Step 1 - Set up a website. Experienced renters & travelers today require more information than they have in the past. You'll need a place to list property information and display pictures. However, don't think that a website alone will get you rentals. Websites are really just electronic brochures. We'll talk more about using the internet to generate traffic below (see Step 8). - There are multiple companies out there that do small business website setup. You can check with your local Chamber of Commerce or Yellow Pages if you prefer to talk with someone locally. There are also many providers that can be found online. We suggest using www.google.com and search for small business website development. Website costs vary dramatically depending upon the features in your site. If you have a single property, we recommend keeping your site very simple to keep your $ low.
Step 2 - Register a domain name. A great domain name can be an attractive advertisement. There are multiple sites online to search for and register a domain name. Try www.domainname.com.
Step 3 - Find a web site hosting provider. Check with your website design company or search online. There are sites that will host a small site for $10 - $20 / month. You'll probably also find some that offer "free" websites. These sites feature advertisement banners. We'd stay away from them. They detract from your site's purpose and renters tend to see these sites as annoying or worse - uncredible.
Step 4 - Keep track of your rental's availability (inventory). A great resource (and it's free) for manual set up and tracking of your property's availability can be found at www.rentors.org. For a quick and easy website setup, simply link from your site to this free calendar.
Step 5 - Sign up for credit card processing. Your credibility as a legitimate business is key to having travelers feel confident in renting your unit. Reserving with a credit card gives them and you the security you desire. With credit card processing, you are able to charge up-front for the reservation, eliminating the "snail mail delay" where you're left wondering if they really sent in the check. - There are numerous options out there for credit cards. For liability reasons, I do not recommend a specific credit card company or process. However, if you register your business, you'll undoubtedly get numerous credit card offers in the mail. You can also research on the internet (www.google.com - search on small business credit card processing). - we recommend finding a terminal option - which will allow you to manually enter credit card information securely online via a merchant account. Be prepared for an initial setup fee ($250-$750) and monthly credit card fees (generally $10 - $20) as well as potential minimum charges. The merchant accounts may also want to run a credit check prior to giving you merchant access approval.
Step 6 - Find a local company to provide cleaning services. Check with your local Chamber of Commerce, Yellow Pages, or other Property Owners in the area. You'll want an established company to increase reliability and confidence. When getting rates, ensure that you know if those rates include or do not include supplies (sheets, towels, cleaning supplies, toilet paper, paper towels, trash bags, soap, etc.). Rates will vary extensively by location, but I'd throw out a general rate of $40 per hour for resort areas with a $10 supply charge per trip. Rates will increase for multiple beds / bedroom & baths.
Step 7 - Find a local company to hand out keys. Don't even think about trying to mail out keys. It just doesn't work. If you don't live in the same town as your rental (and even if you do!), your best course of action is to find a local business to provide this service. This may take a bit of research in the area. Check with your cleaning company first. They may also provide key pick up / drop off services. If not, check with local management companies, the yellow pages, and the Chamber of Commerce.
Step 8 - Create a reservation confirmation letter. Since you will probably not go to the initial expense of accepting credit cards online per your website, you'll want to get a signature in order to authorize credit card processing (this is generally done during check out via online shopping carts). I utilize a word document (sample attached) to provide information and ask the renter to fax back the last page to confirm their reservation. This also provides a means for check in/out instructions, cancellation policies, and property rules.
Step 9 - Determine your Marketing Strategy. Now that you're ready to start taking rentals, you're next step is to find the renters. For online traffic, you'll need to submit your site via search engines. Check with your website developer or go online to find a company that provides this service. You may also want to do newspaper ads and/or look for affiliate programs that cater to individual renters - such as Breckenridge Rental! Keep an email list of anyone that contacts you - great for direct marketing at a later date!
Step 10 - Don't forget to track all expenses! You're now operating as a small business and many of your expenses will count as tax deductions. Talk to your accountant up front to ensure that you know what qualifies.