Get Online Reviews and Testimonials ASAP
When you are first starting a dog walking business, you most commonly get your first clients from people you know, by posting flyers, and thru talking to dog owners directly. That well will dry up fast. You have to remember that people move or their requirements change. Which mean you lose clients. Your best method is to have people contact YOU by finding your website.
I assume that most people are like me and seeing a high review rating is a major factor for buying a product or a service. Are you more likely to contact someone with a 4.5-star rating or someone with 1 star or no reviews at all? You MUST get your clients to give you 5-star reviews on sites like Yelp, Google Business Listing, Facebook, etc.
I first simply asked my clients to give me some online reviews. To make it easy for them, I emailed them the links to my business profile. I mentioned whether they would have to create an account for some of the sites. And I put the top review sites at the top of the list and I think one or two did a review or two. I needed many reviews on many sites.
I’ll tell you exactly how I got my clients to take time out of their day to go to up to 10 sites and add reviews (sometimes after having to create an account): FREE WALKS. I offered $2 per review, 5 would get you a free walk. I had to give them an incentive. Is it wrong to do that? Maybe, but I did it anyway. And I would do it again if I had to. That’s how important reviews are.
I used the actual text from the reviews as the content of the testimonials on my site. I used a photo of the pet and the name of the pet and owner and I put the review in quotes. I also added links to some of the sites that had the reviews. Once you do that, you have reviews and testimonials.
Just remember, you can’t ask your clients for reviews until many months have passed. They need a solid track record from you so that they can actually give you a shining review. For this reason, if one of your clients needs a last minute walk or visit, do it. They’ll remember those kinds of things when you do finally ask them for reviews.
You will need your first client to act as a reference for your second client. Then you need your first two clients to act as references for your next few clients. And so on it goes. It will probably work out that you ask your first few clients a handful of times or so. I didn’t like bothering them, but it was a huge help to my business.
The strange thing is that I never get asked for references anymore. I assume it is all the reviews and testimonials, plus the age of my site. I rank on the first page of Google for a few search terms. So eventually, you won’t need them anymore, but in the beginning, you do.
I use Microsoft Excel for many management type functions. You could use Google Sheets if you don’t have MS Office. When you start getting a lot of clients, a notepad won’t cut it. I have three main tabs:
- Weekly dog walk & pet sitting schedule
- Weekly $ sums of all the walks and visits for each client
- Client contact information
Daily and Weekly Schedules
I have a 7-day sheet that has 15 to 30-minute time slots from as early as 7:00 am to 8:30 pm. On each day I put the name of each pet that I need to visit at the time I should get there. This way I can see my entire schedule for the week and I know where I have openings and where I do not.
Holidays are a common time for new clients to contact you. The weekly schedule allows you to see which days and times you have available for new requests. You need to know how many walks and visits you can do on any day. Once you have that number (17 max for me), you can scan your schedule to see if you can take on new clients. Quite often, I book up around holidays and I have to turn people away.
Weekly Payment Sum
My second sheet lists the total pay for each client for the entire week. It’s as simple as keying the dollar value of all the walks or visits for each day and summing the entire row for the week.
For example, if I have a client who regularly does five 15-minute walks per week at $12 per walk, the sum of the week for that client is $60. It’s a great way of tracking money for the week. Just enter the amount paid at the end of the week and make sure the #’s match. Depending on the amount, people may leave more than they owe and you can carry that to the next week as a credit. And sometimes people short you, usually by accident. Just leave a note and add the difference to the following week.
Client Contact Information
My third main sheet lists all my clients by service type. I make sure to have their cell #, email address and home address. I’ll also enter alarm codes if they have an alarm, and the pet name(s) as well. It’s easy to forget the pet names for pet sitting clients as you can go a few months without visits.
All this is so I can contact the client at any time if I need to and to help with scheduling. Most often, I need to contact them about upcoming holidays and whether or not they will need visits. And I can just copy and paste their name and pet’s name to the $ and schedule tab as needed.
If you have a website, you’ll have to renew your domain name every year. That should be done automatically by your host company when you pay them for the upcoming year of hosting. You also want to continue doing link building, creating and sharing posts, uploading photos, writing blog posts, etc. Always remember to add keywords to everything online thing you do.
I’m not going to cover it here, but you need to learn Search Engine Optimization (SEO). I am by no means an expert on SEO, so I won’t cover this absolutely extensive subject here. You’ll have to learn about that yourself. But you should always be working on making sure your site appears on page 1 of Google when people in your area search for services you provide. The importance of that is the reason why I put the name of my neighborhood in my business name.
If you started out with lower rates than your competitors, eventually you want to match their rates. Your increase will apply to any new clients that contact you. For existing clients, you can “grandfather” them in for as long as they stay with you, or you can give them notice towards the end of the calendar year that the rates will change on January 1st. How you handle rate increases for existing clients is up to you. I recently gave my clients a full month’s notice. Most replied to my email and were all fine with it. I did lose one client though I don’t think it was for the rate increase (long story and not applicable here).
This is tempting but it comes with its own set of problems. I’ve had a couple of great walkers, a few okay ones and three “regretful hires” (I would prefer to use different descriptions for them).
My best walker was a pet sitting client. Now that is someone you can trust. My advice for hiring walkers and sitters is to go slow – really slow. Don’t get greedy and see the dollar signs with a bunch of walkers and sitters. You have to make sure each person you hire is top-notch. Your company’s name is on the line, not to mention the well-being of the pets in their care. Plus there are more management areas when it comes to employees. You’ll need two sets of keys, you have to figure out their pay (I did 80/20), you need to email your walkers about their schedules, etc.
I tried to only hire people with experience, except for one of the bums (messed up on that one). Also, you must meet all new clients first, and then have your walkers meet them afterward. The new clients will not see you as the main person if they only meet your walker. I did not do that and a person I fired stole some of my clients. Oops! Don’t make the same mistake I did. You’re the boss, you meet the clients first, and hopefully, it all works out for you.
Hopefully, you won’t ever have the need to make a claim to your insurance company. Your goal is to NOT ever have to do that. I only had to do it once when I left a crate unlocked and a puppy chewed an expensive pair of shoes. The company you are insured with should have guidelines on how to file claims it but the goal is to not have to file claims. The better you are at your job, the better your clients will think of you. And recommendations are the best way to get new clients.
That’s the majority of the boring management stuff you have to think about if you plan on starting a dog walking business. I could also mention keeping on top of reordering poo bags and business cards, and there are probably a few other minor things to do. But for now, these are the important management areas that you need to think about on a daily or monthly basis. My final article will be a recap of this and the preceding articles with some closing thoughts. As always, contact me with any questions you have ~ hope to hear from you.