Running a dog walking business without proper marketing is like running an engine without oil. But running a car with the wrong kind of oil will get you into trouble, too, just as there’s no point spending time and money on marketing that doesn’t work. If you’re not satisfied with the results of your current marketing efforts, it’s time to take a look under the hood. Read on for the most common reasons marketing fails for dog walkers.
Not sticking with projects long enough
Most marketing efforts have a delay time. People need time to make decisions, to be exposed to a new service or a particular service provider multiple times before committing. And you may be reaching the right people at the wrong time. They might not need a dog walker right now, but if you stop your marketing efforts too soon, you won’t be in front of them when their boss increases their hours.
Give any marketing project a good year before assessing its effectiveness. It really can take that long, and throwing in the towel too early means losing out on the rewards of your labor and investment.
Not doing enough marketing
Most dog walkers simply don’t do enough marketing. Not only does inadequate marketing lower your chances of being noticed, but you also miss out on the cumulative effect of multiple projects building on each other. The more marketing efforts you have running at a given time, the more exposures a potential client has to your company. And the boost each project receives from the others can shorten the time it takes to see results, too.
Using the wrong marketing message
If you’re doing plenty of marketing but aren’t getting the results you want, assess your marketing message. Is it aimed at your target audience, or are you accidentally marketing to the dogs themselves? Because we feel so strongly about helping dogs we often focus on how our services benefit them. But even dogs who run roughshod over their households aren’t the ones making the hiring decisions. Your marketing message should be focused primarily on how you will make their peoples’ lives better.
When crafting the marketing message, dog walkers should remember why people hire dog walkers. Don’t use your website and other precious marketing space and time to lecture them about their dog’s exercise and health needs. It may all be true, but it isn’t good marketing. Instead, tell people how you can bring them relief, make life with their dog easier, help them come home to a calmer, better-behaved dog, etc. The message of relief from worry and guilt at leaving their dog alone all day is a strong one for walking businesses, too.
Not maintaining visual consistency
I’ve seen dog pros put tremendous effort into their marketing only to see disappointing results because they broke the visual branding rule: Everything should look like everything else. All of your materials—website, printed pieces, logo clothing, newsletters, car signs, business cards, everything and anything—should be instantly recognizable as yours. I should be able to tell, at a glance, that I’m seeing something from your company. If your newsletter looks different from your brochure, and your website has its own look separate from both, you’re losing the cumulative effect of repeat exposure. In addition to a consistent marketing message, make sure your potential clients are exposed to a uniform visual identity.
The DIY effect
A professional visual identity is important, too. Too often small dog walking businesses cut marketing corners to save money, not realizing that in saving a few dollars up front they are costing themselves many more in long term revenue. Unless you are a trained web designer, resist the temptation to build your own site, no matter what the TV commercials say about how easy it is to build a professional website on your own. It’s nowhere near as easy as they claim and the results will not represent you as well as a professional designer can. Same with your marketing copy—if you aren’t a professional marketing writer, hand your marketing message and website writing over to someone who is. It will be well worth the investment.
Marketing to the wrong audience
This mistake dampens your results, eats your time, and kills morale. Screening emails and calls from people who aren’t the right match for your walking services is discouraging and inefficient. If you’re getting too many calls that don’t pan out, check that your message is getting to the right people. Is your newsletter in vet offices located in the right geographical area and serving a population likely to want, appreciate, and be able to afford your professional services? Are you networking with pet supply stores and shelters frequented by the same? In short, analyze each marketing project and referral source to be sure it’s directed at the people most likely to use your services.
Doing the wrong marketing
If you’re spending more money than time on your marketing, chances are you could improve your results by reversing that equation. Passive marketing—advertisements, direct mail, print or online ads, etc.—is rarely effective for dog walking businesses. Though there are exceptions, you’ll often find if you take a moment to compare the revenue from these efforts against their cost, the numbers don’t pan out.
Instead, put time into community-based marketing. Community marketing uses education, information, and entertainment to expose potential customers to your business. Projects like newsletters, park clean-ups, article writing, custom trading cards, a content-rich website, etc., give people a window into your professionalism and what you can do for them. All an ad can do is tell your potential audience how great you are, and most of us, if we bother to read ads at all, do so with skeptical eyes. Instead, choose community marketing projects that show people who you are and expose them to the benefits you can provide.
Forgetting the call to action
Finally, don’t forget to explicitly suggest to your potential clients what they might do to get relief from guilt or an under-exercised dog: They should call you. Be sure your contact information is on all your materials, and tell people what to do with it. Don’t be shy. You don’t have to (and shouldn’t) plaster huge red letters screaming “Call Now!” across the top of your newsletter, or blinking ones on your website’s homepage. But don’t forget to tell them you can help: “Tired of coming home to a whirling dervish after a day spent at work worrying about her? We can help. Call or email to schedule your free Meet & Greet.” Your call to action should be specific to the kind of work you take, and based on the central concerns your clients have. What makes them call you, what are they wanting relief from? Build your call to action to speak directly to their needs.
If you don’t have the steady stream of clients you want, the first step is to ask yourself if you’re doing enough marketing. If not, set aside some time each week to top off the oil in your business engine. If you’re already marketing but not seeing the results you’d hoped for, give your plan a tune-up by assessing your efforts on each of the points above.