Want to Start a Solo Dog Walking Business? First Ask Yourself These 9 Questions
Find a few clients, offer to walk their dogs, get some exercise, then get paid. If only starting and running a dog walking business were that simple. And that’s what we’re talking about here: a business. An enjoyable and important business perhaps, but still a business – one in which you have to be as concerned with customer service, accounting, marketing, and local ordinances, as you are with providing excellent care to dogs.
That said, even though dog walking is a business, the welfare of the animal should always come before profit.
When starting any new venture, it’s easy to get swept away with the possibilities, that you may overlook the finer details. That’s what I’m here for – to tell you about those important factors that you shouldn’t overlook.
Dreams are worth striving for. But before jumping in with all paws (sorry, couldn’t resist) it’s imperative to be able to answer some important questions. Your success depends on it.
Following are some of the questions you may want to consider . . .
1. Are you willing to work on building relationships?
Dog walking, or heck, any business where animal care services are involved, is based on the client being able to trust you. Put yourself in their shoes. Would you give your house keys to a complete stranger, let them enter your home when you’re not there, and entrust your beloved companion’s life to them? Building trust-based relationships doesn’t happen overnight, and neither does success.
2. Have you done the math?
Not to get personal, but how much do you need to earn per year? This will in part, dictate how many clients you’ll need to find. Let’s say it’s $50 thousand a year. If you set your rate at $25 an hour per dog, you’d need to walk about 39 dogs per week; this isn’t taking into account any discounts you may offer for second family dogs or regular customers. Can you find and maintain enough clients to keep your business going?
3. Do you depend on a steady paycheck?
As with any other business, you can expect periods of feast or famine. Clients move, neighborhood demographics change, competitors can undercut your rates and win over your customers. Any number of things can impact the way you make your living. It’s important to have an income cushion for slow periods – and chances are excellent that there will be slow periods.
If running a business on your own isn’t doable, you can still fulfill your dream of becoming a professional dog walker. Other options include . . .
• Buying a franchise. This can be a pricey option; but on the plus side, you’ll (likely) receive training, marketing assistance, and the benefit of being associated with a known brand.
• Becoming an employee of a dog walking business. You probably won’t make as much per hour as you would on your own. But you also won’t have the worries associated with running your own business.
4. How do you get along with people?
I’m betting you like the idea of a dog walking biz because your working hours are spent with animals. I can’t say I blame you . . . No judgments. No office politics. No nasty bosses. While this may largely be the case, you’ll still need to have somewhat decent people skills.
Unless, of course, the dogs can book their own appointments, pay you, and tell you what they eat.
I’m not saying you should try to be something you’re not, but you will need to be able to communicate professionally and politely. Would you want to hand your animal over to a grouch?
5. What expenses are involved?
Solo dog walking is a relatively low-cost business to start up and run, but there are still expenses involved. A few of these may include: business & other licensing fees; liability insurance (very important); waste bags; training & professional memberships (which can make you more marketable); and website hosting.
6. Have you done your marketing research?
Do you know if there’s even a market for dog walkers in your area? If the market is saturated, that doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t succeed; you may just need to find a way to stand apart from the crowd. If there are no dog walkers in your area, is it because nobody has made their mark yet – or because there’s no market in your area?
What can you offer that’s special and gives clients reason to want to hire you instead of another dog walker? A few ideas. . .
• Kick it up a notch by offering out-of-the-ordinary services. For instance, Ruff Stuff Dog Services offers group adventures.
• Offer pet bathing, grooming, or healing massage as part of your menu of your services.
• Even if dog walking certification is not required in your city, why not take the initiative and get training? Two businesses offering classes and certification are Dogtec and Canine Club Academy. Also check with community colleges for programs. For instance, North Shore Community College offers an Animal Care Specialist Certificate; it’s intended for those seeking work in a variety of animal care fields, including dog walking.
Make sure you have proper licensing and credentials before adding any of these services to your menu.
7. Can you work around other people’s schedules?
This is a business that runs on other people’s – and dogs’ – schedules. If you don’t like the idea of getting up early in the morning or getting called unexpectedly in the middle of the afternoon, this business may not be a good fit.
8. Are you aware of local ordinances?
Have you checked with your city about any legal requirements or ordinances for dog walkers? For instance, professional dog walkers based in San Francisco have to satisfy a set of requirements – they have to meet certain training criteria; attain a dog walker permit ($240 initially, then $100 to renew annually); offer proof of a one million general liability insurance policy; as well as fulfill other requirements.
Some people may see these requirements as being strict, but considering you’ll be caring for a sentient being, they are quite appropriate. Hopefully this will catch on, and the dog walking field will become better regulated in the future.
Many cities also have strict leash and dog waste ordinances. Also be aware of business licenses (separate from dog walking or animal care licenses) required by your state or city.
9. Do you know how to handle emergencies?
Quick . . .do you know what to do if the dog under your care becomes ill? Do you know how to administer first aid? Or where the nearest emergency vet clinic is? Emergencies can happen, so it’s wise to have a plan in place . . .just in case. This is where certification can be useful.
Dog walking can be a rewarding and profitable business . . .provided you’re doing it because you genuinely care about dogs, and not just to make a few quick bucks. Nurture your dreams of owning your own business, but don’t neglect the details. Do your research, work hard, treat your customers well, give your canine clients the very best of care – and you may very well succeed at running your own dog walking business.
Dog on leash image credit (minus type, heart, and additional design): #83935658 from Clipart.com.