While starting any new business is always a gamble, dog walking is relatively easy and requires little upfront investment, making it a great choice for canine enthusiasts everywhere. However, what it lacks in necessary investment, it makes up for in work.
To get to a point where your dog walking business is growing and profitable, you’ll need to make sure you properly plan before you start. In my experience, the reason many new businesses like this fail is because people haven’t put in the adequate time to figure out all the logistics.
With that, I’ll walk you through the most essential steps, and some helpful tips as well, to ensure your business is profitable, and most importantly, legal.
8 Steps to Start a Dog Walking Business
1. Research Your Market
One of the most important aspects of starting any new business is to properly assess the market. If you live in an area that’s flooded with other dog walking services, it may be harder to break into the market. On the other hand, if there are very few dog walking services around, there may be a reason, like lack of need in that area.
Understanding the local market, as well as knowing who your competition is can help you determine viability and help you set your business apart. In addition to scoping out the competition, get out and talk with people that interact with dogs in your area. You can visit dog parks, pet stores, online forums, or vet offices to get started.
Talking to the types of customers you’d want will give you a sense of their needs and preferences and allow you to better understand what services to offer, or how to set yourself apart when it comes to marketing and pricing, which we’ll discuss below.
2. Figure Out Your Business Plan
After researching the market, it's time to develop your business plan. In order words, how will you operate and grow your business?
Before you even begin to look for your first client, it’s essential to sit down and ask yourself:
- What services will I offer? Are you going to be purely a dog walking business or will you offer additional services like dog sitting or grooming?
- Where will I operate? As dog walking is local in nature, it is important to set geographical boundaries of where you will and won’t accept customers from.
- How will I operate? It’s vital to have a clear plan in place when approaching clients, as well as dealing with staff and sorting expenses.
- How will I hire and onboard staff? Before your business grows and takes on additional walkers, it’s good to consider hiring and training aspects.
- How will I market my business? Will it be word-of-mouth? Will you interact with people in real life or online in dog owner spaces? Will you use paid marketing, or rely on networking and social building?
- What are my expenses? These may include things like employee paychecks and training, and may also include things like website hosting and payment service provider fees.
- How will I deal with issues? Whether it’s an unhappy walker, a dangerous dog, or a customer that’s late on payment, you’ll need to have contingency plans in place for these scenarios.
- What is my growth strategy? It’s good to think long-term, even in the beginning. What does your business look like in one, two, five years from now? This may change a lot between now and then, but having an idea can help how you structure your business.
3. Brand Yourself and Create a Website
This is probably the most fun part of setting up your business – deciding on a name and branding. You’ll want something that stands out, clearly identifies your services, and is easy to remember.
You can set up a full website with branding to attract higher caliber customers. It can also give your customers the ability to book services and pay directly on the website, which can help make staying on top of business easier. Pay.com offers a customizable checkout page that integrates with your website, so you can accept payments with ease.
You can set up a profile on social media and drum up business that way, along with or instead of a full website. The latter may be good if you’re starting out on a limited budget, and you can always add on a nice website as you grow, but having a website from the beginning can add a sense of professionalism to your business.
4. Determine Your Pricing
While you may be getting into dog walking because you have a love of the furry four-legged creatures, you’ll still want to pay the bills at the end of the month. Determining your pricing and how you’ll accept payments can be one of the hardest aspects of setting up a new business for many people.
Your market research should give you a sense of what competitors are charging and what dog owners are willing to pay. You’ll want to factor in growth and the expenses that may come with hiring additional walkers or offering additional services like grooming, but it’s okay if your pricing changes over time.
Just ensure that when you first set your prices you don’t price yourself out of the market, or charge too little to make ends meet. You’ll also want to have an idea of the types of payment methods you’ll accept, like credit cards, ACH, digital wallets, or others. Pay.com lets you accept a variety of payment methods, to give your customers freedom of choice.
5. Sort Out the Legalese
Now that you’ve figured out the logistics, it’s time to get cracking. Almost every state or country will require some sort of business registration to operate – usually an LLC (limited liability company). This will be the biggest upfront cost to starting your dog walking business.
An LLC isn’t the only type of business registration, but if you plan on growing your business and hiring additional staff, it’s the one you’ll want. That’s because compared to a sole proprietorship, you’ll be farther removed personally from the business, which will add protections should something ever go wrong.
In addition to registering your business, you may also need an Employee Identification Number, for hiring new staff, as well as a separate business license, depending on your location. Be sure to consult a small business advisor if you’re unsure.
6. Get Liability Insurance
Even if you and your staff are well-versed in handling dogs, things can still go wrong. From dogs getting loose and causing damage to lawns or flower beds to a dog biting another dog, the walker, or a random stranger, it’s essential to have good insurance.
Luckily, there is industry-specific dog walking insurance for businesses like yours. These usually cover a plethora of common events, including property damage, health care claims for pets and walkers, and sometimes even things like locksmiths if a walker locks themselves out of a client’s home while on a walk.
While you may never need it (and I hope you don’t), it’s always better to have it and not need it than to not have it and very much need it. In some places, it’s even a legal requirement to run a dog walking service. It's an additional expense that is well worth it, trust me on that.
7. Set Up a Payment System
Before you can get your first customer, you’ll need to have a fast and secure way of accepting payments to earn revenue. To make business run smoothly, you want a payment service provider that can let you accept multiple payment methods, is fast and streamlined, and is fully transparent in its pricing.
Pay.com offers a full suite of payment processing tools, including a merchant account. With quick and easy onboarding, you can get up and running in no time.
In addition to accepting payments on a website, Pay.com also allows you to take your customers’ credit card information over the phone and enter it into your Virtual Terminal. You can also send direct Pay Links to customers as a convenient payment option. These can be great for offering flexibility and accommodation in payment methods.
8. Market Your Business
Now that you’ve gotten everything set up, it’s time to get your first customer. While your marketing plan should have been thought out in your business planning phase, now is the time to implement your first marketing campaign.
Maybe that means pushing ads through social media or reaching out to community groups where dog owners congregate. Or maybe it means old-fashioned in-person marketing by attending events such as adoption events or dog shows to network with potential customers.
Once you have customers, make sure you also ask them for referrals. Dog owners are often friends with other dog owners and a word-of-mouth referral can add a lot of trust and value to your business, and best of it, it’s no marketing cost to you.
The Pros and Cons of Starting a Dog Walking Business
- Relatively low upfront investment compared to other business
- Can be started in any location
- Does not require any specialized certifications or degrees to do
- Can be lucrative and has big potential for growth
- Working with live animals always has its risks
- There may be a lot of competition in your area, including from app-based services
- Individual dog walkers or gig economy dog walkers may hurt business growth
- May have to deal with difficult customers that demand a lot for their pets
The Bottom Line: Is Starting a Dog Walking Business Right for You?
A dog walking business can be a great entrepreneur opportunity for the right person. While it may seem like a walk in the park, it can be a lot of work. From handling multiple customers on any given day to the risks that working with animals can impose, it is not something someone should go into unprepared.
However, if you understand dogs and their behaviors, have great communication skills, and have a good sense of the market in your area, then it may just be the path for you.