Walking dogs is a great career option to pursue if you’re an animal lover who’s interested in running a pet care business. In this article, we’ll break down all of the things that you’ll need to consider before you become a business owner so that you can start getting paid for going on walks in parks with your new furry friends.
Understanding the dog walking business market
Before you invest your time and money into starting a new career, it’s important for you to know exactly what you’re getting yourself into. That means you’ll probably want to research industry statistics for pet care services to make sure that this is a viable career path for you to follow.
According to market research reports, the “demand for pet grooming, boarding, training, and walking are at an all-time high due to rising pet ownership.” That said, you might want to keep in mind that COVID-19 could potentially change the way the pet care industry operates in order to continue upholding safe social distancing measures.
Determining your business structure
If you want your new endeavour to start out on the right foot, you’ll need to start by choosing the right business structure. Here’s a brief explanation of each of the four most common business structures. Most dog walking businesses fall under sole proprietorship or incorporation.
This structure is best for businesses with only one owner who makes 100 per cent of the decisions.
A corporation separates the owner from the business. It’s basically a legal entity of its own and has rights similar to a person as far as liability and protection of your business assets.
A partnership consists of two or more individuals with shared company ownership.
A cooperative is an incorporated business that is democratically controlled by investors.
Nonprofits are designed to give back to the community.
Writing a dog walking business plan
Since dog walking might seem like a simple enough job, it may surprise you to learn that you can’t just start reaching out to clients and getting work right away. No matter how small you plan to keep your company, it’s in your best interest to create a basic business plan before you start working. Plus, if you intend to expand one day in the future, you’ll need a business plan to win over investors or funding bodies.
In short, your business plan will need to summarize your operations, detail the products and/or services you intend to sell, and the state of the market that you will be operating in. You’ll also need to set your professional goals and the financial requirements to reach those goals.
Understanding dog walking rules and regulations
The rules and regulations for running your own dog walking company will differ depending on your location, so don’t forget to look up your local bylaws when establishing your company. Here are some examples of dog walking bylaws that you may not be aware of. These are specific to Toronto, so be sure to check out the specific bylaws in your city.
- If you ever plan to walk more than three dogs at a time, you will need a Commercial Dog Walker Permit.
- You have to prominently display your permit on your person whenever you’re working.
- You must adhere to leash policies in public parks.
Obtaining business insurance
With so many insurance companies and plans to choose from, you’ll probably want to compare as many different plans as you can to find the one that makes the most sense for you and your new company. First, consider what you need the insurance to cover. General liability insurance is a good place to start, but you may need additional industry-specific insurance to cover potential issues that you haven’t even thought of yet.
Luckily, some insurance companies make it easy for you with specific policies designed for dog walking businesses. Choose a plan that can grow with you as your business expands, and if you have any questions about what will be covered, it’s better to ask your provider before you commit than to assume something is covered and end up paying the price later on.
Pricing and services
One of the many benefits of starting your own company and working for yourself is that you get to choose what products and services you offer, which jobs you take on, and how to price your dog walking services. That said, you should research industry-standard rates when determining your pricing so that you don’t end up pricing yourself out of the market or undercutting your fellow dog walkers.
Prices for a half-hour walk can range anywhere from $10-$35 depending on the local market and from $30-$60 for an hour-long walk. If you’re walking multiple dogs from multiple owners at the same time, you may choose to offer a $5-$10 discount. On the other hand, if you’re walking multiple dogs for one owner, you can charge a few extra dollars as a convenience fee.
Promoting and marketing your dog walking business
Once you’ve got your new company all set up and ready to go, it’s time to turn your attention to thinking about how you’re going to find new clients and let people know about your brand new company. Here are a few quick and simple tips for marketing your services.
1. Make some business cards and flyers.
Drop by your local pet stores, groomers, and veterinary clinics, and ask them if you can leave a small pile of promotional materials for their customers to check out.
2. Connect with other dog walkers.
While it may seem counterintuitive to try and get advice from an established dog walker, there may come a time where they aren’t able to take on any new clients, and they’ll be able to refer people to you instead.
3. Go to local pet events.
Grab your promotional materials and set up a vendor booth or just start chatting with people about your new business.
4. Create a website.
Make sure that you follow local SEO best practices so that potential clients will be able to find you online when they search for your services.
5. Market your business with social media or paid advertising.
Set up your social media accounts and use relevant hashtags, and look into options for advertising your company online or in person.
6. Don’t forget about word of mouth.
Even if they aren’t dog owners, don’t underestimate the power of reaching out to your friends and family and asking them to recommend you the next time someone they know mentions that they need a new dog walker.
Obtaining a signed contract from clients
While you always hope that nothing will go wrong in your business, a signed agreement gives you extra security and will hold up better than a verbal agreement if legal issues do occur down the line. You can hire a lawyer to draft your contract, or use Ownr’s custom legal agreements. Just make sure to get very specific about the services you’ll be providing, what you’ll get in return and any other terms, including when and how you’ll get paid.
Keeping detailed records
When you’re running your own business, you need to stay on top of a ton of different documents like business receipts, invoices, permits and more. Store your records electronically to avoid having to deal with a huge folder of disorganized documents at tax time, and if you’re not sure if you need to hold onto something, err on the side of caution and keep it just in case.
Now that you know what’s involved in starting your own dog walking business, it’s time to get out there and start your new entrepreneurial journey!
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