Part 2: Research Your Competition and Copy Them
If you are setting up a dog walking business, then you definitely want to know what other dog walking and pet sitting companies are in your area. This will give you an idea of what services they offer and what they charge. Plain and simple you want to copy what they do, and as I mentioned in my previous post, most dog walking companies offer additional services.
This is not complicated stuff, but I’ll go over what things are important, and what things are optional or less important. By the end, you will have an idea of the rates to charge for walks, visits and other services. I’ll also cover the things you need to show you are a professional and responsible pet care provider. Here are the main things that will be covered:
- Finding companies that offer dog walks in the area
- Making a list or spreadsheet of their rates by service type and length of visit
- Setting your rates to match or beat your competitors’ rates
- Noting every link on their websites to get ideas of how to market your business
- Building confidence for your clients thru certifications and experience
What other companies service your area and what do they charge?
The first thing you want to do is see what other companies are in your area. And the most important thing you are searching for is their rates. The goal is to compile of list of rates by service and length of visit. Then decide whether you are going to match or beat their rates.
So obviously start with a Google search for things like “dog walkers near me” or “pet sitters in my area”. Check the Google Business listings first, but you may need to go deep into the results. The problem is that some dog walking websites are REALLY hard to find. And you may think that’s great because you can easily outrank them. And it is, but remember you need to find everyone that services your area.
Another source is using the top 3 links on my Links page. These sites allow you to search for companies by zip code and service type. Keep in mind that they only return results for pet service companies that have an account with them.
Finding Dog Walkers That Have a Weak Web Presence
Then there are companies that do not have websites. They may have Facebook profiles where you can get an idea of their service area and rates. Unfortunately, they do not show a lot of information about their services.
Then look at review sites like Yelp and Angie’s List. Other options are the sites like Thumbtack, Sittercity, and Care.com. I’ll cover these on I cover these sites in my article of web presence, but you should create accounts and list your business on these sites. I did when I started. Now I don’t bother because I rarely go long without getting new clients.
Let me share some things about Yelp. You will only find pet service companies who have paid accounts. I know this because I used to rank high on searches there until they become publicly traded. Now you have to have paid accounts if you want to be found. You won’t be able to find my site there, not easily.
Another way to find walkers with little to no web presence is going to grocery stores, coffee shops, and similar places. Often there is a bulletin board where walkers pin their business cards or flyers. You may also see their flyers on telephone poles. By the way, using business cards and flyers is a way to get clients. I did the same thing when I started, but I’ll cover all that in the next article on getting clients.
Determining Your Rates
I created an Excel Spreadsheet that has MANY columns and rows. It has a lot of information. I mainly concentrate on the companies that service my area, though I included companies who service the general location. I include companies who offer dog boarding because the owner can live anywhere but they bring their dog to the sitters\boarders home – like in my neighborhood.
So hopefully you can read this screenshot of my spreadsheet. What I did was list every type of service and length of visit. I then entered all the rates for all the companies I could find. Hopefully, the colors aren’t obnoxious, but I use conditional formatting to make things stand out.
I also include in the file all the other charges (fee for a 2nd dog, holidays & weekends rates, etc.) that companies have. I used all that information to decide on the rates to charge. I recently increased my rates to match what everyone else charges.
Trust me, this is an annoying and time-consuming process, but once you are done you’ll know everything about your competition. And, this can come in handy when you meet clients. You will be able to rattle off facts and figures on every other company. I’ve done that and it haves you come off as an authority.
As a new company, you should consider having lower rates than the other companies. Or you can match their rates but offer a slightly longer visit. When I first started out, 15-minute dog walks were either $10 or $12 per visit. I decided to offer $10 20-minute visits to get my first clients. After the second year of business, I changed it to 15 minutes to match the other companies.
Now you know 1) Who your competitors are and 2) What they charge. Set your rates according to what you think is best. But there are other aspects of your competition you also want to consider.
Professional Experience, Requirements, and Certifications
When you do the researching of your competition, you will see links on their site that show their accreditation, certifications and reviews or testimonials that they may have. All of these things make a company appear professional, where companies without them seem unprofessional.
Insurance and Bond
The first thing you will need to project a professional and responsible business is getting insured and possibly bonded. In the 10 years that I have been doing dog walking and pet sitting, I have never needed to make a claim to my insurance company, however, I still got insured.
The insurance covers any damage or injury caused while you are walking or sitting for the pet in your care. Examples are knocking over a lamp, losing the keys and needing a locksmith, the dog or pet getting injured or injuring another dog or person, and a host of other issues.
Bond is only for you if you have employees. There is no need to get this if you do not have walkers or sitters working for you.
The most important thing is that some people will not contact you unless you are insured. There are a number of companies that offer pet insurance with varying coverage and add-on options. Find the options that are best for you and the particulars of your company.
Pet CPR & First Aid
Another thing to look into is getting your Pet CPR & First Aid Certification. This is another thing that builds confidence in your prospective clients and portrays professionalism.
I got my certification from a local chapter of the Red Cross. When I took the class it was at a Red Cross location. Now it seems they only offer online classes. This is not an online subject. You’ll need to find actual classes in your area for a true certification.
And finally, see if you can volunteer at local animal shelters, rescues and adoption centers. This is huge if you lack experience and references.
Reviews and testimonials. also are a big help in getting clients. The problem is that you can’t get those until you have clients. So having references from pet shelters and rescues would look great on your website or social media pages.
You could also look into fostering cats or dogs for a rescue organization. That would go a long way when it comes to building your experience. And of course, if you do not own a cat or dog – adopt one immediately!
In this article, you now know how to determine how much to charge for those services and how to project professionalism. You are one step closer to setting up a dog walking business once you finalize your rates and get certifications and insured.
But all of that doesn’t mean a thing if you do not have any clients that give you money!
In the next article, I cover the various methods you can use to get clients. I also cover meeting with prospective clients and their pets and what you will need to do to get those pet owners as clients.
As always, feel free to contact me with any comments or questions about this article or pet care in general. I would really like to read your comments and thoughts on this subject!