5 ways to build your dog walking or pet sitting business

Americans are on track to spend $50B (yes, billion) on their pets in 2011. All categories of pet spending have risen annually since 2007, despite the recession. Spending on pet services – including grooming and boarding – will amount to $3.5B in 2011. via

What this means is that whether you’re a pet sitter with a dedicated client base and years of experience or a dog walker new to your city or the industry, now is a great time to grow your business. While the most obvious way to do this is by attracting new customers, the most cost-effective method is to keep your existing clients happy – happy customers are not only loyal, they also refer their friends. I’ll cover tips related to both strategies below, but keep in mind that client satisfaction should always be your foremost concern.

  1. Humanize

    People react to photos of other people. Adding a photo of yourself – preferably with one of your animal charges – to your web site or print collateral will create a sense of warmth and recognition in your potential customers. It also helps them feel safe – they’ll know exactly who to look for when you meet for the first time.

  2. Simplify

    Too many options make us tune out. Think about it from your own perspective – a restaurant menu that’s just too long will take you longer to navigate. You’ll also forget what your options are as you flip through the pages. When you’re sitting at a restaurant, you’re usually a captive audience, but potential clients navigating your web site or flier aren’t. If you make them work too hard to come to a decision, the only decision they’ll make is to move on.

  3. Socialize

    As a pet service provider, you may prefer the company of dogs and cats over humans. While I won’t fault you for that – my office mates are four-legged, after all – you’ll need to invest some time in making connections in order to grow your client list.

    Marketing in and of itself should be it’s own post, but here are a few ideas: Fliering is great, but try distributing them at condo buildings or other private areas where potential clients will be more relaxed and open; attend breed-specific meetups and hand out gourmet dog treats with your card attached; reach out to complementary businesses to form partnerships – if you’re a dog walker, your local dog daycare may be able to resell your services to their existing client base. Think about how you can bring value, and make a personal connection.

  4. Give without strings

    There’s a reason why the food and gift basket industry is still around – vendors rely on gifts to stay front-of-mind with their clients. Leaving a few dog treats in a gift bag after walking a client’s dog will prove to her that you were actually there. If you have a knack for making your own dog treats or cat toys, you’ll not only have left a reminder of yourself in your client’s home, you’ve also opened the possibility for a future sales channel.

    Gifts not only serve as a reminder of how awesome you are to your clients – they also give you the opportunity to be the hero. If you have a client with a mouthy puppy or a cat who claws the furniture, buy a spray bottle and mix up a tea tree oil or bitter apple solution, respectively, and put a label on it with your name and contact information. Help clients with young children learn how to handle a rambunctious dog or prickly cat. Give a copy of your favorite dog training manual. You’ll earn the investment back in referrals.

  5. Empathize

    Put yourself in your client’s shoes – what’s going to make life easier for her? What can you do that will make another client enthusiastically recommend you to his friends? Whether it’s installing a lockbox at a client’s home so she’ll also have access to the extra key she would have given away to another pet professional or offering to perform extra chores while you’re walking the dog, make your client’s life easier and her gratitude will keep you first in her book.

Have other ideas and suggestions? Post them below! I might even be able to figure out a way to apply them to Stayhound. :^)