I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I love walking my dog.
It’s a quiet and enjoyable way to bring some activity into my life. I get to explore my neighborhood and see new places. And best of all, I get to bond with my best four-legged friend.
But what if you could start a dog-walking business — and make good money from it?
That’s exactly what Sam Williamson of Dog Walking Dunfermline did. Her dog-walking hobby is now her career, and business is booming.
Williamson rakes in more than $34K per year, all for spending time outdoors, walking dogs.
What’s more, she only works a few hours each day, totalling less than 20 hours per week.
This pretty much sounds like a dream job, right? But how does she make it work?
We chatted with Williamson to learn how she got started — and how you could follow in her footsteps (and paw prints!) if you want.
Walking Dogs for Money: How Williamson Got Her Start
Like many of us, Williamson grew up around dogs.
“We always had at least three dogs living with us at any one time,” Williamson, who lives in Scotland, said.
Her family owned dogs as pets, and also had a “close relationship with a local kennel,” meaning they ended up watching “difficult” dogs for a few weeks at a time.
While Williamson was used to interacting with a lot of different dogs, she was interested in forming more lasting relationships with them.
She hated the “goodbye” part of the kennel arrangement, which “sucked because [she’d] just be starting to develop a relationship with them, then they’d have to leave,” she said.
So in the early aughts, she began walking her friends’ dogs, “purely for pleasure.” It gave her a break from her office job, which she had “very little motivation” for. Plus, she got to interact with the same dogs again and again — no long goodbye required.
But the juxtaposition of her less-than-exciting cubicle life with her dog walking extracurriculars got her thinking.
What if she could market her services and turn it into a business, so she could quit work to walk dogs full time?
As it turns out, she could — but it wasn’t as easy as she thought it’d be.
A Doggone Good Business Idea
Dog Walking Dunfermline started with a simple calculation: If Williamson could walk four dogs a day, she could make almost £1,500 a month.
That translates to about $2,000 per month — not extravagant, but certainly livable. The pay would be the same as working 40-hour weeks at a $13/hour job, and would require way fewer hours of work.
But unfortunately, her early marketing attempts didn’t go quite as well as planned.
Surprisingly, she had no trouble convincing the friends whose dogs she’d been walking for free to pay for the services.
“Most of them had already offered at some point!” Williamson said.
She started charging £12 per hour (about $17), and her circle of clients was big enough that she didn’t go hungry. But she knew her business could be doing better… and she wanted to make enough cash to quit her job once and for all.
Her trouble was an inability to attract new interest and widen her client base with old-school marketing techniques.
“My initial attempts at marketing my business involved telling my friends and handing out handwritten leaflets, which wasn’t exactly drumming up a huge amount of business,” she admitted.
In fact, over the course of four years attempting to broaden the business’s horizons, she says she didn’t receive a single call or email.
I spent a long time telling myself it would never work.
Then, something wonderful happened: Williamson met the man who would become her husband.
As if that wasn’t awesome enough, he happened to own a digital marketing agency.
Talk about a perfect match: Not only was he able to build her a website and set up a cost-per-click Google ad campaign for her business, his flexible lifestyle inspired Williamson to keep her dream of full-time dog walking alive.
“Seeing the freedom [he] had in his work motivated me even more,” she said.
Which is a good thing: Once the ads were up and running, Williamson’s phone began to ring off the hook.
“There’s just something about being on Google (and having a nice website) that people immediately trust,” she said. “It also means that they’re willing to spend a bit more for your services!”
Getting the Tennis Ball Rolling
Once she had a legitimate online presence, Williamson was able to raise her hourly rate to £15 (about $21). Within a month, she quit her job to devote herself to her new business full time.
Although the price hike might not seem like much, it enabled Williamson to expand her services to new areas.
Within two years, she’d hired — and provided uniforms for — two part-time staff members, allowing her to take weekends off.
Both of her employees are students and family friends, so she’s helping the community while also increasing her own flexibility.
And in case you’re wondering — like I was — whether or not her client base balked at the price change, the answer is, surprisingly, no.
It all comes back to the quality service and personalized attention Williamson brought to her business, and her initial aspiration to connect with dogs in the long term.
“I think my customers realised pretty quickly that it wasn’t just dog-walking services that I provided,” William said. “I was cleaning their dogs after the walk, taking them to different places every week, and developing a real bond with them.”
And since Williamson and her employees walk the dogs in large groups for efficiency’s sake, the pets are also getting valuable socialization and learning obedience.
“This is probably the key to the success that we’ve had,” said Williamson.
“Each dog that I take out isn’t just getting exercise, they’re getting the chance to behave like a proper dog for a few hours every week,” she explained.
Dog Walking: A Flexible and Fulfilling Career
Today, Williamson makes more than £2,000 per month, and the company brings in around £2,500 (about $2,800 and $3,500, respectively).
A huge part of her success lies in the fact dog walking is a business model with very low startup costs. She only needed to advertise, provide transportation and, eventually, invest in a uniform instead of the jeans and hoodies she’d been wearing.
But her business’s growth would have been impossible without the pay-per-click campaign her husband set up for her.
Williamson estimates this advertising cost her around £2 per click, which she says was well worth it for the birth of her new business. Now, she says she relies almost solely on referrals.
What’s more? She’s working a flexible, fulfilling job she loves.
She focuses primarily on dogs whose owners need them to be walked each day during the workweek, so she’s forming those long-term bonds she hoped for by hanging out with each dog over and over again.
She only works three hours a day, between noon and 3 p.m. — and she gets to listen to music and audiobooks while she enjoys the sunshine with the dogs.
“The best part of the job is working outside, and having most of the day to myself,” Williamson said.
“I don’t have to get up too early and still have time in the day to go out and do other things. I also love meeting new dogs and helping them socialize.”
Our favorite part of Williamson’s job, on the other hand, is the passion and dedication she put into making it happen — even when she felt sure she’d fail.
Your Turn: Which of your hobbies would you turn into a career?
Jamie Cattanach is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder, and the proud mom of the floppiest greyhound in the world, Odin. Follow along (and inevitably see lots of dog pics) at www.jamiecattanach.com.