And how you can avoid the same mistakes
1. I didn’t put myself out there enough at first.
When I was first starting a dog walking business in Fargo, I knew I’d need to get out there and advertise, but I was very shy about it. It took me a few months to take myself seriously as a dog walker. I was worried people would think I was a little crazy for quitting my job at a newspaper. It did help that I was already connected in my local “dog world” because I volunteered with a rescue group, I went to regular dog training classes and I already knew many of the other dog-related business owners.
However, I still needed to “hit the streets” and promote my services. It wasn’t until I spent a significant amount of time going around the community handing out fliers, introducing myself at events and passing out business cards that word of mouth really worked to my advantage. Putting myself out there was very important for speeding up the process, and it’s something I should’ve done much sooner.
2. I didn’t request two copies of each client’s key.
I still feel awkward requesting two copies of a client’s key. It’s like they’ll assume I’m irresponsible if I “need” two copies. However, my insurance company actually suggests it because sooner or later it’s possible for anyone to lock herself out of a client’s home. It’s a dog walker’s worst nightmare, but it’s best to be prepared for it. (Learn more about dog walking insurance here.)
If you keep a spare copy somewhere safe, you can always use that in an emergency. When a client is out of town and has left the pets in your care, you need to plan for what might happen if you do lose a key or lock yourself out. And don’t count on a remote-controlled garage door opener or a garage code as your only backup. Batteries can die, and the power can go out. I’ve been there. 🙂
3. I was obsessive about getting to each appointment on time.
Yes, it’s important to be on time. But when you’re taking care of animals and driving from home to home, it’s difficult to be somewhere at exactly 3:15 p.m. or exactly 9:30 a.m. Instead, it’s best to give a general time within 45 minutes or so. The dogs won’t mind, and that way when you’re stuck in traffic or moving slowly on icy roads, you won’t be rushed to get to the next house at a specific time.
When you care for animals, you’ll always be caught up wiping muddy paws, cleaning up accidents and so on. It’s totally reasonable to give your clients a more general timeframe such as “I will arrive between 2 and 2:45 but most likely 2:30.”
4. I walked dogs before the client signed my liability contract.
Each of my clients must sign my liability contract before I will officially take their dogs on regular walks. The liability contract states what the client is responsible for such as vaccinating the dog, providing ID tags and covering emergency medical costs. However, sometimes I will be lenient and walk the dog once or twice if the client forgot to sign the form right away.
I am very trusting, and most people are trustworthy, but as a business owner it’s not worth the risk. The liability contract is there for your protection, and you should take it seriously. You can read more in my post about what dog walking forms you need, and I sell editable copies of my dog walking liability forms if you’d like one for your business.
5. I billed people after the walks took place.
I initially set up my billing schedule so the clients would pay me after the walks took place. I would bill them every two weeks, and each bill would cover all the walks from the last 14 days. This worked out great as long as people paid their bills on time, but pretty much everyone would get behind occasionally. If someone missed even one payment, then I could end up walking the dogs for an entire month before I saw any money, and that’s not fair.
To avoid this, you may want to require your clients to pay for walks in advance. Pet sitting visits can get a little trickier since schedules can change, but it’s still reasonable to request at least half the payment up front and then adjust as needed when the service ends.
If you’re a dog walker, pet sitter or trainer, what mistakes have you made along the way?