Starting a dog walking business sounds like an exciting venture for any animal lover. It’s a great way to combine your love for dogs and your desire to run a profitable business. But before you dive in headfirst, there are a few things you need to consider to set yourself up for success.

These include what kind of business structure you’ll use, how you’ll market your services, establishing procedures that keep your business operations running smoothly, and planning ahead for ways to grow your business. Keep reading to learn all about how to start a dog walking business that will grow and thrive.

First steps: establishing your business and brand

Starting a service business is exciting, but there’s also a lot riding on your first decisions. If you want to start a successful dog walking business, you’ll need to lay the proper groundwork.

Choose a business structure

First, you’ll need to decide whether to operate your business as a sole proprietorship, or a limited liability company (LLC). A sole proprietorship requires minimal paperwork, but it also means unlimited liability. An LLC provides more protection from business-related liability, but you’ll have more forms to fill out.

Obtain licenses and permits

Once you’ve chosen a structure, register your business and obtain the proper licenses. Most cities require any business owner to get a general business license or a permit to operate from your local government office. You’ll also need licenses or certifications to handle animals, like a kennel license. Don’t forget to get dog walking business insurance that covers liability in case of any incidents or injuries as a result of your work.

Define your brand

Branding is an important part of starting a business, because that’s how people come to recognize and remember your company. Choose a memorable and catchy business name and logo, and create a professional website that makes it easy for people to discover your business and services online.

Establish business policies

It’s important to set a clear cancellation policy and rules about scheduling, payments, and more. For example, you could require 24-48 hours notice for cancellations, to avoid losing business, and ask for payment in advance. Decide which payment methods you’ll accept — the more options you offer, the more likely you are to get paid on time. All-in-one business management software like vcita lets you accept online payment from credit cards and bank transfers.

Set business processes

Begin on the right foot by setting up streamlined business operations. vcita’s user-friendly platform includes an easy online booking system for clients to schedule services, online payment processing, CRM software for you to organize all your client details, marketing tools, and invoicing software, all in one place.

Building your client base: marketing, advertising, and referrals

Building your client base is key to starting a successful dog walking business. While you’ll want to set up a website and social media profiles to help spread the word, don’t underestimate the power of referrals and word-of-mouth marketing. Here are some key steps to take to make sure that everyone knows about your dog walking business.

  • Spread the word

Start by letting your friends, family, neighbors, and vet clinics know that you’re officially open. You could drop off business cards and flyers at vet clinics, and post on neighborhood Facebook groups and Nextdoor. It can also help to join pet sitting organizations and networks in your area, so you can get to know other pet pros and look for opportunities to cross-promote your business.

  • Ask for referrals

Word-of-mouth and personal recommendations are some of the best ways to find new business, so ask your happy clients if they have any friends or neighbors who need a dog walker. Offer an incentive like a free walk or discounted package for any new clients they refer. You can also ask clients to leave online reviews on sites like Google, Yelp or Facebook, because positive reviews help to build trust and credibility, leading to more new clients.

  • Suggest discounts and special offers

Discounts and deals are a great way to get new clients in the door. Once they see how great your service is, they’ll likely continue as regular clients at your normal rates, so it’s worth lowering your prices initially. Try offering a discount for new clients, like 10-20% off their first month of walks, or a bundled package like a special rate for people who sign up for multiple walks per week.

Streamlining day-to-day operations with business management tools

Once you have your business set up and a core of customers, you’ll want to find ways to streamline your business operations and make them as close to effortless as possible. You want to spend time caring for your doggy customers, not doing paperwork. As a service-based company, scheduling, invoicing, and customer relationship management (CRM) software will be essential tools for running your dog walking business efficiently.

Scheduling software

A scheduling system allows you to organize your dog walkers’ time, book new clients, and keep track of recurring appointments without it taking hours of your time. vcita’s booking widget syncs with your calendar so you can immediately see your team’s availability on any device. Scheduling software also helps you dispatch jobs, automatically schedules repeat customers, and sends reminders through email and SMS to prevent no-shows.

Online booking system

With an online booking system, clients can schedule, cancel or reschedule walks on their own. This saves you time answering the phone and replying to emails or text messages, and helps reduce irritation for customers who don’t want to have to wait for you to be available to confirm their scheduled dog walk. Be sure to implement a cancellation policy to avoid last-minute changes.

Invoicing software

Manual invoicing can take up to 17 hours of time — unless you use invoicing software, which generates professional invoices in just a few clicks. It pulls information from your CRM and scheduling system to fill in the invoice automatically, which reduces the risk of errors. The faster you invoice, the sooner you’ll get paid.

Payment processing software

Most scheduling software integrates with payment processing so you can charge clients right after a walk is completed. Determine your payment policy upfront—will you require prepayment, accept payments on the day of the walk, or charge at the end of the month? Offer flexible options like bank transfers, credit cards, mobile wallets, and cash to accommodate all clients.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software

A good CRM system helps you keep track of your clients and their pets, so you can provide dedicated service to each customer. Once you enter details like contact info, location, vet records, and any walking instructions into cloud CRM software, you’ll be able to see all the information at a glance from any internet-enabled device, even when you’re out of the office. This way you’ll always know each pet’s favorite foods and routes.

With the right tools in place, you’ll be able to focus on building great relationships with your clients, and providing the best care for their furry family members.

Delivering excellent service with effective business policies

Providing excellent service is key to building your dog walking business. Focus on the details that will keep your clients happy and their dogs well cared for.

Complementary services

When you offer multiple services, you’ll be able to provide a better experience for your customers. For example, offer a pet sitting business alongside your dog walking services. It’s also important to define services upfront to avoid any disappointments, like determining how long and how often you will walk each dog, or what time overnight pet-sitting begins and ends. It’s important to draw up a clear contract that outlines all services, fees, and policies.

Cancelation policy

You understand that emergencies happen, so you need to create a fair cancellation policy, for example, requiring 24 hours’ notice for a single walk cancellation without charge. For multiple walk or pet sitting cancellations, consider charging a percentage of the total cost. Be willing to make exceptions for legitimate emergencies. There are lots of ways to prevent last minute cancellations. Having a flexible yet firm policy will earn you goodwill with clients.

Payment policy

Setting up a clear payment policy helps define expectations and avoids unpleasantness about late payments. Decide if you will require full payment in advance, especially for overnight pet sitting. For new clients, you might ask for prepayment or a deposit for the first job. Your customers will appreciate it if you accept multiple payment methods, like cash, check, credit and debit cards, and PayPal or Venmo. Using an online booking and payment system like vcita allows clients to easily schedule and pay for services on your website.

Your dog walking business is on the path to success

It will take work, but with the right tools, policies, and business processes in place, your dog walking business will be well on its way to success. Continually improving your services and keeping clients happy are the keys to growth. CRM and business management software, like vcita, helps streamline operations so you can focus on growing your business. With dedication, passion for your furry clients, and tools like vcita that save you time and effort, you’ll be scaling up your business in no time.