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.
As 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: