Finances

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.

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Following on from the previous post on how to get organized:

Get Organized for your Dog Walking Business Part 1

Here are some other things you may need to get organized in advance of setting up your business.

Accounts

Accounts or book-keeping is very important to set up in advance.  Because a dog walking is a simple business model the accounts don’t need to be complicated.  The main reason you need to keep good accounts, is so that you know that your business is heading in the right direction.   The other reason for keeping good accounts is that it is going to make it so less stressful come tax season.

Keep track of the paperwork

You also need to set up a system to keep track of your paperwork such as customer agreements and contact details.  Again this doesn’t need to be over- complicated.

Receipts

get organizedIf you have never been in business for yourself before; whatever you spend on your business, leads, doggy bags, dog treats, advertising, business cards etc. – you need receipts for all of these and they need to be entered into your accounts.  All the expenditure on you business will generally offset some of your tax liability.

If you are billing on a monthly basis you will probably produce invoices.   If you are getting paid weekly in cash, then a small duplicate receipt book will do the job.

Diary management

Scheduling and diary management can be challenging when running a dog walking business, so it is important to have an idea of how many walks you can offer during the day/week.    Often clients, who work 9-5,  will want their dog walking at lunchtime, but obviously this will become unfeasible if all your new clients want their dogs walking at noon time? Often it is better to have times frames for group/solo walks which gives you more scope to pick up dogs and walk them at different times during the day.  How you work out your scheduling depends on your circumstances.  Also consider the distances you have to travel between picking dogs up and dropping them off and what services you are offering.

Setting up your professional image

diary managementI would suggest that you register a separate, professional email address for your business, rather than your own personal email address.

Also set up a professional sounding voice message on your email, as trying to speak to a new potential customer whilst keeping an eye on 4 or 5 dogs in your care could prove challenging.  The voice message from your phone should be short but include the name of your business.  Ask them to leave their name and number and a promise to call them back – you should also say your website address – that way they can have a look at your website while they are waiting for you to call them.

Get some of these things sorted in advance of setting up your business will give you a head start when you get your first clients.