Walking dogs for a living is a great way to combine love of animals with love of the outdoors. The pet sitting business is a growing industry with many Americans willing to spend billions of dollars a year on their beloved canines. Get it on the trend by taking a few simple steps.
Be clear about the services you want to offer. Will you care for dogs alone or will you include small animal pet care? Cats, birds, rodents snakes, fish? If your focus is dogs will you take them on walks or on outings to local dog parks? Will you do both? Are you available to pet-sit when an owner is out of town or are you a “middle of the day” kind of worker? These are the kinds of questions to ask yourself.
Once you have narrowed down your niche you can come up with a name that makes it clear what you are offering. Will you be Joe’s Dog Walking Service or Sally’s Pet Sitting and Small Animal Care? Establish the hours you are willing to work. Are you a mom with kids in school who just wants to make some made money during the day? Are you a college student who goes to school at night? Are you available to work any time any day?
The next step would be to establish a price list to go along with the services you will be providing. Sort of a menu of options. You might want to offer packages. For example, buy ten walks get one walk free. Refer a friend and get a one free walk.
One of the best ways to gauge pricing in your areas is to investigate what other dog walkers/pet sitters are charging in your area. Check your local papers for ads and go ahead and give the person a call. Check the internet. Classified websites such as Craigslist.com usually has local dog walker ads with the prices included.
People will pay a little more if you present yourself in as a reliable professional. Dog owners are not only entrusting you with their dogs, but in many cases, you also will have house keys and alarm codes.
Getting good references are really important. But what if you don’t have any current clients? A good suggestion might be to barter with a neighbor or friend who has a dog or pet. Ask the individual if you could walk their dog for a limited time for free in exchange for a reference. An example might be a free walk once a week for a month, or two walks a week for two weeks. This is a great way to feel you have earned a reference while a friend gets a few free dog walking sessions! Once you’ve established a good reputation with clients, don’t be afraid to ask them if you can use them as reference for future clients. If you’ve built a trusting relationship with the client, they’ll be more than willing to help you out.
As with any small business it is extremly important to protect yourself from liability. Something that is often overlooked but is a must is insurance. It is also a very good selling point for prospective clients to know you are covered in case of an accident. There are specific types of insurance that will cover pet sitting and dog walking businesses. Bonded and insured is something an astute pet owner will look for in a dog walker.
Contact your local Red Cross and see if they offer Canine First Aid classes. This is a good idea for anyone who owns a pet, but it’s a real plus when your working with animals all day. You’ll know what go co in case of an emergency. That peace of mind is priceless. The Red Cross classes are usually a couple hours long and are relatively inexpensive at about $15.00 depending on your area. The fee is tax deductable.
Another good idea is to join a professional association. One example is Pet Sitters Associates. PSA not only offers networking and business opurtunities, but insurance is included in the yearly membership fee.
Your business will be added to their internet lists. Anyone looking for a dog walker/pet sitter on the internet will have easy access to your business. You might want to Google ‘pet sitting directories’ and add your name to any and all lists.
Marketing is they key to a good start in business. Two items that are a must in start ups is a business card and a flyer.
You can get 250 free cards at VistaPrint.com. You only need pay the cost of shipping the cards.
The business flyer can have more details than your card. Include information such as pricing, professional affiliations and reference availability. For fun add a picture of a dog, cat or other animal. I used a digital picture of my yellow lab Stella looking up at the camera in a forlorn expression. The caption says “Is Your Dog Lonely?” In lower letters it reads ” Dog on the Run can help.” I got so much response from the picture of Stella. People empathized with Stella, their guilt factor kicked in and they gave me a call about walking their own lonely lab!
Once your cards and flyers are available be sure to carry them everywhere. Distribute them at pet stores (ask permission first), vet offices, supermarket and community bulletin boards. Anywhere there are people, put your card, because people have pets!
Place them on cars at pet stores and dog park parking lots. The most obvious place to hang your flyer is any and all local dog parks.. Most parks have a bulletin boards with announcements and ads posted. Put a handful of cards and a flyer announcing your service.
Use e-mail. It’s free and easy. Send out an e-mail announcement to everyone on your address book. Even if your contacts don’t have pets, they might be able to refer you to someone who does. This is a cheap way to get out the word.
Once your cash flow starts, it might be worth sending out a small postcard size mailer to everyone you know announcing your business. Again, if your friends or family don’t have animals, go ahead and send them a flyer. Word of mouth is always a good thing.
Another suggestion is taking out an ad in your local newspaper. This is also on the more expensive side and should be done once the cash flow better.
When your out with your dogs, make eye contact and be personable with other dog owners. People will sometimes ask if all the dogs belong to you. This is a great opening to talk about your business. Tell them you’re their dog walker and hand them a card. I have got more business at the dog park from just chatting with fellow dog owners. I’ve become a familiar face to people in the park, with my gaggle of dogs, my Chuck-it ball thrower and my big hat!
Of course all of the above suggestions are important in starting your pet care service, but the most important thing to remember is this. Love the dogs. You can be the best business person in the world, but you won’t get far if you don’t love what you do.
Do you adore being greeting by your clients with wagging tails and slurppy kisses? Do you like scratching a dog behind the ears or throwing endless tennis balls to an overactive retriever? Do you care if your clothes are covered with fur and your car smells like wet dog?
If you love animals, then caring for them is one of the most rewarding and fun careers around. When I’m walking outside in the fresh air with my doggie clients, I can’t believe how lucky I am to be able to play with dogs AND get paid while doing it. Woof!