Updated: Aug 2, 2020
So you have taken the decision to leave that dreary job that makes Mondays a dread and trade them for happy puppies instead, then look no further, here is a proven step by step guide of how to build and grow a successful dog walking business. Taylor and Pooch started in 2016 and since gone on to win a national business commendation award, has also been voted in the Top 3 Dog Walkers within Hull for the last 3 years running. (18,19,20)
A little about me......
I'm Nick a former Royal Marines commando turned pirate hunter turned dog walker 😎 my life was turned upside down in 2015 and luckily put me on the path to starting this business.
If you would like to see my story and why Taylor and Pooch came to be, please watch here :)
Creating a brand
Back in 2016 when my business was only a dream the first process I went through was to create a brand, the name and logo was the first port of call. When it comes to a business name, it needs to be catchy, relevant, rememberable and ideally unique as possible especially in such a competitive industry. When you put that business name into google, you want to be the only business that fills that front page, if there are others in my personal opinion the name has to go. I feel very lucky remembering a childhood film of Turner and Hooch and being able to make clever spin off to create my business name 'Taylor and Pooch'. Having a location within your name can help people identify you as a local dog walker to them, this will also help with google ranking too but may have an impact on future business if you want to grow big and potentially franchise out.
Logo next - There are plenty of companies out there that will happily design your logo, as long as have you a few ideas, they will knock something up and tweak to your requirements but do your due diligence with these companies, read reviews or use someone you know (if possible) as there are some rip offs unfortunately (speaking from personal experience) I personally believe that creating a good brand, even before you have walked a dog is huge. It gives the base platform to grow from, looks professional and helps put potential clients at ease when all aspects of the business show that you care. I knew from the first moment what my logo would be and clear vision to put this in place, tying together my previous career within the Royal Marines and also my love of dogs (specifically bulldogs) plus a boxing bulldog wearing a green beret has always been an old school symbol of the Royal Marines add logo.
Here in lies the first very difficult decision when it comes to setting up a dog walking business which predominantly relies on budget. The vehicle needs to have capability for a good quality cage fit and needs to be as reliable as possible, nothing worse than having your van off the road last minute when you have the day fully booked up. Letting down the clients is never a good look and losing a days money is a pain plus the garage fees on top just rubs salt into the wounds.
As a base level entry you could always use your personal car and use crates etc to start with small numbers of dogs and look towards buying a van in the future once business has grown, however this isn’t without its own drawbacks. First of all it is not the safest method of transporting dogs in a professional manor on a daily basis, secondly a personal car doesn’t look particularly professional when you turn up to a clients house to collect their beloved dog in just a car and thirdly if a request to walk a Newfoundland, Pyrenees Mountain dog, or a St Bernard is received (i have walked all 3) where would they fit.
The next option up would be to buy a small van, Ford Transit Connect, Citroen Berlingo, Vw caddy, Peugeot Partner, Citroen Dispatch etc. These vans are fairly cheap to buy and run but you are then limited to how many cages can be fit, also their size. A small van would be able to fit 4 medium - large sized cages (2 rear, 2 side) with a double side rear door or 2 smaller with a single sliding door. The rear cages could be split providing 4 in the rear but could throw up a future size problem for a giant breed.
My personal choice was to initially go for a Ford Transit and then as business grew and a newer vehicle became affordable a Ford Transit Custom was the next choice. Other vans within the same size range are Mercedes Vito, Vw Transporter, Citroen Dispatch, Peugeot Expert etc. All these vans have very similar load capability and will all allow 4 good sized cages in the back and 2/3 good sized cages in the side with a multitude of sizing options throughout. Add pictures>>
All vehicles have their Pros and Cons which predominantly comes down to how big the budget is to buy one, allowing for a cage fit on top (which I will cover in more detail next) Looking at your business long term, a good purchase here will help, not only will a decent van provide a safe, professional looking vehicle but also less trips to the garage will always help (i have experienced the wrong side of this) I think the future for dog walking vehicles is electric, for cheaper running costs and a charge would cover a daily drive, whilst also being much more environmentally safe. Electric would also be more helpful with regards to the constant stop starting while picking up and dropping off dogs before and after walks.
Once the size and type of vehicle has been selected it’s time to select a suitable cage fit. There are two main options when it comes to fitting a vehicle out with cages.
Firstly the easiest way (but not always the best) is to find a vehicle that has already been fitted out as a dog walking van, either ex military / police or a lunatic dog walker that has decided to stop dog walking for some bizarre reason and re(purpose/use) those vehicles. This was the way that I regrettably went about starting my dog walking vehicle journey. My first van was an ex military dog van, a ford transit with a complete cage fit out already installed. These vehicles are usually high mileage and probably not the best priced due to having already been fitted out, saving the new owner the hassle (the hassle is most definitely worth it) moving me nicely onto the second and more viable option.
3 years into my business and my other business venture, (shares in the garage) I was finally in a position to upgrade the van. Which I personally wish I could have done straight off the bat. This time around was going to be better, and personally the way I would recommend if possible. Find the exact vehicle which you would like to use for the job and then take the van to a cage specialist to have them make a custom build to your own specifications for you and the van, GO BIG and definitely don’t go home. These are the guys that I used https://madaboutpetsuk.co.uk and I would highly recommend. With a big setup you can then accommodate any situation going forward and with a more reliable van hopefully less trips to the garage and more trips to the beach.
This is where the brand and the vehicle get tied together and is one of the best advertising tools out there (especially for the cost per view) when it comes to graphics the cost is entirely based on budget, starting off with basic magnetic signs for around £20-£30, or a full van wrap with medium detail for around £200 (the middle van) My latest vans I changed the design slightly and spent a little more, around £400 but that also includes a custom bonnet wrap (vans either side)
The sky is the limit but not always the budget. My latest vehicle wraps were done by https://www.mattvg.com they are amazing from start to finish.
Logo and name are prepped and ready to be placed onto a nice looking polo shirt, hoody and jacket. I personally feel that looking professional always gives off a good vibe to a potential client, a polo shirt with your details and logo plus some walking trousers and shoes / boots (I'm still rocking my afghan boots 😎) is a really professional look plus it’s also very appropriate clothing for the ever changing weather within the uk.
Having the correct paperwork not only helps cover your backside but it’s another element that helps the client know that you are serious about your new career. The main paperwork required is a contract Ts & Cs and also a checklist for the dog.
Contract - This gives both client and dog walker a good starting point and base from which the relationship is to be built from. A form that can set out basic rules and restrictions and also where liability ultimately lies while their dog is under the dog walkers control. You can set out minimum bookings and notice / charges for cancellations etc. This will also confirm whether the owner is happy for you to walk their dog off the lead - legal requirement for insurance. Owners best contact details, mobile and work plus their vets details are a must too.
Ts & Cs - This is predominantly where you set out the owners responsibilities throughout their engagement with the business, including but not excluded too - Vaccinations up to date, regular flea / worming, owner to ensure dog walker is aware of any behavioural traits (dog checklist form) emergency contact details, dog to wear a tag, access to their property plus a good place to lay out all booking / cancellation requirements.
Checklist for dog - When you first meet with the customer and their dog, this is a really handy tool that gives you a way to evaluate a dog before even walking them on their own, let alone with others. Rather than just going to meet both owner and dog, having a structured form with you can help you attain all the information required before starting dog walking. Which can include, their behavioural traits, how good the recall is, are they socialised, if they prefer big or small dogs, if there has ever been incidents with a specific breed, are they frightened off anything or will lunge towards a specific vehicle (buses / bicycles) handy to know before hand trust me, can you take things from them. This is also a good way to annotate where the dog will be located within the house and where the owner would like the dog putting back when dropping off in varying weather conditions and where towels are located for down pours.
I may include mine for download if anyone is interested? Let me know 🤓