For dog lovers the idea of starting your own dog walking business might seem like a very attractive proposition. Before you quit your job and dive in head first, take some time to consider how suited you are to the business and what steps you will need to take to create a successful business and be your own boss.
Take a test drive.
The first thing you might want to do is spend some time as a volunteer dog walker at your local animal shelter. This will give you a chance to test drive the time you will spend in the company of dogs other than your own, and test your tolerance for cleaning up after so many dogs. You may also discover that all that walking and/or running is just not your thing.
Start part time.
It can take a while to build up a large enough client base to pay the bills, so you may want to continue to work part time at a "day job." Find something with a flexible schedule or where you set your schedule to allow you to build your business at the same time.
Name your business.
You can do this with just your name, but that can make it harder to market your business because it doesn't tell anyone what kind of business you have. If you someday want to expand your business beyond walking, you don't want to have dog walking in the name. You do want something that is easy for clients to remember.
Create a business plan.
Sit down and plan how you are going to handle things. How much are you going to charge? Will you charge more for additional dogs from the same household? Will you accept credit cards? How many dogs are you capable of walking at once? What do you and your clients do in case of severe weather? How will you market your business to build your clientele? How many clients can you reasonably handle? What kind of refund policy should you have? What kind of insurance do you need to carry? Do you need to have a business license? Putting a business plan in writing can help you make sure that you have done your homework.
Create the forms you will need.
Create an agreement for clients to sign. You may want to work with an attorney or legal aid to make sure that the wording is correct. You want to make sure any liability issues are covered. Create a dog intake form to make sure you have the information you need to know about the dog. This form should include the contact information for the clients and details about the dog -- such as allergies, food sensitivities, aggression issues, etc. You can check for prepared business forms online and with office supply stores.
The friends and family plan.
Walk their dogs at least for a while. This will allow you to build up a list of references for potential clients to call. Most people don't want to leave their dogs with just anyone. Give them a way to build some trust in you. Consider letting friends and family remain your charter clients by giving them a discounted rate.
Create a series of dog-friendly routes to walk. That way you and the dogs won't get bored with the same trip day after day. Check out local ordinances concerning dogs to make sure you will be in compliance. Avoid planning your walks through areas where dogs may not be allowed -- such as mobile home parks or townhome communities. Always be prepared to clean up any little deposits the dogs make along the way
Find you niche.
Find some way to set yourself apart from other dog walkers for added value. Rely on other pet talents or knowledge you may have. Offer basic training to heel, sit, and stay. Prepare homemade organic dog treats for the dogs (and offer them for sale to the owners). Offer basic grooming.
Make sure that you keep time for yourself in your schedule and make arrangements to take vacation time. You don't want to burn yourself out -- take care of yourself as well as you would the dogs.
Talk with other dog walkers. Find out how much they charge and what challenges they face. They can tell you about the pitfalls and rewards of the business. Interact with pet sitters, pet photographers, and other pet business people so that you can refer clients to one another.
Start a website, blog and/or Facebook page.
Make it easier for the world to come to your door. Blog regularly to keep you at the top of the search. If you aren't into writing find someone to guest blog. Post your blog posts on Facebook and link to your website.