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Making a Bed and Breakfast your bread and butter: Starting and running a B&B

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2 Mar 2018

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There was a time, when running a Bed and Breakfast was considered the perfect post retirement plan of action to support straitened means. Or even a means to satisfy romantic notions of meeting interesting travelers along their way, exchanging fascinating tales while breaking bread, and then sending them happily along their way. But that time is past. With the B&B sector turning over £2bn per year according to Smarta, and trumping the low-cost hotel sector by a whopping 28%, it is now by no means something to be sneezed at. And with the UK tourism industry being one of the largest in the world, you should want, and have, a piece of the £19bn it generates in foreign revenue per year. 

Moreover, with the rise of the discerning, yet budget conscious traveler, a B&B is uniquely positioned to take advantage of this new wave of popularity, leveraging unique accommodations with character, delicious home-cooked meals, and best of all, bespoke service.  

What it takes

But before you decide to indulge your favorite fantasy of quitting your day job, and leaving in a blaze of glory to go apron shopping, it is important to know if you have what it takes to make it in this business. As you read on, you’ll find that there is more to running a B&B than simply changing the sheets.


The premises

Without doubt, your premises are going to be your biggest outlay, and you would have to make a number of key decisions that suit both, your budget as well as your vision for your B&B.  For instance, should you buy an established property, purchase a new one, or simply renovate your existing home? Each option has its own set of advantages and complications. For instance, buying an established business may cost more, but you could benefit from an existing client base and a reputable brand. If purchasing a brand new property and building your business from scratch, you’ll have to consider the market segment that you wish to target, for example, luxury or value-for-money, and accordingly choose a property that accommodates the unique expectations of your target market. On the other hand, if you decide to renovate your existing home to the specifications of a B&B, it is important to consider how you would define your private living quarters from those of your guests.  Although, limiting your daily travel to either going upstairs or coming downstairs has its definite perks, and you will be the envy of your friends battling work related commutes from hell. Whichever option suits your business needs, our guess, however, is that if you are an astute businessman or woman, you might want the useful safeguard of a specialist insurance cover right about now. After all, your building is your main asset, and you need to protect it in case of theft, accidental damage, and fire or storm damage, in addition to protecting your fixtures, fittings, and contents. Here are some smart Business Insurance options to help protect your premises.


The location

When it comes right down to it, it is all about location, location, location. Your location will determine the seasonal (or not) nature of your establishment, demand size, occupancy rate, the make-up of your target market, and the eventual profitability of your business. You can begin your research by visiting your local council, tourist information offices as well as your competitors, to find answers to questions such as the number of tourists visiting the area, key attractions and seasonality of the location, among other things.  It is imperative to identify key customer motives in relation to your location, and use that information to leverage your B&B as well as discover fresh ways of targeting new customers.


The people

A business is only as good as the people driving it, and a B&B is no different. Ensure you always have the right people on your team and invest in their training.   Your staff will need to have a variety of skills and should be adept at multi-tasking, deftly turning their hand to cleaning, greeting guests, basic cooking, as a matter of course. But most importantly, they must have excellent customer service skills with a personal touch, ensuring your guests not only return but also refer you to their friends and family.


The drill

There is a lot more to running a B&B than simply making a bed, and managing not to burn the breakfast. Although you will have to learn to execute those pesky hospital bed corners, and turn out perfect, made to order eggs, the secret of making a success of it is quite simply, multitasking with a smile. Essentially a 24-hour-a-day business, you could be pulled out of bed at 3am in the morning to check-in late arrivals, prepare breakfast for early risers, and be patient when dealing with unreasonable guest demands. And you could be doing all this while  battling stubborn water heaters or boilers that refuse to start, sick staff and answering the phone with a cheery ‘Hello’ and a happy ‘Goodbye’. This life is not for the timid, but if variety energizes you as a professional, then a Bed and Breakfast could be right up your street.

Read more: How to improve your home on a budget in 2018


The web

Love or hate the fact, but we live in world driven by the web and social media. No longer global, our world today is local. You need to ensure you keeping a finger on the pulse of social media to not only market your B&B creatively, but also protect its reputation against negative reviews and ratings. According to Travel Weekly, 80% of holidays are researched and booked online. Thus, it is crucial that your business is presented in the best possible light online. For instance, make sure you showcase good quality, aesthetically composed photos of your rooms on your website, and it is sufficiently search engine optimised to ensure you are found online. Make certain you are listed on Trip Advisor, and request your guests to leave recommendations. In the event of negative reviews and ratings, always view these as an opportunity to apologize, clarify or make improvements to your service offering. Lastly, as a minimum, make sure your B&B is listed at the local tourist offices and other website listings in your area.

Read more: Tips to help you create rental worthy pictures


The life 

More than anything else, the decision to run a B&B is a lifestyle choice. Ask yourself: would you be happy blurring the lines between your home and work life? Are you content to constantly be on your toes and make relentless withdrawals from ideally, limitless reserves of energy and patience? Do you thrive on flexibility and more often than not, unpredictability? Would you love to make a lovely home for strangers, and will their happiness in turn make you happy?  If your answers to all the above questions are yes, then a B&B could be just the thing for you.  


The pitfalls

Running a B&B is incredibly challenging, and none more challenging than the off-peak season. It is therefore extremely important to budget intelligently, and save as much as possible after your first few seasons. Moreover, you need to find creative ways to market your B&B during the low season. For instance, could you possibly target business travelers who may require accommodations all year round, or even offer discounts for off-peak visitors? Also, make shrewd estimates of expected laundry and electricity bills during both, peak and off-peak seasons, so you can plan for them before they creep up on you.  Another sad truth of the hospitality industry is unfortunately guests legging off without honoring their dues. But, that does not mean you have to deal with it. Ensure you have smart policies in place that include guests handing in their passports, credit card numbers or other form of ID at the beginning of a stay to avoid the hassle of discourteous guests.  Lastly, it is a fiercely competitive industry, and you have to embrace the competitive spirit. You need to carefully think about how you will differentiate yourself from other B&Bs, and find your competitive edge. In other words, what makes you, you? A relatively simple question. But in a crowded marketplace, it is an incredibly hard one to answer.