Being a student in UK means that you often have to get creative about your finances. Specifically, how to make money from steady side businesses, to help put yourself through college or school. And even if you aren’t a student, there are multiple instances where you’d find yourself needing an additional source of income, maybe one that doesn’t require intensive or full day effort. One such terrific method is dog walking.
It’s worth serious consideration, when you think about how to start a dog walking business in the UK. As one can imagine, it’s not a business that requires a major upfront startup, but there is some planning involved.
For starters, as obvious as it sounds, you must be comfortable around dogs to begin with. If you or your partners are allergic to dogs, then it’s not a viable endeavour. Or at least, someone with allergies can’t actively be around dogs for long periods of time.
Keeping your Dog Under Control and Calm
And it’s not just about occasionally playing with your neighbour’s dog. You must be understanding of how to assert yourself around dogs that aren’t listening to you. You need to have good command of communication skills. You should also have a good grasp of canine body language. It’s not all as simple as wagging tails and raised hackles.
To be able to control dogs out and about on walks, you should be able to read them thoroughly. (Oh, and their owners too, to some extent). A good idea for inexperienced beginners is to spend some time volunteering at animal shelters, to get used to picking up their signals.
Whether a dog is frightened, or trying to intimidate you, or nervous and anxious, or simply hungry and angry, there is a broad spectrum of emotions that they show and that requires variable management. Trying to calm a hyperexcited dog and an aggressive dog require entirely different management approaches. So if you’re walking a new dog, for example, and he gets worked up about something he’s encountered (whether it’s a shifty looking person or a squirrel), you have to be able to regain control and guide him back into your regular path without using excessive force. Cruelty is in no, no way forgivable.
Understanding any Rules and Regulations
Secondly, make yourself aware of the current dog walking rules and laws in your particular area. There are no blanket rules for a dog walking business but there is more to it than clipping a retractable lead onto a dog’s collar, and leaving him be on the streets.
There are pet sitters’ and walkers’ associations to the same effect, with structures on how to keep records, factor in having to clean up after ‘poop accidents’, rates and charges, recommended time frames per walk, etc. You will need to have a framework in place for bookkeeping, even if you have a small setup in the beginning. Your clients will appreciate the professionalism and you will thank yourself for the completed paperwork later on.
This is also a good opportunity to mention licences. Find out if your area requires you to have a licence before you can dog walk/sit. Some places may even require you to have a contract before you take a client on. But this isn’t any cause for worry. Your contracts can be simple termed agreements – they don’t have to be endless legalese for every Pekingese!
Thirdly, once you’ve established your neighborhood of reach, figure out your rates. It’s always a good idea to keep a flexible rate structure, depending on the types of neighborhoods you’re centering yourself in. Start small, establish a few good working relationships, and then think about expansion.
Marketing your Business
But before starting? Marketing! Posting flyers, online notices in community forums, and good old word of mouth- all of them will get you a toehold into dog walking.
Parks are always a smart place to begin. Accessing main walkways and frequently used routes helps you reach a large segment of your target audience. Also, once you start walking even a couple of dogs, people will see you in action- you’ll practically be a walking banner for your business. Another common hotspot is vet clinics. Most vets have a noticeboard in their waiting area where you can leave flyers. Similarly, you can leave flyers outside neighborhood supermarkets as well (those that allow it!).
Social media is your other big platform. Accessing groups active around you helps you identify hotspots to target. Also, online is the easiest way to make a positive and interactive image for your new business. Whether you use Facebook or Instagram, if your initial content is positive, you will pull in a lot of attention. Geotagging events, maintaining an active social media presence- all these go a long way. Whether you use your Snap stories or go Live on Instagram with the adventures of the dog(s) you’re walking, it will draw a crowd. Oh, and you need an eye-catching name!
Which brings you to the next big one: referrals. Ask your first few customers (particularly the ones you know you’ll work with regularly) to recommend you to their friends, if they’re satisfied with your service. This helps you collect feedback as well as establish a network of reliable and reasonable customers. And ask anyone who has worked retail- ‘reasonable’ goes a long way!
This is also where you should seriously consider how much time and manpower you plan on investing. For example, whether you want to run this as a side business, or expand into a full on setup later, should decide how much time and money you put it. Is this a side job while you study? Or is this going to pay the bulk of your bills down the line? Maybe both?
The idea is to take over a chore that most people can do themselves. But when you appeal to their sense of time management and efficiency, there’s no reason why your dog walking business can’t become a regular feature for many households- as many as you can comfortably manage!