If you truly love dogs and wish to work with them, a dog walking and pet care service is a perfect way to indulge your passion. In addition to a decent income, the job offers the added bonus of an abundance of fresh air and exercise. If you would like to know how to start your own dog walking business from scratch, I have provided a step by step list of things I had to do when I began my journey 2 years ago. I hope it helps you to achieve your goals and enjoy the freedom that being an entrepreneur offers!
Be Sure You are Ready to Commit to Your Dog Walking Business
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Dog walking is a real business. It is important that you are ready to devote your full attention to your company and your clients. You are making a commitment to dogs and their families that you will be there at a specific time, regardless of weather or any exciting events that may come up. You should be willing to work regularly and be prepared enough to adhere to a schedule.
A dog needs to go out. Sometimes people are at work for 8-10 hours a day. If you are not on time, or don’t show up at all, that dog does not get to go out and relieve herself. Sometimes you may be asked to administer medicine. If you don’t show up, that poor doggo goes without. This is why it is extremely important that you take this type of business seriously. These animals are relying on you to be their break in the day. To them, you are like a family member and they need to be considered every day.
Think of a Catchy Name for your Business
You can choose to call your business anything you want – almost. You can call Janet’s Dog Walking or Bob’s Pet Care Service, but these are not as memorable as they could be. Try to think of something animal related, maybe a play on words or including the word “Tail”, “Fur” or “Wag”. These names will catch a potential client’s attention and be more memorable when they want to look you up.
Do a little snooping around. Look up businesses that provide similar services to what you want to offer in your area. Find out the names of some of the more popular ones. Be sure you are not duplicating or mimicking anyone. This could cause confusion and possible legal issues.
Make Sure the Name You Choose for Your Business is Available
Once you have chosen your business name, the next step is to register it as a business. You will have to run a search to be sure that no one else is using that name. There is a small charge for the business name search, but it is worth it. You should also check to see if the domain name is available for you website and that the business name (or a strong variation) is available on any social media platforms you would like to use to promote your business. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn are commonly used for business promotion.
Register your Business
When you are sure you have access to use this name, you will need to register your business with the government and get your business licence. Make sure to register for all tax numbers required in your area. This is something you should investigate on your government website or, if you prefer, consult an accountant.
Get Some Information About the Competition in Your Area
A little investigating will also give you some insight into what your community expects a quality service to provide. I have had many customers tell me how pleasantly surprised that my arrival time is within 10 minutes of a scheduled visit. Apparently, there are walkers out there who are very vague and feel that this is ok. These are the things that you want to know about your competitors and your perspective clients. You need to provide a top-notch service. Knowing what is currently being offered and the average price for the services provided will help you to be more competitive.
Speak to Dog Walkers in Your Community
When I was starting out, I was asking another dog walker some questions about her business. I explained that I was not working in her territory so I would be of no threat to her business. She said, “There are so many dogs out there that there is enough for all of us!” While this is a fact, she was very generous with her information. Her guidance helped me to gain some perspective about my own business. If you are lucky and you are able to speak directly to someone in your area about their business, you will get a clear idea about local expectations.
I have found that different communities have different ideas of what a walker should be doing. Some feel it is a quick walk, wipe the feet and be on your way. Others have higher expectations and may want you to spend time feeding the dogs, cleaning bowls and brushing them, private walks vs. group walks, etc. It may just be what they have grown accustomed to with a local walker that changes the expectations, but it is important to know what your fellow pet care companies are doing so that you can match or exceed the services already offered within a specific community.
Determine the Pricing Levels for Dog Care in Your Area
You are going to want offer a competitive price point for your services. Part of your inquiries should include pricing. How much is the going rate for a 30 minute walk? How much for a group walk? How much for a puppy drop in? is there a discount for two visits in one day? You can find the answers to these questions by doing a simple internet search on the other dog walking businesses in your community. Make sure you don’t over charge. People would prefer to pay a competitive price. If you are too high, you will not attract business.
The same can be said for a price that is too low. Yes, that’s right. You can actually under price yourself right out of a client! That old saying, “It’s too good to be true!”, will cause people to move on if they see your extremely low prices. Others feel that, “you get what you pay for.”, so if you are too low, you may come across as inadequate. Make sure you charge what you are worth in your specific market.
Take a Pet First Aid Course
Knowing what to do in an emergency is important as a pet owner and a pet care provider. Accidents can happen in an instant. Injuries and illness can arise when a pet is in your care and it is vital that you know how to handle each situation. St. John’s offers Pet First Aid course that taught me how to do CPR and First aid on a dog. They described scenarios that I had never considered. It was an eye-opening experience for me. I’m sure there are other companies that provide this training if St. John’s isn’t available. I highly recommend taking the course. It provides you and your clients with a level of confidence in your abilities.
Get Business Insurance for Your Pet Care Service
There are many companies that offer small business insurance. It is important that you find a company that offers insurance for the specific needs of a pet care business. It should incorporate coverage for accidents or injury to the pets you are caring for as well as the homes and contents of your human clients. You will be entering many homes every day and you will be responsible for the health and well-being of their family pet. It is important that you are insured for all unexpected occurrences.
Your vehicle, should you be driving from home to home, should have commercial insurance as opposed to personal coverage. You are running a business and your vehicle is now a part of that business. You will likely be on the road more than you were before and it is important that you have the proper coverage.
Create Your Website and Social Media Presence
You will need to find a web host and create a website for your business. Most web hosts offer a fairly easy to follow set up. You can choose from a number of style templates and add your business name. There is a place to add pricing, contact information, special services and pictures. It is always important to provide quality pictures. People love to see what you do with the pets in your care. By showing them pictures of happy pets playing outside, walking through a park or interacting with you or other dogs, they are able to gain some insight into your relationship with animals. It also is a visual guide to what their pet would be cared for, should they hire you.
Pictures and captions are also great for Social Media. People are visual. Cute animal pictures will attract people to your site faster than any words. You can gain more of a following by adding hashtags to your social media posts. Including # yourcitypetcareservices or # yourtowndogwalking can offer a way for people in your town to find you should they be looking for a pet care provider.
Interact with Local Pet Related Businesses
Many small businesses on social media will support one another and recommend you if they know that you are a reputable local business. These are important connections. Just be sure to reciprocate as small businesses need each other to grow. One of the nicest things that happened to me in the beginning was when a local pet store did a shout out to my business on their Instagram feed. They included my website Bio and some of my pet photos, along with a very generous write up. I was not familiar with their store, but they had been following my IG and felt that my business was worthy of mentioning. Now I always recommend their store to local pet owners. It’s a great way to make connections and a win/win for both businesses.
Advertising Your Pet Care Business
When you are just starting out you will need to advertise and promote. Eventually, your repution will be your best advertising and word of mouth your best promotion, but until then you will need to get out there and hustle to get your business going. I had to start on a very strict budget, so I made flyers using Publisher, printed them off and went all over town placing them on bulletin boards, telephone poles and apartment lobbies (where permitted). I chose places like veterinary offices, pet stores, grocery stores and laundromats. These are high traffic, family oriented places where someone who was looking for pet care may look for local businesses.
Register with an Existing Pet Care Service
Another way to get your business started is to join an existing pet care service that allows you to work independently. I registered with Rover.com and was able to run my business as well as work with them. They provide leads and connections, but the interviewing, pricing and scheduling is still all up to you. You simply pay them a percentage for the connections they provide for you. It may take a while to gain a reputation on your own. Services like Rover offer you and option to work while you build your own business. Once you are established, you can continue to work with Rover in addition to your regular clients.
Have Business Cards Made for Your Business
When you are walking your dogs out in the parks or down the street, you are bound to have someone ask you for your card. Carry some with you and give out more than one should someone ask for it. They will pass one onto their friends. When they pass you name along they can say that they met you and spoke with you. They will be able to sat that they saw you interacting with your dog(s) and that all seemed well. People love a personal recommendation. Be visible. Be friendly. Be courteous. Be prepared. Business cards create plenty of opportunity for word of mouth to spread as your cards to get passed around.
Opening a pet care service is a commitment. Register your business. Create a website and advertise on social media and in person. You can gain valuable experience while building your business by registering with a pet care service such as Rover.com. Taking a pet first aid course and obtaining proper insurance coverage is vital when caring for animals. Learn what other pet care providers are doing in your area. Provide comparable services at competitive prices. Mostly, provide prompt, reliable, safe and loving pet care and you will be successful.
Good luck and enjoy your walks!