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How Do I Get a Job In Wildlife Removal?



08.16.2012 - I get many emails every day. I try to answer all of them. One of the most common emails I get is: "How do I get a job like yours?" Many people want a job as a wildlife removal specialist. I will now answer the most common questions that I get:

What kinds of jobs involve wildlife?
I don't know them all. There are various jobs issued through state fish & game commissions. There are park rangers. There is some private industry stuff along the lines of biologists. There are city and county animal services, though they typically deal with domestic animals - dogs and cats. Then there's my job - nuisance wildlife control operator. It's like pest control, but instead of killing bugs, I humanely remove wildlife: mammals and reptiles.

How did you get started?
I used to work a desk job in software, but I wanted a fun job outside, where I could be the boss. I noticed that a really cool older man in my Pennsylvania town removed unwanted wildlife for a living. So I asked him about his work. When he told me how much money he made, I was sold! I asked if I could be his apprentice and learn the ropes, and I told him that I'd work for free, and that I'd move to a different city to start my own wildlife business. He agreed. I worked hard for almost two years, the man gave me a few traps as gifts, and I moved to Orlando Florida (he told me business was good in the south). I spent all my savings from my software job on a truck, ladders, tools, supplies, wildlife traps, etc. I created my own business cards, contracts, all that stuff. It turns out that I had learned very little as an apprentice. The older man had mostly taught me how to do bat removal jobs and how to kill squirrels and groundhogs. I had to learn 99% on my own, by trial and error, and even though I worked hard, I made many mistakes. My first year was very hard. But with time, I got better and better, and within a couple of years, my income had grown to ten times what I was making at my desk job.

Can you train me?
No. I no longer do wildlife removal. I loved the work, but my websites became so popular that in 2005, I started selling advertising to other wildlife operators. That business grew so big that I had to quit field work in mid-2007, so that I could focus on the online advertising full-time. I miss working in the field. It was a lot more fun than sitting at a computer, but now I owe an obligation to my clients and the friends who rely on my websites to make their phones ring with customers. Truth be told, I already did train several close friends, and they in turn trained others, so there's a lot of guys out there who have learned from the techniques I developed over my years in the field. All of these guys also use the contracts, work orders, billing templates, business cards, etc etc that I designed.

Well then, who CAN train me?
You can try to do what I did, and ask an established company if they can train you: either as an employee or as a non-paid apprentice, like I did. But beware: no one wants new competition, so you might want to promise that you'll move away. Sure, you can sign a non-compete clause, but as with most legal agreements, since the burden of enforcement is such a pain in the butt, you can probably be a backstabbing cheater, and the nice fella who trained you probably won't do anything about it. I'll be honest here: most of the people I know who do wildlife removal as a job were once employees of another company, and then they quit and started their own business, usually in the same town as their former employer. But many other guys got their start as a franchisee of an established business. The main office trains you. But some of these guys end up breaking their franchise agreement and starting their own business.

Should I start my own business?
I personally say yes. You can be your own boss, set your own hours, and keep all the money you make. I think "Why on earth work for someone else?" But it turns out that some people out there WANT a boss telling them what to do, and when to do it, and then they want to come home and crack a beer and watch TV and not think about work. If you run your own business, you have to be responsible and pay attention all the time. So it's a matter of personal preference.

If I want a job, who should I work for?
There are a few big national chains out there that you could work for. There are also franchises for sale, where you become a franchisee and pay fees in exchange for training and some marketing. Or you could find the local businesses in your area, both big and small, and ask them for a job. The reality is that I don't suspect many of these guys will want to hire someone, but you never know, and it doesn't hurt to ask. Some franchisees do very well. Most of flat-out employees don't make a whole lot of money.

HOW do I start my own wildlife removal business?
Buy or borrow a work truck, some animal traps, do some advertising, and that's it - you've started a business. It really is that simple.

Do I need any special schooling or education?
No. School is a waste of time. Ask any adult in the real world about their job - they will have to admit that you can learn more about a specific profession in just two weeks on the job than ten years in school. My dad is a dentist, and he knows that if I shadowed him and he trained me for a few months, I'd be a better dentist than a kid fresh out of eight years and $200,000 in college and dental school bills. I myself was a straight-A student. I went to a good college: the University of Notre Dame. What a joke. What a waste of time and money. Unless you really want a specific job that requires a degree by law (such as doctor), drop out of school right now and do something useful with your life.

What if I can't find anyone to teach me the basics?
There are a ton of reference materials online, there are training books and videos sold at www.wildlifecontrolsupplies.com, and I think it's a good idea to join NWCOA.

What kind of licensing do I need to be a nuisance wildlife operator?
Another trick question. None. Sure, if you want, you can go ahead and inform the authorities that you are running a business, and you can research what licenses you need, and you can put yourself on the radar and get state, county, and city occupational licenses, go to your accountant and organize as a subchapter S corp with LLC, contact the state fish & wildlife commission and get a nuisance trappers permit, which may require lots of time and testing, do the same for the state agricultural agency, go through the nightmare of obtaining workers' comp insurance, buy liability insurance, have OSHA inspect your ladders and safety equipment, etc. etc. You will be broke and in tears before you make your first dollar. Screw it. Just go out and do the work and keep your mouth shut. I myself did all of the above, none of it helped me in any way, and if I could go back, I would have skipped all the legalese and just started my business without filing form 100%BS in triplicate. If you start to grow and become more legit, then maybe make sure these things are in place as you find you need them.

What equipment do I need to get started?
A work truck. Preferably a pickup truck with ladder rack, or better yet, a contractor's cap with ladder rack
Some ladders. A 24' extension ladder and a 6" stepladder are good to start with. I now have six ladders.
Tools: most vital is a good power drill/screwdriver, but a ton of tools are handy: drywall saws, etc.
Attic Equipment: Headlamp, Tyvek suit, HEPA respirator
A Pageris foam gun and PUR-BLACK foam - great tool for bat work and sealups.
Traps and Exclusion Devices: Some big cage traps, some small squirrel traps, some one-way exclusion doors, some exclusion funnels, etc. I buy all my stuff from www.wildlifecontrolsupplies.com
Hardware cloth, sheet metal, and other products for performing exclusion repairs.
There's a lot I could write here, but that's the basics to get started. You'll figure out what you need as you learn.

What else do I need?
Some sort of uniform with the company name/logo looks good, but isn't totally necessary if you're just getting started. Business cards are very important. It's a good idea to operate with a contract / work order and estimate sheet with carbon copy. I made my own, and it took me a long time to develop, so I worked without one my first year. A system of keeping track of customers and jobs is necessary. Some guys just write it all down in a notebook, I used a clipboard with job sheets. A smartphone calendar works, etc. I could write more here, but I'm not writing a book, just a basic startup guide.

What is a typical day like for a wildlife control operator?
You drive around town doing wildlife jobs, picking up trapped animals, climbing on roofs and in attics and doing repairs, taking phone calls, selling and scheduling jobs, talking to customers, etc. Really, most of the day is driving. At the end of the day you enter your income in a spreadsheet, and at the end of the month you look at your bank statement and enter your expenses. It's incredibly simple. A monkey can do this job.

This is a Monday-Friday 9-5 job, right?
If you're a lazy piece of crap who wants to fail, yes. But customers want to meet you in the evening and on weekends. Animals get trapped 7 days a week. When a raccoon is caught in a trap on Sunday morning, you must get it that same day. You must treat animals with respect and never let them suffer. This job is 24/7 365. If you want to take a vacation, you must grind the business to a screeching halt and remove all your traps from around town.

How much money do you make in this job?
It all depends on how you run it. Within a few years, I was making $300,000 per year, and breaking $1000 most work days. I worked non-stop, because it was my goal to break 300 grand a year, and it was no problem. But the thing is, I now realize that there's nothing special about nuisance wildlife control. If you run your own electrical business, plumber, locksmith, septic cleaner, it's no problem to break 300 grand a year. You just have to never stop working. If you can't keep that pace, then just be lazy, and you'll make less money.

What's the key to success?
I sell advertising to over 200 companies, and I've watched hundreds of small businesses get started and run over the years. One and only one thing matters in a service business. Answer your phone at all times. That's it. Do that one simple thing, and you are a millionaire. Most businesses shoot themselves in the foot by not answering the phone. If you answer every call, and just show up, you are a God. You can charge whatever price you want. In the professional service field, customers aren't looking for value, quality work, a fancy reputation, logo or slogan, they'll hire the first human being who actually answers the phone and says they can come out soon. Just answer the phone and show up, and the money is yours.

How do I do my marketing?
I just said that you've got to answer your phone. But how do you make that phone ring in the first place? It's like anything else: by hook and by crook, and by work. You make a good website and get good rankings. You buy pay-per-click ads (if you're desperate). You buy a listing on my website if you want the best value in the world for nuisance wildlife marketing (I charge an average of $3-$4 per call generated, while most other outlets charge closer to $15-$20 per call). You might still generate some leads from a print yellow pages book, (an average of $12 spent per call generated) but most other print advertising is worthless. You contact all local companies, both wildlife and pest, and offer to do wildlife jobs for them when they are unavailable. Do the same for all government agencies who might get wildlife calls, like the city or county animal services, etc. And after you done all this and spent all this, (or forced me to sit at this god-forsaken computer all day doing SEO) PLEASE ANSWER YOUR PHONE WHEN IT RINGS.

What business structure is best?
You can start out as a sole proprietor. This just means you're some dude/dudette who is running a business, and files a Schedule C on his tax return. If you become bigger, you can go to an accountant and have her set up a Subchapter S corp with LLC, which is definitely the best business structure for a small business like this.

What should I name my company?
It really, REALLY does not matter. You can name it Toilet Stink Critter Molesters if you want, so long as you answer your phone every time, you'll end up rich.

I want to do wildlife removal because I love animals
That's not necessarily the best reason to pursue this job. Again, you spend most of your day driving, talking on the phone, and doing home repairs. And ultimately, you are removing animals from the life they've established in your customer's attic or yard, and that's not what's best for the wildlife. You are serving people, not animals. That said, I sure did like working with animals whenever I got a chance. And I always felt good, knowing that I dealt with them more humanely than other wildlife companies did.

I been catchin snakes an lizards an stuff ever since I was a kid
You're probably not going to be a successful nuisance wildlife operator based on this alone. Skills such as organization, marketing ability, answering the phone and showing up on time - these are what matter.

If my business grows, I need employees, right?
This is getting ahead of myself, since this is a startup guide, but never ever ever ever ever get an employee. I knew this rule from day one, and I followed it morbidly. This job is so simple. Why make it more complex? Why the headache of having to deal with another person? If you have so much work that you feel you need to hire someone, the correct answer is screaming at you in the face: raise your prices until the work level shrinks to a manageable level. Do that, and you'll be amazed to watch your take-home profit explode far beyond what you'd get with an employee, who will actually make your take-home income fall. Only get an employee if have an ego in which you want to boss someone around for fun.

What kind of benefits package can I expect from a nuisance wildlife career?
All the free possum stew you can eat! Seriously, as with any small business, buy your own health insurance on the free market (it aint hard or expensive. I pay $100 a month to Blue Cross Blue Shield. I'll pay more when I have a family), and set up a ROTH IRA or a SEP IRA and save money for later in life. This is just as good as any benefits any Fortune 500 company will give you.

IN SUMMARY
I've found that life is a lot simpler than people think, and as long as you're not a lazy sack of shit, success is easy. Buy a truck and some traps and some ads, answer the damn phone, and you're off and running with a fabulous new career!  You have to learn by trial and error in life, so just jump into the fire, and don't be timid.  If you can make it through that first difficult year without being a quitting crybaby, you'll make it.

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