As always, it seems as though the more free time I have, the less I actually do. I haven’t really written anything in a while. All of my creative energy has been drained and funneled into writing website descriptions and listings on an endless variety of online directories. Consequently, I fear for the life of the next directory employee who calls me trying to sell me advertising or a website management package. I’ve already had a Yell employee tell me in no uncertain terms that we are going to fail unless we advertise with Yell. Who even uses Yell any more? Phone books are excellent for collecting rain whilst sitting forgotten outside the front door, but have little other use given the resources available online. The employee did provide a few useful tips, like targeting the Craigavon and Belfast area as lots of people were searching for a bed and breakfast in Craigavon (apparently). I had to use seeyell.com to see the employee’s screen, so that she could throw a variety of graphs and statistics at me to tell me that I absolutely needed advertising, and then to tell me that she couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t do it. If you know me at all, you know that using scare tactics and outright antagonism gets you nowhere fast – I would be far more likely to go to a competitor as a result.
The more I delve into the world of online marketing and running a bed & breakfast, the more complex and time consuming managing the B&B becomes. I have learned a lot over the three months or so since I began this venture alongside my mum, and though it has been challenging, I have enjoyed most of it. Taking the first booking was a fantastic feeling – our work is starting to pay off.
The best advice I can give to anyone planning on opening guest accommodation is to do plenty of research. I was aware of some of the regulatory hurdles and issues around starting and operating a B&B, but there is always another government body looking for a piece of the action. The basics include registering with your tourist board, environmental health, carrying out a fire risk assessment, seeking advice regarding planning permission (and a possible costly change of use application), organising a credit card reader, and getting listed on a variety of booking websites. From all of the government talk about encouraging small business, you’d think they would make it easier to start one! Not to mention all of the work taking and editing photographs and writing copy for the numerous listings you will have scattered around the internet. We’re currently listed on Airbnb and we take bookings directly on our website, though potential guests can also book through TripAdvisor.
Booking websites are not as simple as they first seem. The big hitters include Hotels.com, Booking.com, and Expedia, and make it fairly easy to register. There are a number of steps, but it’s no time at all before you’re listed and ready to go. And they come with advantages. They already have a large customer base, and a huge marketing budget, so they’re likely to get you close to the top of search results and in front of more customers, not to mention adding to the professional look of your business. It sounds like a great deal, so why haven’t I listed Lismaine Cottage on Booking.com? There are a few reasons, chief among which is commission. Booking.com takes 15% commission on each booking, which is not an insignificant amount of money. Airbnb charges 3% commission, and the payment processing fee on our own website is around 3.5%, so you can see why I am slightly hesitant to throw away 12% more to grab customers who may have found us anyway. Secondly, the same massive marketing budget and great search rank that makes these booking sites attractive can also negatively impact on direct website bookings, as the major booking websites rank much closer to the top of search engine results. Signing up with a few big sites may be enough to bury Lismaine Cottage’s own website almost completely. Some small hotels have had a complete nightmare dealing with big booking sites designed primarily for big hotels. Will I eventually cave in and list us on the big ones? It’s hard to say. I might head down that road if we can’t generate enough interest through the current channels.
I couldn’t forgive myself if I let a marketing opportunity like this go to waste, so if you’re looking for a bed and breakfast in Craigavon and the surrounding area, check out Lismaine Cottage. We’re all setup on the Discover NI website, too.
Saying that all of my creative energy was focused on the technical side of things isn’t completely true. I did manage to put together a brochure/leaflet stand from wooden cladding that was once destined for the shed, and designed and got business cards printed. And, along with my friend Calum, I made a short (weird) film currently titled Film Squared, which you can check out below.