Is running a bed and breakfast the right business for you?Sep 15, 2021
It may be your dream business, but is running a bed and breakfast the right business for you?
Owning a B&B might mean you can work from home, be your own boss, have more time for your family and hobbies, maybe live in your dream place by the sea or in the countryside and meet new and interesting people.
It sounds perfect doesn't it?
However owning a B&B is a business like any other small business and it isn’t for everyone. And for it to be a success and for you to enjoy running it, you really need to get clear on a few things first.
In this post, I’ll walk you through deciding whether it really is the right business for you.
I'm going to cover:
- Is running a bed and breakfast the right business for you?
- What is a bed and breakfast?
- What makes a good bed and breakfast?
- What makes a good bed and breakfast owner?
- Buying a bed and breakfast versus setting one up from scratch
- Do your research
- Get clear on your reasons for wanting to run a B&B
- What sort of B&B do you dream of owning?
- What sort of B&B owner do you want to be?
- Who is your ideal B&B guest?
I’ve been running a B&B for over 17 years and I’ve made an awful lot of mistakes along the way! I set up my training courses and started writing my blog to help other new B&B owners avoid those same, often expensive mistakes.
Don’t get me started on the sisal carpets and the chenille headboards ….
If you do decide you want to explore your options for running a bed and breakfast further, I've written a comprehensive online course to get you started. I also run an amazing community of B&B owners, who have gone through my training.
Is Running A Bed And Breakfast The Right Business For You?
Running a B&B is so much more than just a job. It’s a 24/7 lifestyle. How many jobs involve having your customers sleeping in the room next to yours and having to be polite to them over breakfast?
You can’t leave it behind in the office at the end of the day or at weekends or call in sick.
This is why it’s so important to understand what you want from it and to create the right B&B to meet your needs.
OK, I know that there aren’t many jobs and careers these days that don't have an impact on your life outside of work. You might work long hours, have to go away on business trips, answer your work mobile and do emails at the weekends.
However there are very few jobs where your home life and work are as entwined as they are in a B&B.
Guests will be with you at times when most people with a 9-5 job would normally be resting from work; weekends, evenings and during holidays.
It’s easy to focus on all of the positive aspects of running a B&B and there are many, but make sure you also take some time to think about how running a B&B will impact your lifestyle and family.
Grab a piece of paper and a pen and draw a line down the middle. Label the left side pros and the right side cons
Brainstorm all of possible ways you can think of how running a B&B could impact your life; consider the impact on your lifestyle, social life, family, partner, pets
If you’re planning to set up the B&B with anyone else. Do this exercise individually, then come together and compare the results.
What Is A Bed And Breakfast?
This is a question that’s asked an awful lot on my courses and there seems to be some confusion about the differences between a B&B, a guest house and a hotel, and generally the definitions are quite fluid.
The best definition is probably from the tourism specialists such as Visit England and the AA, both of whom offer quality assurance schemes for accommodation in the UK.
The quality assurance scheme for Visit England definitions for B&B and Guest House are as follows:
“Bed and Breakfast – Accommodation in a private house run by the owner”
“Guest House Accommodation for more than six paying guests and run on a more commercial basis than a B&B. Usually more services, for example dinner, provided by staff or the owner”
The AA defines a hotel as accommodation “ having a designated eating area that serves breakfast daily and evening meals on most days”
As I said these definitions are quite fluid. I’ve seen Visit England’s B&B of the year awarded to a 12 room castle or a 5 room B&B, both run on a commercial basis and offering evening meals. So I wouldn’t get too hung on whether it’s a B&B or Guest House. Though double check with your local council that they don’t have any specific definitions in place when it comes to planning.
What Makes A Good Bed and Breakfast?
We’ve probably all stayed at some amazing bed and breakfasts, and others that we couldn’t wait to leave.
There’s the one I booked in Stratford on Avon as part of a theatre package many years ago - the one with twin beds, the folding vinyl door and toilet at the end of the corridor. And the one in America, where the breakfast was so bad we made an excuse about having to leave really early on our last day.
I think a good bed and breakfast is one that meets the requirements and expectations of the individual guest at that point in time.
When I’m visiting my daughter in London, I’m more than happy with a Premier Inn. I just want somewhere close to the tube, has a comfy bed, ensuite bathroom ( no more toilets at the end of the corridor for me - thank you ) and a good shower.
But if we’re going away for a relaxing weekend away in the country, I’d expect something with a few more extras and a bit of luxury - make a note Mr Thorne.
Whilst bed and breakfasts vary widely in style, price and type, there are some basics that every B&B really needs to get right:
- Comfortable Bed
- Functioning Bathroom
- Welcoming Host
- Good, well prepared Breakfast
- Good Customer Service
p.s. I go into these in a lot more detail on the course 😉
Getting these basics right is a great step in the right direction, but there are other things you may not have thought about that can have a negative impact on the way you run your B&B. You want to make it as easy as possible on yourself from the start!
You can read more about the Top 8 Mistakes I made when setting up my own bed and breakfast rooms in this blog post here.
One of the most important elements for people is the location of the B&B and, for many, the proximity to the amenities they want.
We live in a beautiful rural area with stunning views, but guests often mark us down on location because we don’t have a pub or restaurant within walking distance.
Though I did get very grumpy when someone gave me a ⅖ out of location because he actually needed to be in Shrewsbury, 22 miles away, for work. Hardly my fault he didn’t check our location carefully enough when he booked online!
It’s really important to know what your target market’s requirements are in a location. It’s generally not a case of “Build it and they will come”
If you’re moving to set up or buy an existing B&B, you’re in a good position because you can choose somewhere that will meet your potential guests’ criteria for a well located B&B.
If you’re setting up in your existing home, you’ve got no control over your location. But if there are disadvantages to where you are, you’ll need to look and see what you can do to make your B&B more attractive to potential guests.
Think about all of the good B&Bs or hotels you’ve stayed at. What made them special for you?
Then think about the ones that weren’t so good. What was it about them that disappointed you? What could they have done better?
What Makes A Good Bed And Breakfast Owner?
Like every B&B, every B&B owner is unique. They bring their own personalities to the business.
But, like a good B&B, there are certain attributes a B&B owner needs to have to improve their chances of running a successful Bed and Breakfast Business:
- Likes People
- Anticipates guests’ needs
- Puts people at ease
- Friendly but not over friendly
- Thick skinned by not too thick skinned
- Remains calm when things go wrong
- Problem solver
- Is tolerant and patient
- Is healthy and fit
- Good at cleaning and house proud
- Organised with good time management skills
- Good cook
There are also many more practical skills such as laundry, gardening, marketing, IT, DIY and more.
Running a B&B is like running any other small business. It requires a whole variety of different skills, experience and knowledge.
Your first step before committing to running a bed and breakfast is to decide if you have those skills and, if not, how you will go about training for them or buying them in.
It’s also worth noting that even if you possess a certain skill, that doesn’t mean you enjoy doing it. I hate cleaning, so as soon as I could afford it, I’d paid someone else to do as much of the cleaning as possible for me.
Believe me, there is a whole lot of cleaning when you run a bed and breakfast.
Check out this blog post for 4 places your B&B guests are checking your rooms for cleanliness
Brainstorm all of the skills, experience and knowledge you think a B&B owner may need. Then assess yourself against each one on a scale of 1-10.
For those with a lower score, are there actions such as further training you could take to fill the gaps?
Buying a Bed and Breakfast versus Starting a B&B from Scratch
One question I am asked frequently by people who come on my courses is;
“It is better to buy an established B&B business or should I set one up from scratch?”
Unfortunately, like many aspects involved in going into business for yourself, there’s no black and white answer. It depends on your personal circumstances; your finances, your personality, your approach to risk, your business goals etc.
Do Your Research
Buying or setting up a B&B is not a cheap business so you need to do your research very thoroughly to ensure you’re not about to make a very expensive mistake. If you’re having to borrow money to acquire your business, you will have to prove to the lender that it will be a viable business and that you can keep up on the loan repayments.
You should never buy or set up a B&B based on guesswork or assumptions. Mortgage lenders will need to see evidence that your plans and ideas are based on facts, backed up with figures rather than just wishful thinking.
You may have fallen in love with a beautiful property in a remote undiscovered location and assume that you just have to set up a B&B and guests will arrive in their droves. But is this really the case?
Even if you’re not having to borrow any money, you’ll need to prove to yourself that you can achieve the goals that you’ve set for yourself.
So do some research, then do some more! The more research you do the more chance you have of creating or buying a successful B&B business that helps you achieve your goals.
Even if you are buying an existing business you still need to do your research. You’ll need to know why the current owners are selling, what the occupancy figures are, what type of guests do they attract what their turnover is, what their expenses are and how much profit they actually make.
Get clear on your reasons for wanting to run a B&B
I’ve heard many reasons for wanting to run a B&B over the years.
One person told me they wanted to run a bed and breakfast so that they could find themselves a husband.
Others have more common reasons such as wanting to live in a beautiful part of the countryside or to work for themselves.
Being very clear on your “WHY” should help you in the decision of where and what type of B&B you run, and if you should really be running a B&B at all.
I was once told by someone that they wanted to run a bed and breakfast so that they could afford to live by the sea and spend the afternoons surfing. They were planning to set up a 6 room B&B on their own and weren’t planning to hire staff.
It's not my job to tell people whether running a B&B is the right move for them, but I had to break it to them that running a busy 3 room B&B on my own was a full time job. And, even had I owned a wetsuit or lived near the sea, there would have been no time for surfing all afternoon!
Your why could be generating a main income, living in a beautiful place, spending more time with your partner or family.
If there are 2 or more of you starting up a bed and breakfast together, then it’s really important that everyone’s WHYS are in synch. If your partner’s WHY is so they can spend every afternoon on the golf course, leaving you to do all of the cleaning, shopping and waiting in for guests you may need to have a serious chat.
As well as having an impact on the sort of B&B you want to run and where you run it, your 'WHY' for running a bed and breakfast will also have an impact on HOW you run the B&B and the boundaries you set.
Learn more about setting boundaries at your bed and breakfast.
Brainstorm all of the reasons you want to run a B&B. Get everything down as quickly as you can without thinking about it too much.
Go through what you’ve written and identify the top 1 or 2 reasons
If there’s more than one of you going into business, then do it individually, then sit down afterwards to compare your lists.
What sort of B&B do you dream of owning?
There are so many different types of B&Bs these days. The type of B&B you run will dictate the type of guest you have coming to stay.
If you want to run a luxury B&B, you’ll be able to charge more. But your guests will have high expectations. It will cost more to keep up the standards.
A family B&B may be more relaxed, but you’ll need to make sure it’s safe for children and you may need to be more flexible around family times and not get upset about the sort of things that happen when children are involved (e.g. coca cola spilt on the carpet, felt tip on the walls)
Running a B&B for walkers on a long distance path means you’ll have to be flexible about check in times, probably have to provide an evening meal, do an early breakfast and allow one night stays.
Describe your perfect B&B. What are the must haves for you, where are you willing to compromise and what are the things that are a complete no-no?
What sort of B&B owner do you want to be?
If you’ve stayed at a lot of different B&Bs you’ll know there are a lot of different types of B&B owners out there.
Some are casually dressed, welcoming you warmly with homemade tea and cake and spending time chatting with you. Others may be polite but more formal. Some may give you a big hug and show you into their kitchen and treat you as family!
One of the more formal B&B owners once gave me such a telling off on social media because I admitted that I answered the door to my guests in my slipper.
As a B&B owner, you have to be very tolerant and often polite to guests even when you really don’t feel like it. Read more in my blog Are you letting your chimp run your B&B
Suggested exercise - What sort of B&B owner do you want to be?
For this exercise imagine you’re one of your future customers writing a TripAdvisor review about a stay at your B&B. They’ve had the perfect stay and are describing you as a B&B owner. What would you like them to be saying about you?
Who is your ideal B&B guest?
Knowing who your customer is is key to running a successful business. Once you know who your customer is you can create and run a B&B experience that matches their requirements, expectations and dreams. You’ll have B&B guests who love your business. They’ll write you great reviews, recommend you to their friends and keep coming back.
Some business owners only start thinking about who their ideal customer is after they’ve created their business and when they’re getting to the marketing stage. This is too late - especially for a B&B.
The type of guest you will be welcoming has a direct impact on the type of B&B you run and the type of B&B you run has a direct impact on the type of guest you will welcome!
What type of guests do you want to welcome - suggested exercise
So have a think about the type of guests you’d like to welcome and describe them:
- What age?
- What are they doing when they come and stay at your B&B?
- Do they like to chat or keep themselves to themselves
And whatever else you can think of.
I hope this blog post has helped you get a clearer idea of what you need to get clear on before you embark on your B&B journey.
Make sure you’re signed up to my weekly newsletter to get further hints and tips on setting up, running and marketing a bed and breakfast.
I’ve been running courses for aspiring B&B owners for over 15 years. The course is now available online and available for you to get started immediately. Check it out here
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