There are few things in life more rewarding than starting and maintaining your own small business. Plenty of businesses out there don’t take a lot of capital to get going and can provide a person with the independence they need and potentially an increase in income. Much to people's surprise, one such business that can be very successful if done right is a dog walking business. So let's discuss how to start a dog walking business and how to do it right.
Although only 3% of households in the United States use a pet sitter or dog walker…
…that still adds up to 50-60 million home visits to care for pets every year.
There is usually a ready supply of dog walking customers in any type of residential neighborhood and almost anyone can do this type of work with minimal dog handling experience. As long as you love dogs and have the drive and commitment that it takes to be your own boss, all that's left is to figure out how to start a dog walking business.
Before you put out that ‘Open' sign, there are a few things that you should consider. Most importantly, even though majority of your time will be spent around your adorable companions, you will still be a small business owner and that requires wearing multiple hats. Are you prepared to do the many other tasks that will be required in order to make your dog business successful? Think about the tasks you'll have to deal with:
- Initial setup
- Customer service
…and a few other things that come along the way.
You'll also be responsible for all the office related work that goes along with running a dog business including responding to emails, answering phones, being active on social media and maintaining a website. Always do plenty of research before you begin, and read our articles on pet business to get a better sense of the industry. Speak with other small dog business owners or look for small business classes in your local area. Get a feel for what you are jumping into before you dive in.
How to Start a Dog Walking Business
Before starting ANY kind of business, you need to assess the need for it to be sure you have the clientele your business requires.
As I previously mentioned, there is usually a ready supply of customers that need their dogs walked in any residential neighborhood. The trick is finding the ones that are willing to pay for the dog walking service. You will need to locate an area with such potential customers as seniors that need their dogs walked more often than they are able to, or families that have dogs but no one is home during the day to take care of their needs.
Research has to be the first thing on your priority list. Is there a demand for a dog walking business in your area? You might want to chat with some friends and neighbors to get a better idea. The farther you have to travel to get to your customers, the more difficult your business model will be. Obviously business expenses must also be taken into consideration. For example, if you live in a rural neighborhood and you need to drive 15 minutes to each of your dog walking clients, that will add up to a lot of time and gas money throughout the week.
RELATED: How to live on a budget with dogs
Scope out your competition. Even if you live in an area where there are lots of dogs and you think it's a great place for learning how to start a dog walking business, it's possible that someone else has already thought of that too. Simply because there is another dog walker in the area doesn't mean that you won't have a successful dog walking business. Perhaps there is more of a need than one person can fill, or you'll be able to provide better service, but you still want to find that out before you decide to start advertising your dog walking services.
What's the scope of your business?
Another important thing to think about when figuring out how to start a dog walking business is just how big you want this pet venture to be. Are you planning on getting a few customers to start with to see what happens? Do you want to hire an employee right out of the gate? Will you need financing, or are you planning on starting small with little overhead?
If you are super ambitious and want to have six employees walking several dogs a day, then that is something that needs a more comprehensive business plan to succeed (be on the lookout for our Dog Walking Business Plan column next week!). However, if you believe that you could get a few customers to start off with right away and slowly build your customer base from there, you may not need a lot of financing and your pet startup plan will be much more simple.
Here's a question: Have you thought about a business partner?
Having a business partner will bring up a lot more questions and many more legalities that you'll have to deal with, but it would also take some of the weight off your shoulders. Be very careful when deciding on a business partner though. Just because someone is your friend or family member does not mean they know how to run a business. However, as many business articles advise, always have a solid hierarchy in place within your business.
You will also need to decide if you're going to establish the dog walking business within a close proximity to your residence or if you'll need to travel to get to the area you wish to establish the business in. Of course if you do travel then you'll need transportation and you'll incur additional costs which will impact your bottom line, and in turn – your pricing.
“I'm convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance.” – Steve Jobs
Speaking of financing, every pet business needs some type of start-up money. Even though a dog walking business is probably not going to require a huge amount of initial capital, it will not be as simple as picking up a leash and going to work either. There are many start-up costs that you'll have to fund, including:
- Are you going to do any formal training?
- Dog business insurance
- Pet business licensing or permitting (depending on state)
- Any kind of must have dog supplies
- Website and social media accounts
- Advertising and marketing
If you choose a more ambitious scope, then it will likely cost you a lot more to start the business. You will need to allow for such things as vehicle cost, gas, payroll, and employee benefits. Financing may need to be arranged with a bank or investors, or you will have to have significant savings. The bigger your aspirations, the larger your start-up costs will be.
Your customers aren't just the furry ones…
Dog walkers need to have a way with people and their pets. You have to remember that you need to be as friendly and welcoming to human clients as you are to their dogs. It seems like it would be the opposite, but the humans are actually the bread and butter of your business. If they don't trust you, they'll never let you walk their dog.
One of the easiest ways to attract clients is by choosing a catchy name for your business that is easy to remember. If you can think up a neat slogan to go with your business name, you'll be doing even better. Some things to consider when choosing a business name are:
- Do not add ‘dog walking' to the name of your business in case you decide to offer other services someday
- Avoid unusual spellings
- Make sure it's easy to pronounce
- Is it easy to remember?
- Keep it simple
- Give a clue as to what type of business it is
- Make sure your business name is available by checking The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, your State and Local Governments, and make sure the domain name for your website isn't already taken.
There are obvious ways to attract customers to your business and not so obvious ways. In this day and age most everyone can start a simple business website for a small fee; in most cases it is advantageous to do this. The phone book is another place where you can advertise, but be aware that phone book readership is fast declining in many places.
Advertising can get very expensive. Radio spots and television advertisements are great ways to get your business seen by thousands of people, but it is going to cost you a lot of money. If one thousand people see your television ad or hear your radio commercial, how many of them have pets? How many of these pet owners need a dog walker? There may be better ways to advertise your business by focusing solely on the demographic your business will serve.
Some of the more creative ways you can advertise won't cost you much at all. Think outside the box and get creative with your advertising. Perhaps you could post flyers at senior citizens centers or leave business cards at the local veterinarian offices. You could even do such things as handing out business cards at a dog walking park. Do whatever it takes to get clients because without them you obviously won't have a business.
You're beginning to figure out how to start a dog walking business, now comes the fun stuff… MONEY! What services should you offer and what should you charge?
We're all in business to make money, but it's not as fun as it sounds. Deciding what services to offer and how much to charge for each one can be frustrating. Of course, you want to make money, but you also can't price your services so high that no one is willing to pay for them. There is often a fine line here.
A good place to start is by making some anonymous calls to other people in the area in the same business; this will help you price your services at or near your competitors. If there are no other dog walking businesses in your area, call the closest services to you. Get online and search for dog walking businesses located close to you or in other parts of your state and call them. Some businesses even list their prices on their website which would make your research even easier.
Just because there aren't any local competitors doesn't mean you can charge any price you want. You still have to keep your prices reasonable or no one will be willing to pay for your dog walking services. Doing the research now will stop you from having to find out the hard way that you're prices are too high.
You can always increase your prices, but it is safer and better to start out slowly: choose lower pricing for your services at the beginning. Don't go too high, because you'll have a much higher chance of driving away your potential clients.
Once you commit to a list of services and prices you can create brochures or flyers to hand out to your clients. If someone hires you to walk their dog you could also give them a flyer that shows all the services you offer which they may not realize you provide. You could consider offering playtime, feeding and watering, overnight dog sitting, transportation to appointments at the groomers or the veterinarians, or even trips to the dog park, dog beaches, or hiking.
Create a contract to protect you and your clients.
Now if you decided to try and see how to start a dog walking business, remember all the legal paperwork, too.
It’s important to have a written contract between you and each one of your clients. Even if you're walking a family member or friend's dog, it is crucial to have a signed contract. This type of legal agreement will protect both you and your clients in case something ever happens.
A contract will describe:
- your responsibilities
- the terms of your compensation
- the nature of your relationship with your client
- an authorization for you to obtain emergency medical care for your client’s dog
- the owner’s responsibility for damage done by their dog
- specific details about any medications or special services that the dog requires
- any other pertinent information to the individual dog(s) you are walking and their owners requirements
You don't need to go to a lawyer's office every time you sign up a new client. Many dog walking businesses use templates such as the ones found on websites like Legal Zoom, Rocket Lawyer, and Free Legal Documents. It doesn't need to be anything fancy. Just a statement in writing that protects you and the dog owners you work for.
As you can clearly see, there are a lot of things to consider when starting something even as simple as a dog walking business. It may be a small undertaking but without proper planning it can fail to be profitable just like any larger size business. So take the time to look at things thoroughly in regard to your prospective dog walking business and keep everything realistically aligned with your situation to give yourself the best chance of success.
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