Starting your own business is about much more than being your own boss— though that is a pretty exciting perk. It is about doing something you are passionate about— something you love— and turning that passion into a profession. And few things are as important and purposeful in life as our love for animals.
If you love animals— and in particular dogs— starting a dog walking business is a great way to do something meaningful with your time (and get paid for it!), while also learning the ins and outs of building a business. Because you will have little overhead and don’t need a brick and mortar storefront, dog walking can help you cut your teeth on what it takes to be a business owner, while also devoting your time to something you enjoy.
So if you’ve been thinking of branching out on your own and dog walking sounds like a good place to start, read on for some of the most basic and most important considerations to make that can help you start out with your feet— all four of them— on solid ground.
Organize your time and money
You don’t have to quit your full-time job to start a dog walking business, which can provide some much needed stability in those early lean days. You can also bring in some extra cash by working an additional part-time job as you work out the nuts and bolts of your own business. However, with all that going on— not to mention keeping your clients’ schedules straight— you want to implement a solid organization system right away. Start by focusing on time and money.
- Scheduling: Block out time in your calendar for walking and schedule clients who live close to each other in the same window. Many dog walkers block out time in 15-to-30 minute chunks.
- Pricing and Services: Establish your rates and services early on. You may have to do a little market research to see what the dog walking services in your area typically charge. You may also want to add additional services to help boost your appeal— are you willing to pet sit, feed, bathe or scoop poop?
- Be Smart with Business Expenditures: Budget some cash for goodies and accessories to make your interactions with the dogs easier. You can buy leashes that connect to more than one dog, collapsible water bowls for on-the-go drinks and dog treats like bully sticks to help you praise good behavior and build positive rapport with the pups. Keep your receipts so you can write these items off on your taxes.
Speaking of taxes, starting a business has a whole slew of state and federal legal requirements. Some apply to dog walking and some don’t. You will want to register your business, understand the zoning laws for your area and look into obtaining licenses or permits your city or county might require.
Take measures to set yourself apart from other services
Whether you are in a big city where busy business people work late hours or a small sleepy town where people treat their pets like family members, dog walking can be a lucrative venture if you know how to set your services apart from the rest. One of the most effective ways to do that is to go above and beyond in understanding your clients’ needs.
- Keep Pet Information Records: Keep detailed information on your clients and their dogs, including contact information, breed, time preferences, vet information, dog personality assessment and special requirements.
- Provide Excellent Customer Service: Communicate with your clients to let them know how good their pup did on the walk. Text or email them a picture of a happy dog strutting down the street.
- Take Certification and Training Courses: Get certified in pet CPR and first aid. You can even consider taking a few classes in obedience training so that clients have confidence in your ability to handle conflict or stressful situations.
With all the ways to be active and involved, it’s equally important you set boundaries for yourself and your services. Be upfront about what you will and won’t do. You can even post them on your website or Facebook page.
Advertise your services and get the word out there
There is a lot of benefit in investing in some of the more traditional marketing assets, like business cards and flyers, but in today’s digital world there are a lot more options online. Marketing is the foundation of success for any and every business, and it starts by understanding what your clients’ needs are and letting them know that your service is best suited to help address them.
- Choose Your Business Name: Establish a cohesive, recognizable brand that includes your company name, logo and set of colors. Use those to identify yourself and anchor your brand on your website, social media platforms and in print.
- Marketing: Advertise your business on community websites like Next Door and on digital and physical bulletin boards at senior centers, coffee shops, veterinarian offices and animal hospitals.
- Be Seen as A Dog-Walking Expert: Showcase your expertise by creating a series on YouTube that provides helpful information and useful tutorials, like how to get your dog to walk without pulling, benefits of daily walks for dogs and ways to exercise your dog when you are on a tight schedule.
- Encourage Referral Marketing: Ask satisfied customers to review your business on Facebook. Offer discounts to people who refer a friend to your service. Social proof is one of the top factors people consider when looking for a new product or service.
Dog walking is a much-needed service for many families and communities, which is why it has become an increasingly lucrative business to start. In addition to the need, the hours are flexible and the start up costs are relatively small. That makes it popular for first-time business owners with a passion for pets and an entrepreneurial spirit. Starting a business is a process, following the tips above while also doing your own research and listening to your customers’ feedback can give your business the best change of starting— and staying— strong.