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So you are a dog lover who is tired of the 8 to 5 grind at your job and you are thinking you would like to do something else. You have a couple of friends that mentioned they feel bad that they leave their dogs home alone all day while they are at work and it gave you an idea: what if you were to start a dog walking business… Before you do though, you need to know how to write a dog walking business plan – one of the most crucial steps in any successful entrepreneurial venture.
With some hard work and careful planning you just may be able to build a successful undertaking. Learning the ins and outs of how to write a dog-walking business plan should be your first step. The act of planning out your business thoroughly will walk you through everything you'll need to do in order to get your pet venture up and running in the most efficient way.
Don't think you need a business plan for something as simple as a dog walking business? Think again. It may seem simple now, but there is a lot of planning involved in the startup of any dog business. As Jennifer Lee, author of Right Brain Business Plan, says…
“If you don't have a business plan it's like you are going to an unknown destination without a map.”
If you're just in the very beginning stages of thinking about a dog walking business and you'd like a little more information, check out my column from last week How to Start a Dog Walking Business. You'll find lots of information about what to expect when starting your business and what you can do to ensure it is a success.
How to Write a Dog Walking Business Plan
Your dog business plan will become the who, what, when, where, why, and how of your business. You'll need to answer a lot of questions with clear and detailed instructions. A business plan is basically a guide that will show the bank, investors, or other business backers the idea that you have in your head.
Even though you know what you want to do and how you're going to get there, you need a business plan to show everyone else what your ideas are and how you plan to bring them to life.
Not planning to bring in any investors? Fine. But you still need to know how to write a dog walking business plan, if for nobody else then for yourself. This is your guide to where you want to get and where you wish to be after 1 year, 2 years, or 10 years into this venture.
State the Goals of Your Dog Walking Business
Before launching your dog walking business, it would be a smart idea to put your thoughts down on paper. This will give you a guiding list for your business startup and will also help you set realistic goals for the company. It will provide you with achievements to strive for when planning the future of your dog walking business as a whole.
- Where do you want to begin? How far are you willing to travel, how many dogs will you walk at a time, how will you schedule your working hours?
- Who's going to do this with you? Do you plan on having a business partner or hiring an employee when you first start your business?
- Where do you want to see your business end up? Would you like to franchise it or hire multiple employees in the future and continue to expand it?
- Will you be offering other services besides dog walking? How are you going to scale this dog business, and is that even something you want to do?
When writing a dog walking business plan, it's also a good time to decide how you're going to incorporate your new venture and what type of business this dog walking service will be. To make this legal, you have several options:
- Sole proprietorship
- Single-member LLC
In most cases, dog walking businesses start out with a sole proprietorship for the first year or two. You will handle all the paperwork, bills, and tax requirements yourself. Once everything is up and running, you can start looking into filing for an LLC to separate your personal assets from your business.
If you have a business partner right from the start, then you need to decide now if you will run your dog business as a limited liability company (LLC), a corporation, or a partnership, and you need to discuss and work all of this out with your business partner, too.
When structuring your entrepreneurial goals, be short and to the point. It's basically just a paragraph or two describing your business idea very generally and then summarizing where you foresee it going in the future. This part of the dog walking business plan is your first impression. You don't want to be too long-winded so people reading it lose attention, but you need to get your most basic stuff across to them.
Who is the target market and how can you advertise to them?
This is one of the most important parts of your business plan. You'll need to do a lot of research, but it will be well worth it. The more market research you do in the beginning, the less of a hassle it's going to be further down the road. Now, you know who your target audience is – obviously it's the dog owners; but what type of dog owners?
Being as specific as possible will help you greatly later on. You want to target pet parents that are gone for long hours and can afford to hire someone to walk their dogs. What about elderly individuals that are not able to walk their canines? You need to think specifically about who your target market is and where they are located.
Gathering this information will also help you plan the all-important advertising, which will bring customers to your dog business and is crucial to the success of your ambitious venture. If you know specific demographics that your marketing needs to reach, you can make your flyers, brochures, and business cards appealing to that select group of individuals.
Anything online goes the same way – approach certain websites, news media outlets, social media channels, and specific people who can either a) become your clientele, or b) become a channel to new clients and promote your business.
Likewise, if you know where your target demographic is located, it will help you plan your own traveling requirements and the best locations to advertise and do your marketing. When it comes to advertising, especially in a business like a dog walking where your target market is smaller, thinking outside the box could make or break your business.
For example, if your primary demographic are people who are gone for long hours and may need a dog walker, some interesting places to advertise could be:
- Coffee stands outside office buildings
- Gyms that open early in the morning or stay open late to accommodate people who work long hours
- In the lobby of apartment buildings located near business districts
If you believe that there are a number of elderly people in your area that may need help caring for their canines, you may want to advertise at your local senior center. Think about places that pet owners frequent as well, like dog parks, pet supply stores, and grooming facilities.
Advertising doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg if you're willing to put in the time to plan out a clever advertising and marketing strategy and do it yourself. Hang flyers, pass out brochures, and speak with potential clients yourself.
If you have a lot of startup capital, you could hire a professional to do your advertising and marketing assignments for you. You can also pay for radio advertisements or even television slots on your local stations. Just remember that this is very expensive and your money may be better used on another aspect of your business, such as online marketing.
When it comes to promoting your business online, the whole concept might seem a little complicated at first, but in reality – it's much easier than doing things offline. With a few clicks of a button, you can dip into massive niche markets using websites, social media channels, and established online authorities that will help you promote your website and your business. We'll have a few separate columns coming up soon on the subject of How to run your online dog business, Internet marketing for pet businesses, and How to promote your dog startups online.
Define the scope and fees for the services you will provide
Clearly, the most important aspect of starting a dog walking business is the initial investment. When learning how to write a dog walking business plan, money is always the most exciting and frustrating part of it. You need to be sure that you're going to make enough cash with your business venture to pay your bills, and the bank and your investors want to know that you're going to have a profitable business that will be able to pay them back for their investment.
The downfall of many new businesses is they have too broad of a focus and never concentrate on perfecting one thing. It is a proven fact that successful businesses tend to specialize in one or two areas in order to build a good reputation and establish a steady clientele.
When deciding on the scope of your business, you need to think about what services you will offer. Many dog walking services offer other things aside from walking. Some other services to consider could include:
- Overnight pet sitting
- Feeding and watering
- Care for other pets (possibly cats or other small animals)
- Additional playtime
A quick tip: It's best to start small with fewer services and lower fees. You don't want to be inundated with the business you can't handle or drive potential customers away with high prices.
Once you've settled on the list of services that you are going to provide you need to decide on prices. A great resource to help you, believe it or not, are other dog walking businesses in your area. In order for your prices to be competitive, you need to find out what other similar businesses are charging.
The best way to do that? Make some phone calls and send some emails. You can call anonymously to other dog walking companies in your area and ask about their rates and services. Make sure your prices are competitive. You won't be able to charge top dollar for your services until you establish a reputation for being a trustworthy dog walker.
No business, no matter how small it is, can operate without at least a little bit of working capital. Luckily for you, dog walking businesses don't need a lot of dog supplies to get started and you won't need to rent a building; two very large startup costs for most businesses.
Are you going to provide any of the dog supplies? If you have a type of leash that you prefer, maybe you want to use that. What about a travel water bowl to give the dogs water while you're on the go? You may also need dog waste bags, a treat pouch, or certain dog technology and pet devices to help you carry your supplies.
We've looked at some great leashes, dog walking supplies, and travel bowls recently. If you're interested in providing these products, you can check our Dog Products News section for pet merchants or our How-Tos for more advice on dog supplies. Here are some of the recent stories from TopDogTips:
- You could get pet products, like leashes and bowls, customized for your business from PrideBites
- Stop leash pulling with the Pullnomor or the Freedom No-Pull Harness
- Walk two dogs at once with the Dual Doggie
- The Wigzi Gel Leash provides extra comfort
- A device like The Fifth Paw may be handy
And don't forget about the pet supplies that you'll need for yourself. Do you have good walking shoes? What about all the products you'll need to run the administrative side of your business? You're going to need office supplies, internet access, a computer, and a telephone.
For the digital part of your venture, you'd want to set up the full package: your own website, social channels and start making some connections online. This will help to get your name out there, and your clients will always expect any business to have their own professional-looking website with contact details.
Don't forget who you work for. Although many of your customers will not be home when you arrive to take their dogs for a walk, you will still need top-notch customer service skills when you talk to them on the phone or via email. Courteous and professional service should be your number one priority, and it's very important to consider this when discussing how to write a dog walking business plan. Look at Amazon (PDF) and the love they receive from their customers.
“The success of the Internet retailer Amazon.com depends on its providing high-quality customer service.”
Your customer relations policy should touch on all the major areas of customer service. Returning phone calls and emails quickly, following up with customers, being on time, doing exactly what you say you'll do, and being honest and friendly are the keys to making sure that your business is successful.
It is also more important than ever to include social media in your customer relations policy. Many backers will be interested to see how you will use social media to advertise your business, reach out to potential customers, and communicate with current customers.
It may be the last part of your dog walking business plan, but it is no less important. Your legal responsibilities need to be taken seriously, because if not, the ramifications will not only affect you, but it will also affect your investors, your clients and your reputation.
Your legal responsibilities will differ depending on which state you live in.
Be sure to address the following issues in your business plan:
- Type of licensing that you need
- Liability waivers for clients
- Contracts for clients
- Leash laws in your city or state
- Dog waste disposal policies in your city
Remember that your business plan is not set in stone. It is merely a guideline and example of some of the things you want to consider when starting a dog walking business. As you go through this and learn how to write a dog walking business plan, you will realize there is much more to starting a dog walking operation than you thought. The more seriously you take the planning of your undertaking, the better chance of success you will have at becoming profitable fast.
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