For many people planning on moving abroad, running a bed and breakfast can seem like an appealing option. You can live in a country you love, be your own boss, work from home and potentially earn a good living. But there are downsides to the industry, not least that the hours are sporadic and long, you need to be polite and helpful pretty much 24/7 and you have to bid a tearful goodbye to lie-ins!
Some people mistakenly assume that running a B&B is a simple matter of throwing a duster around, sticking some toast on a plate and using the rest of the day to relax. They couldn’t be more wrong. Running a B&B is a full time job (and then some) and you can’t expect to make any money from it unless you’re willing to work hard and give it your all. But sweat and tears are rewarded in more than financial ways – you can meet fascinating people, receive positive feedback, and get real job satisfaction.
If you think the pros outweigh the cons then here are some top tips on how to get your enterprise started, and how to keep it going.
Make sure you’re suited to the business
Before you embark on your B&B adventure (long before you pick a location, find a suitable building and pick a name) think very hard about whether you possess the qualities necessary to make that type of business a success. Some people get the B&B set up, hang the statement curtains, jam a chef’s hat on their head, welcome their first guests and suddenly realise they aren’t suited to the work at all.
Although previous experience in the hospitality industry can be really useful it’s not essential. However, traits like friendliness, confidence, adaptability and passion ARE essential for anyone planning to run a B&B.
Seeing as guests will be living in your family home it’s important to be sure that your family environment is suitable. Young children, lots of pets or a penchant for the electric guitar are all things which could potentially deter guests, and moreover, having children and pets can substantially increase the workload for you.
You must also have stamina in bucket loads as it can be very mentally and physically taxing work. Being open minded is another big must. In some countries it is illegal to turn customers away based on the race, religion or sexual preference, if you take issue with this than running a B&B really isn’t for you.
You must also be able to accept criticism politely and keep your temper in check no matter how rude the customer. To attract customers B&B’s rely heavily on word of mouth recommendation and with sites like Trip Advisor a guest can share a bad experience far and wide. If someone makes a complaint take your pride out of the equation, listen and attempt to remedy the situation if you can. Try as you might you can’t please everyone all of the time, but if you’re getting frequent, related complaints you may want to think why and maybe make some changes.
You must also remember that when you’re running your own business there won’t be someone telling you to work, you have to be self motivated, set a viable schedule and have the enthusiasm to get up and go day after day. To run a B&B successfully organisation is key as there will be budgets to stick to, books to keep, records to organise and reservations to juggle, all on top of the cooking and cleaning. Unless you’re intending to create a Faulty Tower’s homage, neither you nor your guests will be very happy if poor organisation means everything descends into chaos!
Know your Market
Before starting up a B&B it is absolutely essential to know what market you will be aiming for and what level of service you will be willing to offer.
Are you hoping to cater for families? Romantic breaks? Hen nights and stag weekends?
Are you going basic or high end?
Are you going to be situated in a sleepy village or bustling town?
The location of your B&B, its decor and spec must all be geared towards the type of guest you hope to attract.
If you have an area in mind it’s so important to do your research. See what else is on offer, what kinds of B&B’s are fully booked, which aren’t and what kind of prices they charge. You don’t want to price yourself out of the market, but people are just as likely to be put off by suspiciously low rates.
Even what kind of breakfast you serve can be a make or break issue. Some guests, particularly British tourists, will expect a full hot breakfast whilst others are satisfied with continental or buffet style breakfasts. What kind of breakfast you will provide is also an important part of your costing. If you’re going to gather your produce locally see what’s out there. Again, do your research!
Know what people want from a B&B
This might seem obvious but it really is essential to sit down and list all the things people want, and expect, from a bed and breakfast.
Top of the list should be basics like cleanliness, a comfortable bed, warm welcome/ atmosphere and a high quality breakfast.
Additional services, like a children’s playroom, guest lounge, televisions and tea/coffee facilities in the room, depend on your budget, price range and market. If you find it difficult just consider what you would want, if you wouldn’t be happy to pay for what you’re offering odds are guests won’t be either! Getting the basics right is a must, getting the additional features right is what will make your business stand out from the crowd.
Know the legalities
Depending on where you want to settle and start your business there are different legal requirements. Make sure you are aware of, and abide by, both local and national specifications.
Be willing to spend money to make money
B&B start up costs can be quite high, so prepare for that. Remember that doing the job properly might cost more in the short term, but it should make you more in the long term. Before purchasing a property work out a detailed financial plan, set a purchase limit and ensure that you’ll be left with enough money to allocate to all the areas that will need it. Even if you plan on taking over an existing B&B you will still need money handy to redecorate it to your tastes/market requirements. You’ll also needs funds in place for the most important thing of all – marketing!
Setting up the most beautiful, wonderful B&B in the world won’t mean a thing if no-one knows it exists.
Currently, new B&B owners are devoting 20% of first year turnover to marketing costs.
Set up a good quality website, making sure to include photos of the B&B and surrounding area. Make your target market clear, and to avoid issues later on state your rate, what kind of breakfast you offer and what additional services you provide. Don’t just list the attributes of your business; make them sound appealing as possible.
Have business cards printed – they are still a fantastic way for a satisfied customer to spread the word and can be left in local bars/restaurants and shops.
Then plug your business through as many different online tourism and social networking channels as possible.
When your guests arrive enquire as to how they found you, once you’ve seen off a few happy customers and know the most successful marketing methods you can cut down on others to slash costs.
Get Quality Rated
Having a good quality rating can seriously boost the profile of your B&B. You can also attract more guests and charge more money! Read up on the guidelines attached to the different quality ratings and make sure your B&B hits the mark.
Administrative demands need to be attended to if your B&B is to be successful. Sort out a space which can be devoted to the paperwork, keep it efficient and organised and don’t allow yourself to fall behind – it’s far more stressful trying to catch up with paperwork then it is to do it as soon as it comes up.
To stop you going completely insane it’s important to set some limits. There should be parts of the house, for example, where guests are not allowed. Sign post these clearly as private. You should also set a check-in and check-out time frame. Obviously some guests will ask you to extend these parameters, and it’s important to be accommodating but it’s much easier to schedule in some time for yourself and your family if there are at least loose boundaries in place.
Have a sense of humour
No matter how organised you are or how smoothly you run your B&B things will always go wrong at some point or another. Whether you’ve set fire to the bacon or have to cope with the guests from hell, don’t get too worked up about it. Smile, and think of every bad incident as a funny story to tell future guests.