Our furry friends need a place to stay when we go to work or head out on vacation. If you’ve got the space and the know-how, you can set up a successful pet-boarding business in your home. But make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into first. Here’s a pet-boarding business owner’s advice on how to find clients, organize your business and get ready to take in your first pets.

Finding Clients

Make sure your vet, groomer, pet store, or anyone else you get services or products from for your own pet knows that you’re now in business. The people who know that you take excellent care of your pet will be more likely to recommend you to others.

Try to hook up with a large company or maybe hospital where you could pick up multiple pets (dogs, mostly) at one time for daycare at your home while their people are at work during the day. This is a great way for pets to get the exercise they need without tired owners having to come home at the end of the day to do it when they might have other obligations. You can pick up the pets at the beginning of the work day and bring them back when people are getting off work.

Identify the neighborhoods you want to draw clients from and find out if those places have neighborhood associations. If so, some of them produce online newsletters and accept advertising. That’s a great way to direct market yourself. Hang out at the dog park with lots of business cards. Start making contacts wherever you see people and their pets around town.

Organizing Your Business

Decide what your focus is going to be. Dog daycare in your home? Boarding for cats or dogs in your home? Both? Will you take only small dogs? Any size?  Cat, dog, hamster, bird, reptile, etc. care? Can you do that in your home safely and effectively? You can’t do all those simultaneously, so you have to narrow your focus.

Is there a niche market that you can identify in your community that you might fill? Nobody is doing ferret care, but you have been a ferret owner your whole life? Instant niche!

What are the qualities and experience you have to offer? Have you been a pet parent all your life? Which kinds of pets have you owned? Do you have any paid experience at pet care? Volunteer at a shelter or vet’s office? People will feel more comfortable with your care of their precious pets if you can demonstrate expertise.

Check with your city, county, and state for licensing requirements for your business. At the very least, you will most likely need a state business license. You’re also going to have to find out if your home is zoned for business, and specifically for kenneling, with your county. This is usually not the case unless you live in a semi-rural area.

Decide on your business name. Choose something that is unique will help potential clients remember you, but don’t make it too cute. Deliberate misspellings or overly long names are generally not helpful. Once you have your name, think about registering it with your state small-business office.

Open a checking account in your business name. (You will need to have your business name registered with your state in order to do this.) This will make filing your taxes much easier as you will want to keep your business and personal taxes separate.

Before You Begin Taking Pets

Write a contract that your clients must agree to before you care for their pet. The contract should lay out your responsibilities, the client’s responsibilities and anything that needs to be agreed to in writing. It’s a legally binding document that you both can rely on to make the arrangement more professional.

In the event the pet dies or is injured while in your care, you must protect yourself by stipulating the replacement value of the pet and/or the circumstances in which a reimbursement for expenses will be paid. Look online for examples of other pet sitting contracts.

Compose an information form for pets who will be in your care that the owner will fill out. You’ll want the owner’s contact information (name, address, phones, email) and emergency contacts for someone in case you can’t get in touch with the owner. Also, ask for the pet’s veterinarian’s name, clinic, and phone number.

The remainder of the form should be questions about the pet. How does the pet react when boarded previously or left alone? What brand of food does he eat, how much, and at what time? When does he normally defecate and what is the normal consistency? Where exactly does the dog sleep at night? Is the dog/cat crate trained? You want to know as much information as possible to make the pet comfortable and stress-free while in your care.

Properly set up, a pet-boarding business can be a cuddly and profitable operation. Just prepared before start taking care of the little furballs.

Carol Cornwall is the owner of Scooter’s Bed and Biscuit in Portland, Oregon.