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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 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.