Setting yourself up for success—whether at the beginning of a new year or whenever the need to take firmer control strikes—can feel daunting. Where to start? How to begin?

Woman's hands typing on a laptop with notes saying Get Organized and Don't Forget.If you’re feeling disorganized, less productive than you’d like, frustrated by your business’ slow growth, or dismayed by a work/life balance that is…well, unbalanced, it’s time to reset for your success.

Here are 4 concrete steps you can take to make this year a great one…

Set some goals
These don’t have to be lofty new year’s resolutions, and they shouldn’t be guilt-ridden promises to yourself to “do better” or “work harder.” Instead, think about the big picture accomplishments you’re after.

Could be you’d like to fill a second walking group, or add five new dogs to your Tuesday-Thursday schedule. Maybe you want to become more comfortable marketing your dog walking services. Or perhaps you’ve got quality of life goals, like spending more time with your own dogs or taking regular weekends or just feeling like you’re not on the clock all the time.

Whatever your goals are, the first step toward gaining control of your year is getting clear on what that means to you.

Create a marketing calendar
If any of your business goals have to do with an increase in clients, it’s time to get serious about your marketing. Most dog pros struggle here. Mix some discomfort in with all the other tasks vying for a small business owner’s time, and it’s easy to explain why marketing often ends up on the back burner or relegated to “when I can get some time.”

The problem is, marketing takes consistency to be effective. A good marketing plan is more than the right selection of effective, appropriate projects (though those are of course key). No matter how good your marketing ideas, they won’t work if they aren’t executed on a strategic, consistent schedule.

A marketing calendar organizes your projects and marketing to-dos across your year to make sure you stay in front of your community of dog lovers. This way, when the need for a dog walker arises, you come immediately to mind.

Create a master schedule
A master schedule creates dedicated space for all the things you want or need time for, both for your business and in your personal life.

No point creating a marketing calendar if you don’t have space in your schedule to carry those tasks out, for example. And having set times for returning phone calls and emails (not to mention tending to social media) can do wonders for making your days smoother, less harried, and more productive.

The other benefit of a master schedule is carving out your personal downtime. When we don’t actively protect the things that matter most, they easily fall by the wayside. A master schedule creates dedicated space for your dogs, your health, your friends and family, or whatever else you prize. The best part? When you carve this time out, it’s easier to enjoy it. Nothing to feel guilty or to worry about while you play when all your work tasks have their own designated space!

Invest in client management software
If you don’t already use client management software to help run your business and keep track of client information, scheduling, and billing, it’s time to invest—even if your business is in its infancy, and especially if it isn’t.

While it takes some time to research, choose, and learn to use a new system, the time you put up front will come back to you in spades over the years. And that means more time for marketing, or planning for new expanded goals, or relaxing with a good book.

Choosing the right software can be overwhelming, given all the choices available to professional dog walkers these days. Start by making a list of the features you need—what do you want your software to be able to do for you? Use this to narrow your list, and then give a handful of options a test-drive. (Most will give you a free trial, and some will even set up a free online appointment to walk you through their product and answer your questions.)

To get your search started, here are a few of the options preferred by our Dog Walking Academy graduates: Time To Pet, Scout, Better Walker, Pocket Suite, Paw Loyalty.

Ready to feel in control?

If this is your time to reach your client goals, feel more in control of your business, and get a handle on that ever-elusive work/life balance, try out these four tips. The first step is to carve out some time. Look in your calendar and set aside some blocks of time over the next few weeks to work on each tip.

Need a bit of support as you do? Here are some resources:

dogbiz University Marketing Made Easy course—get help creating your marketing calendar

dogbiz consulting—one-on-one support for setting your goals, building your master schedule, and whatever else you need to thrive

Become a Dog Walking Academy certified dog walker—set yourself apart in your community and join a tight-knit, supportive group of graduates from around the world