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How to Start a Dog Walking Business

A dog walking business is one of the most popular and accessible pet business options.  It can also be a great side hustle for those looking to earn extra income while keeping a day job.

Name Your Business

A clever or memorable name can help your business stand out from the crowd.  Be sure that your name isn’t too similar to other service providers in your area.  You should also secure the matching domain name to create a website for your business.  You can check for domain name availability on any major web hosting service (like GoDaddy or DreamHost).

Consider Startup Costs

Starting a dog walking business requires a very small investment.  At the bare minimum all you’ll really need is a leash, reliable transportation, and a business license.  Ideally, however, you will also set some money aside for things like insurance and advertising.

Most jurisdictions require entrepreneurs to secure a business license to operate legally.  These licenses are usually affordable; in my town, for example, it costs $100 per year.  You can also work with an attorney to set up a limited liability company (LLC) or other legal entity that protects your other assets, or you may operate your business as a sole proprietorship.

You should also consider investing in a basic liability insurance policy to protect your business against potential lawsuits involving animals under your supervision.  These policies are often marketed to both pet sitters and dog walkers, and they cost just a few hundred dollars per year for basic coverage.

Develop a Client Contract

Be sure to draft a contract that clearly defines the relationship between you and your clients.  This document is the place to outline the services you provide, the prices for each type of service, the payment options, and your policy on various contingencies (such as cancellation policies, or how the need for urgent veterinary care would be handled).

Set Prices and Define Services

Dog walkers charge clients based on the length of the walk that they require.  The price may also take into consideration whether the client requires a private visit or can be included in a group walk (like at an apartment complex with multiple clients contracted for service).  Many dog walkers offer 15 minute “bathroom break” walks as well as 30 minute (or longer) “exercise” walks.

In general terms a walk could be priced anywhere from $10 to $20.  Prices can vary based on the going rate in your area—you don’t want to be overpriced compared to others offering the same service.  Call around and see what other service providers are charging—because your potential clients certainly will!  Don’t forget that doggie day cares and pet sitters should be considered “competition” for your client base since they offer similar services.  Dog walking services are usually less expensive than doggie day care, and are usually comparable to the cost of a pet sitting visit.

It is also important to define a service area—will you offer walks across an entire town or limit your work to a few specific neighborhoods?  A limited service area minimizes your travel time while maximizing your paid walking time.  You could even get a few walks in during your lunch break if you have clients close by.

Create Detailed Records

It is important to keep detailed records on each client and their pets.  This is usually computer-based for those who are tech savvy, though some still keep paper copies for reference.

The key piece of the client record is the contact sheet that includes the client’s address, phone number, email, and emergency contact information.  You also need to include a detailed pet information sheet that includes the pet name, breed, description, year of birth, allergies, health or dietary restrictions, any medications that need to be administered, and the veterinarian’s contact information.  A signed veterinary release form is also a good idea, as it authorizes you to seek veterinary treatment in an emergency and guarantees that the owners will cover the costs of treatment if they are unreachable.

Advertise

Start your marketing plan by developing a professional website for your business.  Most pet owners search for service providers online, so it is important to have a presence there.  If possible include some testimonials and photos from satisfied clients.  You should also create pages on social media to increase your exposure.

Create some printed materials such as business cards and flyers to leave in high traffic areas for pet owners like veterinary clinics, pet shops, pet bakery businesses, dog parks, and grooming salons.  You could also leave your information in other high traffic areas like grocery stores and large office buildings.

Don’t forget to advertise on your own back and on your vehicle!  That is some valuable free real estate that is constantly in view, and it can be a great conversation starter.  Create a logo and use it on a uniform shirt or hat, and copy that logo onto large magnets that can be affixed to the sides and rear of your vehicle.  People will see you out on the move and contact you (so be sure that your phone number and website address are featured prominently).

Eventually you will receive referral business from satisfied clients.  This is the kind of advertising that can’t be bought, and gives you the highest level of credibility with potential clients.

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