How do i get started with a dog walking service?
March 5, 2008 3:19 PM   Subscribe

How do i get started with a dog walking service?

I wanted to start a dog walking service but i have some questions about where to begin. How much should i charge? Does that depend on the region of the country (i have heard it might; i am in Arizona suburbs)? Should i charge per hour? What sort of legal things might i worry about? I did read some walkers have their owners sign a sort of contract, but i have no idea how to draft such a thing.

..and i'm sure there are things i am not asking that might be helpful to know!
posted by fjardt to Work & Money (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Why not talk to one of your prospective competitors, at least for figuring out what services they offer, how much they charge, and how they go about business? Under the guise of being a prospective client.

Prices certainly depend on region. I don't know what AZ suburb you are in, but a quick way to get a guage on the market and competition might be Yelp's listings for pet services (this link is for Phoenix, pardon my assumption)
posted by andifsohow at 3:39 PM on March 5, 2008

Ok, it sounds like you're trying to start a business but don't know anything about the business except, perhaps, that you'd like to - or perhaps you do - like to walk dogs.

The best way to get the answers you seek is by direct research. Get a job at an existing dog walking service, and find out precisely how they run their business.

THEN figure out how to do it better. After all, you're competing with established businesses. Why would folks want to use your service over others?

Will you be cheaper? Walk the dogs better? How is "better" defined? Feed the dogs treats? Build rapport with the dogs? You have to offer some angle, something that you and your business does better than others; this is called a "competitive advantage". Without it you don't have a chance at building a business that will be successful over the long term.

As a follow up challenge - take some courses in accounting and perhaps marketing at a local Uni or Community College. Most small businesses in start up mode are cash strapped. Yours probably won't be any different. These skills are easily obtainable, and will save your business - and you - money.

All the best!!
posted by Mutant at 3:39 PM on March 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Around here you have to be licensed to walk the dogs on public land and there are all kinds of rules regarding number of dogs per walker, insurance etc. There are plenty of under the table dog walkers that advertise on craigslist but most people go with the bigger firms.
posted by fshgrl at 3:42 PM on March 5, 2008

How much should i charge? Does that depend on the region of the country (i have heard it might; i am in Arizona suburbs)?

Sure. Search the PSI database to find established pet-sitters in your area and you should be able to click through to some websites of other businesses around there. Most of them will have rates on their websites, which will give you a ball-park figure of the various services they offer and what they charge.

Should i charge per hour?

We charge by the visit and rates vary on a variety of circumstances. Number of visits per week, whether we're billing monthly or weekly, number of pets involved, etc. Our rates for walks during the day (as opposed to pet-care while the client is out of town, which requires multiple daily visits) are in the $16-$20 range for a $20 minute walk. I've never had a client request anything longer. Charging by the hour seems weird to me, especially in a hot-weather climate.

What sort of legal things might i worry about?

You'll want to have a legal contact for a number of reasons. For one thing, the vast majority of our clients would not use us if we weren't bonded and insured. A legal counsel will help you with that matter. Also, in the random event something happens to an animal that is in your charge and you are threatened with a lawsuit, you'll want to have somebody you can contact quickly. Fortunately, this is something we've not had to deal with.

Re: Contracts -- Just my opinion, but don't bother. They're only worth the paper they're on and it's hardly worth your while. If you do wind up doing this, you'll quickly learn it's a very fluid business and flexibility is essential.

i'm sure there are things i am not asking that might be helpful to know!

A few questions I would encourage you (or anyone else considering doing this) to ask yourself:

- What services are you willing to offer and to whom? Strictly mid-day service to aid those that can't make it home during the workday? Service for those that are out of town? If so, to what regard? Weekends? Holidays? Overnight service? Pet Taxi service?

- Do you have reliable transportation? Do you have a business partner? Things happen. Nails in tires, wrecks (your fault or not), flu, family emergencies, etc. If you find yourself unable to fulfill your responsibilities for the day, how are you going to handle that? How will your clients respond to that? Even if everything goes well, are you prepared to work at least some portion of nearly every day of the year?

- Bear in mind that you will be self-employed and all that that entails. Paying quarterly taxes. Tracking expenses (especially mileage, at that will be by far your largest expense).

Feel free to MeFi-mail me if you've got any further specific questions.
posted by Ufez Jones at 3:50 PM on March 5, 2008 [2 favorites]

Be sure to talk with an insurance agent that deals with small businesses. Someones else's dog can be a big liability (i.e. dog bites, dog gets bitten, dog gets hit by car, dog runs off, property damage, you get sued, etc.).
posted by kuujjuarapik at 3:51 PM on March 5, 2008

well, ufez said it better..
posted by kuujjuarapik at 3:52 PM on March 5, 2008

Data point: here in the Chicago suburbs, I have a wonderful lady who walks my dogs (and has a lot of other canine clients, too), she does it without any kind of written contract, and charges $15 for a 30 minute walk. That's a private walk, not a group walk.
posted by iguanapolitico at 4:04 PM on March 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

My wife was a pet-sitter for a number of years (in NC suburbs). Her employer worked by herself plus a single employee. Charged $15 per visit...most clients were either working pro's wanting a mid-day visit (or twice a day), or wealthy people who traveled/vacationed a lot. Not a lot of paperwork/contracts/insurance but that's really up to you. I don't think NC has any licensing requirements (except a business license) but you'll want to check the state/city you're in. Your nearest courthouse can probably help.

It is mostly word-of-mouth, so if you're inclined to personal networking your best bet is probably to get some business cards and talk to everyone you know. If you can snag a few satisfied clients they'll tell their rich friends and you'll be off.

I would recommend you keep close track of your expenses to be sure it's worthwhile; gas is getting quite pricey.
posted by jjsonp at 6:32 PM on March 5, 2008

« Older Setting boundaries and graciously saying no   |   Looking for Goggles that should do nothing. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.