As the parent of a child with food allergies, staying at home and freelancing has been the best option for my family. In addition to writing, I also love historic homes and can’t help but think about the one just around the corner.
But would running a B&B be realistic? Could we stay afloat? Would it really be the dream home and lifestyle for my family?
The reality is that running a B&B takes a lot of elbow grease, sweat and smarts. Renovations aren’t as easy as Chip and Joanna Gaines make them look on the HGTV show “Fixer Upper.”
For those of us who have what I call “the Four P’s”–the personality, patience, place and price, inn-keeping could be the answer to having the home and job of our dreams.
However, while interviewing two families who are living this dream, I’ve discovered another “P” that is one of their secret ingredients to success.
If you are thinking that owning a B&B might be right for you, here are five must-dos to steer you down the right path:
1. Ensure profit is attainable.
Before buying property, consider a “feasibility study” to make sure it can become financially viable if it isn’t already, Mary White, founder and CEO of BnBfinder.com in New York, said June 27. “Spend a couple thousand dollars now, save $100,000 later,” she advised.
Michele Davidson, who owns Smith Island Inn off the coast of the Eastern Shore with her husband Nathan, said that running a B&B is a side job that may not be for everyone but is perfect for their family of six.
The Davidsons’ journey began by buying at a tax foreclosure auction. Purchase at a good price so you have money left over for renovations, she told me June 30.
For Diane and John MacPherson, running the Foster Harris House in Washington, Va., for the past 10 years has enabled them to “make enough money to live on, living a lifestyle that we love.”
On June 27, Diane told me the big question was whether she and her husband could both quit their jobs to run the inn full-time.
She also said someone “in the know” once advised: “You want to be at least the third owner of an inn. The first owners put all the blood, sweat, tears and money into converting the historic property to an inn. The second owners build it as a business. The third owners are the only ones who haven’t put their life savings into the property and can make a living running it.”
2. Remember, it’s a business.
It’s easy to get caught up in the charm of a place. But White said you must “take care of your business issues first”:
- Do your due diligence, looking at everything from zoning to lodging taxes and fire inspection codes.
- Beware of issues like asbestos and lead paint.
- Hire good help if cleaning toilets isn’t your thing, or if you can’t be there 24/7 with a smile.
Turning an historic home into a B&B offers tax breaks, but it also has hidden costs. Diane said upkeep can be “double the work, because guests will expect a standard of appearance and functionality in every room.”
While upkeep “can be repetitive and menial sometimes,” Diane said she asks herself, “Would I rather be on an airplane creating a PowerPoint presentation for a client?” Luckily, her husband is handy, so they don’t have to hire someone every time a repair is needed.
The Davidsons are college professors so they’re available during the busy summer months, and they’ve hired “substitute” innkeepers to help when they aren’t on the island.
3. “Location, location, location.”
Identify your target market, White advised. Who wants to stay with you? What’s the lure?
The Davidsons, for example, are on an island that offers fishing and kayaking, and once was the camping ground for 13,000 British troops. History sells.
Or, be where there’s high demand. If you’re a short car ride outside of a city, you could offer a conference facility during the week and an historic getaway on the weekend, White suggested. “Poll businesses in the area” to see what’s needed, she said.
4. Ensure privacy–both theirs and yours.
Privacy is another key to satisfaction on both sides of the bedroom door. Michele said an upscale “en suite” is a must-have.
She and her family are able to live in a separate house down the road. Of course, this means double sewage rates, utilities and homeowners’ insurance, she said.
Don’t forget about your neighbors. As Diane pointed out, neighbors know you “often before we even know them,” so be ready for “opinions about you and your business.”
She added that having a partner really helps on days when you aren’t available or “you may not be in the mood to interact with people.”
5. You must love it.
Mary and Michele both warned about the high burnout rate, which could be the key to whether your B&B can go the distance.
Innkeepers wear several hats—tour guide being one. With such close proximity to each other, guests won’t be feeling it if you aren’t.
Reputation and return rates are important, so you need to put a plan in place to avoid the burn.
Overall, Diane said to “steer clear of inn-keeping” if you:
- aren’t a people person,
- have the travel bug,
- prefer suits and a briefcase, or
- need a corporate job title.
White, who wrote Running a Bed & Breakfast For Dummies, got to the heart of it: “Running a B&B is anything but something for dummies.” It’s a lifestyle choice and a business you can’t leave at the end of the day. (You can find this book on Amazon: Shop at Amazon.com! [affiliate link])
At the end of this day, both families said making new friends is part of the charm. Sure enough, while Michele and I chatted, she received a package from Bulgaria—from a guest. Now if that doesn’t show love on both sides of the coin!
What lies at the heart of success in addition to turning a profit?
While I initiated my interviews with turning a profit in the forefront of my mind, it quickly became clear to me that one of the keys to success for these owners and likely others that go the distance is the lifestyle factor.
Ultimately, in addition to checking off my so-called Four P’s, owning their B&Bs complements their parenting. This brings a balance to their lives that enables them to be home together to raise their children while enjoying the beauty of their homes and surroundings.
As the MacPhersons said, it’s “a joy to have real roots in a place” and be able to work together and raise their son together. “Our lives are richer and our marriage is stronger because we experience every success and failure together. We are both 100 percent a part of our son’s life and know the joys and challenges first hand,” Diane said.
For the Davidsons, their children get to enjoy and take part in activities on the island during the summer, such as doing things like helping with breakfast in the mornings and driving around in golf carts during the day.
Too, the Davidsons’ business plan fits in with their current lifestyle and parenting, but also with their future plans, as they want to retire on the island. If that isn’t the perfect combination of profit and happiness, I don’t know what is.
What was even more inspiring for me personally was that the weekend after we spoke, Michele was getting ready to host and cook for a guest whose diet was limited to only a few foods due to food allergies. It got me thinking again about how challenging it is for families like mine to vacation safely, if at all.
The personal attention that is inherent in the B&B opens up even more opportunities for families like mine who are managing food allergies and other health concerns.
In the end, my venture into the world of B&Bs has opened my eyes not only to the unique opportunities for stay-at-home mamas like me, but also for any families who need special accommodations. And I just had to share!
Special thanks to Mary, Michele and Diane for opening up and sharing their experiences with me. I encourage anyone considering the B&B lifestyle to reach out to Mary; and anyone who wants to enjoy very special stays at very special places to give Michele and Diane a ring!
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Too, are you a mama or papa interested in other cool ways to make money while staying at home? If so, I encourage you to check out The Penny Hoarder. This post, although not the winner of an AlexisGrant.com blogging contest, was inspired by this TPH topic.