There will be plenty of people leaving London specifically to start and B&B who will have done a lot of homework, worked in the hospitality business, and really know what they are talking about. They are likely to be looking to buy a large property with several letting rooms in possibly three types of location - near a large visitor attraction which requires overnight accommodation to get the most from a visit, for example, Blenheim Palace, Longleat House and Safari Park, Warwick Castle. Or they move to another city such as Bath, Edinburgh, Windsor with larger numbers of overseas visitors throughout the year; alternatively to buy in the country in an established walking destination such as the Lake District or walking route e.g. The Pennine Way
However in this article we’re assuming most people leave London to buy a larger house and often change their jobs, have a young family and as a consequence are more tied to their new house and so the opportunity to make money from their home evolves and starting a bed and breakfast seems the obvious solution.
Many bed and breakfasts develop out of convenience as well as financial necessity, and most of them work well and enjoy a good turnover. However there are some vital ground rules and questions which need discussed and agreed on before you even consider setting up.
- You do have to really like having people in your home, complete strangers obviously and whilst I never cease to be amazed how really nice most people are – there are exceptions which everyone doing this business has to deal with.
- Can you cook a good breakfast day in day out, make bread, rolls and muffins? Never burn bacon or run out of orange juice/loo paper and always provide good inside information about the local area.
- Will everyone else in your family be happy with having extra people staying in your house and impinging on YOUR time.
If you’re unsure about any of these first three points then throw the towel in on the whole idea of setting up your own B&B.
Moving on then and adapting your existing space to what will be required for you to have guests who pay. Well there’s the boring legislation – fire and environmental health issues, third party insurance all to be complied with. Then the questions about how the space you have is really going to work
- Where will the guests park? This does need to be close to the house, Australians come over for three months, have a lot of luggage which they cannot get insured if it’s left overnight in their hire car.
- Where will your customers eat, unless you have somewhere good fairly close by you seriously need to consider providing dinner – and do you what such a tie? Will you give guests dinner in the same room as you intend to serve breakfast in, in which case you’ll be laying up the table for breakfast when your guests have gone to bed. Unless you life in a fabulous pile it’s hard to charge more than a good pub does for dinner – but the good pub makes most of its money on the sale of drinks, so how are you going to mange to turn a lot of work into a profit?
- Which parts of the house will guests have access to and will they be able to use the garden – how will you keep some privacy for yourselves?
- The lifestyle that running a B&B provides works particularly well with is if you’re a mother with a family at home. However you need to ask yourself how this will work as your children grow older and need running to after school clubs, collecting later from school, develop into teenagers wanting to play loud music and have groups of their friends round. Or perhaps you have parents who live with you or close by but they too will grow older and may make demands upon you which will impinge on your ability to run a business from home.
- Will your partner be happy to help, and if so how much. This needs to be agreed right from the start.
So in the end you’ve sorted everything out and you realise that you can make money from your home. It’s then all about decorating, building websites and contacting with your potential customers, the problem is that in these recessionary times lots of people are having the same idea, and you really do have to work hard to drive traffic to your business. Who doesn’t have a website? The answer is that yours needs to be of really high quality, content rich for Google to continue to pick it up and yes changing, so you need to write a regular blog, be linked into twitter and probably have a facebook page. It really helps then with all this communication to understand your target market and know who you’re talking to, if you live in the Somerset levels then there’s a big market of bird watchers who will want to stay. Keep in touch with your customers let them know what’s happening in your area and they’ll be back for return visits and spread the word for you.
And finally you do need to remember that you’re doing this TO MAKE A PROFIT. Keep an eye on where it gets spent, advertising can gobble up the cash. Ensure you keep to the aims of what want to achieve from your business, both financially and as a way of life. Good luck.
Gail Garbutt, Bed and Breakfast Consultant. www.castletonhouse.com