Do you want to know how to run a B&B – the ultimate work-from-home job?
First, ask yourself these questions:
- Do I live in a popular area, with lots of spare rooms in my home?
- Do I like meeting lots of new people?
- Am I willing to do (or organise) lots of cleaning, cooking and mending?
- Do I have a business head on my shoulders?
If you’ve answered yes to these questions you could run a B&B. It’s not an easy way to make money, but get it right and you could be onto a serious earner, or at least a handy side-business.
- How to run a B&B: do your research on how to run a b&b
- How to run a B&B: do the figures
- How to run a B&B: get marketing
- How to run a B&B: do it part-time
- 50+ and 60+ B&B hosts doing well
First of all, think carefully before taking the plunge.
Running a B&B can be a great way to work from home and have lots of free time too, but it can also tie you to your house and take away much of your freedom.
Also, there are costs and legalities to deal with at the start so make sure you are happy about those before jumping in.
Books by people who have run B&Bs, like How To Run A Quality Bed And Breakfast by VisitBritain or Just Six Guests by Helen Jackman are good for an insight into the nitty-gritty and give practical tips and advice.
Once you’re certain that running a B&B is for you, you’ll need to start fact-finding.
You need to carry out thorough research on the following:
Your local area
Do you live in a picturesque village, by the seaside or in a busy and bustling city? How close are you to transport links, tourist attractions? Is your area the sort of place that people will want (or need) to come to and stay in? Having a big house with lots of rooms is only half the battle won!
Who your target market is
It’s not just summer tourists who are looking for short term accommodation. During the week you might find that business people in town for conferences or parents visiting student children need a place to stay, and will provide a good stream of business for you all year round. Consider as well how you will approach guests with particular requirements, e.g. those with disabilities, families with young children, guests with pets.
This doesn’t just mean other B&Bs in your area, although this should be considered.
Some B&B owners find that having similar businesses in the area is a boon as they can absorb guests other B&Bs can’t cater for.
If you’re setting up a B&B in a city you could exploit your closeness to a large range of shops, facilities and entertainment venues, while if you’re based on the coast you could take advantage of all the traditional amusements.
Is there a niche?
Looking at other factors, do you have something unique you could take advantage of? Of course stunning views and prime location are usually winners, but can you offer specialist cooking or a ‘pets welcome’ service? Maybe you have a home with historical interest or your garden has won awards. If you live near a theatre could you offer accommodation to jobbing actors, or cater for conference-goers?
Start with your local tourist board or tourist authority to see if there’s demand for a B&B in your area. They will be a useful point of contact for a lot of things while you’re setting up.
If there are other B&Bs you could do a bit of market research – it’s up to you whether you let on that you’re interested in starting up a rival business.
Find out what they offer, and at what price? Can you do what they do better and cheaper?
You might also consider doing a survey to find out what people want from a B&B: send it to friends, family and colleagues to get a good range of responses. Use that to inform your plans. Once you get going, ask guests for feedback. Also ask them to review your place on TripAdvisor and on Google. Both of those are very useful ways to get business in for free.
can you get insurance?
You will definitely need specialist insurance to cover you for things like public liability (i.e. should a guest injure themselves and take action against you). Good insurance is fiendishly difficult to find from high street providers, and hotel insurance (although it’ll cover you) usually costs a bomb.
Quoterack, Premierline Direct and John Pieri all offer specialist B&B policies, and you’ll find other niche insurers by using an internet search engine.
If you don’t know a B&B owner who can recommend an insurer your best bet is probably to spend an afternoon ringing around for quotes, or you could speak to BIBA – the British Insurance Brokers Association, who can point you in the direction of some suitable specialist insurers.
the Rules and regulations
It’s essential that you have a good idea of what’s expected of you regarding food standards and hygiene, fire safety, access for disabled guests and business practice. As well as obvious points like ensuring you have appropriate fire exits and smoke detectors, you should also be aware of things like how to display your room rates and how to accurately advertise your business.
Visit Britain is your one-stop shop for this sort of thing, and the online version has up-to-date guidance on tourist accommodation laws as well as general advice on dealing with guests and staff.
To work out whether you can make a living from running a B&B, you should consider:
How much you need to live on personally
This will vary according to your lifestyle.
To start off with, you should probably keep your day job going – or get a part-time job – while the business builds up. Don’t’ expect to make money from the start, although some people do manage it.
What your start-up costs will be
Will you be carrying out major structural changes or just redecorating? Will the B&B be at your house or will you be taking out a mortgage to buy a suitable property?
Remember to factor in things like new furniture, extra linen and any adjustments to comply with fire safety legislation.
What your ongoing costs will be
As well as ongoing marketing and insurance, things like replacing linen and crockery can add up too.
If you’re running a luxury B&B your costs will probably be higher than if you’re running a more basic establishment.
Don’t forget that your utility bills will increase too depending on how many guests you accommodate, so shop around for the best water, gas and electricity deals.
How much money you can realistically make from your B&B
This will depend on a number of factors like
- What kind of service you’ll be offering (champagne breakfast or cheap and cheerful? Wireless internet access or a cosy, low-tech bolthole?)
- Where you’re situated (and what type of customer you can attract) and how much you plan to charge.
- How many nights you could reasonably expect to have your rooms booked and how many months in the year you’re willing to have it open for.
Like so many businesses, you’ll only really have a good idea of how profitable your B&B will be once you open for business. The first few years of any new business are typically lean, so don’t be disheartened if you don’t instantly turn a huge profit.
The website Startabedandbreakfast has got some good advice on how to set room rates and how much profit you could make.
Setting up any sort of business involves cost.
- You may need to put in extra bathrooms or at least shower rooms within the guest rooms.
- You may have to upgrade your boiler to create more hot water.
- It’s highly likely that you will need to redecorate most or all of the guest rooms and put new furniture and accessories in them.
- If you do need to make structural changes to your home, make sure you speak to the local council first as some may need to be accepted by their building control department first.
- You will also have general business running costs like any other operation.
- You will have to do your books (or get a bookkeeper),
- you will have to deal with bills,
- have an accountant,
- possibly some legal help
- probably some staffing costs here and there, unless you want to do all the cleaning, maintenance and cooking yourself.
There you are – get marketing, just like that!
Well all right, not quite.
Attracting guests can be tough at the start, but there’s a number of things you can do to market yourself for next to nothing:
First, set up a website
That’s an obvious one. No business now can manage without at least a page online to tell people where you are and how to contact you.
You can do that for free yourself by using one of the many free website-creating packages on the market.Try something like Weebly.com for starters. Or pay a friend or local designer to do one for you.
You should have a page that has at least
- your contact details
- the address of your B&B and a brief description of the house and its amenities.
A bigger, more fulsome website will help you to get more visitors though. An attractive set of photos of the exterior and interior will definitely help, as will references from former guests (once you’ve had some).
more ways to market your b&b
- Register your business with local tourist authorities to attract custom: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland each have separate tourist boards.
- Aim to get into guidebooks but remember that competition is tough.
- Contact your local theatre and make sure you’re on their list.
- Contact local universities and colleges and ask them to put you on their list of places to stay for parents and visiting professors.
- Contact large local businesses to get on their list of recommended places to stay.
- Consider aggregator websites. Sites like Lastminute.com, Booking.com, Hotels.com, Expedia.com and more give you access to hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of potential guests but they take their pound of flesh. Also, you’re often competing on price, so if yours is an expensive place because it’s good, you might lose out twice on one of these.
- Consider Airbnb. See below for more information on this site. They take 3% and you’re generally just up against private homeowners so it’s less cut-throat.
- Build up your social network. This is more work (sorry) but if you do it well it can really pay off. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Youtube, Instagram and LinkedIn will all help to get your brand out there. You can offer special rates to your followers, run competitions, post beautiful pictures of parts of your home or your area and tell people up upcoming events locally so that they are enticed to stay with you and attend the event. Read our article to find out if your business using social media.
Remember that marketing your business is a long-term project to address and budget for:
if you want to attract guests, you’ll need to sell your business to them.
It should get easier the longer you stay in business, as you should benefit from repeat custom, recommendations and a strong local reputation if your place is good.
Your business will be as successful as you make it, so get stuck in!
If you want to make money doing bed and breakfast, you don’t have to set it up as a full-time, 12-month-a-year operation.
You can now quite easily do occasional B&B through sites like Airbnb.com.
Airbnb enables you to advertise your place all round the world for free. You just pay when someone books your home. Airbnb.com charges 3% of the amount you get and they take it off when they send the money through to you.
With Airbnb you can choose which days/weeks/months you want to rent a room or your whole house out. You can also work out a good price based on what other people are offering, decide what the minimum stay would be (some people put 3 days or a week, for example) and you can add on extra amounts for cleaning or other charges or take off a percentage for long bookings.
Also, remember, that from April 2017, people in the UK that let out their homes on Airbnb don’t need to pay tax on the first £1,000 they earn this way per year. Handy.
Running a B&B can be a really good way for older people to supplement their income, particularly if they love their home and don’t want to downsize to save money once the children have left the nest.
For many people, putting up visitors is a fun challenge and a far cry from the hysterical Basil and Sybil experience in Fawlty Towers. It even brings them new friends.
the grettons near Winchester
One convert to B&B is Stephanie Gretton who, with her retired naval husband Michael (they have four grown up children), is host to those who take the advice of Alexander Sawday and his upmarket B&B guide.
The Grettons live near Winchester on the lovely river Itchen, so not surprisingly they attract fishers and also opera lovers attending the Grange Opera near Arlesford in the summer.
Given the Gretton’s house, garden and position, they have lots to offer and they seem to work hard to provide the best. Stephanie prefers the behind the scenes work, Michael enjoys looking after the guests.
Stephanie says that sometimes it is hard not to be perfectionist: “We have two double rooms and offer a high standard at a reasonable rate. When guests step across our front door they are like having friends stay.”
But she does find it tiring at times, and her ideal would be to have something separate for guests. She says: “Doing B&B means we can stay here for the moment and that is lovely.”
But Stephanie warns, there are drawbacks, for example, “In the busy season we can’t have our children to stay with their kids because someone crying, or whatever, might disturb the guests.”
the jamiesons in derbyshire
Serena and Philip Jamieson live in the beauties of Derbyshire. Philip is a retired lawyer and they have four grown up children. They say their swimming pool attracts the internet browser.
The Jamiesons cater for a different market to the Grettons. Serena explains, “We decided to try B&B five years ago. We were keen not to let it take over so we have a simple self-contained cottage in the garden which sleeps two. Guests make their own breakfast in their kitchen.”
“I think B&B isn’t for everyone, though we have certainly got a lot out of it and it’s great to have the income. We do airb&b.com.”
Serena continues: “We have met some nice people and it’s flattering when they come back. We don’t strive to be up market and we tend to concentrate on summer bookings. We want it to be a pleasure, not relentless, and the fact that our guests are separate from us helps a lot.”
christina baxter in suffolk
While Stephanie and Serena haven’t reached 65 yet, Christina Baxter is 70. She is a widow with grandchildren and loads of energy and decided in her late 60s to refurbish her 17th century thatched Mallary Cottage in the village of Bildeston, Suffolk.
She comments: “The cottage was so old and crumbly that I could only get insurance for the project if I was in residence throughout, which was pretty uncomfortable at times.”
The refurb led her to think about celebrating the cottage’s smart decorated rooms, and so why not B&B? So four years ago she opened ‘The B&B Retreat’, offering double rooms and en-suites. She says she appreciates the extra income but like the Jamiesons, she doesn’t rely on it.
This approach of using B&B income for treats and extras is good and the key to a relaxed approach, if you can afford it.
However, Christina didn’t know about marketing or computers: “I was a technological dinosaur. I had no idea how to email, let alone access the internet.” She found innstyle.co.uk, offering software packages for B&B, self-catering, holiday cottages etc. which helped a lot.
To Christina’s great satisfaction, Inn Style transformed her B&B administration. She concludes, “The internet makes things easier and manageable – especially when running the B&B.“
the mantons in dartmoor
Last words go to a silver-haired B&B owner, a retired teacher, Janey Manton, with her husband David (four grown children), who enjoys having their guests and finds the money very welcome.
Janey says: “Our location helped us get started. It’s good to have something to offer like Dartmoor in Devon, where we live. We are not far from the A30 so attract travellers wanting a pit stop on the way to Cornwall.
Janey says: “Running a B&B can be busy – cooking, stripping beds and being mine host. At times it’s a rush, but it’s seasonal, varied and paid (after all work is not that easy to find in the country).
She concludes: “If you have a bedroom en-suite or two, and preferably a nice house and garden, and feel you still have the energy at 50-60+, go for it!”
Do you want to set up a B&B but have questions about it? Ask us in the comments below.