Increase your odds of creating a successful dog walking business by following some important steps. Before your first dog walk, you'll need to set up a company, buy insurance, write service contract forms and secure any necessary police checks or council licences. Once these are in place, you can head out on your first walk and start growing your business.
Whether you’re just looking to make some pocket money or you want to establish a robust trade, here's what you need to do to protect yourself financially and help ensure your business is a success.
How to Set up a Dog Walking Business
Don't take your first booking until you've taken steps to protect yourself personally. This means setting up a business, buying insurance and getting the appropriate police checks and licence, if required. Those starting their first dog walking business might want to consider joining NarpsUK, the UK's largest association of dog walkers—they can be a great resource for sorting out the "business" side of your business. For more information, read our review of NarpsUK.
|Steps to Set up a Dog Walking Business|
|Form a business||For your protection if something goes wrong|
|Get Insurance||For your protection if something goes wrong|
|Police Checks||Required if you'll hold a dog owner's keys to pick up/drop off a dog|
|Animal boarding licence||Required if you'll provide accommodation for other people’s dogs or cats|
|Create a Service Agreement||Necessary to help prevent misunderstandings with customers by explaining the service being provided for the cost|
|What do you charge?||One of the first questions you'll be asked|
Form a Business
In the UK most businesses register as a sole trader, limited company or partnership. The simplest option is to establish yourself as a sole trader, but with this option you’re personally responsible for any debts your business incurs. A limited company may be more complicated from a reporting perspective, but the benefit is that your company's finances are separate from your own. For more information, read about setting up a business at Gov.uk.
There are many types of insurance you should consider buying to protect you and your business in the event something goes wrong. While public liability is probably the most critical, here are others to consider for your protection:
- Public Liability: Cover in respect of your business' legal liabilities to third parties.
- Professional Indemnity: Cover to protect your business against claims made by clients for loss or damage due to negligent advice or services.
- Employer's Liability: If you employ anybody (e.g., extra dog walkers for a growing business)
- Care, Custody & Control of Animals: May provides for Veterinary Fees, Death of Animal, Loss by Theft or Straying, Loss of Boarding Fees, Advertising and Reward, Animals in Transit.
- Custodial Responsibility: Cover in respect of costs and expenses incurred in defending or settling any claim for negligence made against you by any person utilising the services supplied by you under normal contract or conditions of business.
- Property Damage: Cover for damage by an insured event, including. Buildings damage insurance would cover outbuildings, annexes and extensions. Contents damage insurance would cover items such as dog and cat beds, feed bowls, portable heaters and office furniture.
- Other insurances: You can also get cover for money (e.g., lost cash or cheques), goods in transit (excluding animals), loss or theft of keys, computers, etc.
You'll need a basic check if you want to hold a dog owner's keys and enter their home, for instance to pick up a dog or return a dog home when no one else is in. The basic check will disclose details of any unspent convictions (in Scotland convictions are mostly spent after 5 years, and England/Wales after just one single year). You can request this criminal record check yourself through the gov.uk website. Basic checks cost £25 and are typically processed within 14 days. To apply, you'll need:
- All your addresses for the last 5 years and the dates you lived there
- Your National Insurance number
- A debit or credit card
- Your passport (if you have one)
- Your driving licence
Animal boarding licence
If you plan on providing accommodation for other people's cats and dogs in your home (whether overnight or just during the day), you'll need an animal boarding establishment licence. Fees vary by council, but expect to pay in the ballpark of £300 in total. This includes an initial application and inspection fee of around £150 (for administration costs as well as a one-time inspection to determine whether a licence can be granted or not), plus a second fee when your licence has been successfully granted.
Create a Service Agreement
Service agreements are crucial to help protect you and your business if anything goes wrong. Plus they help prevent misunderstandings with your customers, by spelling out exactly what service you're providing and for what cost. Additionally, you'll look more professional if you have these in place. If you're not sure where to begin, a NarpsUK membership might be useful for you.
|Examples of Dog Walking Business Forms|
|Pop In Service||House information Sheet, Key Release Form, Owner Checklist, Pop In Booking Form, Pop In Report Card, Pop In Service Agreement|
|House Sitting||House Sitting Booking Form, House Sitting Information Sheet, House Sitting Service Agreement, House Sitting Report Card, Key Release Form, Owner Checklist|
|Dog Walking||Dog walking Service agreement, Dog walking booking form, House Information Sheet, Key Release Form, Dog Walking Report Card|
|Doggie Day Care||Day care booking form, Day care service agreement, Customer check list|
|Home Boarding||Home boarding booking form, Home boarding service agreement, Home boarding Owner Checklist, Risk Assessment Policy for Home Boarding (This may be required by your local authority when applying for a home boarding licence)|
|Additional Pet Sitting Forms||Customer Invoice, Deposit Confirmation, Key Release Form, Veterinary Release Form, Medication Log, Medication Permission Slip, Pet Accident and illness Report, Pet Taxi Booking Form, etc.|
Working through your service agreements is a good time to establish the rules you'll follow. For instance, you can get ideas from the NarpsUK Code of Practice which includes, amongst other things, that you:
- Meet owners and pets in advance of the first booking
- Limit dog walks to 4 dogs at a time
- Not leave a boarded dog longer than 4 hours
What do you charge?
The average UK dog walker charges £10.37 for an hour-long walk, but dog walking prices vary widely depending on where you live. In fact, we found prices ranging from £5 up to £20 in a recent survey of DogBuddy, a dog walking website. Check prices in your local area or see our study on the average cost of dog walking across the UK to find out what fellow dog walkers charge in your area.
Growing Your Business
Once you've set up your business, it's time to start telling the world of your love for walking dogs in order to grow your client base. Dog walking is a big business in the UK, with a third of Brits owning dogs and 10% of dog owners paying for dog walking. The right marketing can help you access this large market.
|Growing Your Business|
|Get a Logo||Adds credibility to your business and reflects your style|
|Get some Gear||Advertise your business while you walk|
|Using Photos||To show you are both professional and a dog lover|
|Dog Walker Training||May help you stand out to attract customers|
|Find a Niche||May help you stand out to attract customers|
|Creating an online presence||Give dog owners a way to learn about you|
|Other ways to market your business||Get the word out!|
Get a Logo
A logo communicates that you are serious about your business and also tells potential customers a bit about who you are. To get started, look for ideas on pinterest. Once you have some ideas in mind, you can get a logo for just £5 from fiverr or Fivesquid.
Get some Gear
Once you have a logo, invest in some personalized clothing to look professional and advertise when you’re walking. For example, you can buy a waterproof winter parka for £34.35 with embroidery. Embroidered gilets, windbreakers and hats are even cheaper.
You'll need a main photo for your website or other online media. A professional-looking photo can instill confidence in potential customers. Take a look through the DogBuddy website to see how different photos make you feel. A blurry image of someone sprawled on a sofa with a dog doesn't exactly scream "I'm the dog walker for you!" nearly as well as a photo of human and dog playing companionably in the park or walking along a wooded trail. See if a friend will take some photos as they'll look more professional than selfies.
Once your business is up and running, post regular photo updates on your website or social media to show you're active and that you walk a variety of dogs. Photos of dogs in action are most effective. For example, take a look at Jamie Shanks' photos at Bishopton Dog Walking Service—you can tell he loves dogs and the dogs love his walks!
Dog Walker Training
Taking courses such as pet first aid, dog handling, animal behaviour and animal care aren't required but can help boost your knowledge and your appeal to dog owners. In addition, if you're starting your first business then you might benefit from some relevant business courses.
Find a Niche
If you live in a busy area, it's critical to stand out. One way to do this is picking a niche market or audience. For instance, perhaps you specialize in dog walks for bulldogs (there are lots of them around!), you always brush a dog at the end of a walk or you clean their feet. If you're a baker, make handmade dog treats for your walks (and hand out little packages to your dog owners). Or be known for teaching dogs a fun trick. Anything for a leg up.
Creating an online presence
Potential clients will feel more at ease if they know more about you. The easiest way to accomplish this is through an online presence. There, you can share photos, write a bit of your story, display references, etc. Either create your own website using a platform such as Wix or Squarespace or create a profile on a dog-walking site such as DogBuddy or with a NarpsUK membership.
Those who are serious about creating a top-notch website can learn more about web design trends, which can help with the credibility of your site. If your site looks professional and current, potential customers will naturally feel the same about your dog walking business.
Other Ways to Market your Dog Walking Business
- Social Media: An easy way to share photos and news of your walks with a large number of clients quickly.
- Personal Recommendations: Spread the word (and business cards) to everyone you know that you're in business so they can recommend you to other people.
- Leave Flyers: in local shops, grooming parlours, pet stores and vet surgeries
Finally, one of the keys to any successful business is responsiveness. Customers will really appreciate a quick, positive reply to their enquiries. A surefire way to help win over customers.