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How to Start a Dog Walking Business
If you’re unfamiliar with the ins and outs of owning a dog walking business, it’s easy to have an overly-simplified view of what it takes. Certainly, the size and scope of the business drastically impacts the effort required to run it, but to make it a fully-fledged, profitable endeavor requires planning and formalization.
Dog walking is a relatively new profession, appearing to have started when Jim Buck began the first New York City dog walking business in the 1960s. Initially walking dogs on his own in the early hours of the morning, Buck eventually went on to manage two dozen assistants who collectively walked more than 150 dogs a day. As of 2019, dog walking is a $1 billion industry, growing an average of 4.6% every year since 2014. IBIS World attributes this consistent growth to an increased demand in pet sitting and care services as more U.S. households adopt dogs.
For an industry ripe with opportunity for growth, small business owners may find themselves at a disadvantage when it comes to competing with on-demand dog walking businesses like Rover and Wag. A solid gameplan, thoughtful marketing strategy, and a competitive service offering will become table stakes for any dog walking business that hopes to outlast the competition.
In This Dog Walking Business Formation Guide
There are a ton of details to consider when starting a dog walking business. Swyft Filings understands that the beginning stages of any new business can be overwhelming, so we provide support in the formation and legal filing process to ease an otherwise tedious and time-consuming step.
In this guide, we’re breaking down some of the complexities involved in starting a dog walking business, from first establishing your scope to market research and formalizing a growth plan. Armed with this information, you should have everything you and your furry friends need to hit the ground running!
What to Expect When Starting a Dog Walking Business
Before you can even determine what your business will look like, it’s prudent to gain a better understanding of how the industry is performing as a whole. With that information, you can make more informed decisions regarding how to set your dog walking business apart from the pack.
What’s the dog walking landscape like in 2019?
The rise of the on-demand and gig economy
The dog walking industry, and the pet industry in general, are undergoing similar fluctuations and influences to other industries due to the boon of the on-demand marketplace. Websites like Amazon and Chewy.com make it easy to order a range of affordable and high-end pet supplies without going to the store. Pet owners are able to schedule dog walking services via apps on their phones. Monthly subscription services send new treats and toys for pets to their homes.
As the owner of a dog walking business, the main companies you’ll need to keep an eye out for are Uber-like apps that offer on-demand, in-home dog walking and pet sitting services. Rover and Wag, specifically, are saturating the market.
These online businesses essentially facilitate everyday people to make extra money on the side by walking people’s dogs or taking them into their homes for a short period of time. The benefit from a pet owner’s perspective is that scheduling walks or sits is relatively easy through a mobile app and they are typically sent lockboxes to stash spare keys. So the main draw here really is convenience.
We’ll take a moment here to pause and say that if you’re someone who’s looking for a side hustle, rather than someone looking to start a business that you can grow, working with an on-demand pet service might be an appropriate route for you. You’ll benefit from built-in payment methods and an overall lack of responsibilities for business operations.
If you’re looking to start a scalable business, on the other hand, you’ll have to go out on your own.
So how does a locally-operated dog walking business compete?
There are two key methods of standing out: leveraging what’s currently working for larger, on-demand apps and providing something additional that they don’t offer.
When determining the budget for your business, see if there’s any room for conveniences like lockboxes that you can send to clients. Small steps like that make it easier for pet owners to choose you by reducing the efforts on their part to utilize your services.
Creating an app with scheduling capabilities may be out of your scope, but there are other alternatives you could look to that are still simple. For one, allowing pet owners to text a designated business phone number to schedule walks or sits keeps them from having to make an actual phone call.
Beyond convenience, you have the benefit of more access to understanding your market better than national competitors. Talk with pet owners you know or read message boards to learn more about their pain points and wants. Maybe your community feels weird about letting strangers into their homes. Meet that desire by providing complimentary consultations with you or your employed walkers/sitters so they can get a sense of who you are and introduce them to their pets on their own terms.
Figure out what the current gaps are in pet services in your community, and fill them. For many people, their pets are highly-valued members of the family. Knowing that their pets are in the care of loving and compassionate walkers who will go above and beyond is priceless.
How much does it cost to start a dog walking business?
Starting a dog walking and/or sitting business can cost less than $2,000 upfront, but varies depending on optional or state-specific costs. Here’s a breakdown:
Pet Business Insurance - around $130 and up annually
This is a cost well worth the price. Pet care business insurance protects you and your employees from unforeseen circumstances that would otherwise cost you an arm and a leg. The cost of insurance will depend on the coverage you choose.
Here are a couple of pet business-specific insurance providers:
Business Licenses - Varies
Different U.S. states will have their own business license requirements. Check out the U.S. Small Business Administration website to determine what, if any, licenses you must obtain in your state to operate your dog walking business.
Creating and maintaining a website - $5-$50 per month
Even if you’re unable to create an app for your dog walking business, it’s essential that you at least have a clean, easy-to-navigate website with pertinent information regarding your hours of operation, contact details, etc.
There are many website hosting services available to you, such as Wordpress, Rocket Website Builder, or Squarespace. The cost of hosting varies. You’ll also need to pay annually for a domain name (more on that soon), which you can do through service providers like GoDaddy.
Educational and Training Programs - Varies
Investing in relevant training will not only make you better at your job, but it will also add a sense of confidence to pet owners who are trusting you with their animals. There are plenty of online courses, like PSI’s Professional Pet Sitting as a Career, that can provide you with useful tips for both every day and the unexpected.
Supplies - Varies
Dog walking supplies typically include:
- Poop bag
Owners will likely have the supplies you need, but it’s always a good idea to have extras just in case.
How much do dog walking business owners make?
The profit of your dog walking business depends on a few key details:
How much you charge
Dog walkers typically charge per walk. The longer the walk, the higher the price. If there’s a customer who’d dog you walk on a consistent basis, you may consider providing a bulk purchase discount.
Prices for dog walking services vary by region but typically cost between $15-$30 per walk, plus an additional $5-$10 if there’s more than one dog.
Another way to slice costs is by offering private walks vs. group walks, with group walks costing less. This could, however, require you to pre-vet group walk dogs to determine their attitude towards other dogs. You always want to ensure the safety of animals in your care is of the utmost importance.
The volume and cadence of your service
Obviously, the more walks you do the more money you’ll make. Your best bet for profitability is to keep flexible hours that accommodate your clientele. Though a vast majority of your walks will likely be in the mornings and around lunchtime, expect to work outside of typical 9 to 5 hours.
Hiring additional walkers
Depending on how aggressively you want to scale your business, you may want to consider hiring additional walkers to help expand your service. This will, however, also increase your expenses, so you’ll need to do the math to make sure your business will still be profitable with the extra help.
Managing Your Dog Walking Business: Key Decisions to Make
Now that you have a better understanding of the current state of the industry, it’s time to make some key decisions about how you’ll run and operate your dog walking business. Below, we’re hitting on a few areas that you’ll need to tack down on:
If you’ll work on your own or hire help
As mentioned previously, hiring additional walkers will expand the scope of how many dogs your business can service. When first starting off, however, it might be wise to establish demand on your own while also teasing out the finer details of your business.
You’ll know it’s time to hire help when the demand is too great for you to meet it.
Before you can even schedule your first walk, there are specific details you must have the answer for, such as:
Hours of operation
If you’re unsure what your hours of operation should be, check out what your competitors are offering and also consider what hours are realistic for you. Availability in the morning and throughout the day is crucial, but you can decide if you will also work on weekends or in the evenings.
Private or group walks
Offering both private and group walks is probably a safe bet to cover all your ground, as you’ll be accommodating owners with dogs who don’t play well with others, as well as owners looking for less expensive walks or more socialization.
There will be many occasions where you’ll be walking a dog who’s owners aren’t at home. A lockbox is a secure method for accessing someone’s home. Depending on the frequency of your walks or how well you know the owners, however, they may be open to providing you with a spare key.
There are a few ways you can approach this, such as having pet owners text or call, email, or fill out a form on your business site. Be sure, whichever communication method you choose, that people are sending you requests and information in a way that’s easy for you to organize.
How much you will charge, and payment methods
This is an area where you’ll really need to do your research, ensuring you’re not charging more than competitors in your area.
As for payment methods, leveraging an online billing software is recommended over cash, as it’s more convenient for owners. For business owners, it also makes it easier to have a documented list of transactions that you can reference and report on during tax season.
Offering additional services
Depending on your capabilities and experience, it might be prudent to offer additional services, such as training, grooming, or pet sitting.
Once you’ve identified your policies, create contracts that both you and your clients sign to signify that you agree on these terms.
How you’ll market your dog walking business
When creating a marketing plan for your dog walking business, it’s best to pursue a few different avenues to drive more sales. The benefit of providing a service like dog walking is that pet owners are actively looking for you, meaning you don’t have to convince people they need you. To meet the existing demand in your area, make sure you’re business is easy to find.
Here are a few ideas for how to market your dog walking business:
Network with other dog walkers
There’s no need to be intimidated by other dog walkers in your community. Building professional relationships with other walkers could lead to invaluable advice, as well as referrals for when they’re too busy or if there’s a dog that isn’t a good fit.
Place fliers in relevant locations throughout your community
Paper fliers with informational tabs people can pull off and take with them are very appropriate for a local business like a dog walking service. Think about the areas in your community that have bulletin boards or spots to hang fliers, such as coffee shops, churches, vet offices, dog parks, and community centers.
Create Yelp! and social media profiles
Informative profiles on Yelp! and on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram make it easy for people to find you. Here are a few ideas for how you can leverage these online profiles:
- Facebook: Join local pet and dog-focused groups to spread the word about your business and learn about the needs of pet owners in your area
- Yelp!: Ask clients to leave reviews for your services via Yelp! Pet owners are placing a lot of trust in you, so having positive reviews can speak volumes and make people feel more comfortable leaving their dog in your care.
- Instagram: This is the perfect opportunity for you to share adorable dog content from your walks. Doing so will give prospective customers a sense of what you’re like and what they could expect. Owners will also love seeing their furry friends having a good time! Side note: To protect the privacy of your clients, get permission from pet owners before posting pictures of their animals.
Share business cards with local pet shops, clients, family, and friends
For a local business, word-of-mouth referrals are one of your most valuable assets. Create informative business cards that you can share and display in relevant, appropriate locations.
Getting Started: 5 Steps for Formation
Step 1: Choose a business structure
The entity type you choose for your dog walking business will influence important details such as asset protection, tax laws, and operational implications. Fortunately, there are very clear cut differences between each structure that should make it easy to determine which one will be best for you.
Many novice dog walkers will likely start as a sole proprietorship, which is the default entity when a business is started by one owner. While doing so is the easiest option, it also leaves you in the precarious position of being personally liable for all debts and legal obligations.
Limited Liability Company (LLC)
To place the liability on the business instead, we recommend forming an LLC. In addition to protecting your personal assets, LLCs also are easy to set up and allow for some flexibility on taxes.
Dog walking services that are just starting out likely don’t require a corporation entity type, which is mainly leveraged by larger companies that are looking to attract investors and lower tax rates.
If you’re interested in learning more about different business structures, check out our guide for comparing business structures.
Step 2: Pick a name
Choosing a name for your dog walking business is a crucial step in your business formation process. For any business, the name is most often a potential clients’ first impression of the business. Your business name doesn’t need to be overly complicated—keep things simple and concise.
Check out our business naming guide for ideas on how to brainstorm the perfect name, as well as what you’ll need to do to secure and claim ownership of that name.
Step 3: Purchase a domain name and claim a social media handle
Once you’ve chosen and secured the name for your business, take immediate steps to purchase a domain name. Ideally, your domain name will perfectly match your business name, but that’s not always possible.
Word to the wise, if you can’t secure your business name for the domain name, consider adding signifying letters or removing words like “the”. For example, let’s say your business name is “Dog Walker.” Here are a few domain names that would all work for your website:
You’ll also want to claim a media handle, as social media platforms will be one of your main avenues for marketing and getting the word out about your dog walking services. It should be simple and short (while also unique) so that people can easily search for and find you. If possible, keep it the same across all avenues, including Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
Step 4: Obtain business licenses, permits, and insurance
As discussed earlier in this guide, obtaining pet care insurance is vital before building your business. You’ll also want to check with your local and state ordinances to ensure you’re remaining in compliance with regional and state-level requirements for business licenses or permits.
Step 5: Consider opening a business bank account
We highly recommend keeping your business and personal finances separate. Here’s why:
- It’s easier to calculate and pay business taxes
- Avoid personal liability
- Simpler revenue and overhead tracking
- Cleaner bookkeeping
- Provides a clear picture of your business’ profitability and cash flow
Let us know if you need help starting your dog walking business!
Compared to other business types, starting a dog walking business is relatively affordable and easy to do. A love of dogs, the motivation to spread the word about your business, and a solid business plan are all you need to start building up your client list and providing walks.
If you need help with the legal aspects of your business, like choosing an entity type or securing a registered agent, contact the business experts at Swyft Filings for assistance. You start your dream business. We’ll take care of the paperwork.