Is Chamber membership worth it for Bed and Breakfasts?

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One answer, Yes and No. It depends on the Chamber of Commerce.

I get this question frequently, especially from people just opening up B&Bs for the first time. I just got this question again last night and decided to finally finish this post (which I think I started more than a year ago).

Prior to actually working at a Chamber, I’ve been involved with Chambers around the country, in VT, NH, MA, NY and CA for many years, as a Chamber member, as a member of a board, as a committee member and as a volunteer.

Working at a Chamber now, does not change my mind about my original statement or my opinion about Chambers in general. Working for a Chamber now gives a lot more perspective into how much a Chamber does, and how much (or little) many Chambers do (or not do).

Chamber membership strikes some as expensive, but compare it to the hundreds of dollars a year that B&Bs pay for online directory membership, it’s quite comparable (if you pick a good Chamber). And this goes for any professional association, it boils down to “what do you get out of it.”

Your hyper local Chamber (in your town) may not be the right choice, a neighboring Chamber or larger regional one might be the better fit instead.

Important Things to look for when evaluating a Chamber:

  • Online directory. Do they have one? What does it offer? What about website traffic to the site.
  • Events, Business After Hours, other networking events, committees you can get involved with.
  • Do they offer workshops or other learning opportunities?
  • Are they involved with any state lobbyists? While not something you would normally think of, but if your state is planning on raising the rooms and meals tax for example, you have someone to lobby on your behalf.
  • Do they have at least one full-time person working there, preferably more than one. One part-time staff/Executive Director does not have the time or the resources needed to have a Chamber run well, and to do your membership dues justice. I’ve seen this from the perspective of a Chamber Member looking in prior, I now see it from the additional perspective of a member and a Chamber employee.

And I’ll be blunt here, some things that a Chamber offers probably will not benefit B&Bs, most of them have Annual Dinners, Golf Tournaments and Sponsorships for events, of which a B&B cannot afford to participate in, and realistically may get no real value from.

The online directories have value. The networking events DO benefit a B&B, but you have to take advantage of some of them. I already hear, “But we don’t have time……….”. Folks would you like a little cheese with that Whine? Yes I’m being a little mean, but ANY other business has to network, why should B&Bs be exempt?

If you tell me you can’t spare one hour a month to go to at least one networking event, that lets local people and local businesses get to know you, so they can refer business to your door, then you are not even trying to market your business. Whether it be networking at a Chamber or any other association or group.

Ponder this: Social networking is terrific for advertising and marketing, but realistically, how many hyper local people and local businesses are you connected with online that KNOW you, and will refer you from on online source to book a room? I’m not saying don’t use social media, I’m saying think how many of those connections are local.

Good old-fashioned networking will never die, and B&Bs need to be involved, whether its at a local Chamber, a Toastmasters or other business related club, or the local Rotary as an example.

You get out of Chambers what you put into them, and a good chamber, if you volunteer or get involved, in addition to networking, thanks you, and they generally do it publicly. So your business name goes online, in emails, it goes in the newspapers, etc. More advertising in exchange for getting involved and getting your name out there!

I’ll give a brief example of the benefits of in person networking. In our Chamber we have 3 B&Bs and 2 Hotels (we are not a tourist area), a former Chamber I was on the board on, in NH, had over 20 B&Bs (a tourist area).

While working at the Chamber now, if I get a call for lodging, we have to refer all lodging members, but outside of the Chamber and in the context of my own business, I refer the lodging people I have met, because they have come to networking events that I was at as a typical business owner.

In all the other states I was a Chamber member in, I referred the B&Bs that I knew from networking events. People refer people they know.

And here’s an example straight from the horse’s mouth so to speak. A B&B I know in MA is a member of a regional chamber (not a hyper local), She goes to two networking meetings per month. She made a spreadsheet of how much business she got from the Chamber over the past year.

A brief rundown.

Chamber Membership per year. $290.00 plus $50.00 ea. for 2 employees = $390.00

She values her time at $90.00 per hour = $180.00

Last year she booked 3 small weddings ($4500.00), 42 room nights ($5460.00 @ $130.00 per night) and 2 small business meetings ($300.00) as a result of other Chamber member referrals. She has 6 rooms with a dining room (for business meetings) and nice outside space for small weddings. Gross Profit: $10260.00

Profit After Expenses: $6230.00

Chamber Dues+ROTI (Return on Time Investment) $570 expense    VS    $6320.00 Profit.

And that is not taking into account any bookings made from a direct referral from the Chamber or the Chamber online directory.

While many B&Bs may not have facilities to do weddings, small or otherwise, or want to host business meetings, the room night referral value alone is more than enough incentive even if your room rates are less than the example.

I would suggest you write it down and figure out how much you can make/should make/need to make out of your Chamber membership, you’ll find its a lot easier to track than referrals from B&B directories.

I would encourage B&Bs to evaluate a Chamber first and decide whether it’s going to be the right fit for you. A Chamber that doesn’t offer frequent networking events is probably not a great choice, but if they have a terrific high traffic website directory, you have to weigh whether it may be worth more than a B&B directory, of which while the traditional B&B directories seem to be declining in traffic, a good Chamber or Association site is not.

Not all Chambers are the same, evaluate honestly whether membership is going to be worthwhile, but don’t join and not take advantage of what they have to offer, and then say it’s not worth it if you don’t.

Go visit and meet the Chamber staff, let them put a face to the business name, and go to some of their events prior to joining, to evaluate them (and meet some new people and businesses!).

Many will let you come as a guest to networking events or Business After Hours. Check it out first.

Consider after joining, to host a Chamber Business After Hours at your inn, this gives you additional exposure through the Chamber advertising the event, plus people you’ve met (and will meet at the BAH) will get to see your inn, in person. People refer people they know.

Don’t join a Chamber and expect business to come waltzing in your door. Some business will come by Chamber direct referrals and website referrals, but if you really want to take advantage, NETWORK!

If you don’t feel comfortable networking, then learn how. People are not born networkers, they are made. Join Toastmasters, read some good networking books, start with a good basic one, How to Work a Room is a great one to start with. Ask a friend who knows and feels comfortable networking to help you out. Networking is a learned skill, you already network with guests and other innkeepers, kick it up a notch.

Posted in B&B, Customer Service, Hospitality News, How tos, Lodging, marketing | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

5 Digital Housekeeping MUST DOs in the New Year for Innkeepers

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#1 Antivirus: Make sure you have a good antivirus and malware program(s) installed and keep them up to date!

I won’t recommend an antivirus, because everyone has differing opinions on them, but I would recommend at least go with a known brand name, AND keep it up to date. A little more at http://chefforfeng.wordpress.com/2009/12/08/antivirus-and-backing-up-my-biggest-challenges-when-it-comes-to-working-with-bandbs/.

#2 Domain name: Who owns your domain name? If it’s not you, it should be!

Your domain name is one of the most important facets of your business, but every year businesses lose their domain names due to a variety of reasons.

Make sure you own your own domain name, a domain name registered through another company (i.e a website designer or developer) means that they, not you, control it and it can be held hostage. It also means if they go out of business, get hit by a truck, decide to be a rat or don’t keep their own credit card information up to date, you are the one that gets screwed.

Make sure your credit card on file for your domain registrar is up to date and accurate. You have 60 days past when a domain is due for renewal before you lose it completely. Domains that have been around for more then 2 years generally have a domain buy set up on them. When a domain expires and is not renewed, it gets snapped up by a company who generally will demand anywhere from $2000 to $5000 to get it back. Paying the ransom demand does not always release the domain name.

Make sure your email address attached to the domain registration is accurate. Domain companies will always send out renewal email reminders in advance, but if your email isn’t accurate you won’t be reminded. You will never receive a domain name reminder by snail mail, those are always scams.

You can check your domain name information by going to http://www.networksolutions.com/whois/index.jsp

#3 Backups: Keep multiple backups of important information and keep it updated. You never know when you are going to need it and by then it’s generally too late if you haven’t backed up.

Please see http://rockyhill.patch.com/groups/heather-turners-blog/p/bp–the-importance-of-backing-up-your-restaurant-and-aacacbb301  while the post is aimed primarily at restaurants, as businesses that serve the public and have kitchens the same tenants apply.

#4 Hosting: Who hosts your website? If it’s billed to you, do you have current login information and is your credit card on file up to date?

If it’s not you and through a website designer, who are THEY hosting with? Most website designers don’t have servers in-house, and generally buy either individually or as a reseller through a larger company. Know who this company is and how to get ahold of them, and what their support links online and phone numbers are. If your hosting goes down (and pretty much every hosting company has been down at some point last year, some for fairly extended periods of time, there is NO such thing as 100% uptime) do you know where to find out information about when it will be up again? (especially if you can’t get hold of your webdesigner at 8 pm on a Thursday night when you could potentially be getting bookings for the weekend.)

#5 Information Management: When was the last time you Googled or Binged your business? Or checked any directories you might be listed on, Paid (especially) or otherwise to make sure information is correct? Amenities added or deleted? Pictures to be updated? If your phone number or website is incorrect somewhere, how much business can you be potentially losing because of it?

And while this is technically a #6, it goes in the same vein as #5, check your social media links, from website to social media and from social media to website. About 30%+ of the links from either I come across on B&B sites on a weekly basis are not valid links. I see a boatload of them from Twitter and Facebook to websites missing .coms or just misspelled. People are not going to go searching for a correct link, they will just go elsewhere.

Innkeepers don’t have a lot of extra time, but any one of these things is a potential loss of revenue, so spend the time, it doesn’t take long to double check things and in the long run, your time will be worth the money saved.

Posted in B&B, How tos, Inns, Lodging, marketing, Observations, Social Media | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Updated List of Bed and Breakfast Marketing and Operations Resource Sites and Forums

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I am neither endorsing or recommending these resources but only listing them, as I have found they have provided useful and helpful, marketing and other operational advice to B&Bs and other lodging facilities.

If you have come across other blogs or sites that you think are particularly useful, please let me know and I will add them (with credit). I have not added blogs whose posts are purely promotional with the occasional “useful post” thrown in, nor have I included one company who’s business dealings I disagree with greatly (I add that because if you submit the site and I don’t post it, that would be why).

Bed and Breakfast Forums:

Innspiring Forums (these are public, so if you do jump in the conversation you may want to be cautious about what information you put in your personal profile, especially if you are discussing past/current guests.)

http://www.innspiring.com/

PAII forums (you do have to become a PAII member but especially for new/beginning innkeepers, the forums alone are worth the membership price)

http://www.innkeeping.org/forums/

Linkedin Groups

http://www.linkedin.com/groups/Bed-Breakfast-BLOGGERS-1786380

http://www.linkedin.com/groups/Innkeepers-107668

Google+ Groups

Bed and Breakfast People (open forum)*

https://plus.google.com/u/0/communities/113676939343982081327

(Please see the note about the Innspiring forums, these are public as well)

Bed and Breakfast Owners Forum (B&B Owners Only) Private Forum*

https://plus.google.com/u/0/communities/103240175601771879920

*If you are a B&B owner and have asked for entrance into the groups and I have not approved you, please put something on your Google+ profile that indicates who you are. I don’t approve profiles with just a name and no identifying information.

Article Directories:

Cornell, The Center for Hospitality Research

http://www.hotelschool.cornell.edu/research/chr/pubs/reports/

http://thehospitalityblog.ecornell.com/

Inn Marketing

http://www.innmarketing.com/articles.php

Lay My Hat (contributed by @latreille24)

http://www.laymyhat.com/forum/and http://www.laymyhat.com/newsletters/newsletterList.php

Sage Blossom Consulting

http://www.thebandblady.com/innfo.html

Bedandbreakfast.com: Innkeepers Resource Library

(unfortunately it seems like the PDFs in this link are still AWOL)

http://www.bedandbreakfast.com/Innkeepers/resourceLibrary.aspx

About.com B&Bs

Many (but not all) of the articles in here are written by innkeepers

http://bandb.about.com/

Bed and Breakfast Bloggers:

About the Inn

From Scott at the Brewster House B&B

http://www.abouttheinn.com

On twitter @AboutTheInn

Acorn Internet

http://blog.acorn-is.com/

On twitter @AcornInternet

Bed and Breakfast Academy

From Karen at Hopton House B&B

http://bedandbreakfastacademy.wordpress.com/

On twitter @HoptonHouseBnB

Forfeng’s Blog

http://chefforfeng.wordpress.com

On twitter @forfeng (yes that’s me )

The Innkeeping Blog (from PAII)

http://www.innkeepingblog.com/

On twitter @paiiceo

While these are primarily aimed at hotels, there is enough cross-over where the posts can be applicable to B&Bs as well and some of them Do work with B&Bs.

Hotel Bloggers:

Are Morch

http://aremorch.com/blog/

On twitter @AreMorch

Daniel Edward Craig 

http://reknown.com/

On twitter @dcraig

IvisitorGuide

http://ivisitorguide.blogspot.com/

On twitter @iVisitorGuide

Review Pro

http://www.reviewpro.com/blog

On twitter @reviewpro

Blue Magnet

http://www.bluemagnetinteractive.com/blog/

On twitter @Blue_Magnet

The B&B Team

http://bbteam.com/our-blog/

Xotels

http://www.xotels.com/en/blog

On twitter @xotels

VFM Leonardo

http://blog.vfmleonardo.com/

On twitter @VFMLeonardo

Hotel Managers Group Blog

http://hmghotelsblog.com/

On twitter @HMGHotels

Hraba Hospitality Consulting

http://www.hrabaconsulting.com/blog/

On twitter @HHotelConsult

Chocolate Pillow

http://chocolatepillow.com/

On twitter @choc_pillow

The Hospitality Blog

http://thehospitalityblog.com/

On twitter @ATHMarketing

Lodging Interactive

http://blog.lodginginteractive.com/

On twitter  @hotelmktg

Posted in B&B, Hospitality News, Inns, Lodging, marketing, Observations | Tagged , | 3 Comments

So Where Should Bed and Breakfasts spend their time on Social Media now that Facebook is indeed dying a slow and painful death?

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This past week two articles came out http://marketingland.com/facebook-concedes-that-organic-page-reach-is-dwindling-ads-are-best-way-to-been-seen-67302 and http://adage.com/article/digital/facebook-admits-organic-reach-brand-posts-dipping/245530/  Pretty much validation from word on high that Facebook is indeed shriveling and dying, especially for small business use.

I’ve noticed on my own pages and the pages I admin that there has been a huge decline in reach over the past year. This past weekend after the two articles came out I went and downloaded the insights from the over 60+ Facebook pages (73 if you want to nitpick) that I am an admin of.

Collated, sorted and reviewed, it shows a steady decline in page engagement and post likes. Page likes seem to be unaffected interestingly enough. Of those pages, all except one are small businesses, 1/3 of them have over 1000 likes.  Feedback from the many B&Bs I talk to on a regular basis all say as well that Facebook is in decline for them.

All of the pages, except for https://www.facebook.com/moosemanphotos (sorry shameless plug for a good friend but ironically the only example) seem to be effected. The one thing I can conclude from this (one example) is that pretty much every single post contains a photo. Read into that what you will, and for an average small business and B&B it’s going to take a lot of work to just do photo posts.

While photos are what sell, and are encouraged on every network, I find it hard to believe that this reason alone is the sole answer as many of the other pages are doing extensive image and photo posting as well. I think it just boils down to is that Facebook wants you to pay to play.

I’ve also run a test for the past 3 months on my own timeline, do pages and friends I like and comment on posts on more, show up more often in my timeline? Yes absolutely!

Is it worth trying to game this system? Dubious, because they keep changing the rules, what worked last month apparently doesn’t work anymore.

Am I sick of Facebook playing games with businesses? Yup!

In any case, for Bed and Breakfasts, in what direction should one go?

I think A. every B&B needs to have a blog. 2 reasons:

#1 It’s fantabulistic for search engine optimization

#2 Content can be shared on Twitter, on Google+ business and personal pages, on Linkedin business and personal pages, on Pinterest (if you have photos in the post: highly encouraged), on bookmarking sites, and yes on Facebook.

I think the second would be Pinterest.

Last year, Pinterest was gaining ground for B&Bs in terms of traffic, this year, it’s becoming an even higher source of traffic for those using it and it’s still gaining ground. Pinterest is also gaining ground in organic search results, going from page 3 to page 1 in Google and Bing searches. So add search engine optimization reasons to the list.

Third would be Google+ neck in neck with Youtube

Google+ for search engine optimization reasons if nothing else, as well as being able to respond to reviews if people post them. Youtube: for search engine optimization and similar to blogs, you then have content to share across all other social networks. The new addition of being able to make videos with stills and music is a welcome (and free) addition to the marketing mix.

Fourth and last I would say twitter.

Twitter I would say is probably the hardest to learn but also one you can potentially get the most out of. Good for search engine optimization, guest sourcing, vendor sourcing and to kibitz with other B&Bs around the world.

Linkedin business pages are also worth exploring, if only for the search engine optimization value, plus updates (similar to Facebook and Google+) can be posted there.

I am not saying give up on Facebook totally and immediately, but I would recommend exploring and getting on other avenues ASAP because you shouldn’t have all your social media eggs in one basket anyway.

 

Posted in B&B, Blogging, Facebook, Hospitality News, Lodging, marketing, Observations, SEO, Social Media | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Social Media Marketing, Innkeepers and Comfort Levels

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A couple of weeks ago I wrote about Setting Some Social Media Project Goals for Bed and Breakfasts and in it I said, “And one size (or channel) doesn’t fit all when it comes to lodging. What works well for one inn may not work well for another, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not being done correctly, it may mean that the lodging’s target demographic is not using it. An inn in northern California may find high engagement using Facebook while a similar inn in South Carolina may not.”  I got a comment by email from an innkeeper in Florida asking me advice on which to use, because as she said, “She hates Facebook and doesn’t want to use it,” so I want to expand upon that a bit more.

Use the social media channels that you feel comfortable with, not the ones that marketing people TELL you, you have to use.

I look at it as it relates to food. And being food people this might help for innkeepers.

I am a former chef by trade and my specialty is as a saucier. I make wicked good soups and sauces.

But I excel at the things and sauces I like the flavor of. I make a mean Béchamel (but I’m not crazy about Béchamel) but I make a kickass, knock your socks off Marsala sauce, because I happen to love Marsala sauce.

If you look at that in terms of online marketing, the innkeepers that like to use Facebook, are generally getting return on their time investment, the innkeepers that have fallen in love with Pinterest and are using it, are generally getting a return on their time.

Just like in everything in life, if you have enthusiasm for something, it will show through. If you hate Facebook and hate using Facebook, your posts are not going to be interesting, not going to attract attention and do zero for you for marketing. So don’t use it!

If you find you are interested in something on a personal level, it can be applied for business.

Images and photos are what sell a business, and engagement can be had using any, all, or just one social network.

Find one or two you LIKE to use, not ones you are told you MUST use. Social Media, even though it’s a necessary evil for marketing shouldn’t have to be a chore.

You can post photos/images on a blog, on Twitter, on Facebook, on Google+ and Pinterest and you can engage with guests and potential guests on all of the platforms as well. It’s the same idea on all of them, just different mediums. One is not necessarily better than any other one. (With the exception that I still think Facebook is dying a slow and painful death for small business use.)

Posted in B&B, marketing, Observations, Social Media | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

TripAdvisor’s Metasearch, Bing and Bed and Breakfasts

Tripadvisor has announced a partnership with Bing, my guess is to try to compete with Google Carousel. What this does is up the ante a bit for B&Bs in terms of paying more attention to Bing and Bing listings.

More information about the partnership here: http://www.tripadvisor.com/PressCenter-i6453-c1-Press_Releases.html

It’s of interest that it’s pulling in Facebook Business page links as well when you jump to the listing, presumably because of the Bing maps integration into Facebook. Of note is that B&Bs that have Facebook Pages but don’t have the maps tab selected, the Facebook link doesn’t appear to show up in the Bing listing.

If you haven’t had the FB map enabled, in your admin panel in FB, go to “edit page”, then “edit settings”, then “page info”, then “address” and edit the info. Make sure “Show this map on your Page and enable check-ins.” is checked.

This is what the interface looks like.

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The interesting thing is most listings are pulling in Tripadvisor listings and information.

Bing 6 no paid listing

But not all of them.

Bing4

Initially I thought that the reason that some inns had listings and not all was it was dependant on a Tripadvisor paid listing, this was not the case, I also checked out number of reviews and last date of review and that didn’t appear to the case either for the difference in listings. Further digging revealed that the inns that didn’t have extended information imported from Tripadvisor it appears had not claimed their Bing Local Listings.

I don’t know this for a fact but I looked at listings for over 300 B&Bs this morning and the ones that it had appeared had not claimed their Bing Local Listings were the ones with no information drawn in from Tripadvisor. This was based on the fact the listing still had “is this your business” and no additional information.

Whether this is a temporary glitch because its so new or it’s attributable to some other factor. It’s still extremely important to claim your Bing Local Listing, it’s free and you can add quite a bit of additional information to the account. It will also help with your search engine optimization.

If you have not yet done so, or are unsure whether you are listed or not, you can go to https://www.bingplaces.com/ to check and add your business if it’s not yet listed. https://www.bingplaces.com/Home/MoreFAQ has some help documentation and information if you get stuck or need help.

Posted in B&B, Hospitality News, How tos, marketing, Observations, SEO, Social Media | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pinterest Maps, Foursquare Integration and Bed and Breakfasts Take Two

henniker

This morning I was exploring the new maps option that Pinterest Rolled out. One of the downsides of the maps is not being able to add locations via Pinterest and then I thought, well there must be a way to do it. Of course there was, via Foursquare, apparently I hadn’t had enough coffee yet this morning, that should have been somewhat self evident.

If you create an account via Foursquare, you can add venues at https://foursquare.com/add_venue. It appears to take about 10 minutes to actually become “live” and searchable on Foursquare and then another 10 minutes for Pinterest to refresh the information.

So if your planning on creating some custom maps on Pinterest, start on Foursquare first and see who/what/where is listed on there, then add the ones you would like to have imported over to Pinterest, go have a cup or two of coffee (or wine depending on the time of day) stick a load of laundry in and then revisit Pinterest and start your boards.

I realize this is time consuming and innkeepers have little time to spare, but I can forsee the maps option going in an awful lot of interesting directions for marketing in the near future. Because visual is becoming more and more important in todays marketing world and this ties into it, I think the businesses that at least take a few minutes to jump on board will get ahead of the pack when more options for the maps roll out.

Posted in B&B, How tos, Inns, Lodging, marketing, Observations, Social Media | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment