5 Business Mistakes Dog Walkers Make
#1 Letting clients set the rules.
I hear it time and time again from dog walkers—
“All my clients want me to pick their dogs up at noon”.
“My new client wants to pay me weekly but I have all my other clients pay monthly”.
“I have a new dog and the owner really wants him on group walks, but he has to wear a muzzle because he bites”.
Part of the beauty of being your own boss is well, you’re the boss! It shouldn’t be up to your client to dictate how you run your business. Of course clients may have requests, but you need to set the expectation that you’re in charge from the start. Know exactly what your policies and procedures are and stick to them. You have policies so you can do your job to the best of your ability. That’s totally valid and it’s up to you to uphold your policies.
#2 No cancellation policy or a lenient cancellation policy.
You have a limited number of open spots for walks each day, and that number for a solo walker isn’t huge. When clients cancel are you able to fill that opening last minute? In most cases, the answer is no. You’re out the money and it hurts your bottom line. What if one of your full time clients vacations every summer for 3 months? If you get an inquiry for a new dog that could fill the space would you want to turn them away to hold the spot for the client who is away? Holding the spot will cost you potential income. So what to do?
Clients will need to cancel from time to time, that’s life. But if you can’t meet your income goals at the end of each month it’s a financial burden you can’t afford. Let’s take a look at a couple viable options to help you deal with cancellations while protecting your bottom line.
Limit the Number of Credits
Allow a limited number of cancellations per year. Cancellations in excess of the set number are still charged at the regular rate. For example, say you offer a maximum of 10 cancellations per year. After a client has canceled 10 times, she will not get a credit for further cancellations and still needs to pay for the space. This is a common practice for many service based businesses.
Charge a flat rate to reserve space in group for each dog. It’s up to the client how many walks they use. Clients are probably already familiar with this type of model in other businesses they use, such as yoga studios or gym memberships. Typically this is a monthly fee. You might charge a flat rate based on the number of days you reserve for the client (so a twice weekly client would pay a different rate than a 5 day per week client, but can only use a maximum of 2 days per week).
Whatever you decide, make sure to clearly communicate your policy to the client before they start service with you, and include the policy in your service contract. You may have potential clients that will object and choose not to go with your service. That’s OK! The people that object are not the type of clients you’re trying to attract.
#3 Multiple dog discounts for Pack walks
Let’s talk about multiple dog discounts. I cringe when I see a pack walker deeply discounting a second or third dog! It makes no sense whatsoever to give a steep discount. Say you only have 6 slots available in your group, and you are charging $25 per dog, per walk. That means your earning potential for that group at $25 per dog is $150. But wait! You offer a discount and only charge $15 for the second dog in multiple dog households. Now that $10 off may not seem like much, but over the course of a year for a full-time client that’s $2600 you’ve lost, and that’s assuming you only have one 2-dog household. Multiply that for each dog you’re walking full-time at the lower rate and yikes, you’re losing a ton of income!
The only savings you have on taking multiple dogs from the same household is a few minutes of drive time from one house the the next. If you want to give a small discount (we’re talking a couple bucks) since you’re saving a small amount of time and a little gas, that’s fine. But other than that, the second dog takes one of your valuable group spots, one you could fill with another client’s dog who would be happy to pay full price.
Note that it’s different for private walks where you are not reserving a valuable slot in your group to add a second dog. In that case a larger discount makes much more sense since it doesn’t take a lot of added time or take the spot of a full paying client.
#4 No Pick Up Window
If you ask clients what time you should arrive to pick up their dog, the overwhelming response will be at noon. You simply can’t be at all your clients homes at noon. Plus you run the risk of an angry owner should anything delay you, and believe me, there will be delays. Vomit in the car (ew), traffic jams, street closures, it’s gonna happen! Eventually something will keep you from being on time.
Set up a pick up/drop off window instead — a block of time in which you’ll be picking up and dropping off your dogs. I recommend a 2 to 3 hour window if possible. So say your window for pick up is from 10am to 1pm. The dogs may not get out right at noon, but still, by the time everyone is picked up, walked, and dropped back at home it’s still mid-day and will work for most people.
#5 No Marketing Plan
If you want to get new clients, take some time and come up with a marketing plan. So many walkers do the bare minimum, and suffer as a result. Posting flyers and leaving business cards at local businesses isn’t the best way to gain new clients. I’ve never gotten a new client from a business card sitting at a local business. Websites and social media accounts are a step in the right direction, but you need to get people to find you there.
If you don’t have a comprehensive marketing plan, you can get started by simply brainstorming all the ways you can try to get your name out in your community. Who do you know that you can network with? Who will hand your card directly to a potential client so it’s not collecting dust on a tabletop? Make a list and then act on the best ideas.