If you love dogs and enjoy spending time around pets in general, you may consider opening your own dog walking or pet sitting business. The pet industry is a burgeoning industry with an average yearly growth of 5% and, in 2016, was valued at nearly $3 billion. While there is high competition in this industry, a principal advantage of opening an animal business such as a pet sitting or dog walking business is that the startup cost is relatively low, as the main investment is time rather than high-tech equipment or expensive supplies.
Opening your own pet business can be fun, but you will need to do all of the legwork to ensure that your business can indeed be successful. This requires knowledge of invoicing, managing the business finances, advertising and marketing efforts, and other aspects of running a business that is required for a successful business launch and eventual expansion if your business is profitable in its early stages. The pet industry can also be very competitive, so two ways to ensure your business’s success are to offer consistently strong customer service and to inform the public on the utility and benefits of your services.
How Do I Start a Dog Walking / Pet Sitting Business?
Once you’ve decided that starting a dog walking or pet sitting business is the right venture for you, consider the following first essential steps you will need to take to make your dream a reality:
1. Research your target market.
The ASPCA estimates that over 78 million dogs are owned in the United States. This represents a huge earning potential for dog lovers seeking to get involved in pet sitting and/or dog walking!
This may sound obvious, but if you do not have enough dog or pet owners in your local area, you will encounter difficulties in establishing a new pet-centered service company. On the other hand, if there are too many competing pet services companies, this will make it more difficult for your business to thrive. Therefore, do some research and determine whether there is sufficient demand for dog walkers or pet sitting in your area. Some places may have a plethora of such services, so in that case, you will need to work on developing a niche which can help set you apart from competitors.
To learn more about how needed dog walking and pet sitting services are in your area, you can utilize a number of resources, including local pet stores and pet groomers, and classified ads in the newspaper or on Craigslist. Oftentimes, pet owners will take out ads in the newspaper or online and advertise if they need to find someone to walk their dogs or care for their pets. You may also want to visit your local dog park and inquire among dog owners regarding pet care services they wish they had.
2. Obtain any additional training necessary.
Even if you love pets, you may require more specialized experience in walking dogs or taking care of the pets you will be sitting in your business. While there are few formal requirements for animal care and service workers, you will likely require at least a high school diploma and a state driver’s license. Examples of skills needed in a professional dog walking service include how to use animal transportation cages, pet nutrition, and how to use leashes. You may want to consider volunteering at the local animal shelter or take a dog training course. If your new business venture is focused on dog walking, make sure to familiarize yourself with many different dogs so that you can confidently offer a diverse range of services to a variety of dog breeds. You may also want to obtain training in pet first aid to be able to assist your clients’ pets in a variety of emergency situations.
3. Make sure to obtain all of the required licenses for your new business.
Along with the fun part of your business as a professional dog walker and/or pet sitter – spending time with animals – you will need to be very meticulous about obtaining the proper licensing and ensuring that your business adheres to all local, state, and federal rules and regulations.
Obtaining a business license is the most common legal requirement for new ventures of all types. However, the exact legal requirements for your business will vary depending on the state in which you live and the structure of your business – check out our post on choosing a business entity for more information on how to choose your business structure and why it’s so crucially important to make the right decision regarding the structure of your business entity. While a sole proprietorship is a popular choice for many freelance businesses, a more structured business entity for a venture such as a dog walking service can protect you from lawsuits which can drain your personal assets. Because you are caring for pets, you may want to opt for a business structure which can enable you to obtain legal protections and separate personal and business assets, such as a limited liability company (LLC) or corporation. A lawyer can also help you decide on the best business structure given your company’s needs.
In terms of licenses, you will likely require a business license. Check with your local authorities for the complete licensing requirements needed to register a business in your state, as licensing requirements typically vary from place to place.
You will also need to be aware of local regulations such as dog sanitation rules which require dog walkers to pick up after their dogs; leashing laws, which require that dogs must be on leashes; and zoning requirements, if you decide to opt for a pet sitting service, to ensure that pet sitting is indeed allowed in your area.
4. Establish a contract that your clients will sign.
Businesses in the animal care industry typically ask their clients to sign a contract which contains the terms of the services provided. Any new clients must sign the contract before you can begin working for them.
Your contract should enumerate the terms of the service you provide: e.g., your responsibilities in the pet service, how your client will pay you, and the overall terms of your dog walking or pet sitting service. Your contract should also cover cancellations and include an authorization clause which enables you to obtain emergency medical care for the pet in the event of an emergency. The contract should also contain a clause which holds the owner responsible for damage done by the dog or other pet while you are providing the service.
5. Consider investing in an insurance plan, and if you will have employees, bonding.
Obtaining a business insurance policy is a must for your business, to cover for any damage done to or by the pets under your care. There are insurance policies specifically available for pet sitters and dog walkers which can protect you, the business owner, against being sued if a pet causes damages while under your supervision.
If you hire a staff of pet sitters or dog walkers, you may also want to consider investing in bonding to protect you in the event that an employee steals from one of your clients.
6. Create a business plan and set pricing and services.
A business plan is a document that establishes a business’s future goals and strategies to achieve them. Your business plan should include your business vision and business idea, market analysis, explain how you will manage and organize your business, delineate your future services, and lay out a marketing strategy. Your business plan should also explain where you will find funding for your new business and make financial projections. If you need to obtain additional startup funds for your pet services business, you will need to give details about how you will obtain these funds in your business plan.
Your business plan can help you determine your startup costs and help you set pricing for your service offerings. It’s possible to start a dog walking service with less than $10,000 in your bank account.
7. Determine your marketing strategy.
Marketing and advertising your own business doesn’t always have to be expensive. Some grassroots approaches to consider include visiting dog parks to pass out business cards and appeal to dog owners in person or even having a large magnet containing your business info created to apply to your vehicle to spark interest in those sitting beside you in traffic.
In terms of an online marketing strategy, you should set up a social media presence for your dog walking service. Social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter can be excellent marketing tools. Make it a point to claim social media handles for your business on all of the top social platforms and create a business page containing your contact information and description of services. Set up a website, as well, where potential new clients can find out more about your services and how to get in contact with you. In establishing your website, look for a domain name which is short, easy to spell, and accurately conveys the mission of your pet care service.
Word of mouth is also a powerful way to bring in new clients and can be a great source of referrals. When you gain new clients, make a note of how they found out about your service – whether they learned about your business from a friend or family member, via the internet, or from flyers around town – so that you will know which forms of advertising are most effective.
Regardless of how you choose to market your pet services, consistency is key for any new business. It’s important to make sure that your chosen business name, phone number, website, and logo are consistently the same across all marketing assets to avoid any confusion and ensure that you’re building proper brand awareness.
Pet aficionados may be interested in opening a dog walking or pet sitting business, and should do so only if they have a good understanding of all the different factors that go into establishing a new small business venture. Dog walking jobs, or pet sitting, can be very rewarding for people who love pets. Doing research into your local target market can ensure that your new pet services business is successful from the get-go. You may also want to reach out to professional organizations dedicated to pet sitting with help getting started in your new venture. The National Association of Pet Sitters is a national non-profit organization dedicated to professional pet sitters.
While it is not a good idea to offer too many services in your initial business launch, you may want to branch out and offer additional services when your business is more established and you have built a loyal clientele. If you own a successful dog walking service, you may want to offer additional related services such as pet sitting, dog grooming, a pet taxi or transport service, a pet daycare business, a pet bakery, or a pet photography studio. These businesses can have low startup costs and if you already have developed a customer base, offering, for example, pet sitting for a client’s dog that you walk, can serve as a lucrative way to help your clients obtain the pet care services they need.
While many new businesses fail because they do too much too soon, utilizing the steps delineated above and starting small will help your pet services business become established and grow slowly over time, which will increase its chances of being successful in the long run.