As my walking business slowly built up, I started to get very excited every time the phone rang from a number I didn’t know! I always made appointments to meet customers before taking them on, most of them expect this and often they are actually interviewing several other walkers at the same time. When I first started being interviewed, I found it a little unnerving - being so new and having a smaller customer base, which doesn’t always inspire confidence, I would often try to sell that I could ‘fit around them’, asking them to say what they wanted me to do and I had varying levels of success. As I became busier, I had less flexibility to offer customers and began to draw up different set options to offer customers based on their initial requirements on our first meeting. I had worried that they may find my options too restrictive, but far from it, I quickly realised that most preferred this approach, it sounded much more professional and reassured them that I already had a successful and busy business, with customers who were clearly happy enough to stay with me. From my point of view, this also enabled me to offer the services and times that I wanted to offer, rather than saying I could fit around the customer and then have to change things around with other customers or have the new customer ask for a service that would really limit me in taking on new business in the future.
One of the nicest realisations I have had this year is that different walkers suit different customers! I do love meeting new customers, but every now and again I won’t hear back from one, or they let me know that they have chosen another walker. At first this would knock my confidence, but with time I realised that you cannot hope to ‘win’ every customer in the same way that you cannot hope to get on with everyone. When customers chose you to look after their beloved pets, they usually give you keys to get into their homes when they are not there and ask you to do the service that you say you will, often without ever being able to check that you have. This takes a large degree of trust and so it follows that customers will chose the walker that they most ‘connect’ with to look after their animals. Whilst it is occasionally still disappointing if someone doesn’t feel this way about you, when they chose you after having interviewed other walkers, it really is a lovely feeling!
I always work to try to make sure that customers are happy and will stay with me, often that means going the extra mile for them. Little touches, like taking photos of their dogs having fun on walks, text messages and emails, a twitter feed and facebook page to stay in touch, occasionally sorting a vet trip for them, training advice (if asked for!), blogs with useful information (I hope!) and so on. These all take time, but they are worth it if they keep your customers happy with your services, wanting to stay with you and happy to sing your praises to others and give glowing references and testimonials when needed!
The hardest learning curve this year has been the realisation that this is not a stress free job! Pets really are part of the family, so when things go wrong it can be very distressing. Lost dogs, sick dogs, accidents and injuries, dogs not getting on well, dogs pulling you over – all of these things may sound like they are part of the job in pet care, but having to speak to owners about these problems happening whilst animals are in your care is always stressful. By the way, if this doesn’t sound like ‘part of the job’ to you – then I can assure you it is! Talk to any owner who has used the services of a dog walker before and you can guarantee they have already had the odd time when the walker has called them in distress to say that their dog won’t come back, or that they’ve been rushed to the vet and so on. What is nice when you talk to owners about this, is usually just how understanding they are, provided that they were told the full story without having to ask for it and that the walker acted quickly to sort things out. This doesn’t make it any less stressful at the time of course!
On this note, insurance is a must! Make sure you are adequately insured with your car (for business use) and for your business. I have both non-negligent and negligent cover for accidents to animals in my care and custody, as well as public liability insurance (including cover for lost keys!) and professional indemnity (for my dog training). So far I have never had to use this and I hope I never well – however, being covered for this means that should it happen is a weight off my mind. It is also an indication of a professionally run business, customers may check this out when they book you.
- Make sure you know the services and times you can offer each customer and ensure that you explain these on your first meeting. Most customers prefer this approach and it also gives you the opportunity to say what would fit in best with your schedule, rather than the customer saying what they want and you struggling to fit it in.
- Be yourself when you meet your customers, provided you are polite, professional and friendly, you will attract the right customers for you and vice versa.
- Always go the extra mile to keep customers happy, yes it might be hard work, but keeping your customers should be just as big a priority as attracting new ones. Plus they may be able to recommend you to other potential customers.
- Accidents happen, make sure you are insured and always keep the customer updated and do everything you can to help.
I only have one last blog to do on my first year in business, then it is back to my blogs on Dominance, if you have any questions on this, please feel free to post a comment on my blog or email me.