Sitter service offers range
Whoever thought a full-time babysitting and nanny service would be welcomed with open arms in Barbados?
With the extended family and friends very often available to perform such duties, some people would consider it a waste of time to even contemplate the idea.
Close friends Sheena Clarke and Malou Morgan are not among that group, having started Island Sitters a few months ago.
Far from stumbling in their entrepreneurial infancy, the duo are celebrating early success, recently winning Automotive Art’s competition for entrepreneurs.
“I worked for a sitter agency in Amsterdam during my studies and recognized the need for something similar here in Barbados. I approached Sheena about starting this business together because I knew that she also has extensive experience in childcare and that we work really well together. I managed to convince her to partner with me and we officially launched on October 1,” Morgan explained, after which the pair jointly responded to questions posed by BARBADOS BUSINESS AUTHORITY.
They both have some background in child care. Clarke started babysitting family members when she was 14 years old and by age 16 it was a source of income. She studied child and behavioral psychology and has experience with special needs children, particularly Down’s Syndrome.
Morgan managed children’s sailing camps for more than six years during the school holidays, worked for sitter agencies in Leeds, London and Amsterdam, and tutored children with special needs for many years. So how does this practical experience translate into a viable business?
“We started indirect market research over the summer by offering our services free of charge, to get a feel for the business. We asked for a lot of feedback and it gave us great insight. It also gave us enough time to start pooling sitters and to let people know we were continuously recruiting experienced sitters of all ages. With that experience, we felt prepared to officially offer our services at the beginning of October,” the business partners said.
“Island Sitters is a fully comprehensive online agency service, pairing families with qualified and trustworthy babysitters, house sitters, pet sitters, nannies and tutors. We have a large pool of sitters which is continuously expanding through recruitment drives. Our sitters and nannies are all screened by us and pass our strict criteria including experience level, reference checks, personality assessment, character certificate and CPR training where available.”
They were not surprised by the positive response from families, both local and visitors to the island, having “recognized that there was a gap in the market for these kind of services”.
“Parents and homeowners often had a difficult time when trying to find suitable people to look after their children, pets or home. People are excited about an easy to use, professional sitter platform in Barbados. Our service is simple: we save clients time and give them the comfort of knowing that we provide them with trustworthy, reliable sitters,” they said.
“At the moment, our babysitting and nanny services have been most popular, partially due to the fact that we haven’t advertised our other services as much. Once we build a name for ourselves, we hope to push our pet and house sitting and tutoring services.”
Clarke and Morgan said their greatest challenge since starting the business was sitter recruitment, noting that they “have a strict screening process which involves a lot of paperwork and follow-up”.
And so they are especially pleased to have emerged victorious in the Automotive Art contest, pointing out it meant that “what started with a simple, straightforward ‘side business’ has now developed into a full-time start-up, thanks to the competition”.
Winning means they “are now able to move ahead much faster than we would have ever thought because of this competition, and we will always be incredibly grateful for everything they’ve done for us”.
“We entered Island Sitters in the competition because we saw it as a great opportunity to push ourselves and the Island Sitters concept even further. We put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into our entry, and we really gave it our all when it came to pitching our idea. Thankfully, the judges shared our vision for what this company can offer Barbados and the region,” they said.
Having won the top prize, their immediate priority is the company website and ensuring that clients “will be able to schedule and book everything online, making the process even easier”.
“We will also be offering annual membership packages to our clients. We want to expand the business to include more services in the coming years and to eventually expand regionally,” Clarke and Morgan added.
Their advice to other individuals with business ideas who might be hesitant about taking the plunge into entrepreneurship was simply to “go for it!”.
“Too many people sit on these great ideas and never do anything about it. In a small island like Barbados, it’s also really important to recognize the power of your network. We wouldn’t have been able to do as much without the help and support of an incredible team of people. Also, once you pinpoint who can help you, don’t be afraid to ask for that help – no man is an island and every successful businessperson started out with help in some way,” they said.
However, they also believed more needed to be done to encourage a culture of entrepreneurship in Barbados.
“There’s been a lot more buzz recently surrounding entrepreneurs and creative business thinking, which is great but there’s still so much more that can be done, such as mandatory business classes in school. People need to be encouraged to forge their own paths, challenge themselves and unleash their creative potential,” they said.