Dog walking can be a fun, rewarding—and sometimes hectic—way to earn a living. Whether you’re looking to build a cash cow on the side or a full-time career, the essential skills you’ll need are basically the same. Exceptional customer service is a must, but you also need to get the word out—people aren’t going to have you exercise their four-legged friend if they don’t even know you exist.
ProfessionalDogWalker.com says that an average dog walker can charge $15 per 30-minute visit (a conservative figure compared to some claims that the national average is closer to $18 per 25-minute visit). If you can swing 10 walks per day, you’re raking in $150 for just five hours of work.
If you can bundle your canine clients, you’ll double that figure—but even if you don’t, that’s still roughly $750 for a 35-hour workweek. That’s over $37,000 per year if you take weekends off and give yourself two weeks of vacation! Jack up the number of visits to 12 and that figure jumps to $45,000.
Below you’ll find a number tips you can use to build your neighborhood dog-walking venture into a popular, lucrative business.
Actually Start a Business
Most people think starting a business is all about coming up with a cute name (five bucks says “Happy Tails” is already taken) and putting up ads in the local paper. It’s not. Starting a business is actually about creating a legal entity that and protects you, your home, and your personal finances from liability lawsuits.
Contact your local or state government to find out exactly what you need to do in order to form a business—usually it’s as simple as filling out limited liability company (LLC) paperwork and acquiring the proper licensing. This first step can put you on solid ground and will allow you to grow your business from there.
People love their pets. A lot. One mistake or accident can cripple your dog-walking business before it even has a chance to get off the ground. It’s important that you be properly insured to handle any sort of catastrophe (or even cat-tastprophe!) that might occur while another person’s furry friend is under your watch.
Your own insurance agent may be able to point you in the right direction but there are professional dog walking associations—that you may even want to join—who can lead you directly to insurance companies that offer the type of coverage you need.
Newspapers may be a solid option if they draw a lot of readers, have pet specific sections, or can offer you good rates. The problem is that advertising in a paper can be expensive and often won’t return the type of results you need.
Consider alternative advertising such as dog- or pet-centric publications, websites, and even fliers you can tack up in local veterinary clinics and doggy day spas.
Anybody with a few extra bucks can advertise for their dog-walking “business,” but testimonials are what give you that extra edge over, “Hey, I’m Ted… I’ll walk your dog for $10.”
Just like you see on film posters, quick quotes from satisfied customers will go a long way toward building your business’s brand, its credibility, and its client base. Most people will be more than happy to provide you with a little blurb about how much they like what you’re doing with their pooch. You can mail/pass out comment cards, request testimonials online, or simply ask in person.
Partner with Complimentary Businesses
Partnering with doggy day spas, groomers, and veterinary hospitals may be an excellent way to grow your business. It means that when one business is doing well, it will help the other—so you’ll be looking out for each other. If you can get a partnership with one of these trusted professionals, you will no doubt earn new clients.
Ask for Referrals
There’s no stronger advertising than word of mouth from a trusted family member or friend, and it’s as easy as getting testimonials. It’s in your best interest to make your current clients your best advertisements. These pet lovers undoubtedly know more like-minded individuals, and getting their stamp of approval on your services could be a gold mine.
Doing so may be as simple as asking customers to tell their friends. You may also consider, however, starting a referral program through which current customers can earn monetary awards, discounts on services, or other special “thanks” from you and your business.
Just remember: nobody’s going to want to refer you if you don’t offer top-tier customer service from the get-go.
No doubt, as your business grows you’ll need to take on staff in order to keep up with the demand. At first, that may just mean recruiting a friend to help out for a day or two, but eventually you may need part-time or even full-time help.
When it comes to hiring dog walkers, experience is essential. If you can score somebody who has done the same type of work before you’ll be in a good position. If you can’t, look for potential employees that love animals and have been around dogs all their lives. Certain skills can be trained, but you can’t teach someone the value of a wet nose and a sloppy kiss.
Improve Your Staff Management
As your business grows, staffing will become a bigger and bigger concern. Dog walking is a very fluid business: clients’ schedules change, and when you have employees to manage it will be much harder to accommodate those changes instantly. Finding a mobile scheduling solution that works is the best way to avoid time crunches, missed appointments, and angry owners.
Of course, we think our app is a great solution that’s mobile-oriented and allows you to manage employees on the fly. Text message notifications, cloud-based schedule storage, and a host of other functions make it the perfect pick for small businesses who need to adapt quickly to rapidly changing scheduling needs and employ remote workers.
Personal Service Is Essential for Success
No matter how big your business grows, personal service is what is going to sell it, personal attention is what is going to grow it, and personal dedication is what will maintain it. Dog walking is a service industry, but it’s different than say a car service—people are entrusting you with their little buddies, for intents and purpose a member of their family.
If you or your employees treat a dog like luggage that has to be carted around the city, your business will be short lived. The key to success in the dog-walking business is pouring yourself and your love of dogs into it, and ensuring that your employees share your same passion for furry friends.
Fun with Fido: Easy Ways to Streamline Your Dog-Walking Business Chad Halvorson