Getting organized

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.

2. 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

 

 

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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

Scheduling your dog walks and diary management

Scheduling your dog walks can be challenging when running a dog walking business, so it is always vital to have a good idea of how many walks you can offer during the day. This is particularly important when it cones to group walks, which tend to bring in the most income.

Often clients who work 9-5 will want their dog walking at lunchtime, but obviously this will soon become unfeasible if all your new clients want their dogs walking at noon time. Often it is better to have times frames for group walks such as 8am till 11am, then 11am till 2pm, 2pm till 5pm etc. This gives you more scope to pick up dogs and walk them in groups. This is only an example, but in this case, it would allow you to walk three groups of dogs during the day.  How you work out your scheduling depends on your circumstances, the distances you have to travel between picking dogs up and dropping them off and what services you end up offering.

The key thing is you need to carefully manage the customers’ expectations. One of the ways you can do this in advance is to show the time frames for walks on your website.  When you meet a client for the first time, they will only be thinking about the needs of their dog, so you need to discuss how long their dog is left in the home and agree on a time that they are happy with and fits in with one of your dog walking time frames.

Initially when booking walks, it is easier to use an online calendar on your phone or even just a pencil and paper diary – customers will often change their mind, so you need to be on top of who you are walking and when at all times.

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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.