The rise of social media has provided B&Bs with an invaluable new channel through which to reach new customers. But it has also brought independent property owners from around the world together in an unprecedented way. For the first time in history they can share experiences and advice in an open, immediate way. They can recommend services and help one another avoid pitfalls. When things go wrong, they no longer have to suffer in silence or in isolation. Social media is making “BandBers” stronger every day. It’s also allowing important new voices to emerge on the Internet: voices that can draw upon substantial experience in the hospitality business to inform, challenge and encourage all of us to raise our game.
One of these voices belongs to Heather Turner a.k.a “Chef Forfëng” (if you’re wondering about the rather unusual nick name, Forfëng is one of Heather’s ancestors: a fearless champion log roller in the fjords of Norway. Even today, anyone in the family known for being a bit “out there” – in a good way! – is called a “Forfëng”.)
A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America (the “world’s premier culinary college”), Heather has over 20 years’ experience in the hospitality business, mostly as an Executive Chef. Then, 9 years ago, drawing upon her parallel experience in fine art and photography, she set up Forfeng Designs. The many services her company offers include Social Media training, set-up and development for Bed & Breakfasts, Hotels and Restaurants, custom e-mail newsletters, Press Release writing and web graphics for BYO (Build Your Own) websites.
I started off by asking Heather, who is based in Connecticut, about the journey that led to her current success with Forfeng Designs:
1. What was your initial motivation for leaving your Executive Chef role and starting up your company?
I had spent more than 20 years in the restaurant business, 5 before going to the Culinary Institute of America. When I was considering going to college in the first place it was a choice between graphic design school (my first choice) and cooking school. At the time, graphic designers, like painters, were starving artists for the most part (this was before the dotcom age) and I figured if I went to culinary school at least I’d be employed. I ended up starting Forfeng Designs because I was working 90 hour weeks, hadn’t had a day off in 3 months and never saw my family. It was more a question of burnout than not liking the restaurant business anymore.
2. Your professional background is in restaurants. What prompted you to make the transition to also helping B&B owners?
Helping B&Bs I sort of fell into by chance. When I first started my business, my aim was to do web and graphic design for restaurants. We were living in Cape Cod at the time and shortly after that moved to New Hampshire. When I started my business and wrote my business plan I had gotten in touch with SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives) and they put me in touch with a mentor in the south. Her recommendation was to do some “free” work first: volunteer my time for a local organization and get a portfolio together. The local town website had fallen into disuse and hadn’t been updated in about 4 years, so I ended up taking that over and through the local business association met a B&B owner who happened to need a revamped website. Things kind of snowballed from there where I would do a website and people would like a graphic I designed for it and ask if I could turn it into a print logo. “Oh you do photography?” turned into doing inn’s rooms photos. This led on to “Can you help us with our Facebook page or setting up our blog?” etc. etc.
I have to say working with bed and breakfast people is a blast. They are a community of some of the nicest people on earth.
3. If there was one thing more than any other that accommodation owners could do to improve their online reputation management, what would it be?
Monitor their online mentions and reviews. There are so many free alert management options out there to take advantage of and so few B&Bs are actually doing it. They know that they are supposed to be doing it, but many just don’t seem to take the 10 minutes (once) to set them up. I’ve seen so many reviews on Tripadvisor, Yelp and many other reviews sites – including mentions on Twitter – that should be and should have been responded to.
(You can find read Part 2 of this interview here.)