In Sydney’s trendy Paddington the cost of walking your dog is $15 for a half-hour walk (inexplicably, $17.50 for German Shepherd). One particular dog walker manages to walk up to five dogs at a time although I dare not ask if the droppings are dutifully collected. My dog walker walked off the job, reporting that she couldn’t afford to keep doing the work, claiming that her customers would not pay more than the $15.
When my dog walker walked off the job, it occurred to me that she could, potentially, transform her dog walking enterprise by looking at how she might add value to her service, rather than be trapped on the hourly rate treadmill.
Dog owners love their dogs and are concerned for their wellbeing and do spend money on their pets. Like credit cards and raising children, it’s another lifestyle expense. A deeper analysis of pet ownership inevitability raises issues of nutrition, grooming and training as well as dog walking for those owners who are too busy in their work to do the daily dog walk. Visit any pet shop or vet practice and you are inundated by accessories, chew toys to ensure dental health, and much more. Dog owners seem to have discretionary income when it comes to their beloved pet.
Reaching beyond the act of walking the dog and into the hearts and minds of the dog owner plus family and you find a veritable cornucopia of opportunity for the enterprising dog-walker. And what business-minded business person would not look for ways of expanding the business, like , for example employing uni students to do the menial work while canvassing for new clients who fit the bill of appreciating your (expanded) service offering?
Transforming into a business
For sure it takes more than an idea to move beyond the $15/half hour dog walk to a business. First is the job of presenting oneself as more than just a dog walker and having offers and packages available. You know how it works in the service world: you have a ‘basic’ package a, ‘family’ pack and a ‘premium’ pack. Good marketing is about selling the value so ‘premium’ can be sold as the ‘value’ package. The simple half-hour dog walk three times a week can be transformed into a premium package offering for example, several walking sessions a week (one-on-one for the premium client), training, select dog food, nutritional supplements, and grooming.
The typical customer will pay more but they don’t mind as their dog is being taken care of; the business minded dog walker thus gains the satisfaction of impacting positively on her client’s life. What is created is a sustainable ‘Dog Lovers’ business for the aspiring dog walker.
Aspiring bookkeepers hired on an hourly rate and delivering the specified service might well find themselves relating to the unfortunate $15 per half hour dog walker. When competing on the hourly rate and offering the most basic level of service, there is little fat on the bone (excuse the pun). In effect, like the menial dog walker, your service becomes a commodity and no professional wants to see themselves as commodity providers.
Finding the ideal client
Dog walkers and bookkeepers are not alone in this challenge. Every service provider can go through the kind of transformation described above. Transformation can be a virtuous cycle. Once an ideal client is discovered through the process of building a sustainable business case, then the service provider – the bookkeeper or dog walker – can market to that ‘ideal’ client. Paddington dog walkers have as clientele busy professionals some of whom travel a lot, so the add-on service of dog accommodation (kennel service) would open up, not just the extra revenue potential, but also new clientele of the ideal demographic which would, naturally, be buyers of the premium service.
Once a service business reaches a critical mass, referral business then becomes the principal source of new clients, because dog owners always speak to other dog owners. In bookkeeping, higher value services such as payroll management, debtor management, cash flow projections and the like will deliver more perceived value to the client than compliance work and thus enable productivity gains to flow to the bookkeeper (who may sub out the menial work to an employee). As with dog walkers, bookkeepers can establish their ideal client and apply a similar transformative exercise to rewrite the business case for their own bookkeeping business.
In this regard, what’s important is that you differentiate your service offering and that you can help the specific types of clients you are targeting make an informed decision based on the distinctions between the choices they have. For sure, there will be buyers of the basic service, but you have already shown them the value of a premium service. Business skills can be learned; this may require additional training such as How to Start a Bookkeeping Business; a relatively small investment when measured against the opportunity that it opens up.