The Devil is in the Details – Learning Curves

Working through learning curves is part of the vacation rental business. What's your current challenge?

Today’s #VRMChat on twitter focused on helping first time vacation rental owners get started. One of the questions I was asked was about my steepest learning curve. I replied that the setting up of the house was easy (and fun!), it was the accounting of it all that I had a hard time wrapping my head around!  Getting a handle on the financial details was the first learning curve. I’m not in anyway a financial expert – I’ve got a rudimentary knowledge of Quickbooks, enough that allows me to track the financial data and run reports for the beach houses. With any big questions, I always go straight to my accountant for answers.

The financials are not complex once all the categories etc are set up in Quickbooks, but managing these details has never been easy for me. I hate accounting, but I don’t hate it enough to pay someone else to do the basics of it. With just two beach houses, it really is just an issue of time and organization and making these management details a priority.  So, here’s how I’ve generally handled the financial details of the houses.

Once a week, generally on Fridays, I send damage deposit refunds. This used to be done by hand written note with a check, but now that I can send the refunds electronically on VRBO, I do that. It saves one step. I do miss writing the thank you notes, that is now also done electronically via the Hospitality Manager on VRBO, so I may start that up again. Once a month I make sure that all the reservations and payments are up to date in Quickbooks so I can run the hotel sales tax report for the local municipalities and the state Comptroller and send out their checks. And about once a quarter I enter in all the expenses that are downloaded from the bank into my Quickbooks software so I can run profit and loss reports. That should probably be done more, but it works for me to do it this way.

The second learning curve seems to be happening now, 5 years after getting in to the vacation rental business. It’s Marketing! With an increase in properties listed on every vacation rental site out there, it feels like it’s more and more important to differentiate my property from the crowd, but the question is HOW. Some industry experts like Matt Landau are calling for listing site independence and suggest ways for that to happen. Some like Clanventure are offering niche marketing strategies.  Some owners are working Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and independent blogs and websites.

According to Pew Research on social media use, 72% of internet using adults are on Facebook, 31% of adults are on Pinterest and 23% are on Twitter. So, from those numbers, Facebook looks like it’s the winner for reaching the most people.

My friend, Richard Craft, gets most of his guest traffic from returning guests and his 18,000 likes on Facebook. I also have Facebook pages for both beach houses: Blue Roost and Las Brisas and post to each page a few times/week but for it to be a driver for rentals, I’ll need to run some targeted ads and post more frequently.  Recently, I’ve been spending a lot of time on Twitter – I’m getting great info from vacation rental folks about industry topics like marketing and social media. It’s interesting and fun to connect and learn with other people, but it’s not going to be a way to drive guests to my beach houses. Right now, it’s more for my own education.

Alicia Steffann, who runs Sadler House, told me about the increase in traffic to her website using Pinterest. Following her lead, I have optimized my blog for pins and the smart feed and Pinterest is the second highest driver of traffic to my blog now. My Pinterest page is a place to showcase the things to do in Galveston and Port A, share pictures of the beach houses, collect ideas for beach decor and easy recipes.I think it could develop into a way for guests to find our beach houses – most of my Pinterest audience is in the Dallas/Ft.Worth and Houston areas, where many of our guests live. Pinterest analytics are helpful!

Getting into vacation rentals has been a great venture for my family. I’m curious to see how the changes and growth in this industry play out. There are learning curves to everything we do and the resulting growth and knowledge are some of the rewards of sticking it out.  Don’t lose heart and be sure to share what you’ve learned!

What’s your current challenge? Have a solution?

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