Self-catering advice from Cumberland Business

The team at Cumberland Business has been involved in lending to the tourism and hospitality sector for over 24 years. Here, their Senior Business Lending Manager Gary Heron, shares some hints and tips that they’ve picked up from their clients. These will help self-catering businesses get off to a flying start − and then maintain that pace.

Before you start

  • Test your product: Stay at your holiday rental property to get the true guest experience yourself. Then clean the whole place from top to bottom, find out exactly what needs doing and how long it takes. Even if you employ a cleaner or a cleaning firm, having a master cleaning plan is handy if you need to fill in or take on a new cleaner.
  • Hire a good accountant: No matter how good you are with figures, it’s difficult to do everything whilst you’re busy looking after your property and your guests. Knowing that your finances and tax returns are being kept in order is crucial.
  • Legal matters: From health and safety to public liability, ensure you comply with legal requirements.
  • Time management: Do what you need to do, and do it efficiently. Take regular days off, as well as holidays. You could work with friends or neighbours to provide cover for each other.
  • Be prepared: Sometimes things go wrong. A contingency plan will help you get things back on track quickly. Ensure everything is as close to perfect as it can be from the outset. Don’t accept it when others or even yourself say “that’ll do” – it won’t.
  • Know your competition: Do your research. Identify what makes you different so you can target key interests − organic produce, local provenance or walking holidays − what’s your unique selling point (USP)?
  • Do some networking: Get to know your fellow self-catering providers and supply network. You can share good practice and even pass on overflow guests, so everyone benefits.
  • Choose your price: What are your expenses? What do similar holiday accommodation owners and agencies in your area charge? Run the numbers, it’s better for your bottom line to have 400 guests at £85 a head than 800 guests at £40 a head – think of the time saved changing beds alone!

Marketing your property

Your website

  • Google analytics and keywords: Learn the basics and apply them to the content on your website. If you have a particular niche or USP make sure you use those keywords to improve your search engine results page position.
  • Let people book: Don’t ask people just to enquire – ask them to BOOK NOW! Research shows that this call to action, and having an online booking system, gets a better return.
  • Include floor plans: People love to see good photos but it also helps guests looking for a larger property and removes any potential ‘on arrival’ debating points.


  • Booking websites: Choose the most appropriate and cost-effective channels to advertise your property to the right guest profile; and a booking and management system with a good channel manager to save time and reduce errors.
  • Other online opportunities: Online advertising includes more than using the right keywords on your website and spending on Google AdWords – it’s social media, linking to and from partnership opportunities (local restaurants, theatres etc), and telephone listings and directories.

Remember to track your bookings. Find out where your guests are from and how they found out about your business. Make your advertising budget work for you.

The guest experience

  • Personalise your emails: Once your guests have booked, your relationship begins. Send timely information (eg directions, key collection, things to do) and put some character into your emails. Use what you know to make the message resonate. If they are bringing children you could send an email from your family pet or the garden fairies saying that they are looking forward to their new friends arriving.
  • First impressions: Whether it’s a chilled bottle of fizz, a teddy bear for a family with a young child, a packet of dog treats if your guests are bringing a dog, or a pack of cards to play on a rainy day; people remember these things and it can help increase repeat bookings.
  • The personal touch: Offer to book a table in a recommended local restaurant, organise a taxi from a reliable firm – it’s the little things that help make your guests’ stay that little bit more memorable.
  • Emergency supplies: Sometimes people forget things. Help them by having a small supply of spare toothbrushes, toiletries and phone charging cables. After a long journey, sometimes it’s the little things that could cause meltdown; if you’ve helped them avoid a minor disaster, they’ll remember that!

After their stay

  • Manage reviews: There are a lot of review sites out there; build in time to monitor what your guests are saying. OK, you might get a couple of bad reviews; it happens to the best! The key is how you respond. Do it quickly, positively and professionally so the visitor and anyone else that sees the review knows you listen to your guests, take them seriously and quickly resolve any issues for future visitors.
  • Ask for feedback:  Don’t just rely on the reviews sites, send your guests a brief email (maybe from the family dog or those fairies?) after their visit asking for their feedback. Any negatives can be acted on and positives built on, all of which help encourage repeat visits.
  • Stay in touch: Repeat business is more cost-effective than new business. If you can encourage guests to book direct there are no commission costs, and a guest that returns again and again may tell lots of other people all about your great accommodation.

And finally…

Have fun! Yes it’s your business, but you’ve chosen to do this – enjoy the journey! You’ve left the rat race behind and are now welcoming this never-ending stream of fascinating people into your house – be interested in them and you’ll find you have some wonderful conversations and, every now and then, you might make a true new friend.