So you want to start a dog walking business, but you have no idea how to start.
Starting any business—let alone a dog walking business—-can be hard when you’re new to all things business.
But once you arm yourself with knowledge and set a solid foundation, you can start making your dog walking dreams more of a reality.
It starts with drawing out a solid business plan and knowing what your true dog walking goals are before anything else.
Let’s jump right in.
The Easy Parts of Starting a Dog Walking Business
By now, you’re probably aware that if you’re going to start a business, people need to have a way to find you. Especially if your business is service-based—like a dog walking business is—you’ll want to have a professional site that customers can visit and book appointments through.
With Squarespace, you can easily create a clean and professional-looking site with one of its many templates. It also helps that it’s specifically built for small businesses with features for ecommerce and service-based offerings.
Once you sign up, you can start setting up an appointment booking page and start collecting online payments for every dog walking appointment you book.
The Difficult Parts of Starting a Dog Walking Business
You’ve created your dog walking business website, branded it with your ideal brand colors, and everything looks great. Creating a website and coming up with a logo are some of the lighter, more creative parts of starting a business.
But there are still more involved tasks like establishing an LLC, setting your prices, or deciding on the type of dog walking insurance that’s right for you that’ll need your attention. However, all those things can pale in comparison when it comes to one of the hardest parts of running any business: constantly landing clients that want what you’re selling.
How do you convince them to buy your services? What if they question your prices? Where do you even find your first handful of customers?
Though the idea of hanging out with a bunch of furry friends is any animal lover’s dream, there are a few more difficult business tasks you’ll want to take care of if you want to make sure you’re setting your business up for success.
Step 1: Get Organized and Check For Demand
The first order of business? Make sure there’s demand for what you’re selling before anything else.
Is There Local Demand For Dog Walking Services?
Too many new entrepreneurs make the mistake of creating a product or service first without checking if there is a demand for that product or service in the first place. Are you meeting an existing need with your business idea? More specifically, is there a need for dog walking services in your immediate area?
Before diving into the ins and outs of establishing a business you want to make sure you have paying clients that truly want or need what you’re offering. How can you do that?
For starters, it can be as simple as asking around within your existing network. Ask any pet owners in your circle of friends and family if they’re in need of or if they’d be willing to pay for a dog walking business. From there, depending on the feedback you gather, it can be helpful to speak to local businesses in the pet industry for more input on the demographics of your area.
Doing research on any existing dog walking business that is already operating in your area can be another great way to gauge the need for your services. Is there a surplus of registered dog walking businesses? Does this mean there’s too much competition for your business to succeed?
Running a quick Google search, or even a search on Instagram or Facebook can be a great way to learn more about what you’re working with locally. From there, it’s up to your best judgment if this is a venture you want to take on. If you do, then it’s time to get serious about establishing your business like a true professional.
Create A Simple Business Plan
When you say “business plan” it’s natural to want to run away in the other direction. It sounds complex, involved, and like a lot of work. But a business plan can be pretty straightforward. It’s designed to help you set the parameters of your business and the basics of how it’ll operate.
To draft a business plan, I’ve written a detailed post on how to go about creating one.
However, here are a few basic business plan questions you can start answering in a Google Doc to get started:
- What services will you offer, how, and for how much?
- Will this business be a co-ownership or a sole proprietorship?
- What’s your marketing and sales strategy?
- What will your finances look like? Will you invest a startup amount?
Decide on Your Business Name and Branding
At this point, you have a pretty well-rounded business plan to work from. Now it’s time to start putting a face and a name to your dog walking business.
What will your business name be? How will you brand your website, social media, and business imagery?
If you’re having trouble naming your dog walking business, here’s a guide with 15 tips to help you through the process. Once you land on a name, it helps to look up the domain name with a simple Google search or through a domain broker like Namecheap to see if your business name is already in use. If it is, you might want to take the time to come up with something more original.
Branding is a closely related step to the business naming process. If you really want to get into it, I’ve written an in-depth guide to the psychology of color that’s worth reading if you can’t make up your mind about your brand colors.
Keep in mind that branding goes beyond just the visuals, though that’s an important part of it all. There’s the messaging of your business, how you want your business to be perceived, and even market positioning.
In short, it can be a lot. When you’re starting a business, the last thing you want to do is get stuck in the nitty-gritty of it all. For now, figuring out the branding basics like your business name, logo, colors, and general messaging is a great starting point.
Establish A Social Media Presence
Social media isn’t only helpful for staying up to date with friends and family. You can also harness the power of social platforms to get the word out about your newfound dog walking business.
Today, being found online, even for local businesses, is one of the best ways to drum up new clientele. To establish your business—once you’ve decided on your business name—you should ensure your social media handles on both Facebook and Instagram (or even Twitter) to get the word out about your services. To help, here’s a guide on how to effectively market your small business on social media with everything you need to know including which social media platform you should focus on for optimal results.
Create Your Website
Creating your website is a crucial part of the puzzle. It’s a way to cement your online presence without totally depending on social media. It’s also a way to easily collect online payments from your customers.
To create your website, I mentioned Squarespace earlier as one of the easiest ways to get started. Once you choose a plan and open an account, you’re able to choose from a myriad of templates, including templates created for service-based businesses. You also won’t have to worry about the logistics of setting up your online payment features. Squarespace has tools that make it easy to configure your service-based site. Get started here.
Step 2: Register Your LLC
Legally registering your business within the state it operates in saves you from a ton of potential headaches in the future. Here’s how to go about it.
Get Familiar With Your State Filing Laws
One of the best ways to ensure both you and your business are protected is by ensuring you’re registered as an LLC. It’s probably not surprising I have a complete guide on how to file an LLC from start to finish. So make sure to check that out when you have the time.
The filing process is going to look a bit different depending on the state you’re filing in. You can either go through a third-party LLC registration process that helps you take care of it, or you can go straight to your state’s official filing site to take care of the process yourself. The latter is the more cost-effective way to file for an LLC without the extra charges.
Finding the appropriate LLC filing site for your state can be done with a quick Google search. Just search for your state name and add “LLC filing” to your search. The state business filing website usually has a .gov extension.
File the Paperwork and the Corresponding Fees
Once you find the right site for LLC filing, the process is as easy as filling in a few details about your business, including a business name search to ensure it isn’t already registered, as well as filing fees. For instance, if you’re filing an LLC in California, you’re looking at paying about $75 for the process.
There are more fees if you’re filing an LLC business name and want to also file a DBA, or a “doing business as” name if your practicing business name is different from your LLC name. Once you file and submit your LLC, make sure you print and save the corresponding paperwork for future reference. Come tax time, you’ll want to have your LLC filing and paperwork taken care of.
Step 3: Insure Your Dog Walking Business
Insurance isn’t just for your belongings. It helps to have it for your business too as an extra layer of protection.
Don’t Leave Your Business To Chance
When it comes to service-based business— especially when you’re dealing with beloved pets— you want to make sure you’re as covered as possible. This means looking into business insurance in case anything goes wrong.
Similar to filing an LLC, business insurance makes sure you aren’t vulnerable to lawsuits of any kind that could be financially fatal. With service-based businesses, going the insured route instead of winging it also offers a lot of peace of mind.
Find Dog Insurance You Can Work With
Luckily, finding dog walking insurance for your business isn’t hard. There are already plenty of businesses out there that offer quotes and plans and different price points.
Even if you’re starting out on a shoestring budget, you can be sure to find an insurance plan that works for you. I recommend you run a quick Google search to really get a feel for the scope of your insurance options.
Here are a few pet-specific insurance options worth considering:
- Pet Care Insurance – Dog walker insurance starting at $139 a year
- Thimble – Dog walker insurance by the hour, day, or month
- Kennel Pro – General liability dog walking insurance options
Step 4: Start Landing Local Clients
Landing clients is one of the harder parts of getting your business up and running. There are both paid and free ways to earn clients. Here’s how.
At this point, you have your business plan, you’ve established an LLC, and you’ve secured your social media handles with your business name. It’s time to start marketing your business. But before we get into social media marketing and ads as a viable option to land local clients, we need to rewind and take it back to the basics.
Regardless of how advanced technology and social media get, word-of-mouth is still one of the most cost-effective ways to land a steady stream of clients. The secret is in landing your first handful of clients, doing a stellar job as a dog walker, and then being proactive about asking for word-of-mouth references.
But how do you go about landing your first few dog walking clients? Hands down the best way to land your first few clients is through your existing relationships. Who are the dog owners in your life that would appreciate your dog walking services? Can you offer a discount to entice them to buy into your new business?
If you don’t have existing relationships with dog owners, now is a good time to go and make some. That’s right. You’re at the beginning stages of your business, which means there might be a little (or a lot) of grinding involved to find your first few clients.
Is there a local dog park you can hang out at and make dog-loving friends? Get creative, make those connections, and don’t be afraid to speak about your services in conversation when appropriate. The more you put yourself out there, the better your chances of landing your first few clients. From there, word-of-mouth marketing becomes easier as you ask for referrals after a job well done.
Local Social Media Marketing and Ads
Word-of-mouth is great, but there’s also organic social media traffic as well as ads that can help you bring in additional clients. Now, there’s an optimal time for using paid traffic as a means for additional revenue. This guide goes deeper into that debate.
But essentially, you don’t want to be sinking tons of money—especially if you’re on a tight budget—into paid ads without exhausting all your free marketing options first. Now, the specifics of setting up local Instagram of Facebook ads are beyond the scope of this guide. But not to worry, I’ve created a guide on how to generate leads with Facebook ads as a good starting point. If you’re looking for guidance on Instagram ads, this guide tells you everything you need to know.
Step 5: Refine Your Strategy As Necessary
Building your business isn’t a one-and-done process. You’ll want to continuously make adjustments to your business strategy to increase sales and continue to see growth.
Revisit Your Business Plan
Sometimes, it isn’t until you get your hands dirty that you start seeing ways to improve your business operations. That’s where you want to go back to the drawing board and see where things could improve.
For instance, is your site too crowded? Are customers having a hard time finding the page where they can book you? Maybe you could make that your landing page instead?
Little by little, as your business grows, you’ll inevitably have to upgrade the way you run your business. This will inevitably lead to growth and hopefully, a business that’s profitable.
Adjust Your Marketing Strategy
Marketing your dog walking business is a huge part of making it all work. Without marketing— whether that’s through word-of-mouth or paid social ads— you won’t exactly have customers busting through your door.
Adjusting your marketing strategy as you grow can ensure a steady flow of customers without overspending on your promotional efforts. For instance, as word-of-mouth marketing starts working for you, you might not need to spend as much on paid local advertising.