How to Start a Dog Walking Business – the Ultimate Guide! Part 6
In my last article, I talked about the boring yet important topic, getting insurance for your dog walking business. This article will cover the fun stuff – marketing.
Step 6: Create dog walking marketing materials – for free or with a small fee
What is Marketing?
Some of you may wonder what marketing entails. Since there are tons of marketing agencies in town, it seems like marketing requires very specialized knowledge and talent. Well, if you are serving a multi-billion dollar company, then yes, it would require you to be a super marketer. But for a dog walking business start-up, you really don’t have to be.
Basically, what you are doing through marketing is telling dog owners, “Hey, I’m a reliable dog walker, who can take care of your dogs while you are at work or on vacation, so that your dogs still feel loved, and you have a peace of mind.”
The key is to communicate to them what you are offering and HOW it benefits them. Think about it this way – dog owners hire dog walkers not only to make sure their dogs get their walks, but to remove their worry that their dogs are not getting enough attention or exercise. They don’t want to be bad owners for their dogs. At the end of the day, they love their pooches. But life gets busy and dog walking becomes one of chores that they HAVE TO do. So to remove the chore from their to-do list and still feel good about themselves, they pay dog walkers to do it for them.
Also, this is where your niche becomes important. If your target area has other dog walkers already, what makes you different? What makes dog owners want to choose you over others? If you are unsure about this, read Step 3 of the Ultimate Guide and think about it again. I know it is difficult to determine what your niche is before starting your business, but having some ideas really helps when you write content of your flyers, website etc.
14 Marketing Ideas for Dog Walking Businesses
Before you start creating marketing materials, I suggest you create your logo. Logos are visual, so often your clients will remember you with the logo. If you haven’t created a logo for your business already, there are websites that let you create your own logo easily.
Logo Yes – You can create a pretty professional looking logo for $0.99
Online Logo Maker – Not as user friendly as Logo Yes, but it does a great job, and it is completely free!
Okay, now you’ve got your logo, here are free options for your marketing.
You’ve seen those flyers with phone numbers many times, and they still work! You may not have hired a dog walker before, but you’ve seen “missing cat” flyers at traffic lights and read it while you are waiting for the light to turn to green. And you feel pity and think about it every time you see a cat in your neighborhood. Dog owners tend to walk their dogs in their neighborhood, so posting flyers in your target neighborhood will catch their attention.
Key is to keep it simple. According to the photographer’s page, the above flyer is from Beverley Hills. Super simple, a yellow piece of paper with a few dog photos and it just says “The Dog Walker.” The ripped part probably used to have the dog walker’s phone number and email address.
You have probably looked for apartments for rent or jobs on these sites. It is super easy to set up, and targeted to your local areas. Best if you have relevant photos (of you and a dog, for example) to post in your ad.
Google Places for Business
When you search a restaurant in your city on Google, the search result often contains a small map with the red bubbles pointing at the locations of relevant restaurants. You can do this with your business too. Simply go to http://www.google.com/business/placesforbusiness/, and sign up for free.
Social media is a huge topic in the marketing world nowadays. There are so many options as well – Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram…just to name a few. It’s really hard to decide which one to use. My suggestion is stick with what you like to use the most and where you think your target audience is. Facebook is a good option, because many people, including older generation, are using it now, and it is an easy platform to use. You can create a Facebook page for your business, upload photos of the dogs you walked (with consent from owners), or share the photos with the owners. You can write about your business in your status, maybe add something like, “I appreciate your help in spreading the word!” Your families and friends will like and share your post, and you get a lot of exposure.
Because of all the hype around social media, email is becoming old-school already, but it is still an effective way to communicate with people. People may not check their updates on Twitter, but they are more likely to check their email. To start off, email your families, friends, colleagues, and/or classmates and tell them about your business and ask them to let people know about it if they own dogs. Be honest and don’t be shy to ask for help.
Get listed in online directories
Dog Tec has a great list of online directories for dog walkers. Check out the list, and before signing up, make sure the directories cover your location.
Every community has outdoor events for holidays. Renting a vending space will probably cost you money, but you can walk your dogs in the area won’t! If you have your business shirt on, then it’ll sure catch people’s attention. More on the business shirt later in the post. Just make sure the dogs aren’t afraid of lots of people!
This is a tricky one, but has a lot of potential. If your business is very unique, or if you have an interesting story about your business, your local news agency may want to write about you. You can research small business or animal sections of local newspaper, and see who are writing the articles. Look them up online and send an email with your story idea. Try to make their job easy. Try to convince them that this is the kind of story their readers want to read.
Here are options that are not free, but don’t cost you too much.
You may be talking to someone at a bus stop, and they are interested in your business, but you have no card to give out? Ouch. Professional looking business cards can be made very cheaply, and they are way more durable then a piece of paper with your name and phone number on it. You can pin them on community boards at your local coffee shops, grocery stores, and even pet shops if they accept them.
You can get inexpensive and customizable business cards at Vistaprint. I’ve been very happy with their products and service. Use this link, and you will get a $10 discount. (As of today, they are offering their premium business cards – 250 cards in a box – for $9.99, so with tax and shipping, you’d only pay $10 or less for your cards!)
Today if you are a business owner, you must have a website. Hiring a web designer can be very expensive, so there are many ways to make professional looking websites on your own without learning codes.
From my own experience, the easiest one is Weebly. All you need to do is create an account, pick a template, drag and drop boxes to write your text in. Fill in some content and publish. It’s free, although the free version will always have “weebly.com” at the end of your website address. You can purchase your own domain name (= no weebly.com at the end of your website address) from $4/month.
WordPress.com is another good one. This one is free and simple as well, if you don’t mind having wordpress.com at the end of your domain. You can upgrade it to premium for $99/year, and have your own domain name and other perks. It’s no drag-and-drop, but easy to use. They have a lot of templates to choose from as well. Also, once you get used to WordPress.com, then it is easy to switch over to WordPress.org.
WordPress.org is very powerful, and free to use, but you have to purchase your own domain (around $12) and hosting service. With WordPress.org, you can customize your site any way you want, and it does require a bit more technical knowledge than Weeby and WordPress.com, you still don’t need to know codes for most part. You can use things called plug-ins, which allow you to add extra functions like email sign-up form, contact form, “buy now” buttons etc. Online support forums are super helpful.
I’ve been using bluehost for hosting, which is a recommended hosting service by WordPress.org. A hosting service allows you to store all your website data and keep it safe. I’ve had no problem with bluehost, and it makes website management easy for me. Bluehost offers $6.95/month promotion including 1 free domain name as of today.
The easiest way to set up a website with WordPress.org is sign up at bluehost, buy a domain, and download WordPress for the domain. It is easier than purchasing a domain from other provider and connecting it to the hosting service. Also, with bluehost, you can install WordPress with 1 click, as opposed to downloading it to your computer and setting it up manually.
Here is a YouTube video which helped me set up my websites.
If you are relatively computer savvy or interested in learning, I highly recommend you learn to use WordPress.org. If you have no patience, then go for Weebly or WordPress.com.
Community newspaper ads
I personally haven’t tried this, but if your target audience reads a community newspaper, and ad rates are reasonable, you may want to look into it. If the rates are too high, then try to get them to write about you, as mentioned above.
Google Adwords can be started cheaply, and you can target location, time of the day, ad texts freely. Key is to pick keywords that are specific to your service. For example, don’t pick “dogs” or “dog park”, but pick “dog walking (city name).” This is a whole big topic, but if you are keen on learning more about it, I found Ultimate Guide to Google Adwords by Perry Marshall helpful.
Stickers on your car
If you use your vehicle for your dog walking service, having a sticker or magnet signs will attract people’s attention. It also makes you look more professional as well. You can purchase window decals (19.3” x 12.65”) from $8.99 and car door magnets from $7.49 at Vistaprint.
T-shirts & jackets with your logo
Wearing a t-shirt or jacket with your business name, website and phone number makes you a mobile poster! And if people see you in your “uniform” and walking happy dogs, they may take a note of you. Vistaprint also has t-shirts from $13.49 and hoodies from $49.99. Of course, if you can sew, you can make your own customized shirts more cheaply.
So this was an overview of marketing for your dog walking business. Each topic can have its own article, so if you have requests on a certain topic, please comment below. I hope this article gave you some fun ideas to market your business and attract your potential customers!
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Image credit: Miriam Schwab on Flickr