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Start Your Own Dog Walking Business
Start Your Own Dog Walking Business
There are over fifty million dogs in the United States. One in four homes has a dog and most of these critters sit home all day while their doggie parents work. A lot of them live in Condominiums and apartments which means they don’t get to be outside during the day. Dog walkers have become a necessity and this is a great time to cash in on a lucrative business. If you love dogs and love to get exercise then starting your own dog walking service is a perfect way to do what you love and get paid for it.
Where else can you get paid to exercise? The work can be physically demanding, but it’s so much fun you hardly notice. Your days will fly by and you’ll fall into bed each night exhausted and happy. You’ll be glad that you don’t have to fight the traffic and do the nine to five grind. Can you make enough though? Yes I made over $3000.00 a month walking dogs. Think about it!!!! You play with people’s dogs and get paid for it!!!!
So where do you begin? You are going to need a few things to get yourself started. First you need to make yourself a kit. All you need is a plastic box that you will put in the back of your car. You can put the entire kit together for less than $100.00. Not a bad investment for starting your own business.
In your kit should be a fanny pack, which you will wear and use everyday. In the fanny pack you will need waste bags, yes most neighborhoods and parks require you to pick up after the dog. You will need water. A good rule of thumb is a bottle for you and a bottle for the dog for a one hour walk. You will also need a good key ring to carry your customer’s keys and you car keys. I got a large carbine key ring that I could snap onto my belt loop. You will definitely use lots of sun block. I always had a big bottle of it at home and put it on before I left the house, but I always kept a trial size bottle in my fanny pack. You are going to need business cards. I can't tell you how many times I was stopped and asked if I was a dog walker. Boom, hand them a card and I'd have a new client. You should also carry treats, and I always carried a couple of extra leads in my box in the car.
The fanny pack is essential because you want to keep your hands free. It’s a good idea to have shirts with the name of you business on them. This lets people you come in contact with know what you do. I got a lot of business this way. Also if you are in a park walking a client in a park people know you are working and they tend to leave you alone. You can buy a shirts later if you are starting with bare bones financing.
A good strong key ring is a must. You will want to have all your clients keys with you at all times. I can’t tell you how many times I have had a client call at the last minute with a request to take their dog out.
Put your name and phone number on the key ring so if it is lost you can be contacted to have it returned. Never label the keys with your client’s address. I always label the key with the name of the dog. If my keys do get lost most people won’t know what the name means. But be sure you do label the keys. When you start getting busy you will have upwards of twenty keys.
You will need an endless supply of dog waste bags and you can’t be afraid to use them. If this is the worst part of the job you are doing pretty good.
You will need marketing tools to get started. You can start as basic as business cards or get more creative and invest in door hangers, pens and note pads with your name on them. I used door hangers in my neighborhood, but also invested in pens and note pads with my business name on them. I like to leave my clients notes after each walk and this put my business name right there in their house. I've gotten a lot of business doing this. If I heard or saw a dog in a back yard while on my walks I'd leave a door hanger on the front door. One time I saw this poor girl with a business suit and high heels walking her giant Great Dane, or I should say the Great Dane was walking her. I pulled over gave her a business card and I had that dog for over five years before he passed away of old age. Business cards are a great marketing tool and this business sells itself. Most of the time all you have to do is hand them a card and you have a new client.
In this day of our litigious society release forms are a must. This basically lets your customer know that unless it was negligence on your part they will be responsible for vet bills should the dog get hurt on your watch. One time I had to rush a dog to the vet because she was allergic to bees. Even her owners didn’t know that until she got stung. Her head blew up like a balloon. I got her to the vet just on time. Another time I was driving a bunch of dogs back from the dog park when one of them had a seizure. The customer had no idea his dog was epileptic. Unforeseen things happen make sure you are covered. Charges like these can really eat into your profits. You can find basic release forms on line.
Note pad and pen are important because some clients want a daily activity report on their dog. Good reason to have your own pads with your name and number on them. I now text a lot of my customers with updates.
Whether you do it online or have a regular paper one make sure you invest in a good appointment book. Even if I had regulars I made sure they were written down in my appointment book. I used my appointment book do do my billing at the end of the month. It was also a lifesaver as I started getting busier. It's also a good resource at tax time. Be sure to write in pencil as your schedule will often change and keep it updated.
The tax manual gives you a chance to record all your expenses for the year by month. It’ll come in handy at tax time. It’s much better than a shoe box. Be sure to keep receipts for any business expense. I always file mine monthly in an accordion file. You will write off all items you will need for your business. I even wrote off my walking shoes as I only wore them when I worked. I also wrote off anklets and socks because I bought cotton socks for working only. I also wrote off my sunblock, sunglasses, and hats. If you will use it primarily for your business you can write if off. Be sure to keep receipts for everything.
A mileage book is important as you will want to record mileage when you’re working. Unless you have a separate car for your business you can’t write off the cost of your car, although you can write off a portion of the gas and maintenance.
A phone book is important. I kept one in my car and had my customers numbers in my phone as well. If my phone wasn't working at least I had the number written down in my travel box. I’ve had to call clients on the spot if their dog is sick or if something happened at home. Keep your customers numbers with you at all times.
A First Aid Kit: you hope nothing happens while you’re out, but if does you’ll be ready with your doggie first aid kit. You can buy dog first aid kits on line, but if you want to make your own see my article on pet first aid kits. Also keep lots of band aids and antiseptic for yourself. I used band aids all the time. Don't forget to write them off.
Extra's you will need in your travel box, dog treats, toys, balls, towels, walking shoes, water an extra shirt in your kit. Now that you have your kit together keep it in a place in your car where the dogs can't get into it, but you can.
Now you need to figure out what your fees are going to be. Check around to see what other dog walkers and pet sitters are charging. Some clients are going to want a half hour walk others are going to want an hour. Still other are going to want just a potty break and maybe a feeding. You may have to administer medications, or you may be walking multiple dogs. All of these are going to require different charges. Sit down and think about it and decide what your time is worth.
You want to be competitive, however different areas will command different fees. Find out what the going rate is in your area. My business grew fast and I was actually able to raise my rates with in six months of starting. I had fifteen dogs with in six months of starting my business. This business sells itself. You can also set up a monthly rate for your regular clients.
To get first time customers you may want to offer an introductory price, say a months worth of dog walks at half price, or you can offer a goody bag to first time clients.
I never charged for little things like feeding the dog when I brought them home, or giving them pills if they need it, but if I had to go back to the house later in the day I did charge. Only you can decide what your time is worth.
Next set up your books. You will need a billing system. I used quick books, but excel works just as well. I billed at the end of every month. I either dropped the bill off at the house or sent it in the mail. I used my appointment book to bill and listed all the dates I walked their dog. I simply went through the book for each client and made up the bill. I billed after the fact. Clients will need to cancel during the month so billing afterward just made more sense to me.
Saving receipts are important I saved all my receipts in a basket on my desk and at the end of each month when I was doing my billing I'd also put all the receipts for that month in an envelope and label it with the month and year. Believe me at tax time you will be glad you saved them.
You will need another set of books (tax book) for your income and expenses. This is where you will mark down your mileage from your booklet, any treats you bought, money spent on gas, sun block, waste bags, of course your start up kit and anything else you buy that helps you run your business. Get yourself a good tax person. They can save you a lot of expense because they know what you can write off and they know how to use depreciation. You car and the computer you use for your business can all be depreciated. This is a good thing because it gets you more money back at tax time. You can also write off up to ten percent of your household expenses if you are running your business from your home.
This is where you will be glad you save all your receipts by month. At the end of the year you are going to have to list them in your tax book. Your tax book will have columns in it with things like administrative costs,which would be the paper, envelopes and stamps you will use for your billing. In another column you will list supplies. Here you will list any dog waste bags,dog treats, paper towels and anything else you bought, such as the first aid supplies. Remember the more you can write off the more money you will get back. Receipts are a good thing. When you are done for the month file all receipts in an envelope and mark it with the month and year.
You will definitely want insurance. There are a few companies that insure dog related business, Safeco is one of them. A broker can help you if you are unsure what you will need. Business insurance can be expensive, but it is much better than losing everything you have worked for if something tragic happens. Don’t get scared in all my years of walking I never had to use my insurance, but it gave me peace of mind to have it.
There are a lot of ways to advertise but word of mouth is your best resource. A good way to get started is to visit area condominium and apartment complexes that take pets. Talk to the complex manager. Wearing your work shirt helps. Tell them what your business is and ask them if you can advertise in the complex. They will welcome you because they don’t want dogs messing up their units. Ask them if you can leave business cards to put in the new resident packets. Also see if you put some business cards in their community room, laundry room or near the mailboxes.
Another good place to get clients is corporate housing complexes. Corporate housing is where companies put up new employees until they can get relocated. These complexes often take pets because people are coming to our area to settle. You can be the person that welcomes them to the area and at the same time take a load off their mind by walking their dogs while they are moving. Getting to know you will be a relief for them as you can be a wealth of information for them. Extended Stay Hotels are a perfect example of corporate housing.
Other good resource is local veterinarians. Ask them if you can put business cards on their front counter. Be sure to provide your own business card holder. You can buy them at Staples.Tell them that when you get new clients you will refer them. Scratching each other’s backs can get you a long way.
Your local pet store is another good avenue for advertising. Laundromats and anyplace else that has a bulletin board are good advertising resources.
Always carry your business cards with you. When I’m at the pet store I often strike up conversations with people. I let them know what I do and they usually ask for a card. You always want to be prepared.
If you have your own dog take your dog to the park in the evenings or on the weekends and talk to every dog owner there. Tell them about the service you provide. Give them a business card and let them know how much their dogs fitness means to you. Before you know it they will tell their friends about you and the snowball begins.
If you live in a tourist area you can go to the local hotels that allow pets. A lot of people bring their pets on vacation and would definitely pay to have their pet walked if they are going to be out all day. Visit the hotel’s manager and give them some of your business cards and door hangers. If asked the hotel clerk can just hand their hotel patron a door hanger when they check in. Again the hotel owner does not want dogs messing in their rooms.
Always do a client visit before you take on the responsibility of walking a dog. You want to meet the dog so they know who you are when you show up at the house for their first walk. Let the customer fill out and sign the release form while you get to know the dog. Get down on the floor and interact with your new client.
You want to test drive every dog. Find out about all their quirks, are they social with other dogs, with people what are they afraid of, does it ride in the car okay, is it possessive of certain things like a toys or balls? You’ll want to have all these questions answered before you take the dog out on its first walk. There are a host of peculiarities you’ll come across when you meet your clients for the first time. I had a dog that was terrified of garbage trucks. To avoid that situation I always took the dog to the park. Be sensitive to their phobias. They are like children in your care and you want their experience to be a pleasant one.
Don’t be afraid to ask your client what they expect of you. Always, always change the water bowl whether they ask you to or not. Some may ask you to leave a light on as the owner gets home after dark. Still others may want you to turn the television on so the dog has company. You may have to change potty pads if they are dirty. You will get all kinds of requests.
Some homeowners use alarms. There’s nothing worse than setting off the alarm on your first day. The alarm is blaring the dog is howling and the neighbors are coming running over to see what is wrong. Then the local police ride up and you have to explain why you are there. I speak from experience. Ask about alarms and get the code before you start.
Gated Communities are another issue. You’ll need a way to get in. Some places have a gate code others you’ll need a gate opener. Get all of these issues out of the way ahead of time so there are no surprises on your first day.
Your job is to get your client's dog out for some exercise and a potty break during the day. Each walk should last at least a half hour. There are a few ways to accomplish exercise time. You can walk each dog individually or you can take a carload of dogs to the dog park for an hour and let them run off leash. If you do take them to a dog park remember you are responsible for them. They must be watched at all times.
If your client isn’t very social I still try to make walk time, playtime. For example I will run an energetic dog up and down a hill for added exercise, or bring a ball and let them play fetch. A geriatric dog may just need to be let out to be relieved. I still give them a half hour, but it may be spent sitting under a tree. You will learn to welcome these breaks.
You’ll be walking dogs in all kinds of weather. You have to be careful with hot weather as much as inclement weather. Dogs can get overheated very quickly. This is a dangerous situation for any animal. On hot sunny days keep exercise to a minimum. You may not want to play ball. A simple walk and then home again. If you can walk in a shady area all the better. Make sure your client has plenty of water while out on the walk and then again when they get home.
Yes, you still have to walk your clients even if it is raining, however most customers only want their dogs going out for a potty break so they don’t track mud into the house. Ask your customers what they prefer. Never walk a dog in an electrical storm. Rainy days are why you keep old towels in your kit. Many of you clients will leave towels by the door as well.
Most dogs love snow, but again you have to be able to cater to a whole host of dogs. Be aware that smaller dogs and dogs with short hair get cold faster than most other dogs. You may want to cut their walk in half and warm them in towels when you take them inside. Don’t ever leave a dog shivering.
Icy roads or sidewalks cause yet another concern. Ice and salt dry out a dog’s pads causing them to crack and bleed. And the salt can get stuck between their toes. Always clean ice and salt from your clients paws when you get your client back home.
Being a dog walker is a rewarding career. Your job is very important to your customers. Because you were there to take the dog out earlier their dog won’t be bouncing off the walls when they come home tired from work. You give your customer a sense of security. They feel less guilty leaving their beloved pet home all day, knowing that you will be there to break up there pal's day. What other job can you play with dogs and get paid to exercise?