Fancy working from home running your own B&B? Why wouldn’t you?! It could be a great way to make money, meet people, and create a profitable business. There’s a lot to think about too, though.
If you’ve never considered turning your spare bedrooms into a guest house, have a think about these questions first:
- Is the area I live in a popular destination for people to visit?
- Does my house have enough spare rooms?
- Do I like meeting new people?
- Would I be willing to do – or arrange – lots of cleaning, cooking and mending?
- Do I have a business head on my shoulders?
- Can I cook, or do I have any experience in hospitality/hosting?
Running a B&B is not an easy task, so consider all aspects before you decide it’s a yes. If you get it right, it could turn into a great business – or at least an additional source of income.
- Research on how to run a B&B
- Do the figures
- Get marketing
- Do it part-time
- 50+ and 60+ B&B hosts doing well
how to run a B&B: Do your research
First, and this is crucial, think carefully before you take the leap.
Yes, running a B&B is a fantastic way to work from home, meet new people, and be your own boss. But it can also tie you to your house and take away much of your freedom.
You’ll also need to consider the costs and legalities to kick things off. Do your research. Talk to people. Make sure you know exactly what the cost and paperwork is before you jump in.
If you’re not sure where to start, read and learn. There’s lots of advice online from those who paved the way. Alternatively, take a look at books such as How to Start and Run a B&B, 4th Edition by Stewart Whyte (2018) or Running a Bed & Breakfast for Dummies. They provide a good insight into the nitty-gritty of running a B&B, with lots of practical tips and advice. You could even take a course with the Bed & Breakfast Academy. Finally, check out the Bed & Breakfast Association website.
If you’ve done some reading and still think running a B&B is exactly what you’d love to do, consider the following:
Your local area
Your part of the world has to attract people for your B&B to make profit. Think about what makes it special and what would encourage people to visit. Do you live in a picturesque village by the seaside or in a busy and bustling city? How close are you to transport links and tourist attractions? Could you offer weekday stays for commuting professionals? 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. Think about your unique selling point.
your target market
Once you’ve considered what your area might offer potential visitors, think about who those may be. The chances are you won’t only cater for summer tourists looking for short-term accommodation. You might find that during the week business people come to your local area for conferences. Or perhaps it’s a university town with lots of parents visiting their studying children. All of those will provide a good stream of business all year round. You should also have a think about how you’ll approach guests with particular requirements, such as disabilities, families with young children, or guests with pets.
This doesn’t just mean other B&Bs in your area – although you should consider those too. Having competition can be both a good and a bad thing. Some B&B owners find that having similar businesses in the area is a boon as they can absorb tourists that other guest houses can’t cater for.
Other than that, think about businesses around you. If you live in a city, make sure you exploit your closeness to a large range of shops, facilities and entertainment venues. If you’re based on the coast, take advantage of all the traditional amusements. But if you’re based in a rural setting, think about what hikers and outdoor adventurers seek from their overnight accommodation (such as transport to nearby rail links).
Is there a niche?
Going back to thinking about your unique selling point, is there something extraordinary you could take advantage of? Stunning views and prime location are the usual winners, but not everyone can rely on that. If that’s not what your local area is about, dig deeper. Can you offer specialist cooking or a ‘pets welcome’ service? Perhaps your home is of historical interest? If you live near a theatre, could you offer accommodation to jobbing actors or cater for conference-goers?
If you’re stuck, check with your local tourist board or tourist authority to see if there’s demand for a B&B in your area. They’ll be also a useful point of contact for a lot of things as you’re setting up.
If there are other B&Bs, do a bit of market research. Find out what they offer and at what price. Can you do what they do better and cheaper? Or even better and more luxurious for a premium service and price?
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 Google – both of those are useful ways to get business in for free.
can you get insurance?
You’ll definitely need specialist insurance to cover you for things like public liability (for instance, if your guest gets injured and takes 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.
If you don’t know a B&B owner who can recommend an insurer, spend some time getting quotes from various companies. Or perhaps speak to BIBA – the British Insurance Brokers Association, which can point you in the direction.
the Rules and regulations
It’s key 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. A lot of it is obvious, for example, making sure you have appropriate fire exits and smoke detectors. But 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. Their website offers an up-to-date guidance on tourist accommodation laws and general advice on dealing with guests and staff.
how to run a b&b: Do the figures
Before you take the plunge, you’ll need to do the maths to work out whether you can make a living from running a B&B.
How much you need to live on personally
This depends on your lifestyle.
You might want to keep your day job or get a part-time job while the business builds up. Some people manage to make money from the start, but don’t expect miracles. Those things tend to take time.
What your start-up costs will be
Will you be carrying out major structural changes or just redecorating? Will you set up the B&B at your house or will you be taking out a mortgage to buy a suitable property?
You’ll need to remember to factor in 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 be higher.
Don’t forget that your utility bills will increase too, depending on how many guests you accommodate. Make sure you shop around for the best water, gas and electricity deals.
How much money you can make from your B&B
Realistically, this will depend on a few things.
- What kind of service do you offer? Is it champagne breakfast or cheap and cheerful? Wireless internet access or a cosy, low-tech bolthole?
- What’s your location? It’ll affect the type of customer you attract and your rates.
- How many nights you could reasonably expect to have your rooms booked? And how many months in the year are you willing to be open for business?
It’s hard to tell how profitable your B&B may become straight away. It’s the case with most businesses. You’ll only get a good idea of the kind of money you may make once you’ve got things going. The first few years for any new business tend to be lean. Don’t be disheartened if you don’t instantly turn a huge profit.
The Start a Bed & Breakfast website offers advice on practical issues such as how to set room rates and how much profit you could make.
But before you turn any profit, consider the cost:
- You may have enough spare bedrooms, but what about bathrooms? You may need to at least add in some shower rooms within the guest rooms
- Will your boiler cope creating enough hot water? You may need an upgrade
- Would it help to redecorate some or all of the guest rooms, and get new furniture and accessories?
- If you need to make structural changes to your home, speak to the local council first, in case you need a permission from their building control department
- Take into account the general business running cost
- For the financial side of things, you’ll have to do your books yourself or get a bookkeeper. Think about whether you’ll need to hire an accountant and legal help
- You’ll have to deal with bills (and they’ll be higher)
- Unless you’re happy running a one-man show, you might need to consider staffing costs to get help with cleaning, cooking and maintenance
how to run a b&b: Get marketing
You’ll know from your own experience going on holiday that good marketing is essential.
Attracting guests can be tough at the start, but there are a number of things you can do to market yourself for next to nothing.
set up a website
Give people the chance to find you. Your website doesn’t have to be fancy – a short site explaining where you are and how to get in touch to book a room will do.
You can create a page using one of the free website-creating packages on the market. Try something like Weebly.com for starters. If you have the budget for it, you can get one done professionally.
Your site should contain:
- your contact details
- the address of your B&B and a brief description of the house and its amenities
- location information
- guestroom information
A bigger website will attract more visitors. If you take photos of the exterior and interior, that’ll 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. England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland each have separate tourist boards
- Aim to get into guidebooks but remember that competition is tough, and that you’ll really need to become a destination first
- Get in touch with local universities and colleges. Ask them to put you on their list of places to stay for parents and visiting professors
- Speak to large local businesses to get on their list of recommended places to stay
- Consider aggregator websites. Sites like Lastminute.com, Booking.com, Hotels.com or Expedia.com give you access to millions of potential guests. The drawback is they take their cut and you’ll be competing on price. If your B&B is expensive because it’s good, you might lose out
- Consider Airbnb – see below for more information. They take 3% and you’re generally just up against private homeowners rather than hotels, so it’s less cut-throat than the big travel sites
- Build up your social network. Sure, it’s more work – but it can pay off. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube and LinkedIn can help to get your brand out there. Perhaps try offering special rates to your followers, run competitions, post beautiful pictures and tell people about upcoming events locally to encourage them to visit and stay with you. Read more about using social media for business.
Marketing is a long-term project. If you want to attract guests, sell them your business.
It should get easier with time as you’ll 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.
Running a B&B doesn’t have to be a full-time commitment 12 months a year.
If you’re interested in part-time or even just occasional work, it’s easy to do with Airbnb.
You can advertise on Airbnb for free – you pay when your home gets booked. The site charges 3% of the amount you get.
With Airbnb you can choose exactly which days, weeks and months you want to rent your room or the whole house out. You can also work out a good price based on what other people are offering and decide what the minimum stay would be (some people put three nights or a week, for example). You can add on extra amounts for cleaning and other charges, or take off a percentage for long bookings.
If you rent out your home in the UK via Airbnb, you don’t need to pay tax on the first £1,000 you earn this way per year.
Running a B&B can be a great way for older people to supplement their income. It’s a good solution if you love your home and don’t want to downsize after the children have left the nest.
Other than earning extra money, many people find running a B&B to be a fun challenge – and a far cry from the hysterical Basil and Sybil experience in Fawlty Towers. It can also be a way of making friends.
the grettons, near Winchester
Stephanie Gretton runs a B&B with her retired naval husband Michael, as advertised by Alexander Sawday and his upmarket B&B guide.
Based near Winchester on the lovely river Itchen, their home attracts fishers and music lovers attending the Grange Opera near Arlesford in the summer.
The Grettons’ house, garden and location have lots to offer and they seem to work hard to provide the best. Stephanie prefers the behind-the-scenes work, while Michael enjoys looking after the guests.
Stephanie finds it 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, it’s like having friends stay.”
She does find it tiring at times and ideally, she’d prefer to have something separate for their guests. There’re also other drawbacks.
“In the busy season we can’t have our children to stay with their kids because someone crying might disturb the guests,” she says.
the jamiesons in derbyshire
Serena and retired lawyer Philip Jamieson live in Derbyshire. For them, it’s their swimming pool that attracts online traffic.
Their business style is different to the Grettons.
“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,” Serena explained.
“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 Airbnb.
“We’ve met some nice people and it’s flattering when they come back, but we don’t strive to be up-market and we tend to concentrate on summer bookings. Ideally, we want it to be a pleasure, not relentless, and the fact that our guests are separate from us helps a lot,” she added.
christina baxter in suffolk
Christina Baxter, a widow with grandchildren and lots of energy, decided in her late 60s to refurbish her thatched, 17th Century Mallary Cottage in the village of Bildeston, Suffolk.
“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,” she explained.
The refurb made her think about celebrating the cottage’s redecorated rooms. In 2012 she opened ‘The B&B Retreat’, offering double rooms and en-suites. She says she appreciates the extra money, but – like the Jamiesons – she doesn’t rely on it.
Using B&B income for treats and extras is a nice, relaxed approach – if you can afford it.
For Christina, the challenge was marketing and modern technology. She found innstyle.co.uk, a site offering software packages for B&B, self-catering, holiday cottages and similar, very helpful. Inn Style transformed her B&B administration.
“The internet makes things easier and manageable – especially when running the B&B,” she says.
the mantons in dartmoor
Last words go to retired teacher Janey Manton and her husband David, who enjoy having their guests and find the extra money very welcome.
“Our location helped us get started. It’s good to have something to offer, like Dartmoor in Devon, where we live. We’re not far from the A30 so attract travellers wanting a pit stop on the way to Cornwall,” Janey explained.
“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,” she advised.
Do you want to set up a B&B but have questions about it? Ask us in the comments below.