Owning a B&B – One Person’s Dream, Another’s Nightmare!

Did you know that the number one question I am always asked is about the Pros and Cons of owning a bed and breakfast?

Just to make sure we are all on the same page:  “Pro” is a Latin preposition that you would translate as “for” or in this case, a positive aspect; while “Con” is short for contra, a Latin preposition that would be translated as “against”.

My personal philosophy is that I loved owning a B&B and (for the most part) everything that entailed.  However, I have learned over the years that what I see as the pros and cons are aren’t the same for others. I believe that it is essential for individuals to determine what those pros and cons are for themselves based on their personal situations.

It is important to understand what these pros and cons are FIRST because identifying these will help you make your plans for a B&B that you enjoy!  For example, you’re not going to hire someone to do the things you love doing (arranging flowers vs an arrangement from a florist), but you might build in cost of hiring someone down the road to do some the task you don’t enjoy (e.g. cleaning).

So, what are some of the things you need to think about?

Do you have the right personality?

Meeting new people, cooking and entertaining are essential interests for a bed and breakfast owner.  However, did you know that it’s how you deal with people that is far more important?

Every bed and breakfast owner brings their personality to their property, which sets the tone that guests pick up even before they walk in the door.  Recently, Select Registry reminded bed and breakfast owners they have 10 seconds, 10 feet and 10 words to make a first impression.

What do I think are the key personality traits?

  • You really enjoy people! This trait provides you with the patience you require to deal with guests and treat each one as an individual
  • You recognize, maintain and can enforce your personal boundaries.  There is no other job that entwines business and personal lives as much as a bed and breakfast owner; therefore, in order to be able to cope with the day to day demands of the job, you have to be clear on where work stops and your private life begins
  • You must be able to deal with conflict.  No matter how hard you try, conflict will arise.  Whether it is over the price, your policies or the way you do things – or even between other guests! It is important that you deal with it quickly and firmly for the sake of your reputation and so as not to disturb other guests
  • You must be able to learn new things. Whether it is technology, dietary restrictions or even some basic words of a foreign language, embracing new skills and information are crucial to being successful
  • You have to be extremely flexible.  Remember, guests have their own agendas and they are paying you to provide a service, whether you have other plans or not.

To get an understanding of how important the role of bed and breakfast host is to the success of a bed and breakfast, check out some on-line reviews.  The majority of comments focus on the interactions guests’ had with the owner.  If you truly enjoy people, then that comes through in everything you do!

Can you handle the workload?

My bed and breakfast had three guest rooms, each with an en-suite bath.  Only 10% of my guests stayed more than two nights.  I sat down one day and counted there are 15 things I must do every day that take me 15 or more minutes; plus the little things that I do on the fly – and that doesn’t include the 7 weekly tasks that take me two or more hours to complete.

My daily routine (not including any of my personal tasks) included:

  • Breakfast – making, serving and cleaning up – takes approximately 3 hours – whether I had one room or all three
  • Cleaning – is very different in a bed and breakfast – think of it more like if you were preparing for a party every single day to understand how much time it takes – then multiply that by the number of rooms you are planning to have.  And don’t forget the public areas of the bed and breakfast (like the dining room, lounges, etc.) that need to be cleaned
  • Laundry – every room generates at least one load of laundry plus ironing
  • In addition, there is the day-to-day administrative work to take reservations, process guest payments, respond to inquiries, update vacancy calendars…

Yes, it is a tremendous amount of work!  However, most bed and breakfasts have seasons – in my case peak season was two months long where I ran at 100% occupancy; the shoulder seasons (June, September and October) I had approximately 60% occupancy; while the low season (or 7 months of the year) was less than 10% occupancy.

In addition, having the attitude that for the first time in my life I was being paid to cook, clean and do laundry, having a routine and hiring cleaning helped assist me in keeping my sanity and energy levels where they need to be.

Do you have the skills to run your own business?

Many people are surprised when I ask them if they are prepared to run their own business.  And I understand that…it was my sticking point for moving forward for the longest time.  The reasons I wanted to run a bed and breakfast were personal, but the fear of not having enough money was what was holding me back.  I was able to solve that problem when I realized that if I took a business approach (with everything that it required), then I knew what I had to do and how to do it.

What business skills do bed and breakfast owners need?

  • The number one skill is marketing. You can have the best bed and breakfast available, with incredible beds and linens, an absolutely delicious breakfast and the perfect location – but if people don’t know about you, then they are not going to stay with you…which means no money
  • Computer skills – to answer e-mails from potential guests; update the web site as required, on-line banking, social media, etc.
  • Bookkeeping skills – managing the money coming in and going out is an essential skill, whether you own a business or not.  However, it is really important if you are dealing with suppliers, lenders and want to maintain your good credit rating as an individual or a business owner
  • Great organizational skills – juggling the tasks required to keep your bed and breakfast running smoothly, making sure guest bookings are tracked and processed as required, ensuring special requests by guests are dealt with in a timely fashion, plus fitting in personal appointments, tasks and time
  • Taking responsibility for making a profit. As a business owner, the buck literally stops with you.  You have to be able to identify how to increase bookings and revenue and decrease expenditures, while maintaining the standards you have set for your business.

Some of the skills listed above can be learned and others contracted out.  For instance, it is best to have professionals create your marketing materials (web site, brochure and business cards) but you can learn how to utilize these tools to your advantage by signing up for on-line or college courses.  An accountant can specify the best way to set up your bookkeeping program and most bookkeeping software comes with excellent tutorials built into the program to help you learn how to use it. And adult learning classes can help you improve your computer skills and learn various types of technology to help keep you organized.

Do you have the support you require for this undertaking?

The expectation that those around you will/do support your decision is one of the biggest issues new bed and breakfast owners run into.

Here are some questions you need to ask yourself:

  • Where will the money come from to invest in the start-up my bed and breakfast?
  • Is my family comfortable sharing their space with strangers?
  • Do I have help if I become sick or injured and there are guests in the house that need to be looked after?
  • How will my family react when there is a conflict between family time and bed and breakfast guests demands?
  • Will my family and friends support me emotionally during the stressful times – or will they just be waiting to say “I told you so!”

Determining the pros and cons in your personal situation is the hardest thing to do when you don’t have any experience.  However, spending time focusing on these areas can save you a lot of heartache and money!  In addition, once you’ve identified what your own pros and cons are, you can develop a plan for your own bed and breakfast to lessen the cons in the long run.  If you want help determining what your personal list of pros and cons are, CLICK HERE.


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