Not For Dummies: Running A Bed & Breakfast

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Maybe it’s just me, but the “for Dummies” series has always been hard for me to buy. I guess you could say that, at least in some areas, I find it hard to consider myself a “Dummy.” Lack of humility? Running a Bed & Breakfast for Dummies

OK, I’m over that, now, thank you. Not long ago I saw that Mary White, founder of BnBFinder.com, had written Running a Bed & Breakfast For Dummies. I was interested to see what Mary, an experienced marketer, and founder of one of the top bed and breakfast directories, would have to say.

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A Little Background

We bought our B&B, Brewster House, about four years ago. In preparation for that step we read several books on owning and operating, purchasing, or converting a home to, a bed and breakfast. Most of these books were minimally adequate, but not really outstanding, with not enough detail on the financial and marketing aspects of the business. One was very good, but somewhat out of date.

We also took an aspiring innkeeping course. There is a great variety here, as well. Some appear to be little more than retired innkeepers telling stories about their guests, while others provide real value, bringing in experts to speak on various aspects of acquiring and operating the business.

With that background, and currently speaking at aspiring innkeeping classes on computer-related topics, I turned eagerly to read this book.

Running a Bed & Breakfast

In the familiar “Dummies” manner, the book uses cartoons (some very cute!) to introduce the parts of the book, and uses icons to flag tips, important information and warnings of danger. The book is organized into six parts:

  1. Inn the Beginning: an outline of what a bed and breakfast is (and is not), potential marketing challenges, necessary social skills, and commitment, and a bit about the lifestyle change that a b&b brings.
  2. Transitioning from Inn Goer to Inn Owner: a discussion of professionals who can help, from inn consultants to accountants, and lawyers, creating a business plan and financial forecasts, along with a discussion of buying an existing inn versus starting a new inn from scratch.
  3. Getting Ready for Guests: setting up your record-keeping systems, choosing a property management system, setting rates and establishing policies, getting basic marketing in place, furnishing and decorating the inn, and even a few recipes to get things started.
  4. Up and Running: Day-to-Day Operations: this section covers guest communications and taking reservations, basic hospitality (taking care of guests), handling problem guests, chores and maintenance, and getting help you need when you need it.
  5. Taking It Beyond Breakfast and the Basics: how to analyze your results and make future projections, concrete marketing steps to help you move forward, and keeping yourself fine-tuned.
  6. The Part of Tens: collections of tips for cleaning economies of time and money, and ideas for getting guests to return.

From even this brief outline of Running a Bed & Breakfast For Dummies you can see that Mary’s book is a “soup to nuts” presentation. Not everyone (whether considering becoming an owner of a b&b, or already running a b&b) will find a need for every chapter, but nearly everyone will find value within its pages.

For the prospective owner, the first section may help with the decision to move ahead with the plan. Because running a bed and breakfast is to engage in a lifestyle totally different than the experience of most people, it is not for everyone. Mary helpfully presents the activities and personality of an innkeeper. If a reader honestly considers whether that describes them, they will be greatly helped in deciding whether this is a lifestyle they can be comfortable with.

One of the more helpful things found in Part I is the discussion of what a bed & breakfast is and what it is not. That may raise a smile, but there is no universally accepted definition of what constitutes a bed & breakfast. Consequently you find statements, like one found recently in a news article, that “technically [name omitted] is an inn, not a bed and breakfast.” Excuse me? In this section Mary notes that often “inn”, “bed and breakfast” and “country inn” can be used interchangeably, and then provides the definitions she will be using in the book. She also very helpfully points out that a B&B is not a cheap or second-rate lodging (despite often being a good value), it does not always mean a family-style breakfast, it does not mean sharing bathrooms, etc.

The second part, Transitioning from Inn Goer to Inn Owner, contains a great amount of practical advice about working with professionals, preparing a business plan and financial forecasts, and putting it all together. For the prospective innkeeper, this will help in evaluating the property as a business and not an emotional choice. For existing innkeepers, these are tasks that should have been done before starting out, but can (and should) be revisited as checklists to help keep you on track.

In speaking to aspiring innkeepers, the financial projections are the area they feel they need more information than almost any other. While many books or classes talk about the finances, Running a Bed & Breakfast For Dummies provides detailed information on the things to look for in the financial information, preparation of a business plan, etc.

The second part then divides into advice for those purchasing an inn, and those starting a new inn. Clearly these chapters are most relevant only for those interested in the specifics of each topic.

Getting Ready for Guests is another section with lots of practical information about record-keeping, rate-setting, policies, marketing, furnishing and decorating, and breakfast(!). This section is primarily intended for the aspiring innkeeper, but has some golden nuggets for the existing innkeeper, as well. For example, there is an excellent section discussing how to set rates, and the factors to consider when doing so.

As its title implies, Up and Running: Day-to-Day Operations, contains material perhaps more suited to the new innkeeper, but, like the preceding section, also has many pointers that experienced innkeepers can take to heart.

Part V is suitable for anyone. Indeed, perhaps it is more suitable for the experienced innkeeper, because it assumes that the basics have been mastered, the inn is operational, and it is time to “take it to the next level.” Mary provides details for tracking results and comparing them to expectations, adjusting expenses to increase profits, dealing with issues of guest satisfaction, keeping yourself from burning out, and making decisions for the future (including growing the business, increasing profit by various means, and buying another inn). Some of the marketing ideas in this part would be valuable for any innkeeper.

The final part contains two chapters. The first is a list of cleaning hints to save money and make cleaning easier and more effective. The second is a list of examples of ways to provide guests with that service that is the particular domain of the bed and breakfast: hospitality!

Final Thoughts

When considering a new venture, such as the purchase of a bed & breakfast, most will do some research, looking for books on the topic, and seeking help from knowledgeable sources. Running a Bed & Breakfast For Dummies should be one of those sources. The treatment is thorough and professional. Mary White provides the benefit of her years of experience working with the bed & breakfast industry to provide information that can be put to work immediately. Where she lacks personal experience, Mary has obtained advice from multiple sources in the industry and presents the best practices which she has gathered from them.

For the experienced innkeeper Running a Bed & Breakfast For Dummies provides a way of validating operational decisions, and the opportunity to re-evaluate choices, to see if changes can be made to improve the level of service, grow the business, and prepare for the future.

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