The dog walking experiment

Unless you’re entirely new to this blog (welcome!), or have been ignoring my recent posts (shame on you!), then you will likely have heard me mention that my effort to get some work as a Dog Walker has finally paid off. I first had the idea back on the 7th April – I don’t have a photographic memory, that’s just when the original post was published. So almost exactly three months later I was paid to walk a dog for the first time. I want to take you on the journey of how this all unfolded, and the underlying lessons I have learnt. Strap yourselves in, you’re in for an emotional rollercoaster.

Ignorance is bliss

I had been quite optimistic about this idea at first – the numbers all stacked up if I could get a few regular customers and I figured it couldn’t be that difficult to do that. In hindsight this was hugely naïve. I had neglected to carry out market research properly and was simply going on the prices people charge and the assumption that it can’t be that hard a market to break into. Had I done my market research properly I would have realised this is not the case.

As soon as I walked into the first veterinary surgery to ask if I could leave some flyers, I realised my ignorance.  The receptionist kindly said I was welcome to leave some on the table with the others, but that there wasn’t much room. I immediately felt in over my head when I saw the dozens of glossy leaflets spread over the table like a collage of dog walking’s finest purveyors. I felt embarrassed as I nudged a pile over to make room for my unsightly addition to the cacophony of colour.  My flyers, whilst passable, were pretty basic. This table was full of professionally designed dog walking adverts from big companies, boasting accreditations I had never even heard of. Things evidently weren’t going to be as easy as I had hoped.

Local Dog Walking Flyer

The humble flyer in all it’s (non)glory

The turning point

In typically resolute and undeterred (some may suggest stubborn and oblivious) fashion I continued to post these leaflets through doors hoping that I would at least pick up some work, I had after all paid £27 for them! As yet, I have received no work from these leaflets. I was starting to lose hope in all honesty, and was resigning myself to the fact I had my strategy all wrong to break into such a seemingly saturated market.

However, last Saturday I received a call from someone saying they were looking for a dog walker and had seen my advert online (I had placed it on Gumtree, Vivastreet and a few other places – see Getting Paid to Advertise for more info on using these sites).

We agreed a time for me to come round so she could see if I’m the right fit for her needs. She has three dogs, one of which is a little 3 month old puppy. I took them out for a little spin and got on well with them, and the owner seemed equally pleased and decided to hire me. We agreed I would walk them every weekday for an hour in total for £12 per day. She seems very happy to have someone reliable and friendly to walk her dogs when she’s not around, I’m happy to be getting £12 for an hour of walking around (obviously a little more than that, but it’s not overly difficult), and the dogs seem ecstatic about the whole arrangement. My mantra of everyone being better off from a transaction is certainly being fulfilled here.

Dog walking

Two very happy customers

Lessons Learnt

There are several things I feel I have learnt from this experience, and probably more than I even realise yet. I’m sure many of these will help me in future endeavours, and some already have.

  1. Do the research: Understanding the market is key and is a big lesson from this. It costs nothing but a bit of extra time to really understand what I’m getting into. This can help shape the approach and understand if it is feasible. This can save a lot of wasted money.
  2. Image Counts: My original approach was along the lines of “it’s only a bit of dog walking, nothing major needed”. I should have realised how important people’s pets are to them, and that creating an image of trust and repute is key. I took this on board when planning my computer repair venture, and have begun seeing some benefits from doing so.
  3. A book by its cover: To counter the last point slightly, it’s not all about style. Actually substance is the key thing people are looking for. All people really want is someone they can trust, who is going to do a great job and is worth paying. The image serves in giving this impression, but glossy adverts and logo’s will only go so far. Once I met the client she was immediately happy to have me start right away, it’s just getting the chance to make this impression that’s the hard part.
  4. Knowledge is power: I’m becoming increasingly convinced that in the world of business and work, almost no-one knows as much as they pretend to. Sometimes it’s beneficial to just do something and hope that your knowledge reaches far enough. If it doesn’t you can always go away and learn what you realised you don’t know. If you never try you never learn anything. Giving the impression you’re more of an expert than you are is part of the package. I’m not saying it’s ok to lie or do a shoddy job. My point is, nobody knows everything in their field, but it can’t hurt if people think you do.
The future
Dumb & Dumber dog van

Who knows what the future may hold

The key now is to scale this up. If I could find another dog in the same area, I could suddenly be earning £20 per hour for very little extra effort. If I could then take it further and get enough clients to outsource the walking to someone on a part-time basis, keeping a small cut, that’s where the real potential comes in. That is clearly some way down the line, but now I have my first client the potential for scale increases. I can build a reputation, potentially get referrals, reinvest some of the profit into building a business around it if I so choose. Obviously these things don’t happen overnight, but they are opportunities that might now be a possibility down the line.

Find out where this all began by reading Dog Walking and Humble Beginnings.

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  1. Catherine says:

    I like your business sense around this and your ability to inspire trust straight away.This is about image and people skills, well done!

  2. The way forward now is to get referrals. Ask your client after a few engagements if all is to their satisfaction. Once they agree that things are going well then you can ask them if they know anyone else who might be interested. Social proof is one of the 6 influencing techniques so you ask them to tell other people about you and if you want to go further you can ask who they have told and then get in touch with them. If you get on well you can then use one of teh other techniques of influence – liking.

    • Definitely agree – this will be one of the main ways to get extra work. Once I have built up a good reputation with customers I plan to offer things like a week half price for every successful referral. Hopefully builds up the work quickly.

  3. Just came across this post. I did post a comment about it on other post but I might repost it here.

    Hmm… walking other people’s dogs? Just wondering, what are the implications should these dogs come to harm? Are there any insurances that protect yourself from upset customers?

    Either way, good work on dog walking! May it last longer and who know, maybe it will turn even more of the money spinner but I would still urge you to think about possible risks as well.


    I find it intresting that you got more of a result from online ads rather than paper based. Maybe, it is a sign that times really moved on. Certainly, if I want to find something or a service, my first port of call would be the internet!


    • You raise a good point. I have given some thought to the risks involved, and as you say there is always the possibility of something going wrong. There are specific insurance policies you can take out for it, but at my level, it wouldn’t be affordable yet.

      If I begin to expand it as a proper business I would certainly get it insured. However, for now, despite knowing the risks are there, I am (some might say naively) hoping it doesn’t come to that.

      In terms of the advertising, I have found the same for the computer services I have done. Not got anything from the leaflets I’ve handed out so far, but some work from online sources – I have a website for that one so it’s a little bit easier to convert potential business. None of it has been paid advertising either, so it’s certainly a very profitable way to do it, just getting myself on things like gumtree, vivastreet, Yell and local business listings – all free and easily done (unlike the time and money spent on buying and distributing leaflets).

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