Juggle, Sitters Unlimited and Sitting Made Simple pair time-crunched parents with prescreened caregivers.
Liz Gibbs was heartbroken when the baby sitter she'd used for five years graduated from Ohio State University. The Cincinnati native had no family in Central Ohio and wasn't sure how to find another college-age caregiver for her two young children.
But thanks to an old-fashioned recommendation for a new technology, the stay-at-home mom from Lewis Center now has a stable of trusted sitters she can hire with a few keystrokes.
Gibbs, like thousands of other Central Ohio parents, uses a service that links her with vetted caregivers. Gibbs uses Sitting Made Simple, a web-based system. Last year, competitor Juggle entered the market on a different platform: a smartphone app. Another online service, Sitters Unlimited, has been in business since 1997.
All match clients' child care needs with available sitters, who are hand-picked by company employees. Here's a rundown of what each offers.
COMPARING THE SERVICES
SITTING MADE SIMPLE
Clients in Central Ohio
Sitters in Central Ohio
Annie Kentris Arthur
Ami L. Jones (president)
Cost to Join
$8 to $15
$9 to $21
Hourly Rate, One Child
pet care, party assistance
nannies, pet sitting, household helpers
tutoring, pet sitting
Powell mom Amber Nolan got the idea for an app-based baby-sitting service in 2015 after she'd had twins and gone back to work. Her nanny suddenly quit and she needed child care in a hurry.
She'd used other sitting services but thought she could do better, so she texted her twin sister and two childhood friends with an idea: Let's start our own business. By fall 2016, Juggle was up and running in Columbus, linking family friends and friends of friends with sitters recruited from local colleges. The service now also operates in Cincinnati, Dayton, the Toledo area and nine other states.
“Families are so busy, and they need sitters and they need them fast,” said Emily Music of Upper Arlington, one of Juggle's co-founders. (The others are Nolan's sister, Ashlee Giannetti of Powell, and Music's sister, Annie Kentris Arthur of Upper Arlington.)
The four moms decided on an app, Music said, “because you always have it in the palm of your hand and it's fast and convenient.” The first version—developed with help from Columbus startup incubator Rev1 Ventures—was available only for the iPhone and iPad, but an Android version is in the works, she said.
To use Juggle, users log in, choose when they need child care and browse a list of available caregivers. The app provides information and reviews about each sitter and indicates which of them friends have used, Music said. Juggle employees screen sitters, and this fall the service expects to begin criminal background checks, Music said.
Juggle has no membership fee but charges $3.99 per booking, or $9.99 a month for unlimited use. Rates start at $12 an hour for up to two children. “You look, book and pay on the app,” Music said.
Sitter Alexis Degler, 22, loves the flexibility the service gives her. The OSU women's soccer player had found it difficult to have a part-time job before she graduated this year. “But with Juggle, I could put my availability up each week and get work,” said Degler, who has worked for Juggle since the company started. “I'm not from Columbus, and this introduced me to families I would never have met.”
Worthington mom Sarah Dooley uses Juggle to finds sitters for her three children, all younger than age 7. “It takes a special person to watch three kids, and there's never been a time that I haven't been able to find someone,” Dooley said. She uses the service once or twice a week so she can go to doctor's appointments, volunteer or run errands.
Dooley, a stay-at-home mother, said the $15 hourly rate is the same she paid sitters she had to track down on her own. “For me, I need things that are going to be easy and simple,” she said. “This is worth it for me right now.”
When Julie O'Donnell decided to sell her Columbus business, Sitters Unlimited, after 16 years, longtime assistant Ami L. Jones was the natural choice to take over. Jones, 39, was one of the service's original sitters, had been a nanny for eight years and, most importantly, loved baby-sitting.
“It helped put me through Capital University,” said Jones of Columbus, who has been president and owner of the company since 2013. “I worked for more than 1,000 families.”
Started in 1997, the service is the oldest in Central Ohio and has morphed from a phone system to an online one. Families pay a one-time $50 registration fee and get access to 70 or so caregivers who have been recruited through college job boards, festivals and word-of-mouth.
Each sitter has had a background check through the Franklin County Sheriff's Office, owns a vehicle and has provided the company with five references, Jones said. Most are college students, but a few, such as Jenne Lynch, 41, have worked for Sitters Unlimited for years.
Lynch signed up with the service seven years ago after working as a preschool teacher, in the corporate world and for the Columbus Metropolitan Library. “I wanted to do something I really loved,” said Lynch, who now baby-sits full time for Sitters Unlimited. “It offers me a schedule with a lot of variety and I can work when I want to, plus there's a vast and loyal clientele base.”
To book a caregiver, a parent logs in and pays an $8 placement fee ($10 for holidays and $15 for last-minute requests) to put a request on the job board. Sitters check the board and pick up assignments. If their job is booked, the parent receives an e-mail with details about the sitter; Jones said 98 percent of client requests are filled. Parents also can request specific caregivers. Families pay the sitter after each job, at a rate of $10 an hour for one child plus $1 for each additional child.
Lindsay Andrews of Dublin has used the service for several years. “I felt like it gave me my life back,” said Andrews, 39, the mother of 6- and 13-year-olds. “I have some family members in the area, but I felt like I was relying on them all the time.”
Andrews said the online scheduling is a time-saver and she appreciates the fact that sitters have been screened and had background checks. “I can schedule the baby-sitting and I don't even think about it again,” she said.
Sitting Made Simple
After working as a nanny for 12 years, Amanda Knapp knew how difficult it was for parents to find reliable caregivers. So in 2008, with eight families and five sitters, she started a small service using the telephone, PayPal and a notebook. Two years later she had a website, and the next year she quit her nanny job to run Sitting Made Simple full time.
“There clearly was a need,” said Knapp, of German Village. “Parents were too busy to find their own sitters and young teens were too busy to baby-sit.”
Now, her company has more than 3,500 members and more than 400 sitters in Central Ohio and has franchises in Cleveland, Dallas, Indianapolis and Nashville as well as a sister company in St. Louis.
Members register and pay a one-time $50 fee. They can log in to the website, choose when they need a caregiver and select from a list of available candidates. Each sitter has an online profile, has had a background check and is certified in CPR, Knapp said.
Clients pay a booking fee of $9 to $21, depending on how far ahead the job is scheduled and whether it includes overnight sitting or family sharing. Rates start at $10 per hour.
The company also offers phone consultations and has an office that's open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. That was important to Gibbs, who has called numerous times. “I can pick up the phone and someone is there to answer, and I can shoot an email and someone responds immediately,” she said. “I love it because we're so by the seat of our pants when we need a sitter; it's so worth the cost.”
She especially likes the fact that she can line up caregivers on weekdays when she wants to go to the gym, the grocery store or a doctor's appointment. She couldn't do that with high school sitters during the school year, plus she likes the maturity that college students bring to their work. “I've been happy with all the sitters I've had, and my kids have enjoyed having someone new.”