you’re very pleasant to deal with, so once you get them in the door I think you’ve got them. But, you’re right, you’ve got to go out there and get them.
Christina Twigg: Right, right. Well actually, the site that you saw is brand new.
Philip Taylor: Oh.
Christina Twigg: I just had it redesigned. So that’s no longer the wix.com website. That is a, “I put some money into it,” website.
Philip Taylor: Oh, all right. There you go.
Christina Twigg: Yeah.
Philip Taylor: So, who did that for you?
Christina Twigg: Well, because I work in advertising— I’m a copyrighter, my art partner is a phenomenal, wonderful, talented lady and she was amazing enough to agree to do it just to have something for her portfolio. So, she designed it all and then I outsourced the programming to a company in India that set it up perfectly in just two weeks.
Philip Taylor: Oh, nice. Well, it looks great.
Christina Twigg: Thank you. Yeah, it’s my pride and joy.
Philip Taylor: So, are there any questions I didn’t ask that I should have?
Christina Twigg: I don’t think so. I could add that I do have a five-year plan… or I’m hoping, a two-year plan to no longer have the fulltime job and to only be doing Easy Care. So that’s something to look forward to.
Philip Taylor: Okay, let’s delve into that a little bit. What’s it going to take to get you there, from both the business standpoint and from your personal financial standpoint?
Christina Twigg: In terms of financing, I know that if I’m able to get enough volume so that I have at least 20 bookings a day then that would make it absolutely financially viable. That would also mean I would, of course, really have to leave the fulltime job because I’d need to be able to give it 100 percent of my attention so that I could, again, deliver on the customer service, etcetera, etcetera. That also means hiring many more sitters and potentially— and this would be wonderful, but potentially having somebody who’s on call so that I know they’re available whenever I need them— like with the last minute requests, they’ll show up. I’ll know I can fill it for sure as opposed to hoping that somebody’s available.
Philip Taylor: Right.
Christina Twigg: And I think what it means is kind of working my butt off this year and then sucking it up and just diving in and really putting in all my efforts into advertising, going to events, meeting people, forming more partnerships with local small vendors like toy stores and children’s salons, etcetera. Hopefully, I think it will happen.
Philip Taylor: Very good. So, do you like your current copyrighting gig?
Christina Twigg: I do. I have such wonderful co-workers and it’s in a great location and the work, though sometimes repetitive, can sometimes be very fun and creative. But, at the end of the day when I go home and reflect on the day I don’t reflect on copyrighting. I reflect on what happened with Easy Care. You know, I’m excited when I get a new client, when I get a great response from a current client saying they’re so happy. That’s what really makes me happy and I think that’s what I need to make me satisfied with all aspects of my life, you know?
Philip Taylor: Yeah. And that’s wonderful.
Christina Twigg: Yeah.
Philip Taylor: That’s wonderful and that’s probably a good place to stop. So, I wish you all the best and I appreciate you sharing your story with everyone listening on the podcast. Lots of valuable information on how you started the business, how you’re managing it, so I really appreciate you being on with me, Christina.
Christina Twigg: Absolutely. Thank you for taking the time. I’m glad we managed to schedule it.
Philip Taylor: Right, and how can people get a hold of you or find out about your service?
Christina Twigg: Well, they can go to easycaresitters.com, or they can just email firstname.lastname@example.org, or if they want they can call at 347-855-5437.
Philip Taylor: Awesome. That’s sounds great. If we’re ever in New York and we need a sitter, I know exactly who to call.
Christina Twigg: Please do, we get lots of tourists so I’d be happy to help.
Philip Taylor: All right. Thanks Christina.
Christina Twigg: Thank you. Have a good night.
Philip Taylor: All right, you too.