Setting up a dog-walking business
This guide presents everything you need to know about starting a dog-walking business in the UK.
What's in this guide?
- What permits, qualifications or licences do you need to start a dog-walking business?
- Registering your dog-walking business
- What insurance do you need to run a dog-walking business?
- How to write a dog-walking business plan
- How much should you charge?
- How to market your business
- Open a business bank account
However, there are a few necessary steps to take in order to set up your dog-walking business correctly.
What permits, qualifications or licences do you need to start a dog-walking business?
If you’re taking a homeowner’s keys and going into their home, you’ll need:
- an animal boarding licence
- to pass a DBS check
- an appropriate level of business insurance (more on this below)
You don’t need any formal training or educational qualifications to start a dog-walking business. However, it’s recommended to invest in membership with the National Association Of Dog Walkers and Pet Sitters (NARPS). This gives your business extra credibility and visibility, as many customers search for dog walkers using the NARPS database.
If you have qualifications in fields such as animal first aid, animal behaviour or veterinary care, this could enhance your reputation in the eyes of customers.
Registering your dog-walking business
You have to register your business with HMRC for tax purposes. Technically, the deadline for this is 5 October of your business’s second tax year. However, if you don’t want to face a huge retrospective tax bill, it’s in your best interests to do this as soon as possible.
A big decision to make is: what type of business you want to launch. This will affect the taxes you pay and your personal liability for your business.
Here are your main options:
- Sole proprietorship. As a sole trader you’ll continue to pay income tax and national insurance as an individual. You won’t pay corporation tax.
- Partnership. This is the same as a sole proprietorship, except you’ll split a percentage of your profits with a business partner or partners.
- Private Limited Corporation (PLC). As a PLC you’ll pay corporation tax. You’ll also pay yourself a wage from your business profits, and you could pay income tax on that.
A key difference between sole traders and corporations is your personal liability. With a corporation, you can’t be held personally liable for business debts or lawsuits. So, if your business goes under, your creditors can’t claim money back from you personally.
Owners of a dog-walking business may not be too worried about this possibility. Small businesses in this niche are unlikely to run into massive debts or lawsuits.
If your dog-walking business is starting out as an individual project, you may feel comfortable starting as a sole trader. This is cheaper, quicker and easier. You can always incorporate later.
What insurance do you need to run a dog-walking business?
Most small business owners will find it essential to invest in the following types of insurance:
- Public liability insurance (PLI). This protects you against legal costs if someone or something is hurt or damaged thanks to your business activity. (This would protect dog walkers from damage caused by their dogs.)
- Business contents insurance. This protects against covering the cost of lost or stolen business equipment.
- Employers liability insurance (ELI). This protects you against the cost of legal claims if an employee suffers a job-related illness or injury.
Some insurance companies offer dog-walking insurance, which protects you against all of these potential outcomes, while also covering the cost of lawsuits if a dog gets hurt or injured in your care.
How to write a dog-walking business plan
It’s not compulsory to write a business plan when launching a dog-walking business. However, a lean business plan can do a lot to help you succeed in this field.
At the very least, a dog-walking business plan should include:
- Your target market. Who will you market to and why? Be as specific as possible.
- Products and services. A full list of what products and services you offer, plus how much you’ll charge for each of them.
- Competitors. Who are they? Why should customers choose you over them?
- Marketing plan. Where and how will you market your business? What is your marketing budget for each platform?
- Financial plan. How much will it cost to launch your business? What are the estimated monthly running costs? What are your monthly sales forecasts? (minimum, average and stretch targets).
How much should you charge?
As with any service-based business, the amount you charge will mostly be based on demand for your services.
It’s recommended to research what your competitors charge and price your services based on how your service compares.
If you offer a better service, have more experience and/or qualifications, you should be able to charge more and still find customers.
How to market your business
Here are some great ideas for marketing your dog-walking business.
- Flyers. Since you’re most likely only targeting customers in your local area, it makes sense to put up flyers around your neighborhood. Target supermarkets, shops, parks, schools, vet clinics and anywhere else where your customers are most likely to see them.
- Business cards. Get a few hundred business cards printed. Have them in your wallet ready to give to any potential clients you come across. Hand them over to your friends and family members to give to pet owners they know. Give some to your customers, so they can easily refer you to their friends.
- Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). A lot of people will search for a dog walker on Google. If you can optimise your website to rank highly for the keywords your potential customers are using, this will attract them to you passively.
- Organic social media marketing. It’s no secret that pictures of cute animals are a massive hit on social media. If you create a page sharing this sort of content (including some subtle marketing for your business), it’s likely to get shared a lot.
- Paid social media advertising. On social media, it’s really easy to target specific demographics. If you want to advertise only to dog owners in your local area, that’s more than possible.
- Get a NARPS membership. A lot of people search for a dog walker using the NARPS database. You’ll need to be a member to feature on there. NARPS members are also given their own website, where customers can leave reviews.
Open a business bank account
A business bank account basically works like a personal one – the main difference is that it’s dedicated to your business’s finances. You should therefore expect the same features, such as a debit card, the ability to make and receive payments, an overdraft option, a banking app and so on.
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