Starting a Pet Care and Dog Walking Business
Pet Care/Dog Walking
Once the exclusive domain of neighborhood kids looking to make a few bucks, pet care and dog walking has now become a real business niche.
The pet sitting industry even has several professional associations, like Professional United Pet Sitters, LLC . There are also several Internet-based directories of pet care providers. Pet sitters and dog walkers may visit homes on a route, spending 20-60 minutes with each animal, often walking or exercising the pet. Rates for this service may run between $14 - 20 per visit  or more.
Dog cleanup services are also offered by some pet care providers. Often referred to as "poo removal" or something similar, dog cleanup services can bring anywhere from $35 per month and up for residential weekly cleanup service, depending on the number of dogs that use the yard. Commercial dog cleanup accounts can also be secured. Yard deodorizing services may be offered for an additional fee.
Getting Started with Your Pet Care Business
Word of mouth marketing to friends and family can be a good starting point for your new pet care and dog walking business, as can marketing through Facebook  or other social media sites where you are already in contact with people you know.
The pet care and dog walking business should require very little overhead to start. You will probably use your vehicle to commute between client locations, but little else will be required. Most pet owners will probably already have their own pet collars and leashes for walking their pets. Other supplies will already be at the home. You may want to bring along a shovel, rake, or other equipment to clean up after pets, but your customers may already have this equipment available at their home.
Marketing Your Pet Care Business
The pet care or dog walking business might be a good candidate for guerrilla-type marketing - at least when you are first starting out. Guerrilla marketing involves low-cost, high-impact marketing that is often considered "below" more established businesses .
Direct marketing to target neighborhoods through direct mailings or door hangers can be a good way to connect with prospective clients in targeted geographical areas. However, this type of marketing will include some cost for printing and postage. VistaPrint  is a good source for postcards and door hangers should you choose to try this type of marketing.
Business cards are always a good idea, as they allow you to hand any potential customer all of your contact information on a card that they can take home with them. Business cards also help you to present a professional image. Business cards are inexpensive, and can even be ordered free from companies like VistaPrint .
Another direct marketing approach is to purchase a mailing list of prospective clients. List services like Melissa Data  allow you to order a custom list with just the demographic you are seeking, whether new homeowners, new businesses, homeowners above a certain income range, and more.
Since most people involved in the pet care and dog walking business will probably drive to client's houses, the importance of lettering your vehicle should not be overlooked. Whether you have vehicle signs made or vinyl lettering applied, this is a winning marketing strategy. Remember, every time you visit a client's house your vehicle will be parked in the street or driveway in front of their house. Having a mobile advertisement like this can be a powerful marketing tool that may help to secure new clients in neighborhoods you already work in.
Setting up your own website can also be a good marketing strategy. Your website allows you to present yourself and your services to prospective clients in ways that you simply cannot do on a postcard or in a brochure. A well designed website will also be easily found in a search engine when clients search for pet care and dog walking services in their city or town.
Cautions and Potential Pitfalls
Many businesses need some type of insurance. You will want to notify your auto insurance company if you are using your vehicle for this route business, particularly if you decide to put signs or lettering on your vehicle. Various types of liability insurance are also available, and some are specific to this industry.
A good contract or service agreement would certainly be advised in this business. Your service agreement should address things like frequency of service, what the service includes (and does not include), the cost of service and when payments are due, as well as matters like access to the property to care for the pets. You may also choose to address issues like responsibility for pets if they are injured or lost while they are in your care.
The pet care and dog walking business is a good business for someone who likes animals. This business requires little overhead and expense to start, and can truly be started on a shoestring budget. This business is also well suited to operating as a part-time, home-based business.