Running my vacation rental business is like trolling for fish when I was a little girl. I lived in Ft. Lauderdale and most weekends Daddy took us out in the boat. We would go far out into the ocean and he would drop several lines at varying depths. We would then troll, go very slowly in a straight line, hoping to attract a fish. When there was a tug on one of the lines, he would stop the boat and grab the rod. Then he would let the fish take more line thinking it got away with the small fish Daddy had used as bait. Once he thought the fish had mouthed the bait (not just nibbling at it) he would yank hard on the line to ‘set’ it, then reel the fish in and we’d have supper.
I realized recently that running my business, Florida Black Bear Cabin LLC, is very much this same model. I place my ads on likely websites like Homeaway or Vacation Rentals by Owner. I also run adwords through Google. Occasionally I run specials making sure they are listed on each of the places I have ads. Keeping an immaculately clean and incredibly equipped cabin helps for future returns.
It’s taken about a year to fully understand what to do while running a business. I revamped my invoices several times, adjusting and tweaking things until I was satisfied. I set up quite a few spreadsheets to track expenses, taxes charged and paid, overall income, guest logs, etc. I try to be as paperless as possible, which helps with filing and clutter. Of course some paperwork is unavoidable and for that I have a designated file system on my desk. Being organized is the key to running any successful business.
I had thought the economy would affect my rentals more than it has. But we are the only rental of this kind for fifty miles around and we have the temperate climate of North Central Florida. Plus, I’ve gone out of my way to make it feel like home away from home. Practically every guest has commented ‘It’s so much nicer than the advertising shows’. I put a lot of thought into setting it up. I said to myself, ‘What would I want or need if I stayed here’.
I’ve already had several return guests and have only been open a year. That’s the nicest comment anyone could leave in a guest register. We’re also located at the juncture of three major rivers, hundreds of springs for tubing, swimming or diving and several State Parks. During the summer we get a lot of tubers for the Ichetucknee River. In the fall we get canoers and kayakers for the Suwannee or Santa Fe Rivers. We’re also close to the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park so when they have great concerts I get guests. This year I had guests book the weekend of the Wanee Music Fest (Classic Rock) about six months ahead. Good thing, too. I could have rented twenty cabins. So the moral of that story is, if you know you’ll be coming and want a reservation you have to call early. My bookings fill up about two months ahead right now.
I’ve even had guests from England stay with us. I have another family from England coming for a month. And the reasons for renting our little log house are as varied as the people. We’ve hosted lover’s reunion, birthday and anniversary parties, business stays, funeral gathering, wedding gathering, visiting local family, real estate shopping, just passing through, and actual vacations. I love meeting new people and have made friends with several guests. We’ve even shared Facebook pages. It’s been more fun than work actually and I’m really happy I’ve had this opportunity. For many years we had discussed running a bed and breakfast, but with four kids I already was. So this has fulfilled that dream in a manageable way.