“I love the great outdoors, and I adore dogs. I should be a dog walker.”
But being a professional dog walker is definitely not that simple. It’s more than collecting some leashes and getting a new all-weather coat and boots. As well as having an affinity for dogs, a foundation in basic dog behaviour training is key, as is a bit of business nous.
Here are our top tips for becoming a dog walking pro:
Get clued up
Knowing your own pup is one thing but knowing how to deal with the erratic or unknown behaviour of pets you’ve never met is a whole different story.
If you want to make this a serious career, the educational foundation is something to both give you more confidence in your abilities, and make you stand out from the crowd. You could consider a qualification too but the crucial thing is knowledge.
Where to start
These books are certainly worth a read to get you off on the right foot:
- For the Love of a Dog: Understanding Emotion in You and Your Best Friend by Patricia B. McConnell
- The Other End of the Leash: Why We Do What We Do Around Dogs? by Patricia B. McConnell
- Don’t Shoot the Dog!: The New Art of Teaching and Training by Karen Pryor
Build a network
Become a dog walking blabbermouth! At the first hint of a holiday, offer friends and relatives your services – dog walking and pet sitting at reasonable rates, to showcase your aptitude with their furry friends. Remember, these are your future testimonials, so do the very best job you can and remember to get them to put that good feedback in writing so you can use it to attract future customers!
Decide what you offer and your rates
Do you walk dogs individually? Do you walk in groups? Do you have a maximum number of dogs at a time? On the leash or off? Do you specialise in big walks for big dogs, or looking after smaller breeds? Decide on your specialism and set your rates to match.
Choose your name and logo
This could be key to your marketing success. It’s tougher than pre-internet days, as plenty of people make a business out of buying and selling domain names, so you may find your ideal URL is already missing. Don’t be put off. Make sure your name hasn’t been used already and try to include your specialism in the name where possible (for example, Grimsby Dog Walker).
A logo is like a website – it’s worth paying someone professional to do it. Confirm your logo fits your brand ethos and the ways you want to use it. If you plan to do lots of online marketing, does it look nifty on mobile, and desktop? Does it make a cool image for social media? Or if you’re just stencilling it on your car, does it make a big impact?
Write a marketing plan, then get a website
Not the other way around. You need to know what you want your website to be able to do before you make it. Once it’s live, you’ll want to hit the ground running. You don’t have to throw thousands of pounds at your marketing efforts but neither should you just rely on word of mouth. Focus on one or two marketing methods and make them work for you. Consider partnerships with other businesses or getting shelters or the local veterinary practice to refer clients to you.
If you’ve decided in your marketing plan that social media is something you can really focus on, make sure your website is easy for you to update and link to your social streams. Keep the blog a primary feature. If it’s something static you only intend to use as a calling card or hub for your testimonials, it doesn’t have to be so active (you don’t want to foreground a blog you only write twice a year, for example). Let your designer know what you need, then let them create the best way to achieve it for you.
Get down to the legal nitty gritty
Write your contract including your policies and address the legal stuff. If this is something you’re tempted to avoid, think again. A list of well-considered policies which you always stick to, could make sure your business remains profitable and reputable, If you have no protection against wasted time, lost income and payment disputes, your business may end up in peril. It’s not the stuff you want to consider, but it’s the stuff you really should consider. Your clients will respect you and know where your limits lie.
You also need to get legal. I know, yawn. But again, imperative. Register your business by letting HMRC you’re going it alone as a sole-trader and register for self-assessment.
And then…enjoy! You’ll need to work hard to get your name out there, but once you have, it’s all down to your passion, dedication and walking. Good luck!