When I’m not getting creative with ink & screens, I operate my own dog walking business. I launched Let The Dogs Out in June 2009 & have been enjoying spending my days outdoors in the beautiful Lothian countryside in the company of my favourite animals ever since!
Lately I have received several enquiries from people who are in the process of setting up their own dog walking businesses, or perhaps just considering the idea of becoming a dog walker, asking for my advice on how to go about it. So I decided to write a wee blog post covering some of the basics
I by no means purport to be an expert on this subject, but here are my top tips based on what has worked for me:
1. Get some experience
Look for as many opportunities as possible to walk dogs! Not only will this tell you whether this activity is something you actually enjoy enough to spend a lot of your time doing it, but it will also allow you to observe how dogs interact with one another & the environment, & teach you how to handle dogs of different shapes, sizes, ages & temperaments. I’d recommend volunteering to walk dogs for your local rehoming charity.
2. Learn some business skills
In order to set up & manage your dog walking business you will need to register as self employed, open a business bank account, keep proper financial records, manage your accounts & complete tax returns. Organisations such as Business Gateway (in Scotland / Business Link in England) provide help & support with all these things for free, both online & via local seminars & workshops.
3. Do some market research
Find out if there is a demand for dog walking in your area. Some of this can be done by simple observation, but you could also consider holding a focus group or posting a questionnaire. Survey Monkey is a free online questionnaire tool which I found useful in conducting my market research prior to starting up.
4. Get insured
Getting fully insured is a must, not only for the sake of your clients, but also for your own protection. Dog walking insurance is fairly specialised & there are only really a handful of companies who provide it in the UK. The National Association of Registered Petsitters is perhaps one of the best options for those just starting out as it is widely known about (by the public) & membership entitles you to various other helpful resources & services as well.
5. Show that you are trustworthy
In order to gain prospective clients’ trust, you need to be open & honest with them right from the start. Applying for a Disclosure Scotland (or Police Check) Certificate costs very little, & making your full CV (including references) available too is a good idea.
6. Show that you are committed
Whilst attending animal behaviour courses & obtaining relevant qualifications might prove both expensive & time consuming, consider doing some small things to show you are committed to a career working with animals. For example, a certificate in canine first aid is relatively cheap & can be gained in just an afternoon by attending a short course such as those run by Animal Aiders.
7. Provide safe transport
You needn’t invest in a custom-fitted van just yet! Consider making do with what you have available, at least to start with. For example, a hatchback or estate car can be converted into a safe vehicle for transporting dogs in by simply folding the rear passenger seats down, installing a standard dog guard behind the front seats & covering the whole rear area with non-slip, easy-clean material such as a yoga mat.
8. Create a website
A professional looking, easy to navigate, informative & search engine optimised website can be the cornerstone of your business & can be set up easily & with really very little money. With the help of my partner (Whale Shark Software), I created my own site using a simple WordPress Blog template. The majority of my clients have found me via my website & many comment on its thoroughness & ease of use.
9. Advertise cheaply
Take advantage of free online advertising & list your new dog walking business on as many sites as possible, including targeted locations such as forums frequented by dog owners & local business directories. Buy a large pack of cheap business cards from somewhere like Vistaprint, or even print off your own posters at home, & distribute them at the local vets, the pet shop, the newsagent, the park noticeboard… anywhere you think potential clients might frequent. Being creative with your advertising means you don’t need to spend a fortune – I screenprinted some clothing with my business details & wore these whenever I was out in public.
10. Stand out from the crowd
Make sure there is something about the service you offer which sets you apart from your competition, whether it is your discount rates, your last minute availability, the area that you are willing to cover, the flexible hours you work, the unique locations you walk at… If you can manage to make one or more of these things remarkable then you should be well on the way to gaining your first clients