Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Dog Walking Biz Woes

I just spent an hour trying to justify raising my rates after three years of not raising them.  In my mind and in life, I don't need justification.  It's justifiable to raise rates every year.  The industry standard has well-surpassed my highest paying clients.  And many of my clients are paying 50% less than that.  I have a few on sliding scale and that won't change but their rates will increase.

Still, it's nerve-wracking!  I get all anxious and uptight about the business side of the business.

It's easy to tell a potential client what my rates are.  But for some reason, I'm still trigger-shy when it comes to asking existing clients to pay regular rates.  I've only raised rates of current clients once in my career as a dogwalker. [probably a disgrace to dogwalkers everywhere.]

When I first started walking dogs for a living* my rates were laughable.  But that's what one does as a novice with a start-up business.  I was happy enough to be doing what I loved. 

One of my first clients - a young couple - strong-armed me into dropping my (laughable) rates plus giving them Friday's free, just because they booked me all week. 

I worked hard for them.  Their dog was high-maintenance, high-strung, stubborn and strong.  I went out of my way to make sure he was getting the best treatment.  I cleaned up after him when he would destroy things in the kitchen.  I gave him a little extra time if I had it because he was alone all day.  I loved him but he was a lot of fricken work for forty bucks a week!   No holiday bonuses.  No "thanks" from the couple.  Hardly a word.  Most of the time it didn't bother me.  I needed the work.

Meanwhile, their three-story condo in primo Santa Monica was being remodeled.  Up went a wide screen tv, a full-on surround sound stereo system, game consoles, workout equipment, leather furniture, patio furniture (and that was just on the top floor).  There was crystal, china, heavy dark wood, art, etc.  Stuff I couldn't be bothered with.  But every week they had something big, new and shiny moving in.

So, after a year of walking their difficult dog at a ridiculous rate, I raised their rates.  I figured thedeal we had was worth the start-up for the first year and it seemed they were in a better place financially and could afford the regular rates.

My mistake.

The wife of this yuppy team had a screaming fit, "You can't just do that!  You can't say your rates are one thing and then change them."  I was stunned.  Even though by this time I had a steadily growing clientele, I was afraid to lose this client.  Forty bucks was forty bucks.  It was my worst nightmare:  What if this was the beginning of the demise of my business?  What if I'm really not worth my regular rates?  Will I have enough money to buy food?  I need this client.  I need the money.  I can't live without...


It was that moment when I realized my worth.  And I was ready to let them go.  She couldn't communicate her justifications with me.  So she put her sales-boy husband on the phone (the one who made the original deal with me). 

Too late.  I'm over you.

I wasn't interested in his pleas.  He tried all his sales tactics (an industry I had just come from).  I turned down all of his "deals I couldn't refuse" and respectfully wished him luck finding another dogwalker.

Immediately there was a sense of relief.  Calmness.  I didn't realize it, but I had been holding on to that client out of fear.  Once I let go of the fear, it didn't matter what they said, did or wanted. 

Sure I lost part of my income but that was chump change compared to the self-respect and self-worth I had gained.  Plus it freed time and space in my group for new clients who were happy to pay my regular rates.  And I was way less strung out.  The group even calmed down.  Life was fun again.  Work was fun.

Until it wasn't anymore - and I went on hiatus.


* I started walking dogs professionally in the fall of 1996.  Within a year I had a full schedule with regular clients.  After five years of ups and downs (mostly ups) I was feeling a little burned out.  I took a break for six months from January - July 2001.  When I returned to the field, the market was saturated with new, untrained dogwalkers, charging almost twice what I was making.  It took two years to rebuild the business.  And the market keeps growing.  It's a competitive field.  That's why I stick with my colleagues and try to charge the same rates.  There's plenty to go around.  Without each other, some of us wouldn't have work.  Most of my clients are referrals - many from other dogwalkers.


sunflowerkat321 said...

The business end of a business is the hardest part.  I had my own business for a few years...and I had a terrible time asking for what I was worth.  I'm glad you are within a network were you can keep your rates competitive.  It's SO easy to sell yourself short.

barefootbex said...

Just clicky-clicking through weblogs and found yours and thought I'd stop long enough to say hello :-)  You have an adorable dog, and on the subject of gas prices -- GAH!

That's all I have to say about that.

Take care!  Keep writing.

grodygeek said...

Great tale of growth. You go Freee! Raise those rates.

Maybe you need an audiance cheering like the Star Bucks advert for "Hank"?

the cycling curmudgeon

andreakingme said...

Ah, yes. The bad side of being a small biznez owner: clients who don't want to pay what you're worth! You've got to be one TOUGH cookie (who knows her worth and knows she's WORTH whatever the going rate is) to stand up for yourself when a client tries to take advantage. Risking losing that income is one of the very real pitfalls of the early business owner because you ARE between a rock and a hard place. Some of the most painful lessons learned are within the first year.

Sure wish I hadn't got rid of my biznez books. Did I ever tell you about ? Check them out. Grrrrreeat resources.

kristeenaelise said...

I always found it hilarious how the ones who are better off are the first ones to try to rip you off.  I first encountered this while I was 8 months pregnant with my first child.  I managed a pizza delivery restaurant, which meant delivering sometimes.  I would get a $5 tip in the projects, and nothing in the rich neighborhood.  Once I got to keep 50 cents because he said he guessed I deserved it, after waddling up his driveway to his 5,000 SF home with his 10 pizzas and 5 2-liters of soda. (big spender)

I just love how the ones who can afford it most easily are the first ones to complain.  You're right Miss Freee, stick to it, raise your rates if you have to.  I really like your sliding scale idea - I wish more service-based businesses would do that.

=) kris

judithheartsong said...

this is a good entry......... and a lesson I learned too. I love what I do, but I have to respect myself enough to ask for the compesation I deserve. I have given a lot of paintings to charities, but I can't give myself away. Good for you Trish!!!
Happy Thursday. judi

txsguinan said...

"I had been holding on to that client out of fear.  Once I let go of the fear, it didn't matter what they said, did or wanted."

Wonderful!  This is a lesson we can't be reminded of often enough ~ confront the fear, let it go and feel yourself go free.  Thanks ~ I needed that!

Oh, and nobody should be bitching about a rate hike from you anyway ~ you've already earned it and my guess is they've been expecting it, based on general inflation and gas prices alone.  Business is business.  Get your money, and go back to having fun....    :)

deveil said...

your worth every dollar!  Your are goddess of the dogwalkers!


aims814 said...

I have to come back here to catch up with you. I love the new sidebar! Darling photos!

Charge what you are worth! The hardest lesson for me to learn.  

love you!

lacaza3 said...

Don't feel bad I take care of patients sometimes at there homes and they try to fanagle the price...I figure hell if you can afford thousands of dollar of plastic surgery you can afford to pay  me my little pittance.
Donna In TEXAS

vxv789 said...

Hi!  Found your journal by way of others'.  Your entry struck me in a sensitive spot - I am moving to a 2nd-floor condo from a house-with-a-doggie-door so had to find a dogwalker for my elderly Belgian Sheepdog.  I winced at the cost of a dogwalker (especially since I am moving to Save Bucks) so happily I was able to find a willing local teenager who can accompany her around the block and permit her to do her thing.  But I completely understand - you have to make a living.  When she was younger and feistier, if I had had to hire a dogwalker, I would not have trusted her to anyone but someone who knew what she was doing, like you.  You cannot give away your livelihood.  You did absolutely the right thing, and you took care of yourself.  After all, if you can't take care of yourself, how can you take care of others (especially dogs)?


khavens8 said...

Hi Trish.
Thanks for posting. That's an interesting thought process to read. I've been in the same boat as a freelancer too. I'm in the midst of deciding to phase out a client I've had for a long time. I've been in the position - twice - where I've been conned or pressured into doing something work-intensive after-hours for in exchange for a free dinner. In my world that's not pay. And I believe you that cutting the cheapskates loose from your life is a great idea. Good flows to good, and - though I hate to quote Trump, I'm starting to believe in this wisdom - "If you hang with losers, you become a loser."  

Good luck to you. I've often thought dogwalking sounded like the ideal job, but my phobia of poop gets in the way.


mikethedawg said...

Hey, new side bar is cool (waving at you and hunny).
Dog walking business and letting go of the fear and realizing your worth all sounds like a good plan for life in general. Hmmm...letting go of the fear....hmmm.

Everyone is charging more Trishy! With the price of gas, a business has to profit. It's all business sweetie. NO FEAR..

(Waving goodbye to the sidebar. I'll be back soon.)

sweetestbabay85 said...

I am a college student and in dire need of some income but with my hectic school schedule, even during the summer, it is quite difficult to find an establishment willing to hire me and work around my already crowded day. That is when I saw an ad in our local newspaper for a family looking for a dog walker. I tried to get in touch with them, but they are out of town for a couple weeks and said they would call me when they return. Since then, I have done some research on dogwalking, and I have found that I have a good start by just loving animals and wanting the best for them.

However, I have no idea what all running a dog walking business entales. The business side of it I can handle, however, the actual actions of what all a "dogwalker" has to actually do, I am lost. Therefore, as an experienced dogwalker, I was wondering if you had any tips for me.

My email is HELP!!!