Advice for starting a student dog-walking business?
September 6, 2011 3:58 AM   Subscribe

Advice for starting a student dog-walking business?

I'm a student in the UK and after having lot of trouble finding a job I've decided I would like to start a small dog walking business in my area to earn some extra cash while I study. I am a huge dog-lover and I feel comfortable walking any size or breed of dog. Is there anyone who can give me any advice on what the first steps I should take are? The main questions I have are:

How should I advertise? Flyers seem a good method, but what information is the most important to include?

What services should I provide? Simply walking, or is dog-sitting a viable option?

Particularly, I'd like to know how to efficiently structure my time to work around my University course. How does it work on an average day?

Is it possible to schedule walking more than one dog at the same time? Walking 2 or 3 dogs at once seems the most efficient way to make money, but how do I organise this? I've seen professional dog walkers walking a group of dogs, but if I have 3 clients who each live 15 minutes away from each other and who each want an hour-long walk, how do I walk their dogs at the same time?

Any general advice from dog-walkers out there to get me started would be really appreciated.
posted by Spamfactor to Work & Money (3 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
One thing that may make this prohibitively expensive is that some people don't want to give you housekeys unless you're bonded.
posted by k8t at 5:23 AM on September 6, 2011

Best answer: Well, I can tell you how our dog walker worked and what made us happy customers.

Advertising: We found him on the internet, and didn't even consider looking at dog walkers who didn't have an online presence. Make sure your business has a professional-looking website with prices clearly listed and encourage your customers to leave you reviews on yelp or whatever review site is popular in your area.

Services: Our dog needed a bathroom break and some attention, yes, but what really made our dog-walking money worth spending was that she was TIRED when she got home. We paid for a 1-hour off or on-leash walk with up to 5 other dogs. We never used the dog-sitting option, because we never needed it, but if we had, we definitely would have hired the same guy because he knew our dog and we were confident he would take good care of her. In my experience, most dog walkers offer a neighborhood bathroom break option and a longer group walk option.

How it works: Our walker (and, it seems, most) limit the area they will serve to a part of town they can reasonably cover in a day, since, as you've noted, transit time between dogs cuts in to the number of walks you can give each day. To give you an idea, our dog was the first dog picked up for her noon group walk. She would get picked up between 10:30 and 11. The walker would then drive around and pick up all the other dogs, go somewhere nice up in the hills for a walk, and then drop them all back off, ending with our dog at around 1:30. So, that's 3 hours to give 5 dogs a 1-hour walk. It takes time to drive from place to place, but it also takes time to go in and get the dog, find the leash, fill the water bowl, give any medications the dog might need, etc. If your coursework doesn't allow for big blocks of time like this, you might only be able to offer short bathroom-break type individual walks, which will severely limit your income here.

General advice: Present yourself as professional and as a dog lover ALL THE TIME. When we first interviewed our dog walker, the first thing he did was show us a binder with his business license and his insurance information in it. The second thing he did was sit on the floor of our living room for an hour playing with our dog and talking about (it seemed like) every dog he'd ever worked with and how much he loved them. We were sold. He would send us pictures and text messages every day about how awesome our dog was and how much fun she was having. He would call and email and text (all of them) if anything went even remotely wrong and the planned walk would have to be adjusted in any way, and then he would bust his ass to make sure my dog still got her walk. Remember that people are going to be giving you a key to their house and trusting you with their best friend. You have to make them trust that you'll take as good of care of their dog as they would.
posted by juliapangolin at 5:27 AM on September 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

My wife is a dog walker and started her business from scratch a few years ago. Off the top of my head:

Advertising: don't bother with flyers, etc. Make yourself a dead-simple website (wordpress/blogspot is fine) and put as much info as possible up - prices, contact, availability etc. Make sure that the names of the geographical areas you cover (town, neighbourhood etc) are prominently mentioned so that when people search for "Glasgow dog walker" your business comes up. List your business on Google Maps as well - this makes it much more prominent in search results.

To cut a long story short, the type of person who is organized enough, and cares enough about their dog, to research dog walkers online is also the type of person who will train their dog well, pay on time, etc. By advertising only online you will actively select for the kind of customers you want.

Get insurance; this will cover you for accidents and probably stuff like lost keys as well.

Services: dog-sitting is easier work than dog-walking, but if you rent, check your lease - your landlord may not be cool with you (a) keeping dogs in the house and (b) using the house to run a business - this is explicitly forbidden in most leases. Also, sitting and walking tend to be mutually exclusive - you can't look after dogs at home it you're out walking other dogs. It's probably much easier to start with just walking.

Scheduling: this is the absolute crux of a successful dog-walking business. The trouble is that everybody wants their dog walked at 1pm i.e. halfway through the working day. The key is to make it clear to your customers that their dog will be walked at some point within a several-hour window e.g. 11am - 2pm. This gives your a chance to arrange the pickup/walk/dropoff cycle to your advantage. You will be spending much more time picking up & dropping off than walking.

Sadly, the answer to the question

if I have 3 clients who each live 15 minutes away from each other and who each want an hour-long walk, how do I walk their dogs at the same time?

is the obvious one - you spend an hour picking the dogs up, an hour walking them, and an hour dropping them off. Realistically you will spend about 2 hours travelling for each hour of walking. Ironically, being a dog-walker involves a great deal of being a dog-driver. Suddenly dog-sitting, where your customers come to you, looks much more appealing :-)

One last point; dog walking destroys cars. The combination of many short journeys, constant loading/unloading, and country roads can make maintenance very costly - this will be your main expense by far, so keep a close eye on it.

Feel free to mefi-mail me if you have any specific questions.
posted by primer_dimer at 2:33 AM on September 7, 2011

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