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  • #967652
    ElizabethQ
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    Hi guys,

    I came here a while ago when I first started my dog fitness website 1 Fit Mutt. The site is going well, it was recently named Dog Website of the Year by the MDBA organization, which I’m very happy about.

    I have a lot of different ideas for the site. One of them being starting a dog walking/running business around my city. The problem is that I work full time and don’t have the time to juggle full time work and walk with dogs around the city, so I had the idea of getting a couple of contractors to start out with. I would do the marketing and advertising, liaising with customers, etc. and they would do the actual dog walking under my brand. They would then get a percentage of the profit from each session. However, I see several problems with this that I’m not sure how to address and the main one is as follows:

    Most dog owners would likely want to pay cash in hand. This means there is nothing stopping my contractors from walking dogs under my brand behind my back without my knowledge and keeping the money, or even ditching the 1 Fit Mutt brand altogether and taking the customers that I initially make.

    The possible solution to this is to sell “packs” of sessions through my website and have people pay online. This way, money goes to me and then I allocate it to the contractors. However, this seems like it would greatly limit my potential client base.

    I would have next to no physical contact with my contractors and customers, which I think contributes to this potential problem. I’d likely insist on meeting potential contractors before getting into any sort of business relationship with them, but seeing as the aim is to provide services in various regions of the city they will probably be located too far away for me to stay in close contact with them except for via email or phone and maybe monthly catch-ups in the city. Therefore I’m afraid that I wouldn’t even find out if someone is doing work behind my back or taking my customers.

    Each contractor would incur some expense for me initially to provide them with a branded shirt and potentially personalized business cards, so I stand to lose a quite a bit in the long run should the people working for me end up not being trustworthy.

    Does anyone have any experience with this type of situation and/or offer any advice?

    Thanks in advance!

    #1027895
    Chris Bates
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    I like the idea of pre-selling session packs over the Internet – is going to eliminate the risk of contractors taking a bigger cut then they should.

    As for personalised business cards – I would make generic ones and use them. That way they are re-usable along side branded shirts, etc.

    #1027896
    ElizabethQ
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    Thanks for your reply, Chris. I wonder how many people would insist on paying in cash, though. I’d also probably need to offer a discounted first session as well. People should be very careful about who they trust to look after their dogs, so I don’t want to just make this an online, impersonal transaction. Owners will need to know exactly who is walking their dog, where the dog is being walked, who it’s being walked with, etc.

    I agree with your generic business card vs personalized card idea, I think that’s a better option.

    I’ve also been trying to find any sort of dog insurance plans for businesses. I’d definitely need to get some insurance in case of an accident. That and then there’s the whole issue of writing up contracts for the people working for me and terms and conditions for the owners when they purchase their sessions. Geez, I’m ok at this idea stuff, but the technical legal stuff is way over my head. I wonder if I can hire someone to take care of all this stuff for me that won’t cost me an arm and a leg :S

    #1027897
    Jake@EmroyPrint
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    I think if you have a centralised booking system (Booking aren’t taken through the dog walkers but online / phone / email etc) Then you may eliminate the chance of subcontractors running off with some cash as you are tracking all of the bookings.

    Further to that, if the dog owners want to pay with cash – Email them through a form they need to fill out, saying how many walks they would like / number of weeks / dogs etc etc and they can put this in the envelope with the cash. This way, the cash amount needs to match up with whats on the forms.

    PS: I’ve done printing for a number of members on the forum and would love to do yours as well – PM me if you would like some prices for those business cards you were talking about or some maybe some flyers.

    #1027898
    wordmistress
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    Hi Elizabeth

    Maybe the problem starts with hiring strangers. Perhaps you could visit web forums like this one but which relate to families, stay-at-home mums and so on, and mention that you’re looking for reliable people to do some paid dog-walking in their areas. You could even look back at their previous posts and figure out what kind of person they are to some degree once they approach you.

    I think a word-of-mouth referral system to find your dog-walkers might be a better idea than, say, advertising for them. I’m picturing lovely grandmas with their walking shoes on and with very pedantic rules about how dogs should be treated; they’d always pick up the er, ‘messages’ from the footpath and dispose of them appropriately.

    Or, perhaps you could make a point of a day trip out to a region you would choose and visit the local bowls club, community gym or the like. What you want are salt-of-the-earth, reliable people who genuinely love dogs and also want to get exercise. Contact the club or gym in advance and ask them to post a flyer or poster (which you would email or post to them) and arrange for a morning tea so you could meet the potential dog-walkers, hire them, train them and make personal contact.

    Knowing who you’re dealing with (and them knowing you) is a good way of establishing a relationship based on trust and sincerity.

    #1027899
    ElizabethQ
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    I really need to learn to stop saying ‘dog walking’ when I’m actually talking about dog running. There are quite a few dog walkers around Perth and the fact is that for a lot of dogs just a walk isn’t enough, so my main selling point would be dog -running- services (I’d probably offer walking as well for those who want it, but running would be the main point). So unfortunately this cuts out the lovely grandma idea (although I’m sure there are lovely grandmas out there who are great runners, but the majority just aren’t). In most cases the ‘runners’ would probably be somewhere around their 20s. I’ll need to find contractors who are not only physically fit enough to have a 1 hour running session multiple times a day, but are also dog lovers. It makes me wonder how likely this even is :S.

    I’m thinking the maximum number of dogs a runner could run with at one time is two, three at the very most, and sometimes more than one won’t even be achievable depending on the dog’s training and energy levels. I would be charging slightly higher than dog walkers in the area currently do as I’d be offering a more ‘intense’ service, so I was thinking around $30 per hour. Now the question comes in – how much do I pay my dog runners. I’d say up to 50%. $15 per hour works for me if I can get a large enough client base and enough contractors running dogs in different areas, but is it really realistic to expect any contractor to want to run with a dog for an hour for $15 profit? This might work for people who are runners anyway and are in training, so they can make some extra cash while doing what they would be anyway – except it’s a little hard keep focused on your running goals while watching over an often unruly dog beside you.

    It’s seeming more and more that the only way I could do this is to run dogs myself, and get that $30 going straight to me. Unfortunately due to my full time job this is not possible and it also limits the area greatly (especially as I don’t actually drive)

    One seemingly perfect solution would be to offer dog CYCLING services. This way it isn’t as physically demanding on the runners and with the proper dog bike attachment they can run two dogs at once with no great trouble. However I’m afraid the laws in Perth about having dogs running alongside bikes won’t allow for this (I’ll have to double check, but from what I hear it might actually be illegal)

    There must be some way to work this out, I just haven’t found it yet >.<

    #1027900
    wordmistress
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    Well you’re nowhere near at a stage where giving up is an option :). I know how frustrating it can be trying to find the right solution but there has to be one. How about uni students? What a great way to get exercise and earn money! I’m sure there are plenty of letterbox leaflet distributors who are students and who get paid a pittance to go around on foot putting leaflets into mailboxes. They might wish they could do a more intense workout. There has to be some responsible uni students who may live away from home and miss their own dogs.

    Food for thought anyway. Keep plugging away, the answer is sure to come.

    #1027901
    ElizabethQ
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    Thanks for the encouragement, wordmistress! Uni students actually sounds like a great idea. So far I have a to do checklist of the following:

    1. Market research on demand for dog running services and competitor analysis
    2. Sort out costs/profits/how much I’d have to charge, how much would be allocated to contractors, etc.
    3. Sort out pet business insurance plan
    4. Get terms & conditions sorted for clients
    5. Get an independent contractor contract put together (if I need one? When I worked for Jim Beam as an independent contractor I didn’t have a contract :S)
    6. Find actual runners, meet all of them in person before hiring
    7. Get branded shirts and business cards designed & printed
    8. Design and develop a landing page and develop an online payment system for clients
    9. Do feedback/usability testing on landing page
    10. Potentially get a VA to handle calls/bookings
    11. Organize the adwords campaign, possibly get a freelancer to manage this.
    12. Establish password protected online management system for contractors to manage their calendars and available work times/days.
    13. Launch campaign

    I have no idea if this is even in the right order, having never done this type of thing before :S. I think research will be so crucial here. I mean, this will require quite a large chunk of initial investment from me before it even gets off the ground, I don’t want to get everything ready and then not actually have any clients.

    #1027902
    wordmistress
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    You’re welcome! :)

    Comments about your list:

    1. Market research on demand for dog running services and competitor analysis – for a low cost exercise, try http://www.surveymonkey.com but it won’t exactly be targeted to residents/dog owners in the areas you need. How about a press release instead aimed at getting you on the radio or in local freebie newspapers? I can help you there. Mention your website at every opportunity, create a Twitter account if you don’t already have one and see if you can get as many people from dog-lover communities to spread the word for you.
    2. Sort out costs/profits/how much I’d have to charge, how much would be allocated to contractors, etc. – Speak to your local small business development corporation or Chamber of Commerce for help on this area.
    3. Sort out pet business insurance plan – Where’s the iSelect girl when you need her? Lol, you’d have to be barking bonkers to not have pet business insurance!! :)
    4. Get terms & conditions sorted for clients – Here’s a really helpful website (at first glance anyway) that could be of use to you.
    5. Get an independent contractor contract put together (if I need one? When I worked for Jim Beam as an independent contractor I didn’t have a contract :S) – Find info on this too at the above link.
    6. Find actual runners, meet all of them in person before hiring – contact universities about their student job placement service.
    7. Get branded shirts and business cards designed & printed – Put a call out on FS. I know Emroy does coffee mugs so more than likely, shirts too.
    8. Design and develop a landing page and develop an online payment system for clients – I can help with the landing page, others on FS can help with the payment system.
    9. Do feedback/usability testing on landing page
    10. Potentially get a VA to handle calls/bookings – There are FS members who can put their hand up for this :).
    11. Organize the adwords campaign, possibly get a freelancer to manage this. – I can write your ad but there are others better suited to administering the keyword aspect. (Chris Bates?)
    12. Establish password protected online management system for contractors to manage their calendars and available work times/days. – Also a FS member potential job.
    13. Launch campaign

    Even though your list seems exhaustive, my guess is that you love the whole thought process behind it and you’re passionate enough about dog fitness that you’ll definitelly bring it all to fruition! :)

    #1027903
    ElizabethQ
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    You’re right, I do like the thought process behind it. I think another reason why I insist on laying every little step out is because this makes my idea feel more solid and makes me feel like I’m really sticking to it because I’m following a set path.

    A lot of the things on the list I can do by myself or with an assistant (either hired via Elance or, I’m hoping, my boyfriend if he’s up for the job. This way I’ll have someone whom I can stay in close contact with and I know can fully understand what exactly I need. I’ll have to really drive home the point that this isn’t just something he can take half-heartedly, though, and that he will have to do proper work and meet deadlines and such).

    The things that I would eventually need help with and will likely come to FS to search for assistance with are:

    Virtual receptionist, adwords, and potentially consulting on the landing page. I’ve done web design/development before, so I’d be able to create the page itself, the problem is going to be structuring the page in the optimum way to drive leads and eventually sales. I can make a page look pretty and polished, but I wouldn’t have a clue about the best layout from a sales perspective.

    The more IT type stuff on the list shouldn’t be a big problem as I already know what project management system I think would be perfect for organizing all the tasks etc. What feels really daunting to me right now is the legal stuff (contracts, terms & conditions, etc) and pet insurance – once that’s out of the way I’ll feel much better. The next hump is going to be finding contractors who will work for $15 or so per hour.

    I can’t thank you enough for all of your help! I alreaday have a much clearer picture of what I have to do just from one night on this site :)

    #1027904
    wordmistress
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    Well part of what makes Flying Solo so brilliant is that it’s like walking into a room with a bunch of people just sitting there waiting to hear your ideas and contribute to them. Glad you’re find this out for yourself! :)

    As for the $15/hr rate, perhaps it’s comparable to students’ hourly rates for ‘glassie’, pizza delivery, kitchen hand and similar jobs. But for those who love dogs and also need to fit exercise into their study routine, it could be perfect. Fresh air, getting outside, canine companionship … these are the benefits you need to pitch to the people you’d like to hire.

    The thing about having friends and family work for you is that they don’t always share your vision. They may not be as invested in your goals as you are. Once you put someone to work, keep regular tabs on their progress and if things aren’t working out, put an end to the arrangement before a) it drags your business down and b) it drains the relationship. Remember, it’s not their dream so don’t hold it against them if it fails to work.

    All the best, and keep coming back for more insight!

    #1027905
    Avatar Consulting
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    Hi Elizabeth

    I used to live in WA and its great weather for running dogs. This is a good business Idea and I have seen a few similar ones start up in Kelmscott and Armadale areas recently.

    The biggest hurdle you have is trusting your ‘contractors’ but unfortunately there really is little you can do about this because;

    • Any contracts you have can be broken and its up to you to commence legal action at your own cost and time to enforce it
    • If you contract them as business owners, which is what they would be by law, you cannot stop them getting their own customers/work, even if it means some of your customers go to them directly
    • If you make them sign legal documents stopping them getting their own customers/clients you risk making them your employees instead of contractors, and costing you far more than its worth

    In reply to your legal/insurance questions you will need to speak to a solicitor directly because your business will need to manage the following risks;

    1. If you hire contractors, you will need to make sure that they have their own insurances and licences or your could be partially/fully liable for their actions
    2. Dogs may bite people or property and the contractor is responsible for this. In WA it is extremely expensive to get insurance for dogs in the public because of the risks involved
    3. If you instruct the contactors they have to run the dogs, what fitness tests do you ensure so that they are able to do the job
    4. If you pay the contractors a commission, and not a service fee you risk the contractors being deemed by law as employees.
    5. Each state has very specific safety rules concerning a business using contractors so make sure you check out your states safety org

    It sounds like you have a great business idea, just a little unsure about your actual business management systems yet. This forum is a great place to start for information, but i recommend that you have your business plan drawn up to answer lots of these questions before you commit to running this business part time.

    As a business owner, even a part time new owner, can face huge compensation claims and fines for a single safety issue that is not managed. For sole traders this can mean losing your entire assets and property to pay your business fines.

    #1027906
    ElizabethQ
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    Thanks for your input, Paul, much appreciated.

    Hm, so pet business insurance wouldn’t also cover the contractors doing work for me? I didn’t know that, it makes things more complicated.

    In terms of fitness tests, I figured when I meet up with interested parties instead of just having a chat about what they would be doing we’d also go for a run. That way I can actually see how much endurance etc they have.

    I’ll need to look into the difference between a commission and a service fee. If I say that they’ll be getting $15 per 1 hour run, but word it as their payment for that run as opposed to saying that they’re getting a percentage of the proceeds from the run, would that be a service fee?

    I think “a little” unsure is a big understatement here :) I’ll get there, though. I’ve decided to actively work on getting sales via my ecommerce system on my current site as well as working on the dog running project because that way the business can start paying for itself as opposed to me just throwing a bunch of money into it and hoping it’ll work out :S

    #1027907
    Jake@EmroyPrint
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    I have been looking at the prices of letterbox drops lately – They range from been $15 per 1,000 to around $35 per thousand.

    I thought it was a crock when I read it as there is no way that it can be feasible to do that many letterbox drops for such a small price.

    That was until the lady explained to me that when each letterbox drops going out, there are about 5-10 companies who participate.

    So for each thousand drops they do, the business is getting $75 – $350.

    I think you should use this same concept with your animal walking (I use the word animal because a friend of mine has a pig that gets walked by a walker)

    If you take 2-3 dogs at a time, and charge it at $30 per run, thats $90. You can comfortably give the contractors a decent hourly rate with that.

    #1027908
    ElizabethQ
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    Emroy, running several dogs at once would be a great idea. Unfortunately the problem with this is that running with a dog is much more challenging than walking with one. You have better control of the dog when walking and can normally handle 3 dogs or even more. When running, some dogs are much more boisterous and difficult to handle. After the runner gets to know the dogs they’re looking after it may be possible to start grouping well behaved dogs together, but this would take at least several individual runs with each dog.

    I could make this project a dog -walking- business and offer individual runs separately on the side, allowing running to be just one part of the business, but then it would be just like any one of the many existing dog walking businesses out there. Dog running would set 1 Fit Mutt apart and allow me to have slightly higher rates (I think the highest-priced dog walker I’ve seen in this area charges $25 per hour). Maybe it’s something I should consider anyway, I’m just not sure.

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