For Dog's Sake - Help Me Start A Business!
October 24, 2009 10:07 AM   Subscribe

What do I need to know about starting a dogwalking/sitting service?

I need advice on starting a dog walking/sitting/grooming service in my town.

I've never done any kind of entrepreneurial work, and am doing this primarily as a way to build community where I live and meet a ton of cool dogs.

I'd like advice about the basics of starting a cottage business, especially from anyone whose done this kind of dogwalking thing before.

What are the pitfalls I can avoid, or some good advice about setting up a client base?
posted by Lipstick Thespian to Pets & Animals (6 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You would need a contract that limits your liability and expenses in case of any problems. Here is someone's sample contract. IANAL.
posted by Behemoth at 10:18 AM on October 24, 2009

The National Association Of Professional Pet Sitters has some good information and community support for dog carers and Pet Sitters Associates provides insurance. I've been doing this for a few years now and find it helps to be weatherproof!
posted by merocet at 10:26 AM on October 24, 2009

Best answer: Professional dog walker here.

1. Please put together a business plan. If you don't have one, you inevitably put yourself in the same class as would-be dog walking kiddies on Craigslist who "just loooove dogs."
2. Research your competition. What do they charge, and for what services? Charge more. They've already done the hard work of figuring out what they can't go below; you don't want to go below that number either. This goes hand-in-hand with my next advice, which is don't undervalue your time.
3. Figure out what your work-radius will be. Will it be worth your time to drive 20 miles away from your home?
4. There are three major insurance clearinghouses who provide liability insurance for dog walkers/pet sitters. Here's one of them; the other two don't come to mind right away but they're google-able, I'm sure. They all provide about the same service and level of coverage. Please sign up with one of them.
5. Read up about dog breeds and their quirks, needs, levels of energy, etc.

6. And the standard check-list for anyone who's becoming a Sole Proprietor:
* Separate business checking account.
* Separate business phone line or cell phone.
* Business cards, brochures, logo, and webpage.
* If you don't have a grasp of financials (cash flow projection and assumptions,
income statement, balance sheet, etc.) get an accountant who specializes in small businesses.
* Be assertive and firm. I'm not talking about with the dogs, I mean with the clients! State your price and don't dicker. They're respect you for it and you'll separate yourself from the kiddie herd out there who (say it with me) "just loooooove dogs."
I have more, but the washer buzzer just buzzed. Good luck!
posted by BostonTerrier at 10:40 AM on October 24, 2009 [3 favorites]

If you're sitting, get some practice medicating dogs if you haven't already done it. You've probably got friends who medicate their dogs, and will let you practice with their pets.
posted by Stacey at 4:47 PM on October 24, 2009

I asked a very successful petsitter in the DC area the same question about 10 years ago. After ascertaining that I wasn't going to start such a business, but wanted to help my sister in Richmond, Va., she divulged her secret. It was the book "Pet Sitting for Profit." She told me to tell my sister to follow it to the letter. Of course, my sister didn't do anything, but that's another Ask MeFi post.
posted by WyoWhy at 9:09 AM on October 25, 2009

I just helped my girlfriend start a dog walking business in the last couple of months. A couple of bits of advice that leap out at me:

1. Get yourself a decent website, or find someone who can help you with one. MeFiMail me if you want me to send you a link to the one we came up with. This has been a massive selling point. There are plenty of competing dog-walking businesses around here, but none of them have a website that's more than a single page of contact details. When my girlfriend goes to meet new clients and asks how they found her, nine times out of ten the answer is "we looked up a list of local dog walkers, then researched them online, and your website looked the best." I had no idea that this would be such a big deal.

2. Seconding BostonTerrier's point 2 - target the upper end of the market. The kind of people who are prepared to pay a little extra for a premium dog-walking service are exactly the kind of people who you want as customers, because they
- are far more likely to look after their dog in other ways, i.e.
- pay attention to training, making their dog easier to walk
- vaccinate their dog, making it less likely that any of your other clients will get a bug
- are far more likely to pay promptly etc. etc.
posted by primer_dimer at 3:17 AM on October 26, 2009

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