Why online booking sites can be so vital for a B&B to thrive
Qurey: I run a bed and breakfast and can accommodate a maximum of 14 guests. I am debating whether I should pay a commission to some of the online booking sites so that my B&B will feature there. Do you have an opinion on this?
Answer: I do have a very clear opinion. From listening to business owners I meet who run B&B's and general accommodation providers who target the business sector, they all tell me that the dynamics of the business have changed dramatically. One owner told me recently that there was always a panic in the past to return home before 3pm so they could be there for people who would call to enquire if they had empty rooms. That pressure is no longer there. They now know several days ahead of time how many people they will have staying, who those people are and, in some cases, even have full payment in advance. Now that's progress.
In my opinion, not embracing the online booking platforms would be a mistake. While I recognise there is a commission for this, many B&B owners have told me they have upped the standard of their offer at the same time as going onto the booking platforms, which has allowed them to demand a greater premium for their rooms, thus neutralising the commission. Of course, with online booking comes a new discipline. You have to monitor the bookings as they come in and respond to people to confirm that the booking has been received. You will also have to think far ahead and block out weekends you might be using the rooms for family or personal use, or else the system will allow them to be sold.
In my opinion, this is one of the online tools that has brought real positive change to the sector for the benefit of those operating within it. Don't forget by the way that once you go up online, you need to have a really strong profile of your business with lots of great high-resolution images and a good description of the facilities. Your offer will now be on display beside tens of thousands of others and one could overlook the importance of painting a very strong picture. That will help you fill the rooms also.
Good luck with the new initiative. I think you will really enjoy it.
Query: Together with my brother, we have taken over a family business which was set up almost 40 years ago. My 73-year-old aunt is still involved in the business, however, despite meaning well, is holding progress back. How do we handle this diplomatically?
Answer: Your aunt is fantastic to still have the interest and energy to be involved at that age. What a great role model for others.
I recall being in the States on a business trip many years ago and meeting the founder of one of the large retailers. At this stage he was 82 and took me on a tour of the shops. He would park at the furthest part away from the front door to allow customers to use the prime parking spaces and on several occasions as we walked around the shop, he would pick up bits of rubbish from the ground or help customers find things they were looking for.
When I enquired what motivated him to be still in the business, he said he had a very important role which was to set the tone and the culture. That is an important part of every business. I am telling you that story as a possible solution to your own situation. While I can imagine your aunt's thought process might be steeped in one that is decades old, she still may have a valuable contribution to make if guided in the right direction.
Start from the point of view of recognising the asset she might be, but sit with her also to try to craft a new and more appropriate role, perhaps involving less hours with a more targeted task when she is within the business.
She may find it too difficult to change, in which case a gentle conversation about what to do next might be on the cards, but my gut feeling is with the right discussion she may well be able to amend her role and approach so the rich history she brings with her can be turned into an advantage to the business.
Query: I AM a nutritionist and have an online shop where I sell healthy meal kits. My problem is that my sales are exceptionally strong within my local region but not at national level.
Answer: Congratulations on the success you are already having. Meal kits for customers to cook at home are very much on-trend in the US and more recently in the UK. This trend is only beginning to emerge in a big way in Ireland. You also have great credibility as a nutritionist and it will be much easier for you to persuade people to buy your product than if it were some anonymous business. I believe your strength at local level comes from the fact you are known within the county and surrounding areas, and probably have given lots of talks at events and been covered by the local media. That would certainly explain the geographical strength.
Provided you can distribute the meals to anyone's homes nationally, you now need to embark on a very structured PR campaign to drive awareness at national level. By PR I mean free coverage in the media. Start by making a list of all of the journalists you want to contact. Sometimes the theme of your story might focus on the business aspects, eg female entrepreneur, while other times it will focus on the health and wellness aspects of what you are doing. On writing your press release, think about what would make it interesting for the person reading or viewing it. I hear from other food businesses that an appearance on any one of the TV shows like 'Nationwide' or 'Ear to the Ground' can make a phenomenal difference to a business and you should set your sights on these as well.
While securing free PR may seem daunting if you have not done it before, the reality is that journalists and producers need you as much as you need them. If you have a credible story that can fill a number of paragraphs in an article or 15 minutes on a radio programme, then you are a real interest to them.
I look forward to reading about you in the national press. I wish you well on your roll-out.