HOLIDAY COTTAGE INDUSTRY CONSULTANT FOR HIRE
I joined the UK holiday industry in the 1980’s, as a management trainee with a large, privately owned company, with resorts, caravan parks and hotels all around the UK. This gave me a great foundation in lots of things from customer service to management, sales etc. At the tender age of 24 I found myself as caretaker manager of a 163 acre park in Kent, with 80 staff. They wouldn’t let have the job as they’d “never had a manager this young”. Truth be told, I probably wasn’t quite ready for it, but you try telling a 24 year old me that!
Since then I spent years in the recruitment industry, culminating with my own consultancy, that I sold when I’d had enough of that world. I worked on a national basis, training consultants in how to perform their role professionally and effectively. My focus was always on the customer and putting them in a position where they wanted to buy , not ‘sell, sell, sell’ to them.
My passion however, has always been property, and being fairly good at recruitment gave me the money to get my foot in the door. I renovated a lot of period properties, and took the brave step out of the corporate world at the turn of the millenium. I was enjoying getting my hands dirty, taking a wreck of an old building, and making it look a lot better, far more than I was fulfilling a clients’ logistics needs or whatever. I decided that it really didn’t matter if I earned a third of the money, I wanted to be me, and to be happy. I made more money, I was happy, and most importantly, I was me.
HOW IT STARTED
I stumbled back into the holiday industry when the sale of a former bakery and reading rooms I’d renovated in Kersey, Suffolk, fell through. An estate agent friend told me her sister was letting her cottage through an agency and making good money. Long story short, I did it with ‘The Old reading Rooms’, and pulled together all my years of experience, realising this was what I wanted to do when I grew up. I sold that as I had an opportunity to make a killing on it, and then scoured Suffolk for the right property to build a little empire.
I was going to buy a house in Lavenham as a joint venture with a mate, when he showed me Woodfarm House. It was a dilapidated old farmhouse, with a crumbling, falling down Granary barn, and an overgrown meadow, set in a couple of acres in the Suffolk countryside. All I saw that day was ‘Woodfarm Barns’. One of my attributes is ‘vision’. I’m not calling myself a visionary, but I can see things in property that others can’t. You might be able to see other things that I can’t. It’s just how it is.
Having built the Woodfarm brand since 2009, from a nugget of an idea, to a business contributing £1.8m a year to the Suffolk economy (as at the end of 2021), I decided to take a little step back, let the A-Team look after things more, and offer my experience to others in the industry. I went through hell and back to do it, but that’s a story for another time. Woodfarm Barns & Barges now sees thousands of guests every year, has Visit England Gold Awards for all ten properties, and hundreds of five star reviews on Tripadvisor, Google and Facebook. And gives me the money to buy myself really nice toys.
I still haven’t grown up yet, but after twelve years I decided to share with other people what I’d learnt along the way, which is why you’re here. Unless you just like reading.
I really don’t like the word ‘Consultancy’. or ‘Consultant’, as there are so many people in so many industries that put themselves out there as ‘experts’ when they’re just not. It’s annoying. Anyone can set up a ‘consultancy’ without a jot of knowledge, in many fields. I have friends who are consultants, and they are brilliant at it. Because they’ve done the job, extremely well, previously. They’ve done the thing they are sharing with others. And that’s what I’m doing.
I call myself a Consultant in this context, as everyone knows what it means. It needs no explanation. The thing that makes me confident in offering ‘Consultancy’ services, is that I started Woodfarm from scratch, and turned it into a business turning over in excess of half a million quid a year. It wasn’t easy, but ‘it ain’t rocket science’. If you are doing brilliantly, beyond your wildest dreams, then you don’t need any help. But if you’re not getting where you want to be, then there’s no harm in asking for some help. You may need a little help, you may need a lot. Let’s wait and see.
I made about a million mistakes, and will undoubtedly make one or two more before I’m done, but I learnt a lot. It occurred to me that this experience could potentially assist others in avoiding lots of mistakes, as well as making their business profitable, or more profitable. I’m happy to offer this service anywhere outside Suffolk; I really don’t want to show you how to take customers from me on my home turf!
I can help you with any or all of these areas;
Choosing your property
This may not be relevant, but if it is, I’ve looked at, rejected, chosen, and renovated a lot of properties over the years, up to, including, and since Woodfarm. If you need advice in this regard, I can help
The Planning process
I’m not a planning consultant, but I have one. In the process of developing Woodfarm, I had planning permission rejected, fought the council at committee level, been through the appeal process with the Planning Inspectorate of Great Britain. I won.
Preparing for letting
There’s a lot to do in order to make a property ‘guest ready’. There’s a lot that I didn’t think of when I started, but I built a reputation for thinking of everything. There’s two sides to this too; most importantly it’s making the guest happy, but secondly making sure that the property works for you as well.
Fixtures and fittings
This really isn’t rocket science, but I’ve seen so much dreadful decor, fixtures and fittings, both online, and staying in holiday accommodation. There are a number of tricks of the trade to help you get this right and save money.
Branding & positioning
Everything from deciding where you want to be in the market, where you actually deserve to be within the market, how to present your property correctly, and your identity. This includes photography and videography, which Woodfarm does really well thanks to two people I’ve worked with for years, taking photos and shooting videos. From there we’ll need to work on how to get your brand out there and build a reputation. This isn’t done overnight, but needs to be a consistent, relentless approach, with a lot of checks and balances along the way.
This dovetails with your brand and where you are in the market, and should never be set in stone. I see a lot of places grossly underselling themselves, but this is a sensitive area. One of the biggest mistakes I made was leaving my prices high and not noticing that bookings were dropping off. A constant eye on the market, one’s competitors, and booking levels is essential.
Sales & Marketing
I spent many moons in this discipline within both the corporate and independent world and I’ve learnt a lot. Firstly, sales and marketing are not the same thing. But I’ve put them under one heading in this context as it kinda makes sense. I spent a couple of decades in this field, and have a lot to share with you. This industry is all about marketing. It’ll lead to sales.
If you want to have a second property on Airbnb and tick along nicely, then that’s great. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But that’s not what I wanted. I wanted to build a business that could passively sustain me. To give me an income without me needing to be there all day every day. To do that I needed to grow it. If you want to grow your business, you’re going to need a strategy.
Website & SEO
One of the things you’ll need to do in this new-fangled modern world we find ourselves in, is to get with the tech. The days of a small ad in Country Life are well gone. And it isn’t good enough to simply get a mate to build you a crappy website like what I did originally, and wait for the bookings to roll in. I am not a web developer, but I have one that I worked with to build the Woodfarm web presence to what it is today. We still work together, and can work with you.
Building your database (and what to do with it)
As you read this, Woodfarm has an email database somewhere getting on for 30,000 people. Not the biggest in the world, but not bad I don’t think. Oh, we built this ethically, organically, and without ‘buying’ a single email address. Years of inviting enquiries, running legitimate competitions, exhibiting our brand at events, and building referrals. Then regular marketing to these people with the right tone and frequency.
I have had so much fun with this, and still do as I type this. I squirm when I see my competitors Sell, sell, sell on social media. That’s not what humans go on there for. Desperate sales messages make me cringe. I cringe when they tell their audience about something dull, like a local pencil museum. And I shrug my shoulders when they don’t use this free platform to do anything at all. We’ve got over 20,000 followers and have a credible level of interaction, with my self-deprecating, human approach to sharing all things Suffolk.
About a quarter of Woodfarm bookings come from repeat business. That’s 25% of our income that has a zero (pretty much) negative financial impact on the business. That’s a lot. This does require effort though. Our guests return for many reasons. They’re made to feel welcome, they’re valued, we interact with them after their stay, we equip them with the tools they need to explore our wonderful county, and we provide them with the very best accommodation that we know how. We are known for all the little touches that make their holiday. If you don’t believe me, then read what they’ve got say HERE.
Managing your team
Getting the right people in, and creating an actual team, isn’t as straightforward as many think. Valuing the people that help you make the place look good, and represent you, is vital. I have colleagues who’ve been with me since the start.
There’s quite a lot to running and building a successful holiday cottage business. Particularly if you want to grow it and make good money. I’ll tailor-make the service 100% to your needs. I’m not going to just throw a ‘How to’ manual at you, as that won’t work.
Any working relationship will of course be treated with complete confidentiality.
If you’d like a free, confidential chat, with no obligation, then call me on 01449 710032, or drop me a line at email@example.com