The Pros and Cons of Running a Bed and BreakfastOct 11, 2021
If you'd rather listen to this blog post I've recorded it as the latest podcast episode. You can view it in the link here or download on Apple and Google Podcasts or Spotify.
Over the past 15 years of running B&B training and meeting hundreds of aspiring bed and breakfast owners, I know that it is the dream job for many people.
Yet, like any career choice, there are both pros and cons to running a B&B.
If you’ve read a few of my blog posts, listened to my podcasts or been through my training programme, then you know I don’t sugar coat the lifestyle. I’m honest about all that’s involved.
And the purpose of everything I do isn’t to put you off running a bed and breakfast, it’s to provide you with as much information as possible so that you can own a B&B that you’ll love running ( or potentially make the decision that it's not the right business for you! )
If you do decide you want to run a B&B, then if know up front what the hurdles and potential problems are going to be, you’ll be prepared to either avoid them in the first place or have the tools you need to successfully navigate them.
It's worth saying that when you run any type of business, there will always be problems. Much of business is about problem solving.
So it can help to change your mindset to see problems as a way of growing and evolving as an individual too!
Ask yourself the questions:
🧐 What can I learn from this?
🧐 Is there any way I can use this situation to my advantage?
And quite often a problem can be an opportunity to demonstrate amazing customer service or it can be a marketing opportunity.
For example, if you receive a bad review, you can use your response to demonstrate to all of the potential customers who are reading it how you handle a problem in a constructive way. You can read my blog post on responding to a negative review here → how to respond to a negative review about your bed and breakfast
On one of our holidays, the hot tub wasn’t working. It wasn't actually an issue for us, as we hadn’t planned to use it. The people looking after it did their best to sort it out but they were waiting for a part. They offered us a discount off our next stay which we immediately took them up on!
Right, onto those pros and cons.
You get to be your own boss
One of the great advantages of running your own business is that you get to be your own boss. You make the decisions about how your B&B is run. If you decide you want to block off a few days, weeks or months off and go on holiday you can.
When you get amazing feedback from a guest, you can be proud of the fact that it’s all down to your own hard work.
On the flipside of being your own boss is that when something does go wrong, the buck stops with you! You'll be responsible for sorting it out.
Another issue is making sure you get holidays and time off ...
One of the things we loved to do when we were both in an office job was to book a last minute weekend away. But it can be really difficult to do this when you run a busy B&B. I would often look at my B&B diary and see no weekends free for months.
So it’s important to plan in advance. Before you release dates on your B&B availability calendar, make sure you block off dates for holidays, days off and weekends away in advance. You can always release those dates for customers to book a bit closer to the time if you want to.
Despite the fact that it’s your own business, there is still legislation you need to comply with - no matter what size of bed and breakfast you run.
Whilst reading through and complying with the rules can feel like chore, this isn’t really a negative. It's best for both ourselves and our customers if we have regulations that protect us.
There are structured legal guidelines in place and, provided you’re following them, you’ll be OK. But if you were someone who wanted total freedom with no external restrictions, then it could be an issue for you.
For example, in the UK, everyone in the business who is handling or preparing food for guests will need to be trained in food hygiene. You’re legally required to register with environmental health at least 28 days before you start operating and you could receive a visit from an environmental health officer at any reasonable time.
Sometimes it can be difficult to interpret what the different legislation means, especially when new rules comes in. For example, when the new allergen law, Natasha’s Law, came in on 1st October 2021, it was fairly clear what the responsibilities of a cafe were for example, but how did they apply to a B&B?
This is where the ongoing support of the Bed and Breakfast Academy Community really comes into its own.
In the case of Natasha’s Law, I arranged a specific training for members of our B&B Academy Community.
Whenever new legislation comes in the group works together to determine how it applies to them. This came into its own with all the new cleaning requirements around COVID!
Speaking of food hygiene, there’s no sick pay. If you get ill, you’re going to have to work through ( provided it’s not COVID or any type of food poisoning ), get in help to run the B&B or cancel guests.
You work from home
For me, this was always one of the greatest advantages of running a B&B. I’m happiest when I’m at home, and if it wasn’t for my husband making me go away on holiday, I probably never would!
Running a bed and breakfast meant that I could live in a very beautiful part of the world in the countryside in a very nice house.
- I didn’t have to worry about care for my daughter when she was ill or on holidays ( more on this below )
- I got to spend all day with my dogs
- My commute became a 1 minute walk down the stairs in the kitchen
- I could enjoy the amazing countryside and live in a beautiful home
If you’re not such a homebird as I am and you enjoy going out a lot you might find that running a B&B can be a bit of a tie.
When your B&B is busy, you’ll be waiting for guests to leave, waiting for guests to arrive, cleaning, cooking and baking.
Pre covid, my husband would work away all week, so it was quite often a difficult juggling act, working out when I’d get to the shops in between waiting for guests to leave and arrive and having to do the cleaning.
On changeover days ( one set of guests leaves in the morning and another arrives in the afternoon ) this could be easier in one way. You have a fixed check out time, so hopefully you’ll know when guests will be off the premises.
Hint - set your official check out time 30 minutes before you actually NEED guests to be off the premises 😉
On days when guests are staying you’ll probably have to do a room tidy. The problem with this is you have guests hanging around all day, and you’re waiting for them to go out before you can get into their room.
I used to welcome a lovely couple who visited my B&B several times a year. But they tended not to go out till mid afternoon and then only for an hour or so. So my whole day was spent looking out of the window to see if their car was still there or not. Because they visited so often I knew this was the case and I resigned myself to not being able to go out on weekends they were staying.
You can go some way to managing this by making sure your check in and check out times are very clear. And letting guests know when you will be available to do a room tidy.
Though there will always be people who don’t read your info or read it and turn up early and check out late anyway!
I found explaining on my website why we had these times really helped - e.g. we’re sorry we can’t accommodate early check in as we need that time to get your room ready, do the shopping and walk the dogs.
I also noticed a big change in guest arrival behaviour when I said “check in is between 4 & 7, please let us know if you're be arriving later so we can assure someone is here to let you in” before then no one would tell me what time they were arriving, and after that everyone did if they were going to arrive late!
You can read more on setting boundaries at your B&B here → Setting boundaries when you're running a B&B
It will very much depend on the layout of your house, security, insurance etc but the other thing you could do is allow guests to self check in.
I’d gone from 4 to 2 B&B rooms, and the 2 rooms were outside in separate annex, this meant I could ask late arriving guests to check themselves in.
Obviously this needs more thinking about if your B&B rooms are in the main house and, with our set up, I would only have ever have given repeat guests access to the house when we weren’t there.
Make money from your home
A small B&B is a good way to make money from your home, whilst enjoying the lifestyle and some of the other pros I’ve mentioned here. If you target your guests correctly, create a B&B they love in the area they want to visit, you could generate a decent turnover.
As an example, with 3 rooms charging £135 a night and 50% average occupancy over the year you could get a turnover of £74,000
Setting up or buying a bed and breakfast properly isn't a cheap business. You'll need to invest in creating a business that is right for your guests. That's why it's so important to get it right in the first place.
Then once you're up and running. You’ll have expenses to pay.
About 25% of each nights stay is paying for breakfast ingredients, cleaning, laundry, toiletries etc. Then you’ve got your fixed costs such as insurance, marketing costs, entertainment licenses, buying replacement items such as towels, bed linen, mattresses, glasses etc. Then there’s tax.
I'd strongly recommend getting a good accountant who can advise you on the best way to set up and structure your business and what expenses you can claim.
Spend more time with family and partner
One of the common reasons people give me for wanting to run a bed and breakfast is that you want to spend more time with your family and or partner.
And running a B&B can be an excellent way of achieving this.
My daughter was 11 when we opened the B&B and it was such a huge relief when we no longer had to work out what we’d do for childcare in the school holidays or if she was ill.
I really also valued the fact that I was always there when she arrived home from school - something I'd missed out on as a teenager with 2 working parents.
Luckily we also had a fantastic school bus service, which meant she was able to walk 2 minutes up the road and get the bus in the morning.
She also earned a rather substantial pocket money by cleaning for me at weekends!
For other B&B owners, who run their B&B with their partner, they love the opportunity to spend more time together, running the business jointly.
If you aren’t lucky enough to have a school bus and have to take kids to school, then you’ll need to factor this in when you do breakfast service. And if you need to do a school pick up in the afternoon, you'll need to work out how this you'll manage this with arriving guests.
As I said we had a great bus service, but one morning, as I was halfway through breakfast prep, I got a call saying Jess had been taking ill whilst on the school bus and could I come and get her. I had to rush up to the guests, get them out of bed to explain breakfast would be late, then take a 22 mile round trip to rescue her.
Whilst I was at home all the time for my daughter, it did make family days out more difficult. One August we didn’t have a single day out because I had guests arriving and leaving every day. I had to clean, bake and be in to greet them.
That was the month I decided to stop accepting one night stays at the B&B completely. Yes it meant I lost a bit of income in those one night gaps but it also gave me a bit of breathing space and gave me more days when I had no arrivals.
I also tried to get better at scheduling in more days off, both for my family and my own mental well being.
I'll admit when I first started running a B&B, taking time off for myself wasn't something that I was particularly good at - running the B&B for weeks without a break is exhausting - as Clare said on a recent podcast - most people have 2 days a week off!
I’m no relationship expert and I also ran the B&B on my own, so I have no personal experience of running a B&B with someone. But I have seen some couples struggle with the transition of only seeing each other after work and at weekends to being together 24/7.
You also need to get very clear on why you both want to run a B&B and that your reasons for doing so fit together.
It’s also important to have clear roles and responsibilities that are also fair to each partner. And to review these regularly to make sure one person isn't getting resentful of their workload.
Get to meet interesting people
My favourite part of running the B&B has been meeting friendly and interesting people. And I was lucky enough to welcome many of those back often as repeat guests.
One of my skills is the ability to get on with most people and 95% of those guests are really nice but…
As an introvert whilst I enjoy welcoming and hosting new people, I do find it takes a lot out of me. That’s why scheduling in breaks to give me some time alone was so important.
And no matter how well you do your marketing ( and making sure you target the right type of guests is really important as I go over in detail of module 1 of the online course ) there will always be someone who doesn’t get what you do, or who just doesn’t like you.
Anecdotally, having guests who just don't get what you're doing tends to happen more with guests who book through a 3rd party such as bookingdotcom or airbnb, rather than with those guests who book direct with you.
And even though you work hard to get everything right, it’s inevitable that some things will go wrong, which may impact your relationship with your customer. This can be hard when you have guests living in your home.
This may then lead to bad reviews, complaints, people wanting their money back. All of these can take an emotional toil on you.
My husband’s advice was always “grit your teeth and think of the money, they’ll be gone in 2 days”!
As well as taking regular breaks, it’s also important to schedule in time to look after yourself and to stay mentally well.
Even with people you like, you may find yourself having to be warm and friendly with people when you just don’t feel like it. When we lost our first dog, I’d alternate between sobbing in the kitchen and laughing and chatting with guests in the dining room. I didn’t share with them that I was grieving - they were here for a celebration of their 25th wedding anniversary.
I find meditation to be really effective in helping to manage my own negative self talk. But having other B&B owners to talk to, who understand what you’re going through, is also really useful.
You could look for local tourism networking groups, or there’s our own Facebook group for past course attendees that is a great support when you need some TLC.
You get to do a lot of cleaning ...
If you’ve been reading my blog posts for any length of time you’ll know I find it difficult to say anything positive about cleaning. It’s not something I’ve ever enjoyed - apart I guess from that moment of satisfaction at the end when everything is sparkly and shiny and you’ve finished!
Though I do know that there are some of you out there who love cleaning. You may have just found the ideal job for you.
Cleaning does have the advantage of giving you a good work out and keeping you fit. It was easy to get my 10,000 steps in on a changeover day!
There is an awful lot of cleaning when you run a B&B. For my 3 room B & B, it was rare to get away with less than 5 hours a day. As soon as I could afford it, I paid other people to come in and do it for me.
This means you do need to be physically fit to run a B&B. And it is a physically demanding role.
Every day brings something new
One thing I’ve always loved about running my own business is the unexpectedness of it. It’s great when another booking pings into your inbox.
They reckon that whenever you get a like on social media, you get a little dopamine hit. Dopamine is known as the “feel-good” hormone. And I suspect that it's the same little burst of dopamine whenever a booking or a great review pops up.
There is something very satisfying about having the ability to make more money from something you've created, whilst making more people happy. And far more exciting than a regular pay slip at the end of the month.
One thing I’ve always disliked about running my own business is the unexpectedness of it - see what I did there ...
Will I make enough money to cover the bills this month? Will the next review be a bad one?
The lockdowns of the pandemic just proved to us how hard running your own business can be. Up till then, we had good years at the B&B and some not so good years - the weather, Brexit and the general election all affected our business to some extent.
Following the recent reopening of B&Bs in the UK after the last lockdown ended, many B&Bs have seen their busiest year ever. And whilst that is great for business, it’s also resulted in some very tired B&B owners and also customers with more demands and expectations.
So running your own business is full of high and lows, even when it's very busy.
Whilst we could never have predicted the COVID pandemic, you should do what you can to plan for the unexpected. In the course I suggest having at least 6 months saved as a buffer fund to cover you for unforeseen emergencies. And you should always get financial advice from an expert before diving into setting up or buying a B&B.
To wrap it up
There are many good reasons to run a B&B. Clare of The School House here in Chapel Lawn, Shropshire, said in podcast #03 that she wouldn't swap for her previous life in a million years.
I ran a B&B happily for 17 years before giving up to focus on my Bed and Breakfast Training Courses.
As you've seen in this blog post it can be hugely rewarding, but it's not all cream teas and smiling guests. Going into the business with your eyes wide open is a huge step in the right direction.
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