Following the increase of dog ownership during lockdown, there has been an inevitable growth in demand for dog walkers – particularly when you consider the fact new dog owners will now have returned to the office more frequently following a complete lift in COVID-19 restrictions.
With a growing market and tangible demand, more people may be considering starting a dog walking business as an extra source of income, or as a full-time venture. But before you grab your lead and pound the streets, here are some key steps to consider:
Do your market research
With dog owners paying for your service, there should be a point of difference when compared to someone such as a neighbour popping in to check or taking them a short trot around the block.
Researching the market, particularly in your target area, is key to providing the best experience possible and will allow you to plan more logistical standpoints, such as whether you will need a car or van.
From a business standpoint, you should also take the time to research other dog walkers in the area to ensure you remain competitive with your pricing. Showcasing how your services deliver value for money, whilst also offering variation in dog walk locations and the capability to care for dogs of all shapes and sizes, will ensure your clients are nothing short of satisfied.
For your own benefit, looking into start-up costs, ongoing overheads and upcoming one-off fees will also ensure you are financially prepared for the sometimes-tricky start to a business venture.
When starting a dog walking business, there’s key documentation that will not only make your business legal but can also boost your reputation among clients.
Business registration documents, available on gov.uk, will allow you to operate your dog walking business legally. Whilst it may not be necessary when just doing your neighbour a favour when they’re away, it will be key when scaling your venture up to a full dog walking business.
Dog walking business insurance or public liability insurance are both key pillars in starting your dog walking business. In short, the majority of policies will protect dog walkers from things such as a dog causing accidents, damage or injury to a property or person. It can also cover a dog walker if a dog is lost or injured when in their care.
Most insurance policies will give dog walkers the financial safety net to pay for any damages or injury that can occur when on a walk, but importantly, it also gives any dog owners huge peace of mind when choosing a dog walker. If a dog walking business is insured, it can demonstrate a professionalism and security to any prospective clients, increasing the likelihood of additional bookings.
To further put clients at ease, many businesses get themselves [and any dog walkers working for them] a criminal record check to demonstrate their good history. Often known as a DBS check, it will go a long way in making clients feel comfortable when letting you enter their home and tend to their dogs.
Rules and regulations
As part of your market research and wider legal requirements, you should take the time to learn local and national guidelines that you will come across when starting your dog walking business.
Animal protection acts highlight the specific ways in which people cannot treat dogs and other animals. Whilst these may seem clear and obvious to dog lovers such as ourselves, it’s always good to brush up on what some canine companions may or may not like!
When out dog walking, you may come across a range of private and public land that you will be required to know the laws on to avoid trespassing. Mapping your routes and reading up on your rights to access different areas will avoid any potential legal issues.
Understanding various traffic laws will also help to ensure that if you’re operating near main roads and pathways, you’ll remain safe and legal.
Further rules and regulations come into effect when dealing with customers. Managing your business digitally has transitioned to the dog walking landscape and client data such as addresses, phone numbers and names are now stored online. It is your responsibility to take care when handling them. Reading up on GDPR and privacy policies will ensure that you are keeping client secure and not infringing on their rights.
Like humans, every dog is different, and this can carry across entire breeds of dogs. From the Greyhound to the German Shepherd, each breed of dog is unique from birth and grows up with different owners, rules, and relationships.
To better prepare yourself for all situations, new dog walkers should take the time to meet and walk as many new dogs as possible. For example, offering to walk a number of dogs that family members or friends may own gives you great insight into dog walking whilst giving you key experience in dealing with the people as well as dogs. Remember to do trial runs with family and friends and ask for feedback to give yourself a great foundation for dealing with clients.
For dog walkers with an animal shelter nearby, asking about any opportunities to volunteer could provide valuable experience with a range of dogs from the excitable to the nervous, ensuring you are prepared for all personalities and temperaments you may come across.
Courses & qualifications
For dog walking businesses, there are a range of official courses on offer to help further your knowledge and skills. For example, the British College of Canine Studies offers a professional dog walker certificate course that not only gives you business guidance, but also information on breeds, walking techniques and basic training.
There are also plenty of free resources available on YouTube to give you a better idea of breeds, behaviours and dog walking business management.
Outside of your dog handling and dog walking skills, you should also look to sharpen your business skills!
Basic business skills including organisation, admin and accounting are key to making other aspects of your business run smoothly and creating a professional environment that is clear to both you, and your clients.
Especially in the initial stages of building your business, budget management is key to staying stable and not overstretching yourself early on. Successfully managing your budget reduces the risk of coming up short on overheads and potentially damaging the long-term success of your business.
Brushing up on key organisational and admin skills will also benefit your business legally as it will make bookkeeping, record tracking and tax returns a much easier process.
When creating the essence of your business, a lot of your values and approach can come across in the way you market the business, whether you are pet sitting or dog walking. Putting aside money to invest in a professional logo [or the time to create one yourself] is the first step in communicating your aims with the customer. Paired with a creative and concise tagline and your business will be primed to stand out against the competition.
Social media presence
Social media platforms are a fantastic way to create your brand identity and refine your messaging. They provide the opportunity to contact a broad, relevant audience with a clear and concise voice personal to you.
Not only this, but once you start to generate leads and take dogs on walks, it’s a good idea to use social media channels as a space for testimonials which are available for other dog owners and potential clients to see. Sharing your own content from dog walks, such as showing off safe routes in the local area complete with well-looked after dogs, is also a fantastic way to directly advertise the high-level dog walking service you can offer.
Word of mouth and fliers
Despite the change the digital age has made to business, there’s still room to implement traditional methods. Putting your business out there, particularly locally, is ideal for drumming up interest with clients close to you. Try pinning up fliers near dog walking hot spots or talking about your business to owners, friends and family nearby to create potential leads and find new dogs you can walk!
Making the most of the tools and opportunities around you will is vital when starting a dog walking business. GoWalkies provides a range of tools such as live walk tracking, secure payment systems and a community of potential clients that will help any dog walking business get off the ground.
For any questions about how GoWalkies can help, you can reach out to us via our social media or email the team at email@example.com