Running a Bed and Breakfast (B&B) is the dream of many an entrepreneur. It has romantic qualities to it, and it seems the perfect business for someone looking to get away from it all and leave the rat race behind.
In truth, it can be a fantastic business to start and run, and many B&B owners couldn’t imagine doing anything else. But, it’s also a business. And like any other business, there are pros and cons to running a B&B.
Also, like any other business, there are plenty of people who have gotten in over their heads, lost money, and even ruined their lives trying to make it work.
So, to help you make your dream of running a successful B&B a reality and avoid the headaches and heartbreaks that a failed venture can bring, here are six tips borne of the experiences (both good and bad) of B&B owners who have already been through what this quirky and unpredictable adventure has to offer.
Develop your people skills
Above all else, running a Bed and Breakfast is a people business. Your main “product” is not an item that someone picks up, pays for, and leaves to either enjoy or regret. Your “product” is actually an experience and your customers will either enjoy or regret that experience from the moment they make their reservation until long after they’ve gone home.
“It’s a lifestyle,” says Debbie Miller, owner of the Hideaway Country Inn, “You won’t get rich with money. You get rich with people and their stories.”
If you’re already an outgoing, friendly, and hospitable person, you may be a natural for running a successful B&B. But if you tend to be more introverted, shy, and deeply attached to your own privacy, you could end up your own worst enemy.
Focus on the guests
Along the same lines, it’s important to realize that, at the end of the day, it’s your guests’ enjoyment of the experience you offer that will determine if you have succeeded.
You may be able to decorate the home beautifully to your own taste, but if guests enter and think it’s tacky, that’s what they’re going to remember and write down in their reviews. You might make a mushroom omelet that you think is to die for, but if your guests have a hard time stomaching it, it doesn’t matter how good you are at making it.
Budget your time
Susan Poole, owner of the 40 Bay Street B&B and known online as The B&B Coach, works with aspiring B&B owners to help them make a success of their dreams.
She states, “I think the key … is understanding how much work it is going to be running a bed and breakfast. The best way I can explain it is to think about the amount of work you put into having a party – all the preparation and clean up required – and then think about doing that each and every day during peak season.”
Since the work is seasonal (in most locations), there is generally an off-peak time when the workload drops off significantly. We’ll discuss that in a moment.
But, especially during the peak season, there is precious little “time off,” whether you’re fully booked or not. If you’re ready, willing, and able to handle that fact for the length of the peak season where your B&B is located, you’ll be in great shape to succeed.
Budget your money
Ongoing maintenance of the building, buying and maintaining furniture and supplies, utility costs, payroll (if you bring on additional help) … the list of expenses involved with running a successful B&B can be long and hefty.
All are vital to keep up with, of course, because when corners are cut to save money, it usually ends up becoming noticeable to the guests. While some chipped paint on the windowsill or a rattle in the air conditioning may barely register on most guests’ radars, running out of toilet paper or finding that their bedroom door won’t shut correctly can be deal breakers.
Again, due to the seasonal cycle of B&B management, there’s the complication of earning 90% of your income in a few months and having the wherewithal to spread that out appropriately to cover ongoing expenses throughout the rest of the year.
The bottom line key is to treat it as the business it is and stay financially responsible.
Take advantage of down time
As noted above, down time is essentially unavailable during peak season at a successful B&B. So, when it does come, there are plenty of things that need to be done.
Successful B&B owners have an ongoing to do list of items that need attention, but are not critical to today’s guests. These items may be maintenance related, marketing related, or administrative, or they may be broader ideas about how to move the business forward or make improvements.
And, of course, it’s vital to allow at least a small portion of that down time to be your opportunity to rest and recharge. Non-stop productivity can lead to burnout, and running a B&B can easily eat up all your free time if you let it.
The point is to always have something to work on – or to specifically plan not to work – when down time occurs so you can make the most of the opportunity and can be ready when the busy time starts again.
Set work/life boundaries
Since the overwhelming majority of successful B&B owners live in the homes they share with guests, setting appropriate boundaries to maintain some semblance of privacy and normal family life is very important.
Failing to do so may seem more hospitable at the outset, but it can quickly lead to resentment and frustration on the part of the owner and family members, and can lead to embarrassing and awkward situations with guests.
A successful B&B is one that’s going to be able to last over the long haul, and an effective work/life balance is vital to that longevity.