While Savannah was at school at Seattle Pacific University, she walked dogs to help fund those pesky student bills of tuition, rent, and groceries. After graduating with a degree in apparel design, she worked one year in her field and hated it. She thought, “Why am I not walking dogs?” and went back to her college job for the love of it.
Three and a half years ago, Savannah started operating her own dog walking business in Tacoma, called Walk This Way Dogs. She used to be able to bike from client to client, but has since focused her furry jaunts in South Tacoma.
When she was younger, Savannah was drawn to marine biology but realized the science requirements were not going to work for her. Her love for animals still drives her, though. “I just know I’m gonna die working with animals.”
“The things I love today stemmed from dog walking,” such as listening to NPR, being outside, and watching the seasons change. “I’m the best part of a dog’s day. I develop that relationship with dogs and clients. Being able to grow in their families — it’s such an honor,” said Savannah. For example, she has one client family who she’s been working with since the couple was merely dating. Now they are married and having kids, and Savannah is still taking care of their pets.
Walk This Way Dogs mainly uses word of mouth to market its services. Savannah meets in person to have a consultation with her clients, allowing her to make them feel at ease about who they’re entrusting their beloved pet to. Savannah understands that “pets have evolved to become your family member.” Pet owners are willing to spend money toward massage, fancy food, and all sorts of things for their furry children. She’s able to personalize her relationship with each dog owner because she is as professional, but not as unreachable as a dog walking company like Wag or Rover. Referring to her role as a business owner, she said, “I’m the CE, F, and O.”
Because she is running the business on her own, Savannah takes advantage of opportunities she learns about through the Small Business Association. A few months ago, she received an SBA newsletter that introduced her to the Grow & Thrive Program, a class offered by Business Impact NW, which was conveniently set to happen the following day. Grow & Thrive is a seven-week structured mentorship program that helped her get organized and develop a management system. The operations manual in particular has allowed Savannah to “polish up a bit.” Savannah explained that individuals who work in various aspects of business – specializing in marketing or operations, for example – came to the classes to consult with business owners about their business plans. The feedback they provided has so far proved enormously beneficial for the dog walker.
As far as networking goes, hanging out with dogs all day doesn’t provide a lot of opportunities to interact with other humans who could be helpful resources and connections. The Grow & Thrive program has really opened up the opportunity to engage with other people representing a variety of businesses. “You can connect with people in types of industries that you’d never encounter before, you can bounce off ideas with one another,” Savannah shared. Each participant was matched with a mentor for business questions. Savannah has found that mentorship through BINW has been really helpful, and business coach “Susan [Perreault] has been really reachable.”
Her small business was “born out of dreams,” before she ever knew about how to create a business plan. She’s learned more since following this dream than she did in college. “Being an entrepreneur, no one is gonna do [your job] as well as you. You never work harder than when you own your own business, that couldn’t be more true.”
As for advice for other entrepreneurs, Savannah said, “Respect your time and learn to say no, set really clear boundaries from the get-go. People get accustomed to you doing everything and then you spread yourself too thin and you get burned out.”
Savannah has been able to help in the community because, while there are many people in Tacoma using neighborhood dog walking as their side hustle, Savannah’s focus and reliability allow her to bring more polish and professionalism to her clients. She acknowledged, “Being able to hire people has been great,” but she knows she can always trust herself to show up. “I will be there for a dog walk. No is not an option, no matter what is going on in my personal life.”
She partners with trainers in the area to connect to clients. Danette Johnston, a trainer who has been running Dogs Day Out in Ballard and Georgetown for 18 years, has been a huge resource for Savannah, who has been gaining experience on the in-home dog daycare front while working part-time at Dogs Day Out. This has been a helpful model for Savannah’s own Tacoma dog daycare, which she bought a house for in January. Hopefully Walk This Way Dogs’ home-based business will open in spring or summer 2019.
For entrepreneurs interested in finding out more about Grow & Thrive, the structured mentorship program perfect for business owners who want to take their business to the next level, visit: businessimpactnw.org/growthrive.
About the author
Katrina Herzog has spent the majority of her professional life working in childcare, youth education, and social services. She is a documentary photographer and recently received a Master of Social Work at University of Washington.