Micro-businesses – building towards recovery

FAQs from our twelfth webinar, Micro-businesses – building towards recovery, recorded 24 November.

Please note information provided in these responses was correct at the time of recording.

­Andy Banner-Price:

Measurement of effectiveness takes place in various ways - Google Analytics, we ask all guests where they found us, numbers of followers/subscribers.  If taking a booking over the phone I always ask where they found out about us.

Daniel Holder:

Google Analytics, guest surveys and word of mouth­. We survey every guest after their stay, which is an invaluable source of information after thousands of replies.  

Each social media channel has its own way to check effectiveness.  Facebook use ‘Insights’ which has some great features. The one I use most is ‘Pages to Watch’ where you can compare your engagement with any other business with a Facebook page. A great place to see who is doing well and then easily finding out why by looking at their page. Although Andy and I run very different businesses but I note that our engagement as a % of followers is very similar (~25%).

We send around 5 newsletters per year and we receive reports on who opens; what they click through to and how many times they do this. Sometimes too much info.

Word of mouth always helps.

­Andy Banner-Price­­­­:

­We used to take full amount if cancelled in less than 7 days.  We will now accept even a same day cancellation but offer to move the booking for free within 12 months.  If no new dates available, we issue a voucher for the deposit paid. ­ We plan to continue with much more flexible cancellation terms post COVID.

­Daniel Holder­­­­:

Yes, we now offer free cancelation for any COVID-19 issues up to day of arrival but it's always under review. Flexibility is key.

­Andy Banner-Price­­­­: ­

I probably spend less than £1,000 a year on various marketing activities.  Most are free to do, just take some time investment. ­Is it better to have less bookings but for longer stays, booking direct in your best rooms than lots of bookings in your cheapest rooms for one night via an OTA?   It takes time to move away from OTAs and they do have a place in our marketing still but very much to suit our needs and requirements.  We no longer rely on them.  Our business would survive if they disappeared overnight.

Daniel Holder­­­­: ­

We used to use OTAs to get exposure, as many young businesses often do, but now do everything ourselves. I really enjoy the PR side of our business and actually spend very little hard money, more about time and understanding. OTAs make businesses become lazy about marketing. Dropping the significant income from OTAs two years ago was scary but we are now in far better shape, fully independent regarding income and cancellation policy and in charge of our online profile.

­Andy Banner-Price­­­­:

It's about quality not quantity so don’t worry about numbers.  It’s better that they grow organically over time.  Keep at it – it can be difficult to be bothered at times when your numbers are low but you’ll get there.  Make your content interesting and personal.  Include photos of people’s weddings and events and tag them or encourage them to tag you.  Check out posts from those you consider competition or people you think are doing it well.

 

Daniel Holder:

The fastest way to grow a good customer base is with a like and share competition with a holiday in one of your cottages is the prize. You could pick a midweek holiday date to begin with. Facebook is probably the best vehicle for this. Try live broadcasts.

Andy Banner-Price­­­­: ­

Without knowing your business it can be difficult to say, but I'd check your COVID-19 policy and certifications are clear on your website so guests know it's safe to visit, check your website has good photos and the booking process is clear and easy. ­

­Andy Banner-Price­­­­:

­The 25 blog is on our website as a menu item.  We send our newsletters to our subscribers who can fill in the form to subscribe via our website.  I also post links to my blogs on social media.

Daniel Holder­­­­: ­

Blogs are on our website and occasionally mentioned on social media.­  I use mailchimp for newsletters which works well.

­Andy Banner-Price­­­­:

I would start with your local DMO or VisitScotland.

Daniel Holder:  

https://www.scottishthistleawards.co.uk/

Andy Banner-Price­­­­:

­It varies.  I usually have a price window or prices “from” figure.  My T&Cs say we use dynamic pricing and prices are subject to change.

Daniel Holder:

No published prices, people have to put in days to get a quote.

­Andy Banner-Price­­­­:

Lending to hospitality businesses is always tough as so many businesses fail.  I would imagine for good businesses the attitude would not have changed and may be better now as your business has been stress tested to the max.  If you could continue to pay you mortgage, rents, loans and bills during a world-wide pandemic then you’ll always be able to and not likely to default on payment.  It shows you have control of your business and its finances.  Prove this with a solid business plan and realistic financial projections.

Daniel Holder:

Hopefully you can access a loan through CBILS.  If we can survive, we will thrive!

­Andy Banner-Price­­­­:

In reality, we rarely stuck to our cancellation T&Cs anyway. Our new T&Cs are much more flexible and most genuine guests will still want to come at another time and will accept a voucher.  It’s important to build a relationship with your guests as early as possible so they feel more committed to you.  If someone had COVID symptoms or contact with someone who had then I’d prefer them not to come anyway, even if they only told me an hour before.  It’s also important to look at the bigger picture with regard to they may book again and you don’t want to receive a bad review which would affect future business off other guests.  We plan to continue with our more flexible approach post Covid.

Daniel Holder:

Repositioning your mind to think of yourself as a custodian of their money until the holiday has been delivered.

Cash Flow is king and a ‘cancel to arrival date’ option is tough. I do not see another option for the next few months. In my experience, even when you offer this fully flexible cancellation policy, many who cancel will not take the money but go with a credit or a new booking date. Guests want us to survive!

Andy Banner-Price­­­­:

Have you considered online events?  How about gift vouchers for future events?  Doing an offer for future event bookings if they pay a deposit now?  Gifts to purchase online that have an association with your festivals / events?

 

Daniel Holder:

Your product does not transfer well online so I think your only option is to look beyond COVID. When we can resume life there will be a massive demand for your product so I would be looking to create a fabulous festival for say Autumn 21 and then marketing and forward selling.

Specialist festivals where you fill a niche may be the way to go?

I saw a festival company in the USA two years ago that hired flat-pack plywood accommodations out to festival goers and had hundreds of units for hire.  Seemed very successful.

­Andy Banner-Price­­­­:

Staycations are here to stay next year and self-catering will be a popular choice.  I’d start high and drop prices if you need to nearer the time.  Perhaps an offer for regulars, but new guests should be paying a higher price.   

­Andy Banner-Price­­­­:

As per my live session answer – walkers are a hardy bunch and ideal for a Dartmoor cottage.  Write blogs and leaflets on circular walks from the cottage, add posts to social media of things to do in the area, photos of open fires, hot tubs, link with local restaurants and attractions.  Use dynamic pricing – if you know you can sell those three months they should be top heavy pricing.  Don’t be afraid to charge for quality.

Daniel Holder: 

Make sure you are active on social media and have lots and lots of pictures. Enter awards. Go on OTAs and Sharing websites to get your name out there.  Partner up with other cottages and form a linked experience, eg  Dartmoor Cycling Safaris. Offer to pick people up from Exeter train station or airport and provide them with cycles and maps. Dark Skies holidays. Partner up with local attractions to provide unique holidays.