How to start a dog walking business

Dog walking is a labor of love. I started my dog walking business 8 years ago and It really all started out of love. My love for animals and my love of being an independent working girl. While at UCSD my college dorm room hermit crabs and beta fish were just not cutting it.  Sure, we had epic hermit crab races, but I missed my dogs back home and my childhood golden had just passed away. My best friends and I moved into a tiny beach shack  at Windansea beach and I desperately wanted to have my own dog. But I knew that in order to make that dream come true, I needed to be able to make decent money to pay for vet bills and that I would need to have a job that allowed me to bring my dog to work. That’s when I started walking my neighbor’s golden retriever and then I walked my other neighbor’s golden and then before I knew it I was walking five dogs on my street. That’s when I knew that I struck gold, no pun intended.

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With a full-time college work load, a restaurant job, a modeling contract with Jet Set, and an office admin job at a tutoring center, I started my first business called Wagz n’ Wigglz. I was a very busy girl. I made wonky looking fliers on Microsoft Word and ordered t-shirts off of Vista Print for $5 each. I charged $8 for a half hour walk and a whopping $15 for an hour walk. I was in business. I would proudly tell everyone I met that I have a business called Wagz n’ Wigglz and that I would love to walk their dog and all of their neighbors’ dogs too. I learned at an early stage that word-of-mouth and client referrals are everything. I put my heart and soul into taking care of my pack of dogs. I absolutely loved each and every one of them and I still do. I would talk to them all day long and I turned into a weird dog lady. I remember the day that I got my first ever five day a week client, a german shepherd named Isabella. She was a floppy goofy 6 month old puppy and the two of us became best friends. That was 8 years ago and to this day we are still taking sweet Bella to the park everyday. I would take her and a group of 5 other dogs to the dog park in my old 1997 Camry. We’re were quite the sight coming down the road with a car packed with fur and windows smeared with nose prints.

Before I knew it, the phone was flying off the hook and I was trying to fit 8 dogs in my Camry. So I started taking two groups of dogs to the dog park and then I would walk a few dogs after the dog park and then a few more in the evening. I was finally in a position where I could let go of my admin assistant job and I was getting into my junior year of school so I managed to take all of my classes just three days per week in the afternoons. I was on a mission to make enough money to get my golden puppy and to invest money into my expanding business.  In the mean time, I convinced my adorable college sweetheart (now fiancé!), Matt to get a golden puppy. That’s when we got Taj and life got even sweeter. But still, I had to get my very own dog so I continued to work as hard as I could so that I was completely self-sufficient (at 19 I really didn’t want to still be asking my dad for money) and so that my parents couldn’t say anything once I got my puppy. With a few modeling gigs I was able to save up a little nest egg for my puppy. I was also able to put money into rebranding my business as DogZenergy and build my first website. I brought home my little Daisy and all of my hard work became worth it. I was in LOVE.

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I was also in love with my growing business. In between studying and writing papers, I read every business book and dog training book that I could. My business was growing so fast that I realized that I needed to keep up. I needed to get a DBA, get a business license, keep track of my profit and loss, become accredited, get insurance, and create a “real” business. Not just a I’m-doing-this-on-the-side-to-make-extra-cash gig. I also needed to get a real dog mobile. That’s when I decided to say good-bye to my beloved Camryella. I put her on Craigslist for as a “Sexy Camry for sale, it’s what’s on the inside that counts” for $2300 and I woke up at 6:30am the next day to a Russian voice on the phone asking to come look at my beat up smelly car right at that very moment. I raced outside to clean up my car and was pulling fist fulls of fur out of all of the cracks in the seats when 4 Russian men in black leather jackets came up to me in the alley. They weren’t the least bit worried about the major dog smell or fur in every crevice or ding or dent on the side of the door. They gave me straight cash and that was it. I was afraid they were going to throw me in the trunk and drive off with me, but it was all good. Anyway, I don’t know why I’m telling this story when I’m supposed to be talking about how I started DogZenergy.

With all that cash I put a down payment on my first tricked out dog mobile. I took it straight to the car wrappers and told them I wanted big, bold and flashy. I wanted a modern day Dumb and Dumber mobile. And that’s what I got. Huge neon green paw prints on the front and sides with my signage all over it. And that’s when my business really blew up. I graduated college and by that time I was taking 12-15 dogs all by myself to the dog park and making $200/hour. I was taking care of 30 dogs per day and working 7 days per week. I ALWAYS said yes to every clients requests, I always had a smile on my face, I always made sure to treat my clients like family which a lot of them really did become like family, I always loved each and every dog with all of my heart and I always went above and beyond the call of duty. I got pooped and peed on, on a daily basis and I was always covered in slobber and hair. And I was happy but always tired. That’s when I decided that I couldn’t do it all. I didn’t want to get burned out and I wanted to make sure that even though I was getting more and more clients, I needed to be able to give everyone the same amount of attention and love. I read both Michael E. Gerber’s “The E-Myth” and Tim Ferris’ “The Four Hour Work Week” and those books became my bibles. I decided to turn my business into a system with operations in place in order to streamline things like scheduling, dog walking protocols, client communications, new client sign ups, and invoicing. All to make my life easier with the growing demands and continue to provide really good customer service.

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I hired my first employee, my amazing mom and that’s when life got so much better! She’s my best friend and my business partner. She’s the best manager that I could ever ask for because she goes above and beyond the call of duty. She’s a momma bear when she needs to be to protect our business and she’s a loving mom to all of our employees and clients. She’s the absolute best. My mom started walking dogs with me and then we started to hire employees. Hiring employees was a whole new ball game. What I’ve learned working with animals is that animals are simple and people are VERY hard to train. It’s hard to find good people and to find people who are as devoted and dedicated to your clients as you are. Thank goodness for sweet Brandi who joined our team a few years ago who is the biggest dog lover out there (she rivals me) . She’s a people lover too and is the sweetest person you’ve ever met with the biggest heart. We’ve had so many other wonderful employees who have taken such good care of our DogZenergy dogs, that have been college students or friends looking for a fun part-time job.

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With more employees, I stepped up our marketing and advertising efforts. I’ve tried some crazy things like advertising on bus benches, doing farmer’s market dog sitting, participating in pet parades, attending pet surf contests and even got a short gig on the Natural Companions holistic pet show as a host and trainer. But the biggest thing that has driven my business forward is always striving to give our customers the absolute best care for their pets and always being available when they need us. We operate our business out of love, respect, loyalty and kindness. We treat our DogZenergy dogs as if they were our own and we always put our clients’ needs first, whatever they may be. Because of our mantra, our clients are happy to recommend us to their friends and customers. I’d say that 60% of our business has come from referrals from customers and other dog service providers like vets and groomers in our community. 30% comes from our decked out dog mobile and the remaining 10% is from online marketing or are postcards being in shops around town. Not from dancing around in a dog costume, not from bus benches, not from being featured on the local news, but from word-of-mouth which comes from a labor of quite literally, love.

Today, DogZenergy has over 100 regular customers and 10 employees. With all of our systems and operations in place and with the amazing management of my mom, Karen, it’s running like a well-oiled machine and we’re growing year after year. Business is always a challenge and always a never ending journey, so that’s why I’m now fully dedicated to launching my new startup HANDLR. Handlr is going to take my current business and double our revenue within six months. I guarantee it. That’s why I’m going to start posting my P&Ls as a case study. I want to prove to the whole wide world that our mobile business management platform is going to change the way that we all do business on a daily basis. It’s going to make running a service business so much easier and will allow other business owners to reach the four-hour work week like I have. Running a small business is hard, but it doesn’t have to be. Handlr automates scheduling, keeps track of customer satisfaction, dispatches employees, GPS tracks employees, enhances customer communication, automatically bills customers, keeps track of revenue earned and BRINGS YOU MORE NEW BUSINESS THAN YOU KNOW WHAT TO DO WITH. Handlr is going to be a lifesaver for small service business owners who want to go big, but are not sure how to make it happen. Let’s handle it together.

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Daisy and I when we were just puppies. I guess you could say she’s my good luck charm. ; )


 

If anyone would like to contact me for more information about starting a dog walking business or any other service business, please feel free to reach out. I’ve had so many mentors give me the advice that I needed to keep pushing on and become a better businesswoman. I’m still learning so much, but I’d love to help if I can. It’s all about giving back and learning from each other. You can reach me at Brittany@myhandlr.com. 

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