Do you know that the market size of the dog walking services industry in the US grows an average of 1.8% per year? While the number might seem surprising to you, it makes sense considering that more than 60 million households in the US own a dog.
But how can you use the growing market to your advantage? Easy; you can start a dog walking business. Such businesses have a high chance of succeeding and aren't exceedingly challenging to manage.
Not to mention, I'll help put you on the right track toward building a successful dog walking business by telling you everything you need to know about the topic. So get ready to take notes, and jump in!
What Is a Dog Walking Business?
A dog walking business mainly serves pet owners without time to walk their dogs. Most dogs need to take daily walks, which can be time-consuming and inconvenient for people with mobility issues. That's where a professional dog walker swoops in and saves the day.
The business takes full responsibility for picking up dogs from their houses, walking them, and returning them to their owners. Some businesses offer to walk many dogs at once, while some prefer taking one dog at a time.
The number of employees in a dog walking business depends on its size. You can work on your own at first if you're a professional dog walker and know how to deal with pets. Then, when the business expands, you can employ more people.
Alternatively, you can hire professional walkers from the beginning if you plan on taking a managerial role only.
Reasons You Should Start a Dog Walking Business
If you're still unsure about building your own dog walking business, here's a list of the pros that come with it:
- Little startup costs
- Pleasant work nature
- Flexible hours
- Being your own boss
- Developing a local community
- Working remotely
So not only will starting a business provide you with a steady income, but you'll also enjoy many other benefits.
Step-by-Step Instructions to Start a Dog Walking Business
This step-by-step guide will tell you where to start your business-building journey and what steps are the most important to follow. You can consider it a to-do list and check off each step after finishing it.
1. Research Your Target Market
The first step in building any business is researching the target market. It's one of the most important steps because you'll decide what your services will be depending on it.
For instance, some people focus on dog walking only and don't offer other services. However, if you plan on working with class A of society, you might want to spice your business a little to attract customers. You can hire both dog walkers and pet sitters, for example.
On top of that, the price of your services depends on the target audience. If you're targeting mid-market or mass-market customers, you'll need to put reasonable prices to avoid overwhelming your customers. But if you're targeting class A, you can have more freedom while putting prices.
But how can you research the target market? First, you should check for competition in the area. Either look online on social media platforms or ask offline in your neighborhood.
If too many businesses offer the same services and cover the needs of all nearby dog owners, you might want to start a business somewhere else.
Second, you should check the availability of dog owners around the neighborhood and assess their needs. If there aren't many dog owners around you, you should cover a larger area to earn a good income.
Finally, you should ask about the neighborhood's average hourly rate of dog walkers. Then, you can choose your price according to the numbers you hear.
2. Calculate Startup Costs
After researching the market, you can start calculating the startup costs. Luckily, dog walking businesses don't require large startup costs, so you won't dent your wallet.
Here's a list of the costs you should consider:
- Registering your business legally (LLC or DBA)
- Creating a business bank account
- Getting a business license
- Obtaining dog walking insurance
- Building a website
- Buying dog walking supplies
Other than these, you might want to consider the cost of taking a pet first aid class. While not mandatory, it'll make you more trustworthy to customers. Dog walking accidents aren't rare, and it'll be helpful to know how to act in case of an injury.
Luckily, dog walking services are remote, and you can run the business from the comfort of your home. So you won't need to pay for accommodation and so.
3. Set Up Your Business Legally
To legalize your business, you'll need to either create a Limited Liability Company (LLC) or a Sole Proprietorship. The former is a legal entity where owners aren't held responsible for the company's debts and liabilities, making it the better option for your protection
On the other hand, a sole proprietorship is an unincorporated business that has only one owner, who is held responsible for any debts and liabilities. Although it's the simpler option that costs less money and hassle to set up, it doesn't protect your personal assets.
If you plan on expanding in the near future, then I recommend you create an LLC. It'll make you sleep better at night knowing your assets are protected against any issues that might come your way.
After choosing between the two, you should decide whether you'll need employees or not. If you hire employees, you should get an employer identification number (EIN), especially in the case of an LLC. The EIN is a nine-digit number that every business entity should have, and it's essential for tax reporting purposes.
If you feel out of depth here, you can consult a business lawyer. They'll tell you all about the paperwork you need to finish and give you advice on what type of company to build.
4. Open a Business Bank Account
Most small business owners skip this step but believe me, and it'll make your life easier. Having your personal money separate from your business income will help you calculate the revenues and taxes more accurately.
Also, a bank account will make you look more professional and trustworthy to potential clients.
5. Build Your Brand
Building your brand involves choosing a business personality, writing a brand story, choosing a name, designing a logo, and building a website. Here are the five points in detail.
You should decide on a personality to choose a name and logo for your business. Do you want to build a dog walking business as sophisticated as the stance of an Irish Setter? Or do you want bubbly and friendly vibes that remind customers of a Beagle?
If you go with the former, you should choose calm and elegant colors for the logo and think of a classic name. But if you choose the latter, you can go with bright colors, a trendy name, and a touch of fun.
A word of advice before I go on to the next step, though. A bubbly personality works best for mid-market and mass-market customers. Meanwhile, elegant themes and luxurious services attract class A customers more.
While writing a backstory for your brand isn't essential, it'll help build trust between you and your customers. Also, inspiring stories make businesses more appealing to empathetic customers. So it'll take you no time to write, but it'll help your business progress.
A brand story can be anything you want it to be. For instance, you can write the goals you want to achieve in the future. Or, you can write why you started the business and what inspired you to offer dog walking services. To make it easier for you, think about what impression you want to leave on the customers, then write.
After you write the brand story, you can print it on marketing brochures or write it on your business website.
Choosing a name for your new dog walking business is a chance to get creative. But first, you should consider the target audience you settled on earlier. For instance, if your target customers are all class A, then you'll need to choose an upscale name that indicates luxury.
More so, you should consider the services you're offering. If you offer dog walks only, then choose a specific name. But if you're willing to offer dog cleaning or pet sitting services, you can use a generic name.
I think the key to choosing a good business name is thinking of something short and memorable. Long names don't stick with customers as well as short names do. And believe me; you don't want your customers forgetting your business name while you're still starting.
You can use online name-generating tools if you feel stuck and can't think of a creative name.
After deciding on a name, make sure it isn't taken anywhere around you. You can search for the name on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter or ask around the neighborhood.
Also, check that there's an available domain name for your website. If it's taken and you've already settled on a name, you'll have to give your website a different name from your business, which can be confusing. So it's better to be safe.
Your dog walking service logo should be eye-catching and colorful. Also, it should relate to the name and personality you chose. It'll significantly help if you know the basics of designing a logo.
If you don't, I recommend hiring a professional graphic designer for this step if you have enough budget. They know all the tips and tricks of designing logos. You'll only need to give them the name you chose and the business personality you settled on, and they'll come up with a design.
Many entrepreneurs start their businesses without creating a website. But if you have enough budget to do it, I recommend so. Having a website will help you reach more customers fast, and it'll help build trust between you and your audience.
Lucky for you, there are many affordable platforms on which you can build a website. So you don't need to set aside a large budget.
You can get creative with your website and add a FAQs page, About Us page, and Testimonials page. Also, if you have enough free time on your hands, you can add a blog and write articles about different types of dogs and their walking habits.
6. Get Dog Walking Insurance
Walking dogs isn't just a walk in the park (pun intended).
Instead, risks like dog injuries and property damages are possible. For instance, the dog you're walking might make an unexpected move and damage any nearby property. Alternatively, it might injure itself.
You should get dog walking business insurance to protect your company from such unfortunate events. It's especially essential if you plan on hiring other dog walkers.
This insurance will protect you and your employees from any financial responsibility in case of an accident. Also, some customers mandate that you obtain business insurance before you take their dogs on a walk.
7. Put a Price on Your Services
Now, it's time to put a price on your services. But first, you'll need to decide on what services you're offering. If you plan on running a dog walking and pet sitting business, you'll need to pay a separate price for each service.
Generally, most dog walking services charge per hour. It's better to stick to this tradition to avoid confusing your customers. Also, while putting prices, consider the prices of competitor dog walking businesses. You don't want to lower prices and drive potential customers away.
8. Buy Dog Walking Supplies
After getting everything ready for your business launch, you should start buying the supplies you'll need.
Here's a list of the essential supplies:
- Waste bags
- Dog walking bags
- Water and food containers
- Dog whistles
You can also get dog treats to reward your walking dogs if they behave well. However, before offering a reward to any dog, you should ask the dog owner first. Their pet might have an underlying health condition or might be following a strict diet.
9. Market Your Business
The final step I'll talk about is marketing your dog walking business. To reach the largest number of customers possible, you should consider both online and offline marketing.
Apart from your business website, you can also create social media accounts to market your dog walking business. The best two platforms for marketing businesses are Facebook and Instagram.
However, you'll need to put aside a budget for ads. The ads will help you reach your target audience easier and faster. Not to mention, you'll be able to find your competitors and benefit from the way they're marketing their businesses.
You should know that to succeed on these platforms, and you must be flexible about giveaways and special offers. They'll help you attract customers and gain more followers in a short time.
Another form of online marketing you can try is through e-mail. It's more challenging since you'll need to send all emails by yourself. However, it'll constantly remind your customers about your business as you'll send them all discounts and offers.
Offline marketing depends on your ability to communicate with people and tell them about your business.
Although it's more challenging than online marketing, it helps you gain customers' trust better as they see and converse with you in person. Also, offline feedback is often more honest than online feedback, so it'll benefit your business more.
Offline marketing methods include distributing flyers, business cards, and coupons.
Key Considerations for Successfully Running a Dog Walking Business
Running your own business isn't a piece of cake. It requires dedication, motivation, and hard work. Here are a few tips you should follow to build a successful dog walking business.
Put a Plan
Planning is critical when it comes to building a business from scratch. A solid business plan should include goals, monthly to-do lists, and financial information.
Planning will help you organize your thoughts and goals and finish your tasks regularly. If you don't write a to-do list, you risk forgetting a task or two. More so, not having goals can make you lose motivation fast.
Study the Risks
The excitement of starting a new business might make you forget all about the risks. But it's essential you consider them so that you know how to avoid them. The most common risk of starting a new business is that it doesn't gain enough income.
That said, this is an unlikely event for dog walking businesses since they don't have large startup costs, and getting customers is somewhat guaranteed.
Generally, studying the risks will help you get ready for unfortunate events. This way, you won't be overwhelmed when something doesn't go your way.
Creativity is key when it comes to running businesses in a competitive market. You must think about how to make your business recognizable from all the other similar businesses. Also, why would customers come to me when they have other options?
Thinking about the answer will help you come up with creative marketing strategies and offers to attract more customers.
Taking feedback from customers is essential for continuous improvement. The feedback will help you identify your strengths and weaknesses.
Accordingly, you'll know where to improve and where to stay consistent. And don't be disappointed if you hear negative feedback. It's always more beneficial than positive feedback because it gives you room for improvement.
Prepare for Sacrifices
To keep your business afloat, you might need to skip a vacation or two. Also, your off days and leisure time with family and friends might need to be put aside for a while. Remember, running a business requires commitment and time.
So you have to be willing to sacrifice some of your personal luxuries for the survival of your business.
Having said that, you shouldn't worry about this point too much. If you enjoy your work, you won't feel like you're sacrificing anything for it. Also, if your business expands and you hire new dog walkers, you can delegate the work and take off time for yourself.
Your business might take a while to make a profit, and it's completely fine. You shouldn't lose hope and motivation if your company doesn't thrive right away. Instead, look for ways to make it better and fix the issues causing late profit.
Building your own dog walking business calls for flexibility. For example, you should be flexible with your working hours.
Not all customers will be ready to hand over their dogs simultaneously. So you can widen your working window to fit more customers per day.
Also, you should be friendly when dealing with all customers, even annoying ones. News travels fast nowadays because of social media platforms, and any unlucky encounter with a customer might go online through a review or a comment on any of your posts.
Wrapping Up the Dog Walking Business
Starting a new dog walking business can be a smooth process if you have a solid plan to follow. First, you should research the target market, calculate startup costs, set up your business legally, and open a bank account. Then, you can go on to the creative part and build your brand.
After your business starts to take shape, you should get business insurance, decide on prices for your services, and buy the supplies you'll need to run the business.
Last but not least, you should market your business on online social media platforms and offline through business cards and brochures. And that's it.
So get ready to join the world of entrepreneurs, and start working!