When thinking about how to start a dog walking business in the UK, we suggest there are seven main things you need to consider.
Even before you take the formal steps to creating a dog walking business, having a good knowledge of dogs and plenty of experience is essential.
Whether you have your own dogs, take out your friends’ dogs, or offer a service to your neighbours, that know-how is going to be important when you really get going.
If you don’t know of anyone who has their own dog it could be worth visiting your local kennel to see if they require any volunteers.
You can gain a good grasp of the fundamentals of canine behaviour by spending extended periods in their company.
While these early stages may not make you a huge amount of money, you will begin to become accustomed to taking care of multiple dogs at any one time.
You don’t necessarily need to go through any training to gain a qualification, but by doing so you demonstrate that you are serious about what you do.
This could be the Professional Dog Walkers Certificate, studied with The British College of Canine Studies or something more general such as a qualification in dog first aid, like those available with Compass Education.
Setting up your own dog walking business is a relatively cheap business enterprise, but there are some costs you do have to consider.
Do you need to buy a specialised vehicle to transport your canine clients around in, for example? If so, remember that you will need to declare that you are using your car or van for business purposes on your car insurance.
There’s also the subject of maintaining a regular income. As the owner of your business, you can obviously decide how much or how little work you take on from your clients. However, there’s no guarantee that you will receive a constant stream of dog walkers wanting you to walk their dog.
Think about the outgoings you will have throughout the year; whether you need to buy dog leads or treats, for example, petrol costs for travelling to your clients and the various other costs such as insurance and advertising spend.
Then, consider how much you will need to charge and how many dogs you will have to walk to make your desired yearly income.
As much as it might seem that as your own boss, you make the rules, this is not true.
There are a number of restrictions you need to consider when walking your canine clients. Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs) are put in place by local councils in order to restrict the number of dogs in specified areas.
This could mean a ban on dogs in a local park or a restriction on the number of dogs you can walk at the same time.
Even if a PSPO doesn’t exist in your hometown, you need to consider your capabilities. Walking a large number of dogs at a time (regardless of their size) increases the risk of an accident. Protectivity Insurance limits the number of dogs a walker can take out at a time to six.
If you are covered by our Dog Walking Insurance you need to stick to this number at all times.
Although not strictly a requirement, having your clients sign a contract is always a good idea too.
This means you have a record of your clients agreeing to your terms of service, emergency procedure and payment terms. If anything were to go wrong, and a disagreement followed, you could be exonerated by the signing of the contract.
Once dog walking is no longer a hobby but a business, you need to take steps to make it official. Firstly, by registering as self-employed with HMRC, you avoid any legal issues when it comes to paying tax and national insurance.
Make sure you keep up with any self-assessments and tax returns or you may risk paying fines. It’s also important to get a DBS check. This will show potential clients that you have a clean criminal background and are a trustworthy walker.
Once you’ve started operating, think about the multiple ways in which you can attract new clients to use your services.
This could be something simple like producing some business cards and flyers or placing an ad in the yellow pages.
Having a website you can direct people to is also a great asset as more and more people spend vast amounts of their free time online.
Advertising on social media networks such as Facebook can be an excellent way to reach your target audience in your location, for a relatively small outlay. Read our blog on the subject here.
One of the biggest ways to increase your appeal though remains word of mouth.
By delivering a great service to your existing clients you increase the chance of them recommending you to their friends.
Why not offer an incentive? It could be that for every friend a customer refers to you, they get one free walk for their pet. It’s all about being creative with your marketing efforts.
In order to stand out from the crowd, it’s important to carry out research on your competition. Take a look at who else is offering dog walking services in your area and then consider the following:
What do they do well?
Are they missing a trick somewhere?
How much do they charge?
Are they targeting the same audience as you?
Do they offer any additional services (grooming, sitting etc.)?
Do you need to tailor your approach to gain an upper hand?
Whilst taking out dog walking insurance isn’t a legal requirement, it is strongly advised that you take out comprehensive cover to protect yourself and your business should an incident occur.
When a dog walking hobby becomes a professional business, you take on responsibility for more than just yourself. Customers will entrust their beloved pet to your care, so it is important that you are protected from unforeseen problems that may occur.
Common types of claims include dogs jumping out of vehicles and injuring themselves, dogs attacking cats, dogs or humans and causing injury, and (believe it or not) members of the public tripping over dog leads!
It therefore, pays to protect yourself – and the finances of your dog walking business – from the risk of costly claims.
Public Liability cover will protect you if one of your dogs in your care damages anyone’s property, attacks another dog or injures a third-party.
You can also cover yourself for the vet bills if a dog in your care is injured, regardless of whether it’s your fault.
This is known as Care, Custody and Control cover, which protects any animal in you are responsible for (other than your own.).