Here in the UK, we are a nation of dog lovers.
It is no surprise that in 2019/20, 23% of households own a dog.
One thing a dog needs most above food, water, love, and attention is a good walk!
Because people are busier now more than ever, dog walking becomes difficult to fit in every single day.
This has given rise to a boom in dog walking businesses. Chances are if you live in any village, town or city in the UK you’ll have access to someone who will walk and care for your dog whilst you’re out at work or attending to other priorities.
Dog walking businesses are extremely popular to start – this is for several reasons:
- You get to spend a lot of time with dogs
- It’s relatively cheap to start
- You can choose your working hours
- It can be well paid
- Easy to expand and grow
- And, it’s great exercise!
But you likely know all this if you’ve clicked on this article!
What we’ll do in this article is break down all the vital steps to starting a dog walking business and explain how to execute them in order to give your business the best chance of succeeding.
We’ll also build up a financial plan along the way, as even though you might want your business to stay small, it’s always good to keep track of your cash flow, balance sheet and profit and loss, to ensure your business is in the best possible position.
With that said, let’s get started with the first step. Market research.
(P.S. you can use our handy table of contents below if you’re looking for help with a particular stage!)
Conducting market research to find your target audience and competitors
You might be thinking, a dog walking business is so small and local, you don’t really need to do all these steps.
But, by doing all these thoroughly, it will give your business the best chance of survival.
Many people have heard of this, but when asked, don’t really understand it fully.
Market research is about gathering useful and accurate information about the businesses and customers you are going to be selling to.
With the end goal being able to use this information to base your business decisions on. You’ll attract more customers as a result of doing good research and obtaining good data.
Generally, market research can be split into two categories:
- Finding out about your target audience
- Finding out about your competitors
There’s not really a right or wrong order to do these in, so for the purposes of this guide, let’s start with finding your target audience.
The first step in identifying your target audience is to ask yourself: what kind of person or organisation would actually be interested in or buy your product/service?
If your answer is simply, “people who own a dog”. Then you are correct.
But we can narrow this down much more.
Not everyone who owns a dog is in need of a dog walker.
Owning a dog is a big commitment and many people who do own a dog will have a member of the family who is able to walk it on a daily basis.
So although these people own a dog, they are definitely not a part of your target audience.
So you need to dig deeper.
The question to ask yourself is:
- What type of dog owner needs a walker?
Let’s narrow it down a bit.
The ideal customer for a dog walking business is someone who:
- Works during the day
- Works 5 days a week
- In a couple where both work
These conditions are how you should narrow down your audience – constantly ask yourself questions about who would need your service.
The research doesn’t stop there though – this is just the first step!
Now you know who would buy your service, you need to know where they are!
Most dog walkers, especially those who are just starting, will limit their service to a specific radius.
For example, if you live in a small village, then you know your limits. But if you’re based in a town or city, you might want to limit to a number of miles from a postcode, 5 miles is usually a good shout.
You want to keep it local to start with. This will allow you to pick up dogs quickly and establish yourself as reliable and friendly.
Places to look for business would be your local paper, magazine or town hall. People will often advertise for services wanted, which will give you an indication of demand.
Perhaps one of the better ways to find local people in need of your service is to look on social media sites.
You can use Facebook’s groups feature to search for local community groups.
People on these groups share services and concerns within a community, they’re a great place to see where your audience is. You can find dog specific ones too!
For example a quick search of my local town + dogs on Facebook brought up this group.
There’s 222 potential customers for a business in that group alone!
Facebook is not only great for finding your target audience, but also for finding your competitors!
Identifying and analysing your competitors
Now you know who and where your audience is – you need to identify who they are already buying from.
Chances are, if there’s demand for a dog walking service in your community, then someone is already supplying it!
When you’re looking for your audience, you can also look for competitors. Local magazines, newspapers and town halls will all have potential spaces for dog walkers offering their services.
Facebook groups like the one listed above will also offer great opportunities to research your competitors.
If you find any, you should take note of:
- Areas they service
- How long they walk for (i.e. 1, 2 hour walks)
- Whether they only service specific breeds
- What other options they offer, i.e. boarding
- Pick up and drop off routines
Now, you might not be able to find all this information out from a glance in a magazine, as they will have word limits.
So, the rest of the information you might be able to find from a Facebook or Google search of the walker.
Failing that, be cheeky, drop them an email or phone call! Just don’t say you’re conducting research for your competing business!
You should conduct this research for as many businesses as you can find – knowing as much about them as you can is vital to helping your business be as competitive as possible.
It’s not easy to draw business from other dog walkers, so knowing how to beat them at their own game is essential if you want to succeed.
Choosing the right business model for your dog walking service
For those who are unaware, a business model is, in short, a description of how your company will go about making a profit.
More broadly, it is a complete overview of the operations of a business, the type of customers you’ll be approaching, what and how you’ll sell to them and how all these different parts interrelate and support each other.
There are many different business models – and probably some that haven’t been discovered yet!
You can find many more by internet searching for your business type + “business models” online.
But for a small dog walking business, you only really have one option.
That is direct to the consumer, you’re providing a service directly to the customer, there’s no middleman.
The most important thing is evaluating your costs and how much you can expect to charge a customer for your service.
You might not fully know how much your costs are going to be yet, and that’s fine, but it’s a good idea to start thinking about roughly how much it’ll cost you to run your business – as this’ll feed into the next section.
Pricing strategy for dog walking
From your market research and competitor analysis, you should have a good idea of how much others are charging per dog, per walk in your area.
For example, my beagle gets walked for £10 a day, that’s for a one hour walk with other dogs. She’s picked up from the house and dropped off there around 3 hours later (the walker lets the dogs run around her enclosed garden for a bit after the walk).
Our walker also offers boarding, at £25 a night, dog sitting and as solo walks – price for these is on request.
This is very competitively priced for our area, some walkers are known to charge up to £25!
So this is where your research comes in.
If I were to start a dog walking business in my area, I’d know that perhaps going cheaper might be a good option, provided I was able to make a profit on that. Or, I could focus on 1-1 walks at a higher price.
You shouldn’t just undercut the cheapest walker in your area, of course, this is an option, but you shouldn’t feel that this is your only option.
Look at your market research and see what your audience wants, maybe it’s an affluent area where people will pay top dollar for 1-1 walks, or maybe you’ll offer 2 hour walks for larger dogs.
Carving out your own niche is important for differentiating yourself from the competition and bringing customers to you.
Promoting your dog walking business through effective marketing
The same way you conducted your market research is also the same way you should focus your marketing efforts.
Keep it local.
Use local papers or magazines, some of these can be relatively cheap to place an advert into and will be hitting your area only.
You can also try dropping leaflets through doors or putting up notices on community boards.
Facebook and other social media platforms will be where you garner most of your customers though. Groups like the one listed earlier are invaluable for finding customers, Facebook has done the hard work for you and put all your potential customers in one place!
Check group rules though before you go promoting your business, some won’t allow direct promotion. The best thing to do is to engage with other people, show your knowledge of dogs and help establish a rapport and trust with people.
These methods should be the bread and butter of promoting your business.
Other online methods are possible, but will cost more and be significantly less targeted – so for starting out, I’d say the above are your best bet.
Setting up and running your dog walking business
Did you know that you need a license for dog walking? Or that it’s best to be first aid trained?
Turns out there are quite a few things you need to do before you can start walking someone else’s dog but don’t worry, we’ll cover them all here.
There’s quite a lot to cover in this section, so we’ll break it down into different subsections, starting with…
Registering your business
If you’re in the UK, you’ll need to register with HMRC. As you’ll likely be self-employed, you need to complete a self-assessment tax return each year – where you’ll pay income tax and national insurance.
It’s super important to keep records of all the dogs you walk, how much you spend on items for the business, i.e. bowls, leads, vehicles (if applicable). This is so you don’t overpay on your tax.
Other countries will differ, so make sure you check, a visit from the tax man is the last thing you want!
You don’t need a license to walk other people’s dogs – however there are a few courses that you can take.
These give you another certification to add to your advertisements and add an extra level of trust.
However, this doesn’t mean you should ignore certifications, some green spaces in the UK will only allow licensed walkers, so we’d recommend getting certified.
Courses can be relatively cheap and, amongst other benefits, will prevent a nasty unexpected fine!
This last one isn’t a license as such, but it’s worth considering joining the National Association of Pet Sitters and Dog Walkers (NARPS).
It costs £25 for the year and gives access to a whole host of benefits including, but not limited to:
- DBS checks
- Free listing on Find a Local Pet Sitter
- £100 Discount off the UKRS Accredited Pet Sitting and Dog Walking Business Course
- Membership to the largest Pet sitting and Dog Walking Association in the UK and Membership Certificate
You can find the whole list of benefits here.
Yes, there’s insurance for dog walkers! It falls as part of public liability insurance.
This is essential.
It covers you if one of the dogs you walk gets run over, attacks livestock or another human.
But it’ll also give your customers a degree of confidence that you’re professional and covered if anything does happen.
There are several business laws and even more dog associated laws you must comply with when running your business.
The Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005: This involves picking up dog feces, keeping dogs on leads where required, and more.
Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953: This one ensures that the dogs you walk aren’t any threat or concern to farmers and their livestock.
GDPR: ensure you protect your customer’s information, and have it available or be ready to delete it at the customer’s request.
There are several more that you might want to be aware of, depending on the services you’ll offer as part of your business – the Kennel Club created a handy leaflet explaining them all in greater detail here.
Running your business
Now that you’re set-up, insured, and aware of laws and licenses. You might want to reassess how you’ll run your business.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself before going ahead.
- How many dogs do you think you can reasonably control at once?
- Are there any breeds you will omit?
- Will you meet with the owners beforehand to assess a dog’s suitability?
- Will you offer any other services, like dog sitting? These may require additional training and or licenses.
Asking yourself these will help narrow down how you run your business and ultimately how much you can charge.
If you can only walk 4 dogs at a time and charge £10 for a walk, bearing in mind that most people will want their dogs walked in the morning. Is £40 a day enough to cover your costs?
Or will you be able to fit 2 sessions in the morning? Or can you handle more dogs?
Carefully consider the answers to all the questions you ask yourself, only take on what you can handle and ensure that you have enough to cover your costs at a bare minimum.
If you’re going to price yourself out of business, then reassess whether you can add any additional services, like dog sitting, boarding, or grooming.
Website and online presence
People rarely look things up in the yellow pages nowadays, your online presence will be the biggest generator of customers – so it’s crucial you get this right.
As we’ve alluded to throughout this article, social media is your best friend.
It’s free, can be highly targeted and a great communication platform.
In fact, having a Facebook page can be so good that it can replace a website when you’re starting out.
If you’re intending on keeping your business local for the foreseeable future, then I’d personally recommend just having a Facebook page instead of a website.
The reason I think Facebook pages are great is:
- You can list services directly onto the page
- They come with built-in, free, analytics
- Messaging service built-in
- Free to start and advertisement is relatively cheap (compared to Google ads)
- Perfect for interacting with groups, as this is one of your main promotional methods.
- Built-in review system
Check out how my local walker has her page set up (for her privacy, I’ve covered all personal details)
This is free to set up, and functions exactly like a website! She also has a message pop-up when you land on her page, prompting interactions, see below.
But I can have a website too, right?
Of course, you can have both a social media presence and a website, but websites require building, maintaining, paying for a server and domain.
These all cost time and money, something you might not necessarily have when you first start out.
If you’re intending on growing your business beyond your local area, or delving into franchise opportunities then a website is necessary, but not immediately.
It might be worth considering having an Instagram page, also free and mostly image based, however it doesn’t have the same networking options that Facebook does.
Because of this, Instagram will never be your main driver for gaining clients, but is a good way to drum up awareness.
Funding your dog walking business
Funding is usually the make or break for many startups. But one of the reasons a dog walking business is so popular to start is that it costs relatively little to start.
In fact, most dog walking businesses can be started for under £1000, provided you don’t need to purchase a van.
Because of this, you won’t enter any formal processes of applying for funding, such as approaching investors or banks.
The only considerable costs (i.e over £1000) you might need to consider is buying a van, and any custom branding you’d like on said van.
It’s a good idea to have a van with crates to house the dogs whilst you transport them to your walking location.
Vans are also useful for entering other people’s houses, owners might not be happy about you bringing 3 or more other dogs into their house to pick up theirs!
However, even if you do need to buy a van, you wouldn’t need to apply for formal business funding, you’d only be applying for a finance deal through a car dealership or purchasing one second hand.
The financial plan
On to arguably the most important part of starting any business. Your financial plan.
You should be returning to your financial plan often and forecasting the future of your business.
Forecasting is essential if you want to remain in budget, ensure you’re not running out of cash, if you plan on expanding, even if that’s just bringing in another staff member and exactly how much you’ll be making from your business.
Now for this section I’ll be building a plan in Brixx and breaking it down step by step – you can follow along by starting a free 14 day trial, (don’t worry, no credit cards!) or you can download any of our Excel & Google Sheets templates here.
Section 1: Setting up your plan
When I start a new plan in Brixx, I’m given this screen.
I’ve set my plan length to 3 years, I have VAT turned on (as you’ll need to do this!) and my currency is GBP.
It’s as simple as that – l now hit “create plan”.
Section 2: Income
Now for my dog walking business, I’ve got 3 different product offerings.
The first is a group walk. I charge this at £12 (£10+20% VAT) a walk and will run two sessions a day.
An early morning session and a late morning session. I take 4 dogs per walk.
I offer this Monday – Friday and expect that initially I’ll only be taking 2 dogs per walk for the first 3 months, until my customer base grows.
My customers pay me at the end of each day for each walk.
So for the first 3 months, I’ll be taking £48 a day, 5 days a week from the group walks.
This gives me an income of £240 a week.
In “units” (each walk is classed as a unit, the same way if you sold t-shirts, each shirt would be a unit) that is 90 units a month (20 x 4.5).
So I’ll enter this into my plan.
We can now save and close this.
My other 2 offerings are:
1-1 walks, which I run on the weekends, charged at £25 a walk. I expect to sell 4 of these a month for the first 3 months.
I’ll enter this into my plan…
My second offering is dog boarding, which I run 7 days a week, charged at £30 per dog, per night. I expect to sell 10 of these a month for the first 3 months.
Costs of sales
Costs of sales are costs that are directly linked to your sales. In a t-shirt business, this would be the cost of raw materials, printing, design and distribution.
In a dog walking business, thankfully, there aren’t many.
For a group walk and 1-1 walks, I don’t have any direct costs of sales except petrol for my van.
This is a negligible cost and as I walk locally, I only need to fill up once a month, this costs me, on average, £50 a month.
So we’ll add this as a linked cost of sale to the group walk component in Brixx.
My boarding does have some linked costs of sales. I need to provide food for the dogs. This costs £2.00 per dog, per night.
I enter this as a cost per unit sold.
And that’s it for my income! But you might have noticed I said “for the first 3 months” a lot, so…
What happens after the first 3 months?
So, like any business, I expect to grow.
Your business most likely won’t be running at full capacity from the moment you start.
As my reputation and trustworthiness grows, I expect my client base to grow too.
So after the first 3 months I expect to be running at a higher capacity.
So I will expand to:
- 4 dogs on each group walk.
- 2 1-1 walks at the weekends
- 20 dogs boarding, per month.
Now I need to go back to my plan and add this growth in.
This is where Brixx really shines. I can simply go back to my components and click “enter in table” and adjust after the first 3 months. See the image below for an example of how I’ve done it for my group walks.
It really is that simple. Now I’ve grown to as much as I can manage by myself. I might need to think about bringing in an extra pair of hands, but more on that later.
Section 3: Assets
Assets are tangible or intangible items that the business owns.
This could be a vehicle, land, intellectual properties etc.
But in the case of your dog walking business, it’s going to be things like:
- A van for transporting the dogs
Typically assets will depreciate over time, this is where your assets lose value due to wear and tear but for items under £100 they’re not subject to depreciation as much.
In the case of my business I’ve got a van that I’ve purchased for £5000, this will depreciate in a straight line, at 10% per year, over 5 years, where I expect to sell it for scrap and buy a new one.
I’ve kitted it out with 8 crates for the dogs. Each crate was £50.
I’ve also bought several bowls, leads and toys, we’ll bundle these together under “misc items” as the cost for each of these was low and doesn’t warrant each having their own component. The total cost of all these was £200.
So let’s add these assets to our financial plan.
We can see here that that’s a hefty upfront cost on our cash flow – I’m not sure I can afford the van upfront, so let’s spread that out over 3 years.
In Brixx, I’ll add a new component in the funding section.
I’m entering this as a loan, for £5000 to be paid evenly over 36 months, with an annual interest rate of 7.5%.
We can see here that I’ve now got £5000 to cover the cost of the van, but I am paying £138.89 back each month.
This £138.89 will need to be considered as my months go on, as I’ll be paying it for the next 3 years. I need to ensure that my marketing and other running costs don’t get in the way.
Section 4: Other startup costs
We spoke earlier about marketing, insurance, and getting accreditations from courses.
I’ve decided to join NARPS, I will take the accreditation course and I am getting dog walking insurance, the breakdown of these costs are:
Insurance = £73.59
Accreditation = £199 (with NARPS discount)
NARPS membership = £25
Both NARPS and insurance are annual costs, so I will set these up to occur annually.
Finally, I’ve decided to do some local and online marketing.
I’ll be putting some adverts in my local magazine and newspaper, as well as running a small social media campaign to boost the awareness of my business, I’ll be doing this on Facebook.
The print adverts will run me £50 a month until I tell them to stop. Social media spend is capped at £25 a month.
I’ve added all these to my plan and now my cash flow looks like this…
That’s all my costs and revenue forecasts in now, let’s have a look at the dashboard on Brixx to see how we’re doing!
This shows us a wealth of information, and it looks like we’ll start making a profit by the end of September and growing healthily from there.
Because we’ve got some nice growth going on, perhaps I should expand the business?
Growing and expanding your dog walking business
Now, not everyone will want to expand their dog walking business, plenty of people like to keep them small scale, but a lot of people will bring in an extra pair of hands somewhere down the line.
Bringing in an extra pair of hands will help your revenue grow without having to spend a lot more money, in fact you can keep a lot of things the same, you’ll just be paying an extra member of staff.
In my business, I can see that by the end of 2020 I’ll be making a healthy profit, and I’ve decided to bring in my friend to help.
He will help me with the group walks, effectively doubling the number of dogs I can take on those walks.
I’ll be paying him £6 per dog, per walk. A total cost of £1080 per month.
So let’s revisit our plan and add him in as an employee from Jan 2021, I’ll also be able to do 16 walks, instead of 8 on a weekday, so I will edit my forecast for group walks to reflect this as well.
This is what my dashboard looks like now…
Pretty healthy growth.
This is as far as I expect most of you will go with expanding your business.
If you want to grow further, things become a little bit more complex, and you may need to change your business model. So this is something you should consider before starting your business. How much do you want to grow?
The financial plan is something you should return to often, it’s not a set and forget deal. It’s also a good idea to place your actual sales in and compare them with your forecast, because let’s be realistic, nothing ever goes to plan!
So there we have it.
An in-depth guide on starting a dog walking business.
One of the most popular businesses to start as, as you can see, they’re pretty easy to get going and have minimal startup costs!
One issue is, their growth potential is quite limited, but as you can see from my financial plan, it is possible to earn a decent wage off this line of work.
Remember you can always build your financial plan in Brixx, we’ve got a free trial, no credit cards required, for you to model your business.