Ideas to Promote your Dog Walking Business

In the early days of your business and possibly throughout the life of the business, you may want to offer promotions to acquire new customers. Here are some ideas to start you off.

New Customer Discounts?

Ideas to Promote your Dog Walking BusinessOne of the easiest ways of encouraging new customers is to offer a new customer discount such as a 20% discount for any new customer when they book their first ten walks or book five walks and get a 6th walk free.  The great thing about a dog walking business is that most of your clients become long-term clients, so giving away some of your profit in the early days with a new client is generally recouped very quickly.

You could also offer a loyalty card, similar to those seen in your local coffee shops. These are pretty easy to make yourself, and you just stamp or sign the clients’ card every time they have their dog walked. Once the card is full, give them a free dog walk and a new card – this will keep customers coming back for more and more.

Word of Mouth

When you have a few clients and you do a good job for them, they will in turn become your greatest advocates. So why not ask them to ask their dog-owning friends if they need a dog walker? Then, if you get a new client, give both the new client and the current client a discount of some sort – after all, you wouldn’t have a new client if it wasn’t for your current client.

You could also offer seasonal discounts – such as ‘Black Friday’ discounts for all new clients.

For other Ideas to promote your dog walking business, think about what you could do by way of promotions to get new clients and try them out as soon as you can. If they work, then do more of them to build up your client base. If what you try doesn’t work out, then try something else.  With these sorts of offers you have lost nothing but a little time.

Flyers

Ideas to Promote your Dog Walking Business 2Where should you advertise? Where should you drop flyers? The simple answer is everywhere, but most importantly everywhere your customers are likely to be.  Some of your perfect clients will work in offices and they could read your flyer on their office notice board and take action. Just one leaflet on an office notice board equals potentially dozens of clients. Other less obvious places to place your flyers are libraries, banks, post offices, convenience stores, gyms and kindergartens.

And here is a list of the obvious places you should also leave them:  Dog trainers (who you do not compete with), pet stores, dog groomers and vets.

As mentioned earlier, your current customers will become your best advocates The best and cheapest form of marketing is word of mouth – it costs nothing and works the best of all.  Do a good job for your clients and they will naturally promote your business for you. To help that process along in the meantime and reach a wider audience, you can ask for and use testimonials. Testimonials will re-enforce your trustworthiness and reliability.

With all your marketing, you constantly need to monitor your efforts. See what works and what doesn’t then do more of the stuff that works for your dog walking business.

For even more Ideas to promote your dog walking business, see this article: Free and Low cost ways to promote your Dog Walking Business

Boost Profits from Your Dog Walking ServiceWhen starting a dog walking service, people are often attracted by the low start-up costs.  Often starting any type business can incur large start-up costs, for example if you were planning on opening a shop or a restaurant you would have the obvious start-up costs of renting/buying premises, fitting out the premises and buying stock.   So  a dog walking business by comparison is a more low-cost/low risk option – but don’t be fooled into thinking that there are no costs to running a dog walking business.  The costs involved in running a dog walking business are not always immediately apparent – and you do need to think about them in advance of starting your business to avoid any surprises down the road.

One of the biggest costs you will incur in your dog walking business is the running costs of your vehicle (fuel, maintenance and taxes).  Unless you are lucky and cater for a very small geographical area (where you can walk to pick-up your canine charges), you will need a vehicle.  Bare in mind that if you only pick up five dogs from different homes, walk them, and return the all home you will be doing a minimum of 10 short journeys – short journeys plus urban stop/start driving will mean you spend more on fuel and maintenance on you vehicle than you might have originally anticipated.

To keep your running costs down on your vehicle there are a few things you can do:

  • Keep a daily record of your business mileage – this will help you in planning your journeys better so you can take the most economical routes.
  • Try to minimize the size of your geographical patch (i.e. a 5 mile radius from your home, and try whenever possible to ‘cluster’ your dog-walking packs in the same areas).
  • Check your oil levels and tyre pressures on a regular basis.  Also, ensure your vehicle is regularly serviced.
  • Take some time to learn some basic car maintenance (do you know how to change the tyres or replace a faulty bulb), learning these simple things will save you having to run to the garage every time something happens and will keep your costs down.
  • Keep a toolkit and any thing else you might need in the car should you have car trouble and make sure you have a back-up plan should your vehicle breakdown or it won’t start in the morning.

Your website

You need a website – fact.  Everyone and his wife finds stuff they need to know via the internet these days, whether they use a laptop, a tablet or their smart phone – and you can guarantee the first place they will look when trying to find a dog walker is the internet.

A professional looking website is essential to project the ‘right’ image to your prospective customers and give them the information they are searching for.

Although there are some great deals to be had regarding web design, generally getting a good website up and running will hit both your initial  and ongoing costs.  A quick rundown of the initial costs are generally Website design, domain name purchase (usually purchased for a year or two at a time).  Your ongoing costs are likely to be the hosting for your website (hosting is required to get your website ‘live’ on the internet once it has been designed, hosting companies usually charge monthly or yearly for the service – so plan this into your financial projections) and charges for updating and maintaining your website (if you have a company design and build your website, there may be an ongoing monthly charge to maintain your website and ensure it continues work correctly, similarly they may charge you for when you want to update your site with new details such as change in pricing or contact details).

In essence you have two choices regarding your website, you can:

1. Have a company design/host your site for you.  The advantage of this is you don't need to learn any special skills to get your site up and running.  The downside is it can be costly, and incur ongoing costs after it is set up.

2. You can design your own website with an intuitive platform such as WordPress, and get your own hosting/domain name (website name) through a hosting/domain company (we use Bluehost for this, simply because they are straight forward and you can buy your domain name, set up hosting and get WordPress all from within their site - also their customer service is great!).  The advantages of this approach are, you are in overall charge of how your site looks and can change it easily whenever you wish, you will know in advance exactly how much it will cost per year to get your site up and running - this is usually very low as use of WordPress is free.  The downside is you might have to learn to do a few things you haven't done before, but with WordPress building your own website is no too complicated.  See video below from Pat Flynn who demonstrates how to buy hosting, domain name and get a website/blog up and running with WordPress in 4 minutes.

Hope this information helps with your  financial planning.  Remember to gather as much information regarding upfront and ongoing costs as possible, in advance, to help you with your financial projections and keep your costs down.

Here are 4 great tips for building your dog walking company

keep it smpleKeep It Simple, both for your sake and your clients.  A dog walking company should not be complicated, so don’t over complicate it.  Work out your business systems in the most simple way, this will help you keep costs down and stop you getting headaches quite so often.  Keep it simple for the customer; which means concise clear  messages and website, straightforward pricing structures and clear marketing messages.  Think about Google; it didn’t become the world’s most successful search engine company by being over-complicated – it really looks quite basic and therefore easy to use.

Quality is Key

Exceeding your clients expectations, will help out perform your competition every time.  There are lots of ways you can provide quality to your clients, apart from the obvious things which you need to do anyway (such as being reliable and always turning up for your appointments).  Think about the ways you can add quality to your business, whether it is sending them a text at work to let them know how their dog is enjoying his walk or send them a Christmas card featuring a picture of their very own hound (you can do this via services such as Moonpig or Vistaprint).

Build a Great Team

dog walking companyYou can’t do it all on your own.  We all have our strengths and weaknesses, trying to do every single part of your dog walking company may prove to be a too big a headache.  Concentrate on your strengths with in the business and the things that bring you more clients, such as client meetings.  Some of the other work you may need to farm out, i.e. for your accounting you are going to need the services of an accountant/CPA, you may need someone to design or help you with your website.  Think about the people you know (friends and relatives), do you know any graphic designers (for your logo), a friend who is a whiz with websites (maybe he can help with yours!) – don’t go it alone, start building your great team.

Into the Unknown

Going solo and setting up your own business isn’t easy and success isn’t guaranteed – if it was everyone would do it!   Being and entrepreneur  and setting up your own dog walking company feels a bit like walking the plank – when you first take the plunge, you might feel like you’re flying, then you might feel like your falling, but  you don’t know if you will sink or swim until you hit the water?

In your past life you may have had a steady job or career, regular wage packet and regular hours – but now you are in unknown waters and it is going to feel very weird at first.  You have officially left your comfort zone.  If you have your plan in place and know what your goals are then you are going to have to start swimming, and the sooner you do, the sooner you will feel a little bit more comfortable.  Always remember where you are heading towards and occasionally remember what you are leaving behind...

ServicesDeciding which services you offer your customers in your Dog walking business will affect  your business, both from a financial point of view and also an organizational one.

Here are the main services that ‘dog walking businesses tend to offer, and brief description of what they entail:

Dog Walking

The first one, obviously, is dog walking were you would pick up the customer’s dog(s) from their home, take them out for an invigorating ramble and return them safe and sound to the customers house.  This is probably the easiest service to offer, but you will need insurance and a suitable vehicle to transport your charges (further posts about this later).

Dog Sitting/Dog Day Care

This is where  you would look after the customer’s dog in your own home during the day when the owner is at work; you would of course need a suitable house, i.e. one that is safe for your visitors, and that you are allowed to have dogs in and run a business from – this could prove difficult if you rent your property.  Also something to bear I  mind is that if you are doing dog walking and dog sitting (at your home), it may take careful scheduling so the you do not leave you visiting dogs too long on their own whist you are walking other dogs.

Dog Boarding

Dog boarding is where you would look after customers’ dogs at your own home whilst the customer is away for several days and nights (as an alternative to kennels).  This is, of course, very similar to Dog Day Care, but with the added complications that in many towns these sort of services are regulated by law.

Other Services…

Here are some more ideas for  services you may wish to offer, again, with a brief description of each:

Pop-in visits

This is especially useful, for when your customer’s have new puppies, and you may offer a service to pop in to the customer's home, ensure the new puppy is fed and watered, let them into the yard to relive themselves, play with them a while to give them some human company -  this same service is useful for older dogs where they are no longer up for an hour’s walk, a short visit to make sure they alright and a walk around the block so they again can relive themselves could be ideal.

Dog Taxi

A Dog Taxi Service as part of your overall offering can be quite useful, especially when busy owners need their pet transporting the vets or the grooming parlor.  This is generally a great add-on to your dog walking business.

Overnight stays (at owner’s premises)

Dog or pet sitting at the owners premises, for example while they are away on a business trip overnight can also be a lucrative add-on to your business – as long as you don’t mind staying way from home.  The advantages for your customer are that they are secure in the knowledge that dog is being looked after well, and their home is being kept on eye on too.

Obedience training/Training reinforcement

If you have the skills for this, again this is a great add-on

Small Pet Visits

What you could also offer for owners of small pets; hamsters, goldfish etc. is a service where you arrange daily visits to the customer's home to ensure their small pet is fed, watered and bedding changed as necessary.

Security Visits

Another side line is where you could offer security visits to clients' homes while they are on holiday (no pets involved), take in the post, switch lights on, draw curtains (so the house looks more lived in) and check to make sure everything is OK, informing the clients if necessary.

The above are just some of the areas into which you could expand your business, and we will cover some of these in other posts.  In the meantime if you can think of a great add-on to a Dog Walking business, then let us know and maybe we will do a feature on it.

Thanks to Dave, one of my students on the Dog Walking Startup Course,  for inspiring this post. Dave basically asked for any tips to make the transition to full-time dog walker a little easier - eg. how to prepare for your dog walking business.

dog walkerAs you have probably realized by now a dog walking business is built on trust – and that takes time. Also because you would be working for yourself, there is no getting out of it, depending on your current circumstances you could be taking a risk.  It goes without saying that you need to get your ducks-in-row regarding website, social media etc. But here are some other things to consider prior to starting your dog walking business.

Prepare for your Dog Walking Business

1. Get some experience with dogs either at a local animal shelter or similar, or volunteering to do some dog walks for friends, relatives, friends of friends etc. This could lead to some useful contacts especially if you let them know what you are interested in doing.

dogs2. Contact another dog walker and politely ask to shadow them/go out with them for the day. Make sure it is someone well away from your planned territory.  Offer to pay them for their time, this would give you first-hand experience of the job, and while you are out with them you can pump them with questions (I did this initially, contacting a walker in a town about 50 miles away. It was very enlightening.  I also contacted a former colleague in the States (I’m UK based) and asked her advice too – the more information you gather the better, don’t rush).

3. Although dog walkers tend to cover the 9-5 period, you may be able to start the business off on the side while your regular job is still paying the bills.  Depending on your working hours, you maybe can get  some weekend or early morning/evening dog walking work.

4. Could you financially support your dog walking start-up by either reducing your hours at work or switch them around or by doing some of your normal work alongside your dog walking business?

5. If you haven’t already, start putting away a cash buffer to cover your bills and expenses for a minimum of 6 months to a year (whatever you need to be comfortable with) while you are getting the business off the ground.  The truth is you don’t know how long it will take to build up the income so make sure you are prepared.  If you set up your business right you should be profitable as soon as you get your first few clients – but being profitable and having enough money to cover your bills are two different things – so you need to know exactly how much you need to cover your monthly expenses as that will be your first target.

6. Do the market research: How many competitors are there in your area? What are they charging?  Is there room for you and how can you stand out?  Who will be your target group and how will you reach them? Is there any legal/business restrictions that could be problematical (i.e. is there a local law that says no more than two dogs walked on a lead at a time)? Don’t skip the research.  When you get the data together don’t look at it through ‘rose-tinted glasses’ – be realistic about what it means.

I personally used a combination of all the above tips (except number 4) when setting up. But here is a final tip I wish I had considered before going starting my business:

7. Try pre-selling your services.  You could do this by making your website live and then seeing what interest you get and more importantly how many people are contacting you and wanting your services.  This will give you good indication of the interest ‘out there’, and although you may not be able to help interested parties  initially, you can explain that the business is in pre-startup phase and will be starting shortly and would they like to book walks starting then.  You can also collect email addresses to contact them later – best case scenario you’ll have some initial clients, worst case scenario no-one is interested in your area (but at least you'll know!).

Finally, when I first set up my dog walking business I completely underestimated how long it would take to get up to my monthly requirements (for bills etc.).  Please bear this in mind, getting things in place now for a dog walking business won’t do any harm, as it’s a good back-up plan if you were to be laid off (given the economy it’s always a possibility). You need to do your own due diligence, as these tips are based on my own experiences and  the success  of your business ultimately is in your hands.

Here are some other useful posts from Dog Walker HQ that might help with the above:

Get Started Here

Using your website to get more clients

 

 

Pros and ConsA Dog Walking Business – The Pros and Cons

Starting a dog walking service is like any other business; you need to consider the pros and cons.   Because there are very few prerequisites (the main one being a love of dogs) for starting a dog walking business it is all so easy to think, well it’s only walking dogs how difficult can it be?

This post should help you start considering if a dog walking business is for you.

About you…

As mentioned earlier you need to love dogs and you need to be a fan of the outdoors (as that is where you likely to spend most of your time).  If you are not keen on animals and prefer a job that keeps you out of the weather, then this isn’t the business for you – otherwise read on.

Your customers

Your clients in your dog walking business will be the most important part of your business, as without clients you will not have a business.  In running a dog walking business you will need to build trust with your clients  after all you will be looking after their beloved pets and, in all likely hood will need access to their homes, you need to be seen to be and actually have to be, responsible and trustworthy.

Being Self-Employed

If you are considering having your own dog walking business then you are considering being self-employed.  This is a scary step for most people especially if you are used to having a regular wage coming in month after month to the pay the bills.  Being your own boss means radical changes in your outlook and the way you view and deal with your finances.  Being your own boss also means you are responsible for everything; that means being motivated to get out of bed in the morning when the rain is beating against the window, getting organized with your marketing campaign, dealing with problems and motivating yourself – kind of sounds like a regular job doesn’t it? – however the upside is you have no boss, you decide how you work and in the end your own efforts will bring financial rewards with no upper ceiling, unlike a job.

Mother Nature

Don’t underestimate this one – if you are used to sitting at a desk 8 hours a day, then walking 3 or 4 excitable hounds in the pouring rain (or snow or fog) might come as a shock, and you will need to be prepared for whatever Mother Nature decides to throw at you.  On the plus side walking with your canine friends on a warm and lovely summer’s day is a great way to earn a living.

Promoting yourself

This can be another challenge if you have never worked for yourself, but unless you let your potential customers know who you are and what you can do for them you will not make any money.  You need to promote your business, there will be more articles on this important aspect later, but for now you must be aware that you need to get yourself out there – think about your business name (is it catchy, does is communicate what you do?), are you planning to have a website (these days, you’ll need one, so will you build it yourself or buy one in?).  How will you reach your customers (online advertising, leaflet drops, partnering with local businesses?).  Good promotion is a combination of method, and testing to see what really works, until you build up your business to a level where most of your referrals are word-of-mouth (the most economical and effective way of gaining new clients).

Moving on

Since this websites primary function is to give the tools you build a successful dog walking business, we will be expanding on all the above in forthcoming posts.

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Get Organized for Your Dog Walking BusinessBecause a dog walking business is a reasonably simple business in many ways, don’t fool yourself in getting started and then start thinking about getting organised!

Getting organised in advance of starting will save you a lot of time in the long run – so here are some of the key things you'll need to get sorted:

Get Organized: Forming a Company

You will need to create a business entity.  For a dog walking business this is usually a simple procedure.

In the US,  the route you would take in most likelihood would be sole proprietorship or LLC.  In the UK it might be Sole Trader or Limited company and you would need to register as self-employed with Her Majesty’s Revenues and Customs.

It completely depends on how you plan to grow the business – so I cannot give a definite answer.

I would however strongly suggest that you seek competent legal advice to discuss which business entity suits your business model and the relevant financial advantages.

Get Organized: Licences

In the US it is very likely that you will have to register for a business licence with your town or state – it obviously varies from town to town and state to state, so you will need to check locally for this – but generally it is a very straight forward procedure once you have your business entity in place.

In the UK, at the time of posting there is no requirement for a licence to walk other people’s dogs.  However there maybe restrictions on the number of dogs you can walk at any one time – so check this out with your local authority first (or local dog warden).  Also in the UK, should you offer boarding of clients own dogs in your own home you will have to apply for a Home Boarding Licence from your local authority - this would involve an annual cost and an inspection of your property.

Get Organized: Insurance

You will also need insurance for your business.  Liability insurance can be obtained via private insurance companies.  Another alternative is to gain insurance via membership of a national pet sitting organisation such as NAPPS , sometimes you will have to pay extra for your insurance through membership – although often at a discounted rate.   Make sure you shop around for the best deal on insurance.   Your car insurance should also be updated to include business use.

For more info regarding getting organized see Part 2 of this post below:

Get Organized for Your Dog Walking Business Now - Part 2

 Dog Walking CompanyDo you believe? There are no compromises on this one.  You need to believe in yourself if you want to be successful in your Dog Walking Company – after all if you don’t believe in your business, neither  will your customers?  When planning your business, make sure you include some milestones to celebrate your success, small and big – a milestone for getting your first customer might be to treat yourself to that new CD you want, or when you get your tenth customer treat your partner to a nice meal out.  Planning and reaching these ‘milestones’ will reinforce your self- belief on a regular basis.

Stand out from the crowd

Being unique and original is the best way to stand out from the competition, you don’t need to be completely ‘off the wall’ but you do need to do something that helps you stand out and is in keeping with your brand.  Can you offer a service that none of the competition offer?  Can you offer extra added services (example: free obedience reinforcement)?  Is yours simply the greatest website, that knocks the completion into a cocked hat!  Stand out from the crowd.

Keep Flexible

Dog Walking CompanyWhile it is always important to have short and long term goals as part of your overall business plan, and a strategy in place to reach them, it is also important to be flexible, particularly with your strategy.  This means listening to your clients (and prospective clients).  Let’s say for example that you offer a variety of different services within your Dog Walking Company, such as group walks, solo walks, kenneling, doggie day care, jogging dogs, small animal sitting, etc. etc. all with different price bands.  Now you might think, yes with all these services I can ensure different income streams coming into my business and at the same time offer a whatever my clients might require.  This might be true, but what also might equally be true is that some clients (especially those visiting your website who might be overwhelmed by the choices and differing payment plans) could skip off to the completion, where the pricing and services are simpler.  At the end of the day you need to work your plan, but be prepared to change to reach your goals – especially if your customers are telling you to.

Test what works and what doesn’t

If you have come across the 80/20 rule before—also known as the Pareto principle—you might know that 80 % of the results come from 20% of your actions. This principle applies to your Dog Walking Company.  So to balance out the time you spend promoting your business, you need to test what works well in promoting your business in your local area.   For example: You might get 4 new customers from forging relationships with your local vets, but only 1 new customer from the large leaflet drop you did.    The relationship building maybe only took up 20% of the time you have been using for promotion, but you got 4 new customers!   Monitoring how and what you do with your time and the result you achieve from it will stop you wasting both time and money.  Concentrate on the 20% of promotion that gets you 80% of your customers.  So in this example concentrate on building relationships with your local vets.

 

Wearable Devices for Dogs?

Even in the relatively straight-forward world of dog walking – technology is making its impact felt. One of the biggest concerns of any dog owner (or their dog walker) is that their dog goes AWOL (absent without leash!). We all get distracted at one time or another, and our dogs are no different. However with the recent developments in technology, nowadays it has become extremely easy to locate a lost pet with the help of wearable devices for dogs. If you have never heard about these before then here’s some of the benefits of using them.

  1. Unique Health Benefits

This is one vital benefits of considering wearable devices for dogs. Some devices enable the owner to monitor the health and fitness of their pet, such as the Tractive MOTION Pet Activity Tracker.  Just like the human versions, these devices can be used as a fitness tracker for a dog.

  1. Lost Dog – No Problem

This is certainly one of the major reasons why dog tracking devices have become highly popular among pet owners around the world.  Often tracking devices have the ability to provide owners with the real time location of their dog, like the Tractive GPS Pet Tracker. They often give updated information about the location of the dog with the aid of text messages or even emails.

  1. Hunting for a Lost Dog is Extremely Stressful and Time-consuming

This is another reason owners often use wearable devices to track their dog if it gets lost. No-one wants to miss work or an important appointment because their dog has gone missing.  Having a wearable GPS tracker on their dog allows them to go straight to their dog without countless hours of worry and searching the streets.

  1. Some devices offer the opportunity to track your pet using a Smartphone

This is surely one of the major benefits of using the pet tracking devices. Most smart phones available on the market offer unique apps through which you can easily receive messages from the specific tracking device, such as the Kippy Pet Tracker, that has been connected to the collar of the dog.

  1. No physical reactions

Since these unique pet tracking devices are often attached to the collar like the good-looking,Pyrus Mini GPS Tracker Locator, the dog will not generally be affected by any type of physical reactions.

These are some of the reasons why pet tracking devices have become extremely popular of late. All good stuff – now where did I put my iPhone?

 

Just a short post today – but really, really important.

Win at the Name Game

Giving your dog walking business the right business name can be key to your long term success – so it is important to take a bit of time over naming your business. Sometimes a name will spring straight into your mind for your business, but even if this does happen, don’t just go with it, test the name out on some friends and family to get a broader opinion.

More often, it can be difficult to think of a name, especially when you know that once you have chosen it, you are generally stuck with it - whether it is good or bad.

Keep it Simple

As a general rule you need to keep your business name simple, but also say what your business does, if you can – and if you have no plans to expand your dog walking business outside of your local area – include your town name.

Also your business name has to work well as a domain name – your domain name will be your website address such as www.newtowndogwalking.com - so try and keep it relatively short.

(Note: You need to decide on your business name before setting up your business website)

How to Come up with a Great Name

I have found the easiest way to come up with a name is to take a piece of paper and just start scribbling as many ideas down as possible without thinking about any of them too much, then get your family to do the same. Once you have a long list of potential names you can start going through them to see which match your criteria and which you like.  Then pick your top five names and check that the domain names are available. It is important to check if the domain name is available early in this process, you do not want to set your heart on a name only to later find that someone already has that domain name and a nice website attached to it.

How to check if your domain name is available

To check if your domain is available is quite easy, go into Google and type in ‘domain name’ in the search box. A list of domain name sellers will come up, click on any of them and use the domain search tool to check if your domain name is available – I’ve used 'GoDaddy' in the past but you can use any - they all work in a similar fashion. If your name is available you are good to go -  If your name is unavailable, then try your other favourites until you find one that is available.

Once you have decided on your name, make a note of both it and the domain name - as when you set up a your business website you'll will need to use that domain name to set it up.

What quirky and interesting name have you come up with for your dog walking business?