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?

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.

 

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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.

Finally a solution to getting your own Dog Walking Company up and running...

I’m thrilled to announce the launch of “Dog Walking Business Start-up Course“, our 11-lecture online Udemy course.  With over 6 million students 'Udemy' is one of the world's leading online teaching platforms.

“The Dog Walking Business Start-up Course″ is a concise course teaching you everything you need to get your dog walking business up and running.

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The course covers four broad themes:

  • Setting up you dog walking business
  • Marketing your business
  • Getting your first clients
  • Your first walks and the future

This simple and straightforward course will teach you how to start your own successful dog walking business - which means you can be your own boss and combine your passion for being with dogs into your own profitable enterprise.

Click on Here to enroll at the special price of $15 for a limited time only for readers of the Dog Walker HQ - get started without delay – and start building your dog walking business today!

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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.