Christine Slade is an experienced “BandBer”. For the past 11 years, she has owned and run the highly praised Kiddicott Farm (ranked 2nd out of 77 Exeter B&Bs and Inns on TripAdvisor). Having started out with Yellow Pages and postcards in the windows of local shops, she has seen all the ways in which marketing a B&B has evolved over the years.
Her lovely property is set in 55 acres of glorious East Devon countryside, just 3 miles from the historic Roman Cathedral City of Exeter. All the en-suite bedrooms have rural views and the dining room overlooks the gardens and orchard. Surrounding the property, the pastures and meadows are home to deer, badger, fox and many native birds, including resident families of buzzards, sparrow hawk and kestrel.
1. How long have you run your B&B?
2. What motivated you to open it originally?
In 1997 we sold everything we had – house, business, etc (would have sold the kids, but no buyers!) – to buy the ‘dream.’ We bought 55 acres of land with redundant agricultural buildings. But that was only the beginning! We then lived in very unsavoury accommodation for 4 years whilst we fought planners and neighbours tooth and nail to build on the footprint of redundant buildings. Our original dream of having a working farm with animals went down the drain, thanks to foot-and-mouth, BSE, etc. We had to earn an income, so we used two bedrooms in the main farmhouse and built a three-bedroom annex. Kiddicott Farm B&B was born!
3. How long have you had a website?
4. How did you advertise your B&B before you had a website?
Yellow Pages. Postcards in village shops. We also went to a few events at WestPoint Exhibition Centre and literally gave out scraps of paper with scribbled contact details on. We had business cards printed and gave them away to various businesses. We also sent a cover letter about Kiddicott Farm to hundreds of companies that I thought might have reps/colleagues coming to Exeter.
5. Have you ever paid for Google advertising?
Yes. I had one of their first £50 vouchers – I tried it for 3 months, but didn’t notice much difference. Every business is at the mercy of Google; they are the only search engine of worth. We all want to be on the first page of their search results but unless you are extremely tech savvy and keep up with their “spiders” and the quiet but deadly tweaks they make, this is very difficult to achieve.
6. Do you find you get fewer website visitors these days through natural listings (e.g. “Exeter B&Bs”)?
Yes. Up until February of this year, business had been reasonable – just enough to make a living. But throughout Feb/March/April everything went completely dead, almost to the point where Kiddicott Farm was getting so few searches that it looked as if it had been removed from the Web! I had been having the distinct feeling that something was seriously amiss! About 3 weeks ago, I had a phone call from Yell.com. I chatted to the guy and he asked me if I had a Facebook page. I replied that I had started one ages ago, but I couldn’t get on with it and it was still lurking somewhere in my ‘to do’ file. He was adamant that I should get a business page up and running as fast as possible. After doing some research, I found that Google have turned the whole search optimum on its head. Key words and phrases are no longer the Holy Grail – website ‘movement’ is the new elixir. Websites are now not only an integral part of any business, they are a physical necessity to be nurtured, cleaned and fed – as you would prepare a bedroom and feed a guest. Google will not entertain a static page anymore; you have to keep on refreshing the content. This is coupled with the obvious marriage between Google and Facebook.
7. Do you get any guests who find out about you in other ways (e.g. not via the internet)?
Only word of mouth recommendations – very few.
8. Have you thought of offering online booking through your website?
Yes, didn’t really want to do this, but might have to.
9. What do you think is the most important thing the government could do to help B&B owners in these difficult economic times?
If they were to do anything at all, it would be an improvement on what they do now, which is nothing! I wanted to register with Booking.com, only to learn that you have to pay 15% commission – fair enough, but on top of this is 20% VAT – on a £50 overnight stay I lose 35% – I’m not VAT registered.
10. Any other tips?
Normally my phone is ringing off the hook around this time of year: Devon County Show week etc. We are always listed on the website and in their booklet. I thought I had better check out their website to make sure it was all working, only to find that we are not listed! Normally they send out renewal packs in January, but had omitted to send one to me. Consequently, I’m off the radar. So, this could be a lesson for other B&B-ers: keep a diary record of whom you are ‘registered’ with – e.g. B&B/Accommodation Directories – noting when renewals are due.