If you think dogs are a treat to be around, you’re not alone. The number of canine pets in the UK was 12.5 million last year.

More time at home during the pandemic lockdowns saw people able to welcome new dogs into their families. But what will owners do now they have to go back to work? The answer is dog daycare.

This is your paw-fect time to start a doggy daycare business of your own. You’ll combine your love for pups with your pursuit of commercial success.

This guide to starting a dog daycare business includes:

  • Sniffing out what you need before starting a dog daycare business
  • Opening up the doggy door to your first customers
  • Keeping a leash on your financial management

Sniffing out what you need before starting a dog daycare business

Registration

Start the ball rolling by registering with the UK government. To register the right way, choose which type of business ownership you’ll use.

Sole trader

  • Unlimited liability — personally liable for the business’s debts.
  • Simple registration — only responsibility is to register as self-employed.

For more information, see: What is a sole trader?

Limited company

  • Limited liability — only lose the money you put into a business if it can’t pay its debts.
  • Complex registration — register the business with Companies House, which requires more responsibilities than just self-employed.

For more information, see: What is a limited company?

Licences

When starting a dog daycare business, the next important thing to consider is the licences you need.

England

A Boarding for Cats or Dogs Licence is required to open a pet daycare business in England. You can apply through the UK government, and you’ll receive an inspection shortly after.

Inspectors will check dogs you look after:

  • Have food, drink and bedding.
  • Get regular exercise.
  • Aren’t diseased, injured or suffering.
  • Aren’t in danger (e.g. fire hazards).
  • Are cared for by someone qualified.

Wales and Scotland

In Wales and Scotland, you need an Animal Boarding Establishment Licence which you can apply for with the UK government.

Local councils will conduct an inspection similar to England, which looks for the same key points.

Qualifications

To reassure your customers that you can take care of their precious pooches, you can get qualified through courses.

Inspectors for your licences will seek to determine if you have the training to care for animals, so consider the Level 3 Professional Day Care and Boarding course.

This course is available from:

The Ofqual regulated courses prove that you can comply with the terms of your licence arrangements.

Location

Think about your daycare’s location to make sure it’s a safe place. You could use your own home or rent a property to use.

When you consider where to set up, think about if the space can:

  • Allow for dogs to exercise (e.g. indoor area like a warehouse or outdoor like a field).
  • Keep dogs warm (e.g. room for blankets, beds and heating for cold days).
  • Prevent dogs escaping (e.g. high fences and secure areas).

Insurance

If your business doesn’t employ anyone else, there’s no insurance you legally require. Although, cover can still be helpful and essential for any dog business.

Public liability

Dogs can damage public property, and they can injure people. If you’re on a walk and either of those things happen, you could face legal action.

Public liability cover will help pay towards the court fees or compensation in that situation.

Care, custody and control

If a dog is injured or falls ill in your care, the owner could also claim against you. So care, custody and control cover would help you deal with that financially.

The cover can also pay for veterinary costs and advertising to help find lost dogs.

You can benefit from both of these covers with a specific dog daycare insurance, such as:

Funding

To pay for insurance, courses or property, you might seek extra funds for your business.

Small business loan

One option to secure funds is to approach a bank for a small business loan. They could offer you the money you need and you’ll arrange to pay it back over time with interest.

To apply for a loan, you’ll need to put together a business plan which explains what you’d do with the money and the likelihood of your success.

For more information on business plans, see: What should a business plan include?

Angel investor

Another option available for funding is to pitch to angel investors. These are wealthy individuals who can give you the money you need in exchange for a share of your company.

You’ll also need a business plan to impress them. But angel investors often invest in industries they are familiar with, so they could also offer helpful dog related contacts and advice for you.

Services and pricing

A critical point to consider before starting a dog daycare business is the services you offer and their prices.

Think about whether you’ll look after the dogs over weekends if owners go away or do weekdays while they’re at work. If you have to work overnight for example, you can likely charge a higher rate.

You could have different packages you offer which include extras like:

  • Trimming dogs nails
  • Cutting and washing fur
  • Dog massages
  • Luxury food

Opening up the doggy door to your first customers

Market research

When starting your dog daycare business, you’ll need to discover who your customers and competitors are. If you know who to target and who you’re up against, you’ll be able to market your business effectively.

To find out information for both, conduct market research. That can involve direct communication with the public through surveys or interviews. Ask what dog services people want and find groups are most likely to use them. 

You can look into your competitors online through their sites or visit them to see what services they offer.

If you search on Google which dog daycare businesses are run near you, you’ll likely find a few different ones. You’ll aim to stand out, so think about what you can provide that they don’t.

Target audience

Through your market research, you may pick up on some similarities between the potential customers.

For example, you could find that most people who said they’d use your service are on higher incomes and above 35. 

Any helpful insights into those customers will form your target audience. These are your ideal people to focus on in your marketing. If you focus your advertising approach, it will be more efficient and save you money.

Customer profiles

To decide which marketing channels to use to reach your target audience, you can create customer profiles (sometimes called customer avatars).

These are summaries of the lives of ideal customers, use them to discover when and where to market your business. For example, if they work during the day, you might target them in the evening.

A customer profile can include:

  • Name
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Location
  • Occupation
  • Lifestyle

Branding

Another critical step before you shout about your dog daycare business is its branding. Your brand is the company’s public identity, and it’s how you can build familiarity with your customers.

Your brand can include your:

  • Business name –– what you call your brand (e.g. House of Hounds).
  • Slogan –– a phrase to associate with your brand (e.g. who let the dogs in).
  • Logo –– an icon to represent your business (e.g. half, chewed toy).
  • Colours –– two or three colours for your brand (e.g. brown and white).
  • Tone of voice –– how you talk to customers (e.g. playful and excitable).

These points can form your brand guidelines to follow in your marketing. They’ll help maintain consistency to help you build recognition with the public

If people can easily remember your business, they may be more likely to trust you with their pets.

Website and bookings

Now you’ve got an audience to target and a strong brand, the last step before marketing is a way to accept bookings.

It’ll be helpful to create a dedicated website to explain your services to customers. They’ll be able to learn what they want to know and see what options you have available for them.

There are a few website builders that you could use:

Your site should also have contact information in case customers may have specific pet requirements to ask about.

For example, their dog may be allergic to certain foods, so they’d want reassurance they won’t come into contact with those.

Also, think about other ways to accept bookings like email and over the phone, but make sure you can manage all of that information together.

You can either use a physical diary or an appointment tool. These include:

Marketing channels

Now you’ve got a place to direct your customers, you can build awareness of your brand and services. Your customer profiles should paint a clear picture of your ideal customers, so think about how to reach those.

Social media

For example, if you’d like to target young adults, you could use a social media platform like TikTok. You can show clips of the dogs and information about the service in a fun way while you reach your ideal audience.

Your business will likely cater to dog owners that are local to you. In that case, it may be a good idea to find ways to spread your messages within your community.

Facebook has plenty of groups specific to local areas for users to interact with people nearby. If you create a page on the platform, you can encourage family and friends to share the business on their accounts.

Radio

Another channel that might be great for a local approach is regional radio. It might be expensive where you live if there’s high demand, but everyone who hears it will likely live close to you.

Events

You could put on a launch event for your business, and you can invite people to bring their pets for a dog themed party.

Everyone that attends could get a voucher for a free day of daycare. After a good experience, they’ll be more likely to choose your business again over a competitor.

Keeping a leash on your financial management with Countingup

Expenses

When starting a dog daycare business, you need to acknowledge the costs you might face.

These could include:

  • Food — stock up, and different dogs might have their unique dietary requirements.
  • Toys — keep the dogs entertained, and some will chew through them quickly.
  • Beds — enough for all of the dogs in your care, which can vary in sizes too.

Apart from dog care specific costs, you’ll likely also have rent, utilities and marketing costs to monitor.

Countingup is a business account with built-in accounting software, and it lets you manage your finances through your phone. 

Its expense categorisation feature sorts all of your costs automatically. It labels them to show which areas you spend the most time on.

Taxes

If you’re self-employed, you also need to consider filing your income tax Self Assessments. You must do these before the end of each tax year, but they can be time-consuming for new business owners.

Luckily, Countingup can provide you with tax estimates regularly. It means you’ll already know how much you should put aside each month, so taxes become easy to manage.

Invoices

In a service industry like dog daycare, it’s essential to record what you bill your customers. It will help you understand whether you’ve charged reasonable fees for what you provide.

With Countingup’s invoicing feature, you’re able to create and send bills on the go. Sort invoices through your phone with one hand and still pet pups with the other.

Get started for free.