Dog walking is a surprisingly competitive business these days. In any residential neighborhood where dog walkers are needed, you’ll more than likely find several walkers already competing for the business. Dog walking is simply one of those careers that a lot of people want – you get flexible work hours, the joy of working with the animals you (presumably) love, and a lot of exercise. And in the right area it can be a lucrative business as well. So if you’re planning on starting a dog walking business, the main question is how can you get established? How can you build up a clientele – or even get that all-important first client? Here are a few pieces of advice you may not have considered.
1. Hit the Bricks
Advertising is useful, whether it’s flyers or newspaper ads or business cards left at the local Vet. But advertising is not going to work if people already have established relationships with dog walkers and are already aware of several options. It is key to become a familiar face. Get into the neighborhood you’re targeting. Ring some doorbells and hand out some flyers personally. Take your own dog to the local dog run or park and interact. It may not have an immediate effect, but when some of these people need to replace their old walker, they will think of you because they’ve actually met you, and have some sense of whether they can trust their animals with you.
2. Look Professional
Too often, dog walkers arrive at someone’s home wearing grungy clothes and looking exactly like someone who doesn’t really work for a living. And just as often, people have misgivings about hiring them. Invest in a more professional look. Design or have a logo designed by a friend (or pay $5 on www.fiverr.com or a similar site) and then have some T-shirts made, and always wear one when you’re “on the job.” Have your business cards made with the same logo as well, and don’t be shy about handing them out. Have a separate business number and always answer that phone with a professional greeting – or pay a small amount a month to have a virtual receptionist take your calls, giving the impression of a thriving business as opposed to a single person. People like the idea of entrusting their pets with a company of professionals.
3. Offer More than Walks
You love dogs, and you know something about them. Offer more than just walking. Offer vet and grooming drop off and pick-up, or, if you have the background, training. Do you run or bike? Offer to get overweight dogs in shape by taking them on your jogs or bike rides! There are plenty of services you can offer that don’t require any additional investment on your part but can be value-adds that people find compelling.
4. Start Off with Special Pricing
Find out what your competition is charging, and undercut them. While you may not be making the income you’d hoped for, something is better than nothing. Make it clear that it’s a “new customer” special for a limited time, and then stick to that, even if you lose a few customers as a result. Cost is a great motivator for people to change services, and if you perform a superior service to your competition, the price hike won’t chase anyone away.
Starting any business isn’t easy. Once you get a steady slate of return customers, get ready for the next guy who’s going to come in and try to take them away – because there’s always a next guy.
About the author: Jackie McLellan used to run a successful dog walking business in Glasgow before she became a labradoodle breeder. Jackie and her family are still based in Scotland and are animal mad, living with dogs, cats, rabbits and sheep. Jackie breeds beautiful Australian Labradoodle puppies and regularly has labradoodle dogs for sale.