If you love spending time around furry companions of the canine variety, a career in dog walking might be right for you. You can spend a lot of your time out in nature, surrounded by happy, enthusiastic dogs. At first glance, this might not sound like work. It sounds like something you’d do for free.
But despite how fun dog walking might be, it comes with many of the same concerns as any other business. You need to maintain your finances, and make sure you’re protected from liability. You need to be properly licensed, and you need to beat the pavement to find customers. In other words, there’s a lot of work to be done!
Here are four basic steps to follow when you’re launching your dog walking business.
Create a Business Plan
Every business begins with a plan. Think of starting a business like building a house. You don’t just start digging a foundation hole and nailing a bunch of boards together. You start by drawing up a blueprint. Just like a blueprint guides you through the process of home-building, a business plan will guide you through the creation of your business.
A good business plan starts with outlining your goals. How much do you want your business to grow? Is this a one-person operation, a small team, or are you trying to launch a chain? You’ll need to check out the competition, and see what they’re offering and charging. This will let you figure out what to offer, and might even give you some ideas.
Next, think about your marketing costs, as well as your taxes. It might seem silly to start thinking about finances before you’ve even walked a single dog. But if you have plans in advance, you won’t have to stress over them while you’re busy running your business.
In most locations, you’ll need to get licensed to run your business. Thankfully, dog walking isn’t like being a dentist or a lawyer, where you need a bunch of professional qualifications. In most locations, you’ll be able to move forward with an ordinary business license. So search for regulations in your locality, pay the licensing fee, and keep everything legal.
At this time, you’ll need to decide what kind of business entity you want to run. A sole proprietorship is the most straightforward, but it doesn’t protect your personal assets from business liability. In many cases, it can make more sense to set up an LLC. An LLC requires more work to set up, but it separates your business and your personal assets. If worse comes to worst and your business gets sued, you won’t have to worry about jeopardizing your house or car.
Insurance is another thing you’ll need for just about any business, and dog walking is no exception. Think about it. People are entrusting you with their animals. If – God forbid – any of those animals gets hurt or sick on your watch, the owners are going to hold you responsible. This would be stressful under the best of circumstances. But if you’re liable for financial expenses, things can get much worse. Imagine a dog gets into something poisonous on your walk, and needs thousands of dollars in surgery. That kind of expense can ruin a brand new business. Thankfully, a general liability policy will cover these kinds of expenses.
In addition to general liability, it’s also a good idea to consider property damage insurance. When you’re walking a dog, you’re responsible for his or her behavior. If a dog gets excited and damages an outdoor store display, you could be on the hook for the damages. A property damage insurance policy will help defer some of those costs.
Market Your Services
Now that you’re ready to do business, the next step is to find customers. Thankfully, this doesn’t have to be expensive. Perhaps the most obvious method is to post some flyers, especially around dog parks. People will see them when they’re out walking their dogs, and might become interested.
At the end of the day, though, the most powerful method is word of mouth. People love their dogs, and it requires a measure of trust to hand them over to a total stranger. But if you’re getting a word-of-mouth referral, you’re not just some stranger. You’re so-and-so’s dog walker, who comes highly recommended.
If you want to generate word of mouth, it can help to offer some perks. For example, you could offer two weeks of free walks for anyone who makes a referral. You never know who might recommend you to your next best customer!