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B&B's for Dummies

So You Think You Want to Open a B&B?

[In this excerpt, Mary White explains how to decide if you have what it takes to run a bed & breakfast.]

You’ve been cutting out recipes for years, everyone tells you you’re the perfect host or hostess, and you’ve stayed at more B&Bs than you can count — but will you be a good innkeeper?

Maybe. The fact that you can cook doesn’t mean you have the persistence and stamina to run an inn, nor does being handy at restoring an old building mean you have the leadership skills it takes to run a business. 

Some equate the job of an innkeeper to that of an actor or actress in that you must be “on” whenever you’re working. The differences are that you can’t be acting, and the show never ends. When you’re an innkeeper, it’s show time 24 hours a day.

You may be a bit confused by various impressions that you’ve had over the years about the term B&B, so before taking the leap into innkeeping you want to know: What exactly is a bed & breakfast? You can’t run something if you don’t have a clear picture of what it is in your mind.


A bed & breakfast is more than the simple combination of a bed and a breakfast. It’s a business and a unique lodging experience for your guests. You can be the best host or hostess in the world, but if you don’t run your B&B as a business, you run the risk of not being able to pay your bills.

Equally as important, you must see your customers as guests. If you run a rigid business without providing warmth and hospitality, you miss out on the joys and satisfaction of innkeeping, and your guests leave your inn deprived of the special B&B lodging experience.

Being a Jack or Jill of all Trades

If I were to write a job description for the position of innkeeper it would probably read something like this: Knowing how to do everything and being ready to do it at any time. Innkeepers wear many hats, from cook to cleaner and from greeter to gardener. I can’t think of any other profession that combines the knowledge from as many different disciplines as innkeeping does.

Many new innkeepers make the mistake of downplaying the need for experience, or at least a little knowledge, and overestimating their abilities in the many areas that affect the success of a bed & breakfast. While many jobs can be outsourced, knowledge in some areas is indispensable.

For example, you may outsource your accounting and tax preparation to a CPA or accountant, but knowing how to generate and read a profit and loss statement (also called an income statement) from your bookkeeping software is essential for gauging the health of your business and comparing its success from year to year.

You must have multiple skills, personality traits and personal characteristics to be a successful innkeeper. Before taking the plunge into innkeeping, you need to take an inventory of your own people skills, past the point of being a friendly person. To be a successful innkeeper, you must like people, be willing to interact with them on many levels, and possess some innate higher-level communication skills, such as:
                   

You should have the ability to break down communication barriers gently and graciously by taking cues from your guests. This means being able to figure out what the guests’ needs are and what, if possible, can be done to make your guests comfortable. It also means knowing when guests want to be engaged in conversation and when they’d rather be left alone.

You need to be a skillful leader, which means being competently in charge. Guests sense incompetence, so you always want to appear confident and in control. If you’re not in charge, guests will immediately try and take advantage of you.

From your first contact with each guest, remain in charge by creating policies and an environment that you’re comfortable offering to guests.  Guests will try and dictate everything from reservation policies to room assignments and menu choices, but you must remain in control.

You need to be skillful at communicating nonverbally. Studies have shown that only 7 percent of what we “hear” from in-person communication is actual words. The remaining 93 percent of the message we receive comes not from the literal words spoken, but rather from the following:

* The tone and pitch of a voice
* The speed at which words are delivered
* Facial expressions, including mouth, chin, eye and eyebrow movements, and the position    of the head as well as hand and body gestures and eye contact
* Emotional responses such as sighing, laughing, snickering, and crying
* Physiological responses such as rapid breathing, eyes filling with tears, choking on words, and so forth
                       
These signals make nonverbal communication a very powerful way of “hearing” guests and communicating with them. Listening to guests’ nonverbal communication and being in command of your own nonverbal correspondences is an art and a skill that savvy innkeepers employ and perfect over time.

Mary White, Founder BnBFinder.com
Author
Other important Traits to be Happy as a B&B Owner

Passion and determination alone aren’t enough to make your bed & breakfast successful. In addition to the high-level communication skills I discuss in the preceding section, here are some other key traits you must possess:
                       
*Endurance and stamina. Even when you’re tired or don’t feel well, beds have to be made, breakfast must be prepared and everything must be done in a cheerful manner. At 10 p.m., you may find yourself still manning the fort because guests you’re expecting haven’t called. 
                   
*A willingness to see damages as a part of doing business. Even when you take precautions to protect your inn, some damages are bound to occur. Guests spill things, drop things, break things, wet the bed, and more, so you should never put anything in your rooms or common areas that you can’t bear to part with.
                   
Tolerance to entertain a variety of people — even those you don’t like. You know who I mean, those who insist on talking politics, discuss their medical conditions, share their religious views with complete disregard for anyone else’s beliefs, or monopolize the conversation. Not only do you need to entertain these people, but you also need to skillfully manage the situation to minimize their interference with your other guests’ enjoyment.
                       
* Organizational skills. You need to be organized in order to keep a housekeeping schedule, plan and prepare meals, shop for the inn, manage your advertising, take care of bookkeeping and banking, handle repairs, meet required reporting deadlines, take care of current and future guests, and more.
                   

*Willingness to learn from your experiences. Successful innkeepers constantly find more efficient ways to use their time, from streamlining meal preparation to making their housekeeping routine more productive. They discover new bookkeeping functions and marketing techniques. Having an open and flexible mind makes the job easier over time.
                   

Patience. An innkeeper’s days are filled with answering the same questions over and over. Say you show a couple at check-in how to use the remote for the TV and get a call from them asking you to show them how to use the remote. At first, you’re happy to help your guests, but fast-forward to the 100th and then the 1,000th time. Can you still do it with the same patience and smile?
                   
*Willingness to make personal sacrifices. Being an innkeeper invariably means missing some family and personal functions. When this happens, you must be able to hide your feelings of disappointment for your guests’ sake.

In addition to all of this, you must find time to take care of yourself. An innkeeper’s job is never done. Even on days when there are no guests at your inn, you should expect to be preparing for them by working on your marketing plan, baking ahead, cleaning, and performing maintenance and upkeep. When guests are staying at the inn, you may be hoping for a little quiet time alone in the afternoon, only to find that your guests prefer to hang around and visit.

None of these dynamics are bad; they’re simply a reality of innkeeping and the lifestyle you sign on to when you decide to run a bed & breakfast. But remember, your job description doesn’t come with personal leave, vacation time, or days off, so you have to carve out this time for yourself. Be wise, and build it into your business plan.

To be a successful innkeeper and provide your guests with a unique and special lodging experience, you need to see past the idyllic notions of innkeeping and be ready for the tough choices and sacrifices that need to be made.  Running a Bed & Breakfast for Dummies, which is available wherever books are sold, will help you to turn your dream into a reality.

Buy this book on Amazon Running a Bed & Breakfast For Dummies (For Dummies (Business & Personal Finance))
 
Content used with permission. For Dummies is a registered trademark of John Wiley & Sons, Inc. and its affiliates.

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