Dog walkers, how did you find your customers? I'll share my top five tips, and then I'd like to hear what's worked for you.
1. Word of mouth.
In a personalized business like dog walking, word of mouth is the most valuable marketing technique.
I'm talking about true face-to-face conversations where one of your customers recommends your business to one of her friends, neighbors or co-workers. If this person truly needs a dog walker, she is almost guaranteed to hire you over someone else based on her friend's recommendation.
I would also include positive Yelp and Google+ reviews under word of mouth. Positive Facebook comments are important too, as well as your clients sharing your web site with their friends. If someone hears about your business through a friend, that is so much more valuable than if she finds out about your business through an ad or a flier or a search listing.
Of course, for word of mouth to work you need to truly be awesome. Don't track mud through the client's home, for example 🙂 Instead, take your shoes off at the door when appropriate. Leave personal notes and cards. Leave treats. Stay in touch with your clients without being too annoying. Take photos of the dogs. Get involved with local rescue groups. Care the most. Go out of your way to make the pets and their owners comfortable. Be respectful and professional.
2. Showing up in online searches.
If you need to hire a dog walker, the first thing you'll probably do is a Google search for dog walkers in your area, right? The businesses that appear on the first page, especially in the first couple listings, are the businesses you will check out first. If your own web site doesn't rank for local terms (for example, Solana Beach dog walking), it can be just as effective if your Yelp or Google+ page ranks, assuming you have positive reviews.
3. Offering something unique.
If your area is saturated with dog walkers, you'll need to do something to make your dog walking business stand out. Word of mouth will take over after that, but you need to do something to attract the initial customers.
Offering dog running or dog jogging sessions could be an option. Or, perhaps you take dogs on off-leash adventures or on two-hour hikes. Or maybe you are unique because you specialize in senior dogs or puppies. Maybe you cover a certain part of the county other dog walkers aren't willing to travel to. A lot will depend on your area and what other dog walkers are already offering.
4. Volunteering with a rescue group.
The hardest part is finding the time, but if you can get involved with a rescue group or shelter, you will instantly have a support group who will recommend you to others. Not only that, but you will gain valuable experience working with and handling a variety of dogs.
I also recommend you put together some sort of gift basket or gift cards for the rescue group to use during its fundraising events such as silent auctions, raffles or other events that involve prizes. In the past I've given away 10 free walks, buy-one-get-one coupons and so on.
5. Networking with other dog walkers.
I've been on both sides of this equation. I've been a new dog walker just starting out, and I've been the established business with a long waiting list. If you are just starting a dog walking business, don't be afraid to reach out to other dog walkers and pet sitters in the area. Whenever I have a waiting list, I'm happy to recommend other dog walkers. It's better than leaving clients with no suggestions. I recommend you send another dog walker an email introducing yourself, briefly explain your services in one sentence and invite her to coffee.
When you get together, you'll probably learn that the other dog walker doesn't want more clients in a certain area or maybe she is booked solid on Wednesdays or maybe she doesn't want to walk extra strong leash-pullers or whatever it might be. These clients might be perfect for you! In most cases, there's probably a way you can work together as far as recommending certain types of clients to each other. And if not, that's OK. At least you have a new contact for the future.
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- Post client testimonials on your web site
- Leave fliers and business cards everywhere (with permission) – add specials to the back of your cards
- Craigslist – Works really well for some areas, others are too saturated
- Advertisements in local, targeted publications like small-town newspapers.
- Get local bloggers to write about you with links to your web site
- Get lots of Facebook shares and interaction – post awesome photos of dogs
- Give away coupons/discounts at fundraising events
- Set up a booth/table at local fairs, festivals, fundraisers, etc., and hand out treats and coupons
- Invest money into your web site so it's modern, attractive and mobile friendly
- Get certified in pet first-aid and post that on your web site