Remember how your mom always gave you the lemming talk when you wanted to do something because all the other kids were doing it? You remember it. She’d say, “So what then? If all the other kids were jumping off a cliff, does that mean you should, too?” Personally I never really got the connection between jumping off a cliff and going to a concert or a sleep-over birthday party, but I suppose in the abstract mom had a point: It’s not always wise to do things just because it’s what everyone else is doing.
This is certainly true in our industry. In fact, many of the common dog walking business practices are actually very poor practices that most dog walkers engage in for no other reason than it’s what most other dog walkers do.
If you really want to be successful as a dog walking business owner, you’ll have to take mom’s advice and ignore what other walkers are doing.
Set your own rates
If you live in an area where dog walking rates are low, you don’t have to follow suit. If you fear that higher rates will keep you from getting clients, take heart. Our experience working with dog walkers all over the world (we’ve been at this since 2003!) says there’s no reason to fear. It is always the dog pros who are priced highest who are the most successful.
The reason is simple: Confidence and quality attract quality clients, and nothing says confidence and quality better than having a solid professional rate. Our dog walking clients and Dog Walking Academy graduates experience one of two outcomes when they price themselves higher: Either they see a counter-intuitive but fully predictable increase in inquiries and business, or they see a slight decrease in inquiries but a higher conversion rate among those who do inquire. (In other words, the price shoppers stop calling and the more serious clients call with more seriousness.)
Set your own policies
Don’t think because other dog walkers allow their clients unlimited cancellations and schedule changes that you have to do the same. The clients who chose you because they see you as the best (in part because of your higher rate, and hopefully also because of your higher quality of service and your commitment to professional education in your field) will be understanding of your running your business professionally. That includes setting policies that protect your ability to make a living providing the service they need, especially when you explain how your policies also benefit them, including a better behaved dog who enjoys a guaranteed spot in your schedule.
Think outside the marketing box
To build your business and keep all your walking spots filled requires ongoing marketing. To rise above the noise of everyone else marketing their walking service, or to grab attention if walking is a relatively new concept in your area, leave old standbys like business cards and brochures behind. Instead, find creative, out-of-the-box ways to engage with potential clients. A quarterly print newsletter is much more likely to build brand awareness and loyalty than a static brochure. An ongoing series of custom trading cards featuring the dogs you walk (or your own and friends’ dogs if you’re just getting started) is much more likely to be noticed than a stack of business cards. The only limit here is your imagination. Set aside what you see others doing and ask yourself, What could I do instead?
Create your own services
If you find yourself offering 30 minute walks when you know the dogs need at least 60, don’t be afraid to shake it up. If everyone else is walking one dog at a time and you want to walk carefully chosen, compatible groups to add more interest, fun, and mental stimulation for the dogs, do it. Or if the model in your area is all group walks and you feel there are dogs whose needs for single walks aren’t being met, step in and fill that niche. The point is, your service can look however you think your service should look, regardless of what everyone else is doing. Doing something different sets you apart and gives a portion of the available clientele in your area a reason to choose you above all other options.
Be bold, creative, and fearless
While I still think I should have been allowed to attend that concert back in my junior high days, I will admit as an adult that mom had a good point about not being a lemming or a follower. In business the most successful are often those who depart from the norms, who put on their creative thinking caps, make bold decisions, and are fearless about walking their own path. As a dog walker looking to own or grow a successful dog walking business, we encourage you to do just that—for yourself, for our profession, and for the dogs.