Know your market
We planned our B&B as a family hideaway, stocking it with a row of children’s wellies, games, puzzles, highchairs, and food designed to appeal to them. Naturally, we ended up appealing to older couples who travelled without children.
It took us a while to find the mental strength to change direction but we did and never looked back. Of course, you can try to appeal to everyone but honing your offer to target one demographic will generally be a better strategy.
Our feelings about TripAdvisor might be mixed but the reality is that no bed and breakfast owner can afford to ignore it. That means taking charge and getting your listing properly written and featuring professional-quality photographs.
It also means nurturing your guests and making sure that they have the best possible stay with you and following up with them and asking for a review if they don’t leave a spontaneous one.
We were lucky enough to reach the number one position in our area after being in business for just three months and we stayed there ever since. To do so took a lot of hard work and some careful curating but it is the best possible advertising and marketing there is; we estimate that well over 90% of our bed and breakfast business comes through TripAdvisor in one way or another.
Do your sums
You have to make the sums work for your circumstances. With a large house and a high-quality offering, we simply couldn’t afford to charge bargain-basement prices.
Similarly, if you want to cater for the budget-conscious traveller (and it is a large and potentially highly profitable market) then you probably won’t be able to afford to make the bed with Egyptian cotton sheets and serve artisan sausages alongside an exotic fresh fruit salad for breakfast.
Give your B&B a sense of place
People came to our bed and breakfast, at least in part, because we’re in Wales. So our gin, whisky and vodka is made here in Wales. So is the beer, cider and mineral water. We served laverbread at breakfast, as well as our own sausages, bacon and eggs (plus apple juice and tomatoes in season.)
None of this costs any more than buying brand name products and for our guests, the chance to taste something new is almost irresistible.
We also have traditional Welsh blankets on the beds and local photographs on the walls. We serve homemade sloe gin in the bar and are always willing to give them a quick verbal tour of the local area and its history.
A great first impression
We serve freshly baked, homemade Welsh cakes to our guests as they arrive. This not only gives them an immediate taste of Wales, it also gives them time to relax and settle in. It immediately sets the tone for their stay and only costs us pennies.
Other small touches like fresh milk in their rooms, a hand to carry their cases up to their room, and offering to book a table in a local restaurant all help make their stay with you a bit more memorable than it might otherwise be.
Have stuff, just in case
Guests will forget stuff, so you need to have it handy. So stock up on toothbrushes, phone chargers, tampons, condoms, cufflinks, and nail clippers.
Having books and guides they can read will enhance their stay, as will a few board games and a couple of packs of cards.
It’s also worth having an iron and ironing board on hand for them to borrow, plus a ready-tied bow tie. They’ll remember you forever if you save their day!
If something bothers you, then say so!
If you want guests to remove their shoes in your home, then tell them – politely. It’s your home and you’ll hate every minute if it ends up feeling like you’ve been invaded by a hoard of strangers.
Things will always go wrong but if you are obsessive about the details it’ll matter less when they do. So, if the bedroom is spotless your guests are more likely to overlook some dust in an inaccessible part of the bathroom.
Sometimes, you’ll be tempted to think ‘that’ll do” – but it won’t. Everything has to be as close to perfect as it can possibly be. Your guests are paying you for the experience and it’s your duty to deliver!
Please don’t forget to have fun! Odds are, you started a bed and breakfast because you don’t want a ‘proper’ job and it’s important not to lose sight of that.
Besides, if you’re stressed and unhappy you’ll lose sight of the fact that people are fascinating and won’t have the time or inclination to chat to your guests – and that would be a shame for both of you.
Setting up your bed and breakfast
First things first, what’s a bed and breakfast?
A bed and breakfast is a something of a mix between a boutique hotel and a private home. Usually, the service is extremely personal. The manager might live on-site, and it’s not unusual that the manager and the guests spend time together.
Before you even think about opening a bed and breakfast, you need to plan ahead. Planning is essential before you set up your business. If you have a clear roadmap of what to do in certain situations along the way, you make your life a lot easier when you’re running your bed and breakfast.
Planning includes research. Do you know if there’s demand for a B&B in the area where you want to set it up? After all, demand is what makes or breaks a business.
Additionally, you need to plan your financials, marketing, sales, customer service, branding… The list is long.
Most bed and breakfasts are small, family-run businesses that don’t make a huge amount of money.
Most importantly, you should make sure that starting a bed and breakfast is the right thing to do. Mind you, it’s not for everyone. You need to run the administrative and operative side of the business. You need to be persistent (after all, it’ll take some time for your B&B to get profitable), flexible and have social skills. Last but not least, you shouldn’t start a bed and breakfast for the money. Most bed and breakfasts are small, family-run businesses that don’t make a huge amount of money.
Make sure you evaluate what it is you really want before you start looking for a location.
Type of ownership
There are three types of ownership you can choose from when you start a bed and breakfast. The first one – and probably the most popular alternative – is to own the property.
Clearly this has some benefits. If you have a mortgage, you get to keep more of the money once it’s paid off. If you already own the property, you get to keep a bigger part of the money from the start. Plus, you might be able to pocket a profit if you decide to sell the property down the line.
The other side of the coin is that owning the property comes with its own set of responsibilities. For example, if you have a bigger mortgage, it will take time to pay it off. Plus, there are other costs you need to take into consideration like maintenance of the property. Bear in mind that if your property is a bit older or something unexpected happens, those costs can be quite high. And they will affect your budget.
The second alternative is that you rent the property. This means that you don’t have the same responsibilities as an owner. For example, your landlord has the primary responsibility to take care of maintenance. Plus, you don’t have mortgages to pay off.
On the other hand, rent will always be deducted from your earnings. Additionally, your rental agreement might not be renewed for various reasons (or, it might even be canceled). In worst case, that would mean that you have to shut down your B&B. You can take measures to prevent that from happening. For example, you can try to negotiate a longer rental agreement. And, you might want to make sure you’re allowed to renovate the property.
As a hired manager, someone else owns the B&B, and you run it as an employee or a contractor. This is the option with the least risk. Besides, it’s the cheapest option. You don’t have maintenance, rent or any other costs to think about.
The downside is that you have less freedom. Someone else decides what the B&B looks like and how it should be run. If you want to start a bed and breakfast in order to work independently, this might not be the best option for you.
When you start a bed and breakfast, you need to figure out questions concerning the property.
First, you need to decide the living arrangements for your B&B. There are two options:
Either, you, as the manager, sleep in the same building as your guests. Alternatively, you sleep in a separate building. This depends on your preferences and the property. Living in a separate building gives you more privacy and space. On the other hand, your property might limit your ability to do so.
Second, you should define what type of property you want for your B&B. Do you want a historic house? It might help you attract customers, but it requires more work. Or do you want a more modern house? If your property is more generic, you might have to get creative and come up with ways to attract customers.
Demand is key to running a successful bed and breakfast.
Third, and most importantly, you need to figure out where you want to set up your B&B. Keep in mind; demand is key to running a successful bed and breakfast. This means that location is everything.
Need inspiration for finding the perfect location for your bed and breakfast? Below is a list of emerging travel destinations in the US and Europe. Plus, some more unusual travel destinations that attract a lot of tourists on a yearly basis.
Destinations in Europe
In Europe, AirBnB reports that destinations like Capucins in Bordeaux (France), Koukaki, Athens (Greece), Triana, Seville (Spain) and Hammerbrook, Hamburg (Germany) are growing in popularity. TripAdvisor lists Porto (Portugal) and Brighton (United Kingdom) as top destinations on the rise.
Don’t forget that there’s a vast number of travel destinations that are less ordinary. Here’s a list of curious travel destinations with lots of tourists (in need of accommodation!):
Plus, don’t forget that your bed and breakfast could be a travel destination. AirBnB lists 40 of its most popular accommodations. Most of them are located in historic, famous or quirky houses. Tourists choose to book these accommodations (often at a higher price point) because of the experience of staying at such B&Bs.
Laws, regulations and security considerations
Your B&B is a business. As such, you need to be aware of laws and regulations in your country.
If your business falls within US legislation, this means that you need to have things like business licenses in order. What’s more, your property and your services are regulated by several laws. Plus, you need to ensure that the area in which your B&B is located is zoned for bed and breakfast. If not, you’ll need to apply for a variance or a conditional use permit. This leads to interesting situations; you might not be allowed to use signage to attract visitors, and you might have to appear before a planning commission to argument for your B&B business.
All in all, it might take 2-3 years for your bed and breakfast to have all required permits and licenses. Here’s a list of some of the licenses and checks you need to take care of to start a bed and breakfast.
In Europe, you need to adhere to similar regulations. If you set up a B&B in the European Union, there might be specific EU legislation that you need to take into consideration.
Irrespective of where you plan to set up your B&B, one of the most important things to keep in mind is that there are various ordinances on a national and local level that regulate safety. You’ll need to plan for things like fire and food safety. Plus, you might need business insurances.
Running a bed and breakfast
What does your bed and breakfast look like?
To run a successful B&B, you need to make sure you create a concept that works for your customers and yourself. As a hospitality business, this is the main reason visitors choose your B&B instead of a hotel.
First and foremost, is your bed and breakfast open year-round or seasonally? This depends on the location of your property and your own preferences. For example, if you’re property is in an area with lots of tourists in the summer and fewer in the winter, it makes most sense to run a seasonal B&B.
Further, you need to decide what services you offer. Do you have a swimming pool? Do you have theme nights or weekends? Do you host weddings? Or do you offer some leisure activities, like horse riding or tennis?
Additionally, you need to figure out how many meals you serve per day. Normally, a B&B includes a breakfast and some complimentary snacks and drinks. Do you want to offer dinner one or several nights of the week for an extra fee? Or maybe something special, like picnic baskets that guests can bring to the nearby beach?
Branding, sales, and marketing
The most important aspect of your bed and breakfast is to have a steady stream of visitors. Without them, you don’t have a business.
To ensure that people find your B&B, you need to have a good sales and marketing strategy.
Before you focus on spreading the word, you need to decide on your branding.
It’s crucial that you do so because you want to attract the right customer to your business. Remember, if you’re selling to everyone, you’re selling to no one. To establish a brand, you need to cater to a niche. That way, you attract the right people – those who’re interested in your offering and who you want to do business with.
For example, are your target customers retirees who enjoy French cuisine and wine? Or are they families with small kids who love to play in the pool? Maybe you want to target wedding parties and honeymooners. Either way, make sure you have one type of customer in mind.
When you have your niche figured out, you need to decide how you’ll reach out to them by establishing a marketing strategy.
Here’s what you can do:
- Set up your own website.
- Contact the local tourist office and chamber of commerce.
- Attend local event or fairs.
- List on B&B websites and AirBnB.
- List on Craigslist.
- Set up partnerships with local service providers.
- Blog to reach an online audience.
- Learn the basics of SEO to reach customers through Google searches.
- Ask potential and previous customers to sign up for your newsletter and send out emails to them.
- Provide excellent customer service to your guests to tap into word of mouth marketing.
- Put effort into your TripAdvisor listing and the reviews there.