I like variety—so along with writing on a daily basis, I also walk a collection of motley hounds and actually get paid for it.
When you start to research setting up a dog walking business in your town, you are going to find that your competition is in all likelihood well-established and gain most of their business by that great advertising medium ‘word of mouth’. So how do you compete? How do you get to be 'Top Dog'?
Become an Expert
A dog walking business is often a very simple business model in that you don’t need a lot of customers to make it a viable business, therefore, providing a specialist service for your target customers would allow you to stand out of your crowd. Here are a few ideas:
- You could be the only ‘100% organic’ dog walker in your area, providing only organic treats for your canine clients as well as using organic poo bags.
- You could specialize in certain breeds, specifically if those breeds have a reputation for being difficult to manage (which might put off other dog walking companies).
- What about ‘doggy’ fitness? Dogs (like humans) can often become overweight as well as unfit, so you could potentially put together a specialist programme to help your canine clients lose that excess weight.
- Why not specialize in young dogs which have a tendency to prefer being with other young dogs and want plenty of exercise/play sessions, or on the other hand, you could specialize in walks for older dogs—the emphasis on slow-moving, more relaxed walks.
- Depending on where you live you could provide ‘wood’ or ‘beach’ strolls, so the dogs get a different perspective on their environment to their usual ‘evening walk around the block’.
The key should be to offer something that makes you stand out of amongst your competition; not needing too many customers allows you to do this. This brings me to the next point.
Build a Fantastic Website
Before you even start your business, you will need to check out the neighborhood competition and their websites. If the competition has been around for several years, chances are they set up their website when they started their business, and the website might have started to look a little tired and old by now.
This gives you a great opportunity to hit potential customers with a fantastic first impression by having a ‘clean’, easy to use, modern and professional-looking website. Remember first impressions are everything, the completion might be able to get away with a sub-standard website (for a while) but you can’t. Stand out with a good-looking website; it will be the first place a customer looks to find a dog walker.
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Because some folks think that a dog walking business is easy to put together and run—you will come across competitors who don’t go into it too seriously, i. e., they don’t act professionally. From a prospective customer's standpoint, this is good news for you; you need to be the opposite—becoming professional helps develop trust, as well as puts the customer’s mind at rest when it comes to who is looking after their dog.
Here are a few things you can do to let your prospective clients know you really are a professional:
- Be at your appointments on time when you meet up with them at their homes and when you pick up their dogs for their walks—nothing signals ‘unprofessional’ like being late.
- Have the appropriate business insurance policies, and ensure your customers know about them.
- Read up on and attend any courses you feel are appropriate regarding canine behavior—be knowledgeable.
- Attend a certified canine first aid course—again make certain your customer is aware of this and advertise it on your website.
Do an Introductory Visit
This is a must. Whenever a potential client gets in touch, arrange an initial meeting with them, as well as their dog. This serves two purposes, the first which is to fill any necessary paperwork; get contact information, keys, etc.
The second purpose is to promote yourself and the services you provide; basically, this simply gives you an opportunity to put your would-be customer’s mind at rest regarding the type of person you are (i.e., trustworthy and professional). They will see you playing and interacting with their dog which will make them more willing to take you on as their dog-walker of choice.
There are various other ideas to help you stand out from your competition such as text messaging the customer while you're out with his or her dog to let them know what their dog is up to or sending them a photo from your mobile phone. When looking at the competition, search for what they are doing right, but in addition, look for what they have ‘missed’, that missing thing may very well be just the differentiation you will need.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2014 Jerry Cornelius