Marketing

dog walking business websiteSo what makes an ideal Dog Walking Business website?

Well first of all I suggest that you keep it very simple to look at and navigate. Everyone hates a terrible looking website where you cannot find anything you are looking for.

Make it Google-friendly

You need to be sure that your potential clients can find your new website. You may have come across the term SEO. This stands for Search Engine Optimisation, and means ensuring that your website can be found by the likes of Google and Bing.  SEO is ever-changing, and beyond the scope of this post, but some websites now come with some SEO built in, making the process a whole lot easier.

Your website needs to be kept up-to-date. While a good website shouts ‘professional’, one full of out of date info screams ‘amateur’.

Your website should also be a reflection of the image you are trying to present. Its layout, images and fonts should match as closely as possible any other offline marketing materials you produce, such as business cards and flyers.

So here are some of the key components that you will need to include on your website.

The first screen visitors to your website are like to land on will probably be your home screen, so it is pretty obvious that you need to make sure that your potential clients know they have landed in the right place. On the home screen the name of the business needs to be right at the top where they will see it first. You should also have your logo here if you have one.

Make it easy to find information

easy to find dog walking business website You also need to ensure your visitors can find their way around your website easily, and find the information they are looking for, so a prominent menu should direct them where to go. Also, it is often useful to put yourself in the shoes of your prospective clients and think about why they might need your services and phrase this in the way of questions to grab their attention when they reach your website.

Also on the home page you could have a noticeable special offer code to entice 1st time visitors to read on and encourage them to use your services. Include some highlighted text showing that you are fully insured and the services you offer as this promotes credibility and quickly lets the customer know what the website and the company is all about.

Finally, at the bottom of the home screen you need to include what is known as a ‘call to action’. An example would be a prompt for the customer to book a walk, such as ‘Call Us Now and book your first walk!’

The rest of your Dog Walking Business website...

Moving on to some of the other pages. Your website will need a page explaining in a little more detail the services you offer. Here you can explain what services you offer, and the duration of the services. For example, an hour’s walk and the benefits of the service.

Another page you might have separated or combined with your services page is a pricing page. You may feel you do not want to put prices on your website, but my opinion would be to do it for a couple of reasons. First of all, most of the people coming to your website will be looking for them, and secondly it will help filter out people who are not your target clients.

The other essential page for your website is a contact page. The more ways for your prospective clients to contact you the better. And having a contact page on your website makes it very easy for them to do this. Also, if you have a contact form on your contact page, then they will have the option of sending you a message regarding what they require, so that when you give them a call back you have a good idea what they want to discuss.

So how do you set-up a website? Well generally, you have a few options. If you have the budget you could have one made by a web designer or web design company. However, costs on this will vary greatly. Another option is to get one ‘off the shelf’ from an online company that specializes in providing websites for business and take care of all the technical stuff. Or if you are technically minded, you could do it yourself. You could use a website building platform such as WordPress. This would generally be the most economical option, but depending on your technical skills, may involve a steep learning curve.

The Dog Walker HQ are currently putting together an off-the-shelf Dog Walking Business Website Special Offer for our readers - so you don't have to go through the hassle of building a website yourself!   If this is is of interest to you Contact Us and let us know and we'll send you all the info and prices.

Your website will be the hub for your business, so work out what pages you will need to include on your website, and also the information you need to include on the pages, such as the services you offer and your prices.

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

Here are 4 great tips for building your dog walking company

Dog Walking BusinessKeep It Simple, both for your sake and your clients.  A Dog Walking Business 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 BusinessYou 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 dog walking 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...

 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.

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?

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Dog Walking Service WebsiteYou need the essentials when running a  successful dog walking business, safe transport, being  well organized, and great customer communication  with both your human and dog clients – but before all of that you need to attract your customers  in the first place, and one of the best ways to do that is with a professional and great looking Dog Walking Service Website.

Why do you need a website?  Well, where do the majority of people turn to when they want to research something (prior to buying a product or a service) – the vast majority go to Google (or another search engine) – and that’s where you need to be found to create a great first impression.

Of course you could use Facebook and Twitter to in place of a formal website, and whilst these social media tools are great in their own right, your own website will give you more flexibility about how you present your business. A professional website boosts your credibility and draws in more customers through organic search traffic.

Here are a top 5 ways your can take your dog walking service website to the next level

Build your customer base with the power of Google

When your prospective customers are looking for someone to walk their dogs for the first time - how do they find you?  It could be word-of-mouth from a friend, or they have seen one of your flyers or they have searched and found you on the Internet (searching for ‘Dog Walking Services’ in your home town) – in the end it doesn’t really matter how people find you, as long as they do and it is easy for them.

Having a website in place dramatically increases your online visibility. And if your service is one of the first few results to appear for “Dog Walking Service [your town],” new customers will find you easily on their own.

Keep the competition at bay!

Using free social networking sites such as Facebook are fine, but they have to make money somehow, and part of the way they create revenue is with advertising.  So, if you a have a Facebook page for your business, you might find ads from your competitors showing up on the side, so if you do have a Facebook page make sure it is directing them to your website where you have complete control over the customers experience and what they see.

Create interesting content on your website

When you are setting up your website always remember the job your website has to do – get you more customers!

A few of the rules when it comes to making your website are:

  1. Keep it simple.  Work out  your website on paper before you even start building it, what are the main pages you will need (about page, services, prices etc.), this applies if you are building your website from scratch yourself, or you are getting someone to build it for you (even more important).
  2. Use good quality bright photos, throughout the site, these will break up any text and give the site a more balanced look, no-one likes to read a load of text if they are shopping around, keep the text relevant and concise.
  3. Keep the layout of the pages clean and easy on the eye; don’t clutter them up with different colors and sizes of fonts, or adverts all over the place distracting the viewers from the main content of your site.
  4. Most importantly, let people know who you are, share your ‘story’ and background; a dog walking business is based on trust, and the more a prospective customer knows about you the more they will trust you, tell them what your experience is with dogs and why you set up the business, this will all help to build the relationship.  Along with telling your story, let other people tell your story; as soon as you can gather reviews of your service and place them prominently on the website. When people visit your website they should get a sense of who you are and what your dog walking business can offer them.

You decide the rules

Dog Walking Service WebsiteUnlike when you use Facebook or Twitter for your online presence, using your own website puts you in charge.  If Facebook suddenly changes its terms and conditions/or design or you can no longer post your updates to your Facebook page for some reason then you are out in the cold – not so with your own website.  With your own website you decide how it looks and what you put on it – you make the rules, this gives you complete control over building your brand.

Show new clients what you have to offer

A website isn’t an all-in-one solution that will magically have clients queuing up at your door (dogs at hand) —the hard part is up to you. Creating a base of loyal clients is all about the quality of your communications, the services you offer, and your power to connect with people.

However, a website does serve as an online version of your dog walking service where people can get to know you and see what you have to offer. And most importantly, your website is an opportunity for you to show your customers that you’re doing something different (or better) than anyone else in your area.

Keep in touch with Dog Walking HQ to learn more about how to set up a successful website and some of the easiest and most cost effective ways to develop an online presence for you dog walking business. See our Resources page for a list of tools to help get you get started.

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What free and low cost ways can I promote my Dog Walking Business? Have a look at the video below to get your creative juices flowing:

 

Also why not try Business-to-Business Networks

B2B networks are some of the most underused resources because many businesses are focused on procuring customers.  Striking up a relationship with a related business, such as a dog food vendor or maybe a local vet clinic, means more exposure to the right people who may need your dog walking business at some point.

 

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Even if you set up your business in a relatively small town, you are likely to have competition,  So how do you compete?  Read the article below or click on the video to find a few ways you can turn the tables on the competition.

Become a specialist

A dog walking business in many ways a very simple business model in the you do not need a lot of customers to have a viable business, this means you could concentrate on providing a specialist service to your target customers; this would help you stand out from the crowd.  Here are a few ideas:

  • You could be the only ‘100% organic’ dog walker in your area, providing only organic treats for your canine clients and using organic poo bags.
  • You could specialize in certain breeds, specifically if those breeds have a reputation for being difficult to deal with (which might put off other dog walking companies)
  • What about ‘doggy’ fitness?  Dogs (like humans) often suffer from being overweight and unfit, so you could put together a special programme to help your charges lose those excess pounds.
  • Why not specialise in young dogs which tend to prefer the company of other young dogs and lots of exercise/play session, or on the other hand you could specialize in sessions for older dogs with the emphasis on slow, relaxed walks.
  • Depending on where you live you could offer ‘wood’ or ‘beach’ walks, so the dogs get a different perspective and environment to their usual ‘evening walk around the block’
  • The key is to offer something that makes you stand out from the completion; having a small number of customers allows you to do this.  This brings me on to the next point…

A Great Website

Before you even start your business you will need to check out the local competition, and you will need to check out their websites.  If the competition have been in business some years, chances are they set up their website when they started their business and it is starting to look a bit tired and old by now.  This gives you a great opportunity to make a fantastic first impression with a ‘clean’, easy to use, modern and professional looking website.

Be professional

Because some of people think that a dog walking business is easy to set up and run – you will often come across competitors who don’t take it too seriously, i.e. they don’t behave professionally.  Now, looking at it from a prospective customers point of view, if you are considering paying to have you dog walked when you cannot, you obviously care a great deal for your pet – and it is pretty obvious that most people would only entrust their dog to someone they felt they could trust – being professional helps build that trust, and puts the customer’s mind at rest.

Here are a few things you can do to let you potential customers know you are a professional:

  • Be on time, when you meet them at their homes and when you pick up their dogs for their walks – nothing signals unprofessional more than being late.
  • Have the appropriate business insurance, and ensure your customers are aware of it.
  • Read up on and attend any courses you feel appropriate on dog behavior – be knowledgeable.
  • Attend a certified canine first aid course – again make sure that you customer is aware of this and advertise it on your website.
  • If appropriate, join a local business organization or group and display their logo on your stationary/website – this lends credibility.

Do an initial visit

This is a must.  Whenever a potential client gets in touch, arrange an initial visit to meet them and their dog.  This serves two purposes, the first of which is to fill in any necessary paperwork, get contact details, keys etc.  The second purpose, is to sell yourself and the services you offer, don’t panic when I say ‘sell’, basically this simply  gives you an opportunity to put your prospective customer’s mind at rest regarding what type of person you are (i.e. trustworthy and professional).  They will see you playing and interacting with their dog which will make them more likely to take you on as their dog-walker of choice – this is something that, obviously, cannot be done over the phone.

Other ideas

There are lots of other ideas to help you stand out from the completion, such as texting the customer while you are out with their dog to let them know what they are up to, or sending them a quick photo from your phone.  When researching the competition look for what they are doing right, but also look for what they have ‘missed’, that missing thing might be just the difference that will make you stand out.

Dog Walking Service BrandEvery day we are all bombarded with advertisements, and in general we make split second decisions whether to give them our attention.  If someone is searching for a dog walker in your local area,  your (and your competitor’s) brand is the first thing they will see and in all likelihood influence their decision as to whether they will investigate further – the power of the brand will influence their decision.

It is essential to have a great service for your clients, good customer reviews and an excellent and professional reputation, but if you don’t have a strong brand image you may still get bypassed for the dog walking business a few miles away with the great logo, flashy website and cool T-shirts.  People might never get a chance to see that your dog walking service is by miles and miles the best service they could ever wish for once they are ‘inside’ your company, if there is nothing to catch their attention on the 'outside'.

The solution is to build a strong, friendly and easily identifiable brand!

Building a strong brand is the best way to communicate your core message and communicate ‘consistently’ with your customers.

Branding may sound a bit ‘pretentious’, boring or complicated but it doesn’t have to be…

Defining your Dog Walking Service Brand

At its most basic level, your brand is all the facts, images emotions that spring to mind when your customer thinks about your dog walking company.  This could include your name, slogan, logo, the colors and photos on your website, your advertising materials and the way you present yourself at the first meeting with your customers.  When your prospective customers experience any of these things they should associate them with your brand and the professional message it conveys and the great services you offer.

Branding is about creating something instantly recognizable – that will create an emotional connection between you and your customers – that in turn will make them more loyal over the long term.

For a lot of business, and dog walking is one of them, branding boils down to creating one key image or idea that is instantly recognizable as yours.  Put it his way, what one word would you want to associate with your dog walking service – what would it be? Reliable? Trustworthy? Professional?

Your brand is your business identity – and you need to strengthen it at every opportunity.

Your brand is, in a sense, a promise to your customers – in time they will come to associate certain expectations with your brand (good service, kindness to their dogs etc.)

Don’t confuse your brand with advertising – advertising tells your customers to come to you, whilst a brand communicates what and who you are.

Creating a strong Dog Walking Service Brand

Making a strong brand requires a bit of thought, you will need a logo that sticks in the mind and conveys what your business is all about or a slogan/catchphrase that sticks out from the competition.  If you are not clear on your branding your potential customers may go elsewhere.

So What Does a Great Brand Look Like?

So now that we know what a brand is and why it matters to your business, we’ll look at the top three qualities that make a great brand.

1.      As we've said great brands are easily recognizable – They are often simple and you don’t need to explain them (if you do, they are not a great brand!).  They are easy to recall and remember, and they will ‘stick’ in the customers’ mind.  Here are some brands that everyone knows: Apple (hi-tech/exclusive), McDonalds (fast and affordable) and Coke (a modern icon).  Be bold and brassy with your brand; make it stand out from the competition.

2.     Great brands appeal to your customers’ emotions – People should feel emotionally connected to your brand, because you have made sure they and their dogs have had a positive experience with your company.

3.     Be consistent in your branding – Whether you are designing posters, meeting potential customers at a dog show or thinking about the way your website should look – always keep your brand in mind and ‘follow’ it through with everything you do, make sure one consistent logo/message appears on everything you do, keep the same fonts, colors schemes running through your website, business cards, flyers etc. to re-enforce your brands image.

Great, recognizable brands take some time to develop, so you should spend a while considering how you want your customers and prospective customers to feel when they think about and work with your dog walking company.