Running a small business is hard work, even when you get to spend many of your business hours outdoors with cheerful canine companions. Given that it’s that part of the job—the dog part—that you’re probably in this for, you want to make sure you have plenty of dogs to walk. And we want to make sure you’ve got plenty of income to sustain you, too, so you can keep walking those dogs for many years to come. Understandably, most dog walkers give short shrift to the business part of owning a dog walking business. But if you mean to do this for your long-term living, your business requires the same loving attention you give to those cheerful dogs in your care.
Here are 5 key biz tips to help you run a successful, thriving dog walking business:
1. Charge pro rates
Want to get more clients? You probably need to charge more. Nope, that’s not a typo. Most dog walkers undercharge, worried that no one will hire them unless they’re cheap. The reality is that serious dog owners want the best dog walker, not the cheapest one. Your rates are part of your marketing message, and a low rate can signal low quality—and that means being passed over by committed clients.
Another good reason to raise your rates is your own economic longevity. You’ll stay in business longer, and enjoy it more, if you’re on solid financial ground.
2. Protect your income with good policies
Poor policies are one of the most common mistakes in the dog walking industry, and a leading contributor to companies folding under financial stress. Allowing clients to use your services on a drop-in basis, and cancel at will, means streaky, unpredictable revenue. Set policies that draw the right clients to your service—clients who need regular, ongoing support. This includes requiring dogs to walk with you on a set, regular schedule. It also includes a strong cancellation or “excused absence” policy that limits the amount of days per year you go without being paid.
3. Get clients (aka marketing)
It may not be on your list of favorite ways to spend time, but marketing your dog walking business is critical to its success. If your marketing plan consists of either a “Someday when I have time” to-do list, or maintaining your FB page or Instagram account, it’s time to step up your marketing game. Social media marketing is a great piece of a comprehensive marketing plan, but it won’t be sufficient on its own to build your dog walking business unless you have lots of time to wait. People have to know you exist first in order to follow you. Building referral sources in your community (vets, pet supply stores, dog trainers, fellow walkers, etc.) and finding creative ways to let people know you’re there (print newsletters, trading cards, how-to-choose-a-dog-walker fliers, etc.) are important aspects of a well-rounded marketing plan.
4. Be picky
If you mean to be in this for the long haul, set yourself up for daily enjoyment and success. And that means being picky about the clients you take—both human and canine. Don’t let your love of dogs lead you to walk dogs who get under your skin, make your day hard, or who you feel are not safe. It really is okay to say no—and saying no is often in the client’s and dog’s best interest, too. And be ready to let difficult human clients go—those who take up more than their fair share of your time, energy, or patience, or who treat you with less than the professional respect you deserve as the care giver for their four-legged family member.
It can be stressful or even painful to say no to or let a client and dog go. But that momentary discomfort is far better for you and for the longevity of your business than the daily frustration and stress of either walking a dog who is a poor match for you or dealing with a challenging client.
5. Seek a pro education
Thankfully we are moving past the days when you paid the kid down the street a few dollars to walk your dog. But we are still well short of reaching professional status in our industry. In this middle ground space, it’s left up to us whether to seek a professional education in dog behavior. If you’re serious about dog walking as your profession and career, set yourself apart with a solid education. Professional education elevates you in your community, providing a marketing edge by signaling your seriousness to potential clients. It can also make your daily work with dogs easier, more enjoyable, and safer for all. Check out the Dog Walking Academy to learn more.
Running a small business will always be hard work. But running a thriving dog walking business makes it all worthwhile—and that means caring for your business with the same dedication you show the dogs.