Over the last five years, the dog walking services industry has grown by 5.2%, reaching an incredible $1 billion dollars in 2018.
If you love dogs and you've always wanted to start your own business, dog walking is the perfect job and the perfect business for you.
In this article, we'll break down exactly how to start a dog walking business and make serious money in 2019.
Let's dive in.
1. Plan Out Your Business Model
These days, there are quite a few avenues to approach setting up a business. It's best to research every option and see what works best for your goals and situation.
Apps like Rover and Wag are making it easy for anyone who wants to start a dog walking business to do so.
But these platforms don't come without their perks and drawbacks.
Below is a snapshot of the pros and cons of platforms like Rover and Wag:
- Instant access to potential clients
- Additional service offering options like pet boarding and drop-in visits
- 24/7 vet support
- Only book the dogs you're comfortable with (e.g. certain size or age)
- Rover/Wag insurance protection
- Service fees (Rover takes 20% of every payment and Wag takes a whopping 40%)
- No insurance for your home
- Limited to clients who have accounts on the platform you're using
If you're interested in keeping this a smaller side business, starting on a dog walker platform may make more sense.
You should also consider whether or not to register your business.
Registering your business as an LLC isn't required, but it will help you get established and protect you from any legal action you may encounter.
An LLC has other added benefits like tax advantages, ownership flexibility, flexible profit distribution, and more. If you're planning on adding more dog walkers to your team later on down the road, it's wise to look into registering your business as an LLC.
Being an independent business owner gives you the freedom to run your business the way you want. Not to mention, you get to take home your entire wage, which is always a plus.
After you've decided on a business structure, there are a few things to add to your to-do list before you start booking doggos.
2. Learn The Ins & Outs Of Dog Walking
Dog walking seems like a no-brainer, and in a lot of ways it is. But there are many factors that can either make it an awesome experience for you and the dog or it can end up being quite stressful.
It's important to learn all you can about safe and successful dog walking so you feel confident walking into any situation with any dog.
When working in the care industry—no matter if you're caring for humans or animals—it's important to approach every situation and interaction with safety as the top priority. Accidents happen, but taking preventative measures can help you avoid less than ideal situations.
To do that, you need to educate yourself on all things dog walking.
Make sure you have the following dialed in for each client:
- The different types of leashes, harnesses, and collars.
- Basic commands for dogs.
- Safety and warning signs for dogs.
- Foods dogs can't or shouldn't eat.
- Local veterinarians.
- Dog-friendly parks and public spaces.
Each client likely has special instructions for their dog, so it's best to get the full picture so you can provide the best possible care and service.
Even if you have ample dog walking experience, there are always ways to improve and take your service to the next level.
Your primary goal as a professional dog walker is to provide the best possible care for your clients and their dogs, but you also have to understand the business side of things. After all, you won't have a business if you can't keep it up and running.
Like any small business owner, you are in charge of overseeing every aspect of your operation. You're responsible for invoicing clients, saving for taxes, and everything in between.
Because you're out on your own and not covered by the insurance offered from platforms like Rover and Wag, you'll need to decide what is right for your business. Investing in protection that covers various scenarios like if a dog bites you or if they cause damage to your property is a wise move.
Protecting your clients' dogs is a major priority, but you can't forget about yourself.
Lastly, creating processes that will make managing all aspects of your business easier is the key to success.
Develop an on-boarding process that covers the following:
- How to use the preferred leash correctly.
- The proper way to enter their home, especially if the owner isn't there.
- What treats or food the dog is allowed to have.
- Any triggers or fears the dog has.
- The best walk routes to take as well as what to avoid.
- The commands the dog responds to.
- Areas you can and cannot walk the dog.
For example, a smooth onboarding process can help you quickly get up to speed with a new clients' needs and make sure you're a good fit. Or if you set up automatic invoices after you complete a walk, that can save you time.
As you gain experience, you will surely find ways to streamline your process and make things even better, but having a process in place when you start guarantees you have the essential information to provide the best service possible.
3. Define Your Service Offerings
Because you're calling the shots, you get to have fun with how your business is structured.
Sounds pretty great, right?
It's entirely up to you to determine the services you'll provide clients, but it can be tricky to nail down exactly what it is you want to offer.
Not sure where to start? These questions might help guide you:
- Are there certain breeds or sizes of dogs you don't want to accept?
- Are you open to in-house sitting or drop-in visits for clients?
- How many walks can you manage per day or week?
- How will you charge your clients? E.g., by the hour, a flat fee, etc.
Depending on where you live, it may make more sense from a financial perspective to offer more than just dog walking. If you're not sure what services make the most sense, try only offering dog walking and add more down the road.
The autonomy to make those decisions is one of the perks of being a business owner.
As you grow your business, you can decide if you want to continue with certain services or if you want to take on more dogs at once.
After you've figured out what services you'd like to offer, research different pricing models. See what the going rate is for dog walkers in your area and go from there.
4. Set Budget & Income Targets
Establishing stable finances from the get-go is an important part of being a business owner.
This is something you don't want to put off.
Especially as you start making money, you'll need to figure out how you're going to manage your money.
If thinking about money matters gives you heartburn, consider talking to a professional who can help you set up the correct accounts, help you invest in your money, figure out your taxes, etc.
At the very least, even if you choose not to hire someone to manage your money, it's smart to learn everything you can about money matters as a business owner so you can run things on your own.
There are also tons of apps and software that can help make managing your money much easier. Software like QuickBooks Self-Employed and Freshbooks take the headache out of handling your money.
Maintaining excellent financial health is how you will stay in business.
After all, how can you tell if you're making a profit or if you need to raise your rates if you don't have the most current numbers on hand?
Get help now and save yourself the trouble later.
5. Find Your Market
The critical thing with marketing is to understand who you're trying to reach, then how to reach them, otherwise you're shouting into the void. Research local areas and figure out where there is a need for dog walkers.
A few places to find opportunities include:
- Dog parks
- Veterinary clinics
- Pet shops
- Residential areas.
Once you know where there is more of a demand, you can shape your marketing strategy around that need.
Think about what types of clients you're looking for. Do they have demanding jobs that require long workdays with little time to tend to Fido? Maybe they're elderly and can't physically go on walks with their dog.
In this situation, your ideal client may not look completely identical as they would with other businesses, but they all have the same need.
If you live in an area that doesn't have too significant of a need for dog walkers, consider looking in other areas nearby. Just make sure you track expenses like gas and car maintenance if you choose to do so.
6. Establish Your Value Proposition
You're a dog lover through and through, but all other dog walkers arguably are, too.
So what makes you stand out from the rest?
Your value proposition is your bottom line. It's your X factor.
Dog owners, as parents are with their children, want to know their dog is safe and sound and that they can trust you to take good care of them.
Your USP should reflect what makes you the perfect walker for the job, including but not limited to:
- Your history with dogs.
- Your certifications and knowledge.
- Your professionalism and trustworthiness.
- Your ability to manage clients and keep their dogs safe.
- Your years of experience as a dog walker.
- Your unique personality.
Once you have an idea of what sets you apart from other dog walkers, form your USP into a statement that can be at the forefront of your brand.
Maybe you have years of experience working with dogs and have a proven track record of successful service. Or perhaps you've worked in customer service for years and also really happen to love dogs.
7. Create An Online Presence
You know who your market is and what sets you apart from other dog walkers in your area.
You have no way of conveying your experience with those ideal clients.
What better way to do that than with a website?
Create a professional website or landing page that showcases your experience. Having a one-stop-shop site where clients can read about you, your services, your experience, and what your past clients have said about their time with you is highly beneficial.
It's not enough just to have a website with your contact information on it and a few photos of dogs. To book clients time after time, you have to sell your brand.
Collect testimonials from past clients and ask them if you can add photos of their dog to your site. Having social proof like this is a great way to prove your experience and convey your love for canines.
Pro Tip: Gather testimonials as part of your client management process by asking for one after you've walked their dog or completed another service.
In addition to your website, creating an Instagram account or another social media page is another way potential clients can learn more about you and your business. With your clients' permission, you can post photos of you and your furry friends enjoying a walk in the neighborhood or hanging out at the dog park.
But whatever you decide to do, make sure you post regularly on those channels and keep your website updated with new testimonials and photos. If you don't, it may look like you aren't actively accepting new clients, which may deter some dog owners.
8. Master Your Service Delivery
As we've discussed, pet owners want to book with people they know and trust—and that their dog knows and trusts.
From the first interaction to collecting your payment, every step with a client should be professional and positive.
Dog walking in and of itself isn't a complicated task.
But you're dealing with people's beloved pets, so you want to make sure you're doing everything you can to earn and keep their trust by making sure their dog is happy and taken care of.
A couple ways to take your level of service a step further include:
- Send each new client a survey so you can learn their pup's favorite treats, toys, and walk routes.
- Offer to play fetch or jog with your canine clients to help them get their daily dose of exercise.
- Leave little notes or send text messages to the owner to give them updates. Pictures are always a plus!
If you roll out the red carpet and make your client and their dog feel safe and happy, you're golden.
9. Build Your Network
Behind every strong business is a secure network you have learned from and grown with. This could be a few clients you love working with or a group of fellow dog walkers you can exchange business knowledge with, refer clients to, or get referrals from.
Start with one client you love working with and go from there. Ask them if they have any friends or family members who need a dog walker, or if they know anyone who could point you to possible clients.
Connect with other dog walkers and build genuine relationships. Having a community of fellow dog walkers who understand the business side of things and who are also dog lovers is valuable.
Word of mouth is a powerful thing when it comes to the care business, so spending time and energy creating this network will help your business flourish.
Start Small and Work Your Way Up
As it is with any other business, starting small and doing things with intention will pave the way to success.
Don't feel like you have to be doing everything and anything to make a buck, either. If you want to stick to dog walking and not expand into other services like dog boarding and house sitting, that's perfectly fine.
Once you've established your services and rates, work hard to get your name out there and build legitimate connections with people. Like other care-based jobs, developing relationships will help you get hired again and again.
Becoming a professional dog walker is a viable career path that can give you a life of flexibility, limitless earning potential—oh, and the opportunity to work with dogs every day.
If you'd like more hands-on help in getting your business up and running, sign up below to try our premium course, completely free. This is the same course over 3,000 of our students have used to quit their jobs and build successful, full time businesses.