Fancy being a dog-walker? Here’s How.
There are quite a few dog walkers out there, who have taken the opportunity and started their own business. This does not mean that there is no room for you. We will look at how and what to research before you set up. My beginnings as a dog walker in Liverpool were hard. There is a lot of competition in Liverpool. I hope that your area has fewer dog walkers than mine.
What Makes a Good Dog-Walker?
This is not the easiest job – you are out and about in all kinds of weather and sometimes the routine can get you down. If people are hiring you to walk their dogs because they don’t have time to do it themselves, chances are, they did not have time to take them to training either. Although you don’t need any formal qualifications, it will help if you know some training and behavioural basics. Knowing the characteristics of the various breeds also helps – if you are walking Springer Spaniels and you let them off leash, you can guarantee that they will find the nearest muddy water to cavort in!
The Pros of a Dog-Walking business
• You own your own business and answer to no-one. This means you are also completely responsible for keeping your business going.
• This is a job for someone who loves being outdoors, often in pleasant surroundings
• You will shed any extra pounds fairly fast.
• You get to buy lots of new shoes if that is what you like!
• Your day is fairly flexible, although the times when you are active depend on your customer’s requirements
• You spend most of your day with companions you truly like, and they love you back.
• You live in an environment where you cannot own your own dog; now you have lots of doggy dependents.
• Unlike most businesses, your competition can be very supportive as well. Make friends with other dog walkers in your area so that you can offer mutual support.
The Cons of a dog-walking business
• Dogs (and their owners) usually don’t care about the weather conditions. You will be working in sun, rain, wind, sleet and snow.
• With climate change, even in our climate, it can get hot, especially around mid-day when you are most likely to be walking the dogs. You need to cater for both you and your dog’s health.
• You can be expected to return the dogs in the same condition you found them, which will mean you have to wash and dry them after a muddy walk.
• You are expected to be healthy 24/7/365 by your customers, especially the 4-legged ones. Fortunately, your flu is not transferable to your charges, and you should not be coming in contact with too many people to pass on your lurgy.
• You have to protect everyone else’s health by being responsible and picking up and disposing of dog poo in a responsible manner.
• While this is not a 9-5 job, your hours are dictated by your customers to some extent. Most of them will want you to cater for their pooches around mid-day (i.e. the middle of their workday).
• Some of your charges can have behavioural issues that you will have to manage (especially when you are starting out – you cannot be too picky when you are still trying to build up a customer base).
• If the dogs don’t know the critical commands like “Stay” and “Leave”, they can create risk.
• You will spend a great deal of time getting to and from your customer’s homes and suitable walking areas. This can be one of the biggest costs of your business.
• It can get lonely working on your own. Make friends with other dog-walkers and people who you regularly see on your routes.
• You will lose customers along the way for various reasons (e.g. they move away). It can be quite heartsore to say goodbye to your furry charges (and their owners too).
• Stealing dogs is becoming widespread these days – you need to be vigilant.
OK, I am still keen. How do I start?
Clearly, you have your mind set on becoming a dog-walker! While I can advise you on how to set up your business, there are some questions only you can answer. We have listed some of the key points below, which you will have to research and then put together in a business plan.
• Am I going to offer any other services, such as pet-sitting?
• Who is my competition and where are they based?
• Where are my customers?
• How will I get to them?
• Who are my customers?
• What is the best way to market myself to them?
• Do I know where to walk the dogs?
• Do I know where the vets are located?
You need to find the answers to all these questions before you start.
Do your Research
We are all instant experts in the Age of the Internet. While Google can answer a lot of the questions above, many of them relate to where you are situated and local knowledge. For instance – can you start walking from your customer’s house, or will you have to drive to a good site? You will also have to work out your “territory” where you can find customers without treading on your competitors’ toes. Remember that other dog-walkers are your allies. You might need to canvass them to find out where their client base is situated.
Finding the Competition
Google is your friend here. Do some searches like “dog walker (your town, city or borough name)”. Ex. Dog walker Liverpool or dog walking Liverpool. Examine as many of the websites found as you can, taking notice of the services offering, the pricing and the location. You might like to build a map of your area, with locations of your competitors indicated. You can do this using a physical map book, a Google map, or if you are a nerd, use one of the free GIS software options. Using a map view gives you a better feel of where your competitors (and your market) can be found.
You can also do lookups on Dogbuddy.com, which will show you a map and registered dog walkers/carers for that area (you should also register with dogbuddy). There are a few other sites, like gudog.co.uk you can enquire on.
Finding your market
Using the map you built for the competition will show you where your target market is, and where you are likely to overlap with competitors.
Where to walk the dogs
Try using www.dogwalkingfields.co.uk, which will display potential places for walking, if you do not already know all the places in your area.
Starting up – Consider an apprenticeship
Talking to other walkers in your area opens another possibility that of working as an assistant to them if they are willing, to immerse yourself in the business.
There is quite a steep learning curve when you are starting a new business, especially if you have not run a business before and remember, you are working on your own. One way to get a taste of the business before committing yourself too deeply is to work for an established dog-walker.
By doing this, you get an experience of what it is like to walk dogs on a continual basis, as well as on-the-job training.
Starting up – your own Business
You have done your research, and maybe served an “apprenticeship” too, and you now feel ready to start your own business. You have all the information you need to write your business plan, set goals and timelines and gird your loins for your new venture. The paragraphs below deal with the basics of getting set up – we will discuss marketing later.
Write your Business Plan
I recently heard someone who now runs a multimillion pound business talking on the radio (I listen a lot to the radio while doing my doggy transporting). He explained how he came up with a brilliant business concept and tried to sell it to potential investors. One investor was very keen, and he asked: “where is your business plan?”. The entrepreneur said, “I will get it to you tomorrow” (he did not have one). Well, it took him six months! He says that committing what he wanted to do to paper was what created the successful business because he had to think through all his big ideas and put down facts to support them.
It will not take you six months but put aside 2-3 days to write a plan. It creates great focus, and you have done all the research already.
You do not need to have a business plan if you are not thinking about applying for a business grant or loan. I would strongly advise preparing one for yourself. It will help to keep all your goals and plans in one place. You can find business plan templates online.
Define your scope and your long- and short-term goals
This is part of your business plan. You may have been exposed to mission and vision statements in your previous life as an employee and thought they were meaningless (they probably were – full of high-sounding and meaningless words). In fact, a good mission statement, vision and values should all be measurable, and they are your promise to the customer and yourself. They can also describe your brand.
Here are some phrases to get you started. We expect you to do better! :-
• We will deliver an on-time, fulfilling experience to your pet, in a safe setting (i.e. you will be punctual, tire the dog out, and take it to a place where it can run off-leash without any annoyances)
• To have 30 customers by the end of 2017.
• To have a full-service dog business by 2020, including grooming, doggy day care and dog training.
• To employ three people by end 2018.
Scope of Services
You should also decide on the range of services you want to offer, for instance, you could also offer pet-sitting and/or daily visits when customers are away. However, let your customers come up with new services they require and add them to your portfolio. In your advertising literature, you can have a good general phrase like “These are some of the services we offer, please ask if the service you want is not on this list”.
Set Timelines and Milestones
Your business plan will have got you thinking realistically about what you want to achieve in the short- and long-term. Put together a project plan for starting the business i.e. getting registered, buying insurance, sorting out your transport requirements and anything else you need to launch your business. You might also want to put together a budget for starting and getting through your first 6-months.
Setting up and Managing your Finances
Once you have registered as a sole trader (see below), you should open a bank account in the name of the business. It does not have to be anything fancy. You might also check with your bank if they have any info and/or training on starting a small business, most banks do nowadays.
I, for now, use waveapps.com for my accounting needs. When my biz grows to the point that I will not be able to manage my books, I will hire an accountant. You should do the same. You should cut any expenses that you can in the beginnings. When you establish the customer base, you can think about such expenses.
The big Question: What do I charge?
You can gauge what to charge by looking at what your competitors in your area charge. The going rate generally is £8-10 for a one-hour walk, but take your lead from what others in your area are charging. Do not undercut everyone in the hope of winning business, being cheaper than everyone else implies that maybe your service is not as good. Work out different pricing, for instance, give a discount when your customer has 2 or more dogs. I charge £15 for two dogs from the same household. There can be exceptions. If you starve for customers, you can charge less for two dogs, for example, £10.
Legal and Compliance Stuff you should Know
As a professional and responsible person, you need to comply with any laws, rules and regulations that may affect your business. This is a bit tedious but does not take long to set up, starting with registering your business.
Type of business – Sole Trader
You are now a sole trader in the eyes of Her Majesty’s Government, even if you did not know it. A sole trader is defined as a self-employed individual, and while there are some responsibilities you have to comply with, they are less restrictive than those for an LLC (Limited Liability Company). There is a clear and easy-to-read explanation of what HM Revenue and Government expect of you at www.gov.uk/set-up-sole-trader.
You can also register your sole tradership on this web page.
It is highly unlikely that you need to register for VAT, you have to reach an annual turnover of £83,000 to become liable.
You can also apply there for a self-assessment. It means that you will fulfil your obligations towards the government via their website. This happens once a year around April.
You probably know that but as a reminder. If your incomes do not exceed £11000, you do not need to pay tax. You will need to assess yourself, though.
Selecting a Business name
Selecting your business name can be quite complex. You obviously do not want to have the same name as any other company, and it should give an indication of what services you offer. Here are some tips to help you:
• You will want a website sooner or later. Bear this in mind when you choose a name.
• Use Google to see what names have already been taken, and also to get an idea of a snappy name (or not).
• Visit the government website (www.gov.uk/choose-company-name). This gives the details on what constitutes a legal business name.
• Don’t be too specific – i.e. don’t use “dog-walker” in the name in case you want to expand to offer different services in future. “Pet services” is both broad and descriptive enough to cover you for future growth.
• You could also use words that suggest a dog (or pet-based) business. Unfortunately, some of the best ones are gone already (like “Barking Mad”).
• Your business is very localised. Unless you are planning to move in the not-too-distant future, it might be a good idea to add your locality in your name.
If you want to trademark your biz name in the future, you should check if it is available here: http://wck2.companieshouse.gov.uk/
Insurance for a Dog Walker
You need insurances both to protect your precious charges and yourself.
There is a specialised Pet Business Insurance available that will cover most of the risks you encounter as a dog-walker. Protectivity Insurance is highly recommended by most people who have a pet care business. Their website is very friendly and highlights what is covered by a type of business, e.g.:”Dog walking, pet sitting and pet taxi cover”. Policies can be purchased either monthly or on an annual basis. Perhaps a six-month option is the best bet for your first policy.You will need to read the small print and see if your business is fully covered. If not, you may need revisions to the policy (although it is unlikely when you are starting out). Please note that the policy may state the maximum number of dogs that you can walk together, although this is can also be specified by your local borough/council.
Building trust with a DBS check
Depending on the relationship you have with your customers, you may have been issued with keys to enter their home. Clearly, this shows trust in you. For this reason, it is a good idea to obtain a DBS (Disclosure and Barring Services) check. This was formerly known as a CRB (Criminal Records Bureau) check. The check is performed on an individual and has various levels. The basic check should be sufficient for your purposes. It may seem confusing, but, unless you are based in Northern Ireland, you should apply for this with Disclosure Scotland, who will do the check and issue a certificate for the princely sum of £25.00, which you can pay by credit card (website is www.disclosurescotland.co.uk).
If you are based in Northern Ireland, there is a similar body you can apply to, called AccessNI (www.nidirect.gov.uk/information-and-services/accessni-criminal-record-checks).
Pet First Aid
Although not mandatory, having got a certificate in pet first aid will both give comfort to your customers and yourself. You can acquire a certificate online, but I will strongly advise participating in the normal class.
I will have guides like this one on pet health; maybe you can learn something new if so chek it out here: my Pet First Aid course.
Managing Dogs in Public
You may know these rules already, but feel free to refresh yourself on what is expected of you at www.gov.ukk/control-dog-public/overview.
Be careful not to unleash dogs in a public space if there is a warning sign stating this. Familiarise yourself with the PSPO (Public space protection order) regulations.
There are also some dogs that are banned – the tricky bit is (and I quote) “Whether your dog is a banned type depends on what it looks like, rather than its breed or name”. This is rather scary when you consider that the person complaining may not have the first clue about what the breed looks like. So the Boerbul you are walking could easily be confused with a Fila Braziliero.
That is probably all you need for now. When we discuss growing your business, we will look at other options.
Administration – Your record-keeping
You will need to keep a copy of all the information about your customer, such as the contract, invoice and receipt copies and photocopies of vaccination certificates. When you start, you can consign these to a manila folder or a concertina file. As your business grows, you can look at building a customer database, but the old-fashioned filing system will work just great in the beginning.
You do not need a computerised accounting system from day 1 and can produce a nice invoice using a Word template.
You do not have to go and accumulate wedges of software to get going. Here are some of the options that will help your business
• an app to manage your diary/calendar. Ideally, this should be a mobile app. You can use Google Calendar, or any of a host of free calendar apps, but…
• Have a look at Petcloud (www.petcloud.co). This is software specially designed around doggy care and includes scheduling and the ability for the owner to check in with you. The app runs on IOS and Android. It even offers an invoicing function and good statistical data. It is a pay per use software, with the first 50 appointments per month being free (which should be cool when you are just starting).
• You may want to use a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system to capture all your customer details. Where this could really be useful is for capturing prospects. There are many, many CRM packages out there. Have a look at Insightly and Pipedrive, which are reasonably priced.
• You could also invest in software that manages your accounts for you, but initially, you should be able to do this manually or use Petcloud for invoicing.
There are a few practical necessities you need as well, but the list is quite short.
This is your most important requirement. You need to be able to get around and may need to transport the dogs you will be walking to a suitable site, so your best bet is a van. However, this might be beyond your means when you are starting, and you might be limited to a bicycle. If you do not have a van, make sure you included it in your business plan, goals and budget. For a long-term business, this is not a “nice-to-have”. It will also open other opportunities to you.
You will also need normal vehicle insurance.
If you are using a van, you will need cages to contain the dogs in. Ideally, you would want a cage size that fits a Labrador, although you could consider two large cages and two smaller cages.
First Aid Kit
Keep a first aid kit in the car for small mishaps that may occur, like cuts and scrapes.
Have you ever had that thrilling moment when your dog is on a leash and takes off after something irresistible, like a squirrel? And the lead snaps! You should always carry spare lead with you, and possibly some collars too.
You are your Best Advert
Nothing is going to sell your business better than being seen out and about walking your four-legged customers, especially if they appear to be under control and happy. So make a billboard of yourself by always going out with a t-shirt, hoodie or jacket with your business name (and even your phone number on it). And don’t forget your business cards.
Build a Welcome Pack
This is a valuable addition to your business. It should consist of a loose-leaf folder that you present to your customer, containing all they need to know about your business, as well as the contract. Include a checklist of what your require from them, a price-list of services, and other useful information, like brief descriptions of the places where you walk the dogs. You do not have to go to the expense of having a branded folder which can be quite expensive but
do use branded stationery for the checklist and contract.
There is nothing wrong with using the following advertising options:
• A “knock-and-drop” of flyers in your target area. Maybe do a street a week and see the response.
• If you have a local newspaper, place a classified ad in there. You would be surprised how many people still turn to that daily or weekly to find services.
• Ask if you can put up a flyer at the local veterinarians and pet supply stores.
• You can also use notice boards at other places people congregate, such as churches and community centres.
• If you have a car or a Van, you need to put your name and logo on it. It is a great advertisement that it is always out there.
While all the focus is on the Internet, Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites, you also need to plan around these. If you have a website built, and it includes a blog, you need to understand that there should be a regular post to the blog and that you must set aside time for this.
You can list your services on Doggbuddy.com and gudog.com. There are other similar sites, which you will pick up via a Google search.
Ask very nicely if you can get a link to your website (once it is up and running) from other local businesses, i.e. vets, petfood supplies and boarding kennels. In return, you can list their sites.
Start by setting up a Facebook page for your business. This is something you can do yourself and use it as a sounding board for what you want your website to contain. It can also send people to your website once that is set up. Adverts on Facebook are really cheap, and your success is Facebook’s success, so there is lots of advice on how to set up for FB.
I had success with a Google Adwords advertisements. It is quite pricey, but it will pay off in the long run. If you are not well-versed in an Adwords system, you should hire a professional.
Do not rush into building a website, until you have formulated what you require on it. It is better to have no website, rather than a sub-standard one.
Study a few websites you admire to get an idea of what the best look-and-feel is. Use these as examples for anyone you hire to build your site and ask to see examples of work they have done before hiring/commissioning them. A good designer knows what the latest trends in websites are and also understands SEO search engine optimisation) rankings and keywords.
This is not a tutorial on how to design a website, but make sure you include the following:-
• A biography (“About Us”)
• Our Values and what sets us apart – (“How we add Value”)
• What we do (“Services “)
• Pricing (“Pricing”)
• Testimonials and references (“Our customers/See what our customers say”)
• A photo album of the dogs and venues (“Gallery”)
• Don’t go for a blog immediately – you will have enough to do.Taking Your Business Further
There are lots of other services that you can add to your portfolio, and, as your business develops, you should include them. Some may require training, and some may require more capital outlay.
I have used http://liversite.co.uk/ service. You can judge the results for yourself while browsing my website.
Adrian from Liversite also helps me with editing and creating fun and energetic videos about my walking friends. I send him a footage, and he creates magic for a small fee. Here you can check how it looks like http://liverpoolsfinest.co.uk/our-friends/dog-walkers-liverpool/
Improving your Skills
When you start your dog-walking business, and even when you have established it, you will find that you have spare time when there are no walks scheduled. Consider filling in this time with some education. There are a surprising number of canine-related online courses out there, some of which are free. The MOOCs (massive open online courses) EDX and Coursera have courses on dog behaviour. Other training you could consider;-
• canine first aid (if you have not already obtained a certificate)
• dog training
• puppy training
• agility training
• Service and therapy dog training
• Other training such as carting and freestyle (dancing)
• animal wrangling
• dog nutrition
• general dog grooming
• special breed grooming
• small business training
You can also watch series called Dog Whisperer; it will provide you with some insight about dog walking job. You will also learn about different breeds and how to behave in stressful or dangerous situations.
While dog-walking may be your main business, you will find people requesting you to help them with other services, ranging from watering their pot-plants and feeding the hamster while they are on holiday to taking the dog to the vet, or dog parlour. Be prepared for any request and make a list of fair prices (both to you and your customer) in advance. That way, you won’t have a mouthful of teeth when asked: “How much will you charge to look after Eddie the budgie while we are in Majorca?”. You might even include it in the welcome pack.
You should also think about your key management system. You will be given keys, and you are expected not to lose them. You should not have an address on any of your key sets, for safety reasons.
Expanding your business
If you look at the points under “Improving your Skills”, you will have a good idea of new services you can bring on board.
Training dogs fit in well with your dog-walking business because it can fill in the gaps in your day where dog-walking does not happen. It requires the participation of the dog-owners. You might want to pair up with someone to do training, especially if the classes are quite big. You also need someone who can stand in if you cannot take a class for some reason (this works both ways, you might have to stand in for your partner). There are all kinds of training options you can offer, from puppy training (usually a 6-8 week course), through to specialised training, such as agility, carting and service dogs (assist people with disabilities).
Gear you should have
Dog walking job requires a small amount of initial investment. One of an important investment is your dog walking gear. You can buy it after you earn enough from your dog walking jobs if you do not want to invest before getting the first customer.
- A comfortable and waterproof dog walking shoes.
There is nothing more important than good dog walking shoes. You will be walking hours every day; your feet need to be protected from water and cold. I use these shoes Crocs All Cast Waterproof during the warmer days, and they are perfect. When the weather is not that pleasant, I use these Dunlop Wellies. I wore out many pairs of different shoes, but these above are my all time favourites.
- Pet First Aid Kit.
Accidents can happen. You need Pet First Aid Kit on your walks. I found this one to be the best: Reliance Medical Pets First Aid Kit in Green Helsinki Bag. Your clients will be pleased to know that you are prepared. That Pet First Aid Kit will provide you with necessities in case of cut paw or broken nail. Remember this is First Aid Kit. If something happens, you need to take your walking friend to its vet.
- Good quality socks.
Socks should be warm and breathable. These are. 12 Pairs of Designer Socks, Cotton Rich, are comfortable, durable, and will last! If you look for professional socks with a cushion for extra support, I am phasing out from my basic sock to these: Darn Tough. These socks are quite pricey but have a lifetime warranty. If you make a hole, you can send them away, and they will send you a new pair. These socks are for life.
- Merino wool base layer(for warmth during the cold weathers).
No cold weather is scary with a merino wool base layer by Icebreaker. No wind will penetrate that base layers, and you will feel warmth and comfort on every walk. I have Icebreaker’s top and leggings; I can not say a bad thing about them. Worth every £.
- Waterproof jacket.
Weather can be your biggest enemy, but you can beat it with a waterproof jacket and trouser. There are two ways to go about this topic. You can buy a waterproof jacket and trousers, or you can buy Pack It Jacket and Trousers. The first way is better if you want to invest more money in your business. Some waterproof equipment can be pricey. I have waterproof trousers by Craghoppers they are comfy and breathable enough, but what is more important they are truly waterproof. My pick for a jacket is the North Face waterproof jacket. If you want to go a cheaper route, in the beginnings, you should pick Pack In set. The Regata Pack It provide you with flexibility. You can wear whatever you are comfortable in and when the rain comes you can take them from your bag and just put on.
- Spare lead and collar.
In a case of the rare event when the owners lead or collar breaks you need to have a spare one. I use this lead. The Flexi Neon Retractable can handle most of the dog sizes. For the collar, I advise buying Halti dog collar. It is durable and has great reviews.
- Poop bags.
You need to clean after your walking friends; it is the rule and the law. If you want high-quality biodegradable poo bags, I recommend Scot-Petshop Biodegradable Dog Poop Bags. The cheaper choice would be simple nappy bags. Easy to use and do the job.
- Collapsible bowls.
Sometimes your walking friends will try to drink from a puddle, and that is a good indication that he would like to drink some water. You can take out this Comsun 2-Pack Collapsible Dog Bowl, Food Grade Silicone BPA Free FDA Approved from your backpack and fill it with water. It is cheap, and you get a lifetime warranty.
- A messenger bag or a backpack that you will always have with you during the walks.
On your walk, you need to have some items with you. A good backpack needs to support your back and have paddings, special compartments for keys and much more. AmazonBasics Laptop Backpack (up to 17 inches) – Black have it all and more. As the name suggest, you can put in it a laptop. It can come handy when you go to pet sit, and you want to take your laptop with you. I usually use a messenger bag. I have my hi-vis vest on me for a duration of every walk so I can not use a bag pack. I use Krish Leather Messenger Bag 15″ Leather FULL FLAP Laptop Bag I can fit there everything I need, and it is a leather bag. It can stand against rain, but it is not a fully waterproof. It is perfect messenger bag for a dog walker.
That was the basic set of items that I think every dog walker should have. Now I will list advanced gear or gear that will boost your start into dog walking biz.
- Shoe trees.
If you want to keep your shoes dry and in good shape, you should invest in a cedar shoes trees. I use Unihom Cedar Wood Shoe Tree your shoes will smell of cedar, and the wood will absorb any moisture.
- Foot powder.
You will be working long hours and keeping your feet dry can be tricky. For this, I use Gold Bond Medicated Foot Powder. I sprinkle some of this magic powder in the morning, and I am set for a day. My feet are dry and healthy.
- Front Seat Dog Guard.
If you use your car for transporting your walking friends, you will need to have front seat dog guard. Some dog walkers recommend this seat guard.
- Digital Camera.
On the beginning of your dog walking journey, you should use your mobile phone camera. But, if you want to impress potential clients with beautiful pictures of their dogs you should invest in a professional camera. I use this Nikon D3300, and I strongly recommend it. Great pictures on your website can be your selling point.
- Portable Dog Shower.
Your clients can ask you to clean their dog after the walks. There is one simple solution. Portable Shower by Hozelock. It is easy to use, and it is not so heavy.
- Ball launcher.
If you have permission to let the dog off his lead, you should have something like a ball launcher. Some breeds are energetic and will require a lot of running Chuckit Pro 25M Ball Launcher 63cm will help you throw the ball further and easier.
After the walk and wash you will need a towel Microfibre Dog Towel – Large is a towel that I recommend.
That’s the end
If you have any question leave a comment below, I will respond in no time. You can also share this guide I will greatly appreciate that!
Thank you for reading, and I hope that you will find this guide helpful and your Biz will grow and prosper.
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