Chances are, if you love dogs and hate your job, you’ve thought about becoming a professional dog walker. But that’s where most people stop – and not without reason. It’s a crowded field with absolutely no barrier to entry – you could have two doctorates and a knighthood, and you’d still be competing for market share with a ten-year-old. Or, just one rung up the ladder, me.
You, as a prospective dog walker, have a host of dull logistical challenges ahead of you. Key among them is client acquisition. Third parties like Wag are a quick fix, but they’ll charge you for the privilege. So how do you cut out the middleman? There’s no single, simple answer, but there are shortcuts!
The first thing you need to do is decide where you want to walk. This is important – where you start walking is probably where you’ll stay walking, unless you’re willing to build a client list from scratch again. Keep in mind that supply chases demand. Dumbo, Brooklyn Heights, Park Slope, and their ilk will all offer the most opportunities – and so, naturally, the fiercest competition. It’d be much easier to corner the market in a less moneyed neighborhood, but as a result you too will be less moneyed. I’d personally recommend focusing on getting as many dogs from as contained a chunk of the city as possible, rather than what you can charge per dog.
The reasons for that are two variations on the same idea. The most important thing for you to do at the beginning is to establish credibility. For a lot of people, their dogs are honorary children. Forget the keys to their apartment: you taking the leash from them is the biggest ask you make. The surest vouches are word of mouth, and being seen successfully managing dogs. Every client is a possible referral source.
To the latter point, you can walk dogs for money, or you can be a dog walker. The difference is, I’m afraid to say, largely aesthetic. I’ve basically got a costume for work: a little hands-free system comprised of a rope and carabiners for easy clipping/unclipping of the dogs and keys, which I wear rather than stuffing into my backpack, so I make a jolly jingle-jangle noise as I walk down the street. Add a $10 watch, a headband, and a leash or two wrapped around my neck, and no matter how many dogs I’m walking, it looks like I just walked twenty at once.
The final effect is ludicrous, but effective. I can’t pretend this happens every day, but at least once every week or two, I get approached by somebody with a dog that needs walking. Get some business cards to hand out, and you’re on your way.
Make no mistake: this can be frustrating. Finding clients is a study in proactive passivity; it’s not the kind of service you can convince a person they need if they don’t. Don’t waste your time on Facebook ads; a Craigslist posting can be useful for getting your first dog, but beyond that, it’s too imprecise to be especially useful. All you can do is work as hard as you can to be visible.
That’s my read on it, anyway. There are a million other ways to build your doggy dynasty as well. So if you see somebody walking a load of pups at once, don’t be bashful about asking how they made it happen. Try different approaches. Be patient. See what works for you.
And then quit that job you hate so much.
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