How I Make Nearly $800 a Month Walking Dogs As a Small Business Side Gig
Small Business Side Gigs are OK
Before we dive into the specifics of how to start making money (seriously almost instantly!!) giving puppy belly rubs and playing ball…I think it’s important to tell you WHY I started doing this!
To start it off Debbie Downer style (don’t worry…I end this with a bang!!) 2016 hasn’t been an easy year for my household.
In January, I was laid off from my corporate job. The company decided our office wasn’t needed…(and downsizing was), so we essentially got the “Happy New Year” boot. *sigh* The following week, my boyfriend was laid off from his job as well. So…there we were…in an $1800 a month apartment, with less than $1200 between us in the bank.
It’s an understatement to say we panicked.
Less than a week later, (In the middle of my brain screaming “What do we DOOOO? What do we DOOOOO? What do we DOOOOO?” over and over again) I decided to launch my blog Uncork Your Dork in order to teach business bloggers about Search Engine Optimization and ahead in the Googles.
Before my corporate job, I’d been a successful blogger in the wedding industry…so this was not new territory for me. In fact…this territory was VERY much loved and missed! Within three months, I was seeing upwards of 5,000 people on the blog and making around $500 a month in revenue. Not too shabby for such a young thang!
Still…$500 is not even halfway to what we needed in rent.
We managed to make the next few month’s rent by the seat of our pants through savings and help from family.
Finally, in the middle of May (again…amidst a screaming, panicked brain) I remembered a service that I had used for my OWN dog the previous July. We went to Bend, Oregon to spend the 4th with family, and my little bichon, Johnnie wasn’t going to be allowed at the resort. I’m not going to lie…I’m one of those silly pet parents that can’t STAND for their pup to be upset, lonely and crying in a cold steel kennel…SO, I used a service called Rover.com to find a sitter that would be willing to spend time with her at the apartment…in an environment she was COMFORTABLE with!
It worked BEAUTIFULLY!! I got pictures DAILY of Johnnie going for walks, getting treats, and assuming the belly rub position.
I paid this lady $200 to watch John for 5 days. SOOOO…why couldn’t I do something like this? I love dogs…I have an incredibly flexible schedule…I like money. 0_0
I jumped on Rover, and sure enough, there was a “become a sitter” button. I set up my profile, added pics of Johnnie, requested a review from a friend…and within 48 hours had booked over $150 in sittings. Think about that!! 2 Days….$150 paid to my Paypal account!!
Over the next month, I tweaked my profile, tweaked the way I interacted with my clients…and booked ANOTHER $600 in jobs!! What’s even better? These jobs were all within 10 minutes of my home, and took about an hour TOTAL out of my day!
Today, I spend 5 hours a day working on my blog, teaching courses on SEO and hosting webinars…and I spend about an hour a day hanging out with pups (and kitties!!)! It’s a dream side job come true. (If you stalk me on Instagram, you can see the pups I care for on a daily basis!!!)
I want to show you the EXACT methods and tweaks I used to in my profile to become the second most recommended sitter in the Seattle area within two months of signing up for the Rover.com system…as well as what I did to book over 4 repeating clients resulting in over $400 every month in bookings!
So….what is Rover?
PSH…it’s only one of THE most awesome websites ever, established in 2011 in one of THE most awesome cities ever! (SEATTLE!!! WHOOP WHOOOOOOP!!)
Rover.com is a platform that allows its users to create, maintain and nurture their very own dog walking business! Although the company DOES take a 20% fee out of what you charge your customers…it’s well worth it!! They provide you with the support, the technology, the ability to set your own prices and marketing to make sure your schedule is always full.
In addition to all of the above, each sitter on Rover is provided with pet insurance in case of an emergency! After sign-up, you are given an emergency hotline to call in case of…well…emergencies! Rover’s gotchyer back, Jack.
With its amazing customer communication and calendar system, Rover gives you the freedom of giving all your attention to your blog and small business, and not lose a canine customer due to confusion and disorganization.
Is Rover.com for everyone?
Although I’ve said before that this is a dream come true for me, and I’ll continue to do this well after my blog can pay my rent…this isn’t for everyone!! I TRULY think that before you jump in (and take the lives of these beloved family members into your hands) you need to assess your qualifications and make sure this is something that you’ll be able to do!!
I want to touch on a few issues I’ve come across in just the short time I’ve been doing this! Although they aren’t deal breakers, they ARE issues to consider!
- You are in it for the money. – Trust me, I KNOW what it’s like to need to make rent!! So I don’t blame you AT ALL for wanting to come with an easy, on the side, work from home, money in the bank job. I TOTALLY GET IT!!! BUT, you need to remember that this job involves the lives of living creatures. Although the money is cherry on the cake, you HAVE to be in this because you genuinely love animals. You love their slobbery, wet kisses. You don’t mind hosing them off after they’ve rolled in…something. You don’t mind that they think being a 150 lb lap dog is normal. This will ALL happen weekly!! If you think this is going to be an easy job involving showing up, throwing a ball and leaving…you have another thing coming!
- You don’t want to meet people. – Again, this is one I understand. One of the reasons I prefer to work from home, is that I don’t have to come into direct contact with ACTUALLY people! Sure, I sound friendly on paper…but a little thing called “anxiety” creeps in when I know I have to meet a stranger for a cup of coffee. SO, it pains me to have to inform you…that this business is NOT the answer. Before you EVER meet the pups, you’ll have to meet the owners. Remember, these are members of their family. For some of them…these are LITERALLY the equivalent of their kids (raises hand). So, it goes without saying, they will want to meet the person who will be taking care of their baby for the next few weeks. This will also be the time that they will go over Snoopy’s schedule, how much food they get, what training they know, where their treats are, how to put on the leash, what the favorite toy is, etc! This is ALSO the time to ask any questions you need to in order to get everything out of the initial visit as possible! (We will go over these questions in a few chapters!) Long story short? You’ll have to flash that smile, and prove yourself to the owners…so being anti-social won’t cut it.
- You don’t expect any issues to arise – CRAP HAPPENS!!!! In fact, while I’ve been a dog walker, crap happens A LOT. In the last two months, I’ve come across big dogs pulling ME, thin dogs escaping through cracks in gates, ankle biters, little dogs biting other dogs, food aggression, toy aggression and TONS more. Dogs, although they are cutesy wootsy cuddlekins, are ANIMALS. They do what THEY want to do. They don’t all come trained. They don’t all come quiet. They don’t all come NICE! Yes…you ALWAYS have the right to say “no” when a request comes along…and we are going to talk about that in depth, but you need to understand going into all of this, that you can’t expect the unexpected!! Dogs (and those ninja cats) are adorably unpredictable, and if you don’t expect the unexpected…this job will drag you along behind it.
- You don’t like gross – FACT: Dogs can be gross (and so can their owners). Remember, you are going into other people’s homes! You will see everything from beautiful, well maintained homes with small white floofy dogs sleeping on a white couch (straight out of homes and gardens) to a house run by large, loved dogs that smell like they’ve rolled in five layers of dead animals and excrement. I’ve watched dogs that pee on their toys, pee on their siblings, and pee on the floor. And I’ve watched dogs with mud obsessions and flea problems. Know, NOW, that you CAN’T control the cleanliness of an animal…you just have to love them for them (and wash your hands on your way out). You are there to make sure the animal stays well fed and happy…but if you don’t like gross…this might not be the job for you.
- You don’t know how to say “no” – This is a HUGE part of this business!! You will, occassionally, get requests from owners for dogs you KNOW won’t be a good fit (perhaps the dog weighs more than you?)…and for the safety of you and the animal you NEED to be able to politely decline! I’m proud to say, that my “declined” conversations page is MUCH longer than the page of bookings and potential bookings! I’ve said no to days I already have booked, dogs who are located 45 minutes away, dogs who are aggressive towards the other animals in the home, dogs who need a medication I am not comfortable giving and more. If it doesn’t feel right…I say no. And I’ve STILL managed to fill my calendar!! DON’T BE AFRAID TO SAY NO!!!
- You Don’t Have a Car – This is a MUST. If you don’t have a car…this is DEFINITELY not the job for you! Not only would you need a car to GET to the customer’s house…but you’ll need a car in case of an emergency. We are going to go over emergencies in a bit, but let’s say you’re staying with a dog who hurts his paw trying to squeeze through a fence? You’ll need to be able to get that pup to a vet and to assure his owner that all is right with their little invalid!! Plus…it doesn’t look so great when you pull up to a 15 minute customer meet and greet and your Uber pulls away. 0_0 Don’t try to get around this one!! YOU NEED A CAR FOR THIS!!!
- You’ll need time management skills – I’ll be honest…I didn’t think of this one when I first started walking dogs. Rover provides a digital calendar for you…and I thought that should be enough!! WRONG. There are three different types of events your clients can book…and you need to make sure you aren’t double booking…or just OVERBOOKING yourself! You need to have an idea of how much free time you have in your average day (think about the times of day you are NOT available!!!) for these dogs. If you only have 1-2 hours a day available, this may not be the job for you!! A lot of your repeat customers will ask you to pop over at specific times of the day…and on occasion, at a random moment they or you weren’t even expecting! The days you mark as available on your calendar need to be relatively flexible.
- You are on medication that prevents you from being reliable – Reliability is the cornerstone of this job. Look, I understand medication can have some wonky effects. I’ve seen medication that causes the user to fall asleep, get migraine headaches, vomit…and more. So if you are on a medication that might cause you to be house-bound for a time unexpectedly, this might not be the best idea for you OR the dog. If you tell a customer you’ll be there to play with Fido between 11-12 every day…you HAVE to be there!! No ifs, ands or buts!
- You think spanking, bopping on the nose or any other physical reprimand is ok – I CERTAINLY don’t judge the way you reprimand your own animal…but giving a dog a spanking is nearly as sensitive an issue for animal parents as it is for human kid’s parents. Not your dog?? DON’T BE PHYSICALLY AGGRESSIVE!! Even if you think bopping a dog on the nose is ok…it’s not! You don’t know how the dog will react…and you CERTAINLY don’t know how the dog PARENT would react. You are NOT there to train your pet ward…you are SOLELY their to play, let them stretch their legs and make sure they are healthy and happy. Consider yourself the “fun aunt (or uncle)”. You are their for THEIR amusement! If you have any issues with this line of thought…this is NOT the job for you!
- You have kids – Alright…so this one is a little sarcastic. Of COURSE you can take care of pets if you have kids of your own. BUT, you can NOT bring the kids with you (unless this has been previously worked out with the pet owner). Remember, you are coming into someone’s home. You don’t know how this dog will react with children! Even if it’s not aggressive (chance are it’s not) it might be a mastiff and 10 x’s the height of little Susie!!! What if Marmaduke is a jumper? What if little Susie gets a paw to the face? What if little susie wants to walk little Odie…but little Odie pulls out of little Susie’s hands to chase little Garfield down the street? You can have kids AND walk dogs…just not in the same place! Along the same vein…remember what I said about timing? You need to be a little bit flexible on the days you watch your animals!! As sweet as kids are…your son’s broken leg is NO excuse to miss letting a dog out when you promised you would be there. You HAVE to be able to do both…or have a backup plan in place. We are going to talk about backup plans more in a bit…but REALLY assess how much time you have to dedicate to this!! It’s a part time gig…but it’s a pretty set in stone one!
- You are pregnant – Being pregnant is a BEAUTIFUL thing (so I’ve been told) and you wouldn’t want ANYTHING to jeopardize that! One thing to consider, is the implications of animals and being pregnant. Remember earlier when I said that some homes and animals just aren’t clean? I want to repeat that!! Some carpets are pee stained….you’ll be picking up feces…you’ll be bathing big dogs…throwing chew toys that are 10 years old…the list goes on and on. That doesn’t even ACCOUNT for the physical aspects of this dog!! I can’t COUNT the number of times I’ve walked through the front door of a house to be greeted by a big dog on its hind legs using my shoulders as a prop. (I do LOVE me some big dogs, though…). Make sure, if you are determined to do this job, that you are being EXTREMELY picky about the number of pets there are in a house, the size of the pets, and the jobs you are going to be asked to do. Remember…it’s ok to say no!!!
Normally, I wouldn’t write posts about dog walking on a blog about SEO…but I wanted to give full disclosure. As much as I love blogging and running a small business, sometimes it takes a bit more to pay the rent. My young, 4 month old blog, is doing INCREDIBLY well…just not well enough or FAST enough to pay the bills.
I want my readers to know that THAT’S ok!! It’s ok to not be successful. It’s ok to have a side gig to make things work. It’s ok to not be making $40,000, $5,000 or even $1,800 a month with ads, courses and ebooks.
That’s. OK. As Tim Gunn would say…”It’s a make it work moment.”
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