I’ve been running an Airbnb out of my basement for almost six years. Last year we added an entire home in Bend, OR. There are lessons to be learned and relearned, from running an Airbnb that apply to running any online startup or small business. I wanted to share those with you in case you are considering launching your own business.
There will always be people who will leave crappy reviews. It’s possible they had legitimate issues you should address, or they picked the wrong place to stay, or they have problems in their lives that made them feel like being terrible to others. Sometimes you won’t know, but you need to work on not taking the feedback personally.
Categorize Feedback Objectively
You must remain objective and ask yourself to what category the feedback belongs. Actionable and worth doing, actionable and not worth it, or not applicable to your core business and best customers. Sometimes you take it to heart and add extra blankets and towels that people think you need, and other times you have to admit that they weren’t the best fit because they imagined that the Space Needle was two minutes from your place even though they could see it on a map!
Identify Your Best Customers
Create a buyer persona – include everything down to their occupation, what they like to do in their free time, and what’s important to them, and then market to them and match your offering to them. Through watching the feedback, it took a while to learn that the best customers for the basement in Seattle are older couples looking to visit their children or grandchildren living in a more hip Seattle neighborhood. Once we started changing the descriptions, rules, and marketing to make that clear, we got more of those customers.
For example, we put the neighborhood name in the listing. When people look it up, they find out it’s a flat area further away from downtown. We added a handy guide to show how far away certain attractions are. This wasn’t to draw in new people… but to help people that wanted to be in the middle of the nightlife to opt out so they wouldn’t be disappointed. Use feedback from your best customers to update your marketing The home in bend is much closer to the downtown area, and people commented on how nice that was. We called that out in the headline (See an image above). Same with the hot tub and outdoor areas of the house. People would mention it in reviews and then we featured those things.
This could be written as setting expectations for your customers. For Airbnb hosts, it’s essential to set the guest’s expectations about your rules (quiet hours, guest limits) and anything else they might experience during their stays. In Seattle, we live upstairs, we mention that you’ll hear a family upstairs and include it in the communications with the guests.
For your product, tell people what platforms/integrations, for example, you support and don’t support. This way they know ahead of time. Figure out the important expectations, set them, and meet them for your customers.
Beware of the Platform’s Risks
Yes - Airbnb is 90% of the market for people searching outside hotels. That’s a significant platform risk for hosts that can be de-listed, lose super host status, or fall prey to any of Airbnb’s UI updates. For that reason, we’ve worked to get listed on other sites as a backup and will be setting up our own site in the next year.
Suppose you build a business on Shopify, for example. They could kill it with one feature release, pricing change, or de-listing your integration from their store. Be ready to outgrow a dependency on a single platform eventually.
Don’t Neglect Onboarding
The most common questions we used to get as Airbnb hosts are:
- What’s the Wi-Fi code?
- What’s the parking situation?
- Do you have recommendations for food in the area? The commonality in all these questions is things people need/want to know within the first hour of checking into the place. We’ve made sure to include answers to all these in multiple locations - emails they get before check-in, signs in the house, and guest books we leave.
At KickoffLabs, anytime we can improve the onboarding experience for people in their first 30 minutes of usage, we almost always see a bump in revenue. You could have a great product, but if you don’t show people the basics, they aren’t going to find out what sets you apart or have a great experience.
Help Them Enjoy Their Experience
You’ve compiled a binder of all the restaurants and stores nearby? A lot of other Air BnB hosts have done this. How about creating ideas for new and creative experiences for them? Include little touches around the house that represent what your community or city is all about. Same goes for your product. Create a couple of magical touch points that make it stand out.
Keep it Clean
Whether you use a cleaning service or tidy up yourself, ensure your unit is always clean. Refill toilet paper and paper towel rolls. Make sure there is no hair in the shower, in the corner, or on the counter. Make the mirror shine and ensure all dishes are ready for the next guest. For your business this means keeping your site free of spelling mistakes, app errors, and other things that would make potential customers lose confidence.
Another common request from guests is: “Can we check in 4 hours early/ Check out 4 hours late?”. We could drive ourselves and the cleaning crew crazy trying to turn things around in a couple of hours. Or we could say no and focus on ensuring the time they spend at our place is good. Your online business is no different. You will start having customers with random requests for meetings, features, improvements, etc. You have to be okay with saying no to the things that aren’t your core business or strategy or would drive you and your employees crazy.
Deliver Unexpected Delight
I hear other hosts have stopped leaving welcome packages for guests. I think that’s crazy and offers the rest of us a chance to stand out more by providing a bottle of wine, bottled water, coffee, chocolates, etc., available to people when they check in.
Who doesn’t like pleasant surprises as a first impression?
Know What to Hire Out
We used to use a management company that handled everything. There were two problems with that: They charged close to 40% of the booking revenue. Because they wanted us to be hands-off, they didn’t let us know about feedback or things we should improve. We couldn’t use a feedback loop to enhance the product. We found tools to automate a lot of the customer setup and communication and even let us maintain a list/newsletter for past guests that want to know about booking direct or discounts. We hired out the cleaning and house setup to a great set of people who got the place way cleaner than we could and set the locations up how we wanted guests. Worth paying for and a lot less than 40%. :)
Something Will Break, and That’s Okay
The heat will go out, a toilet will clog, and your online servers will go down. The important part is to be prepared to communicate with your customers and make things right for them. It sucks, but you can’t ignore it when problems pop up. Sometimes it’s getting it fixed immediately, and other times it might include sending a partial refund for lost time and service. You have to have a standard way of being open and understanding the impact customers may experience from an outage. Be prepared for things that are out of your control to go wrong. Leave small tips around the house for anything complicated like the TV. :) Once you get past onboarding customers, they need help with the next batch of features. Integrate small tips into email sequences and the product UI directly. Obvious to you is NOT obvious.
Test the market and your marketing
It’s not only if you can build something that people would want to buy, but whether YOU can market and sell that thing.
It’s one of the reasons we started KickoffLabs. About 50% of our customers are doing what we did… building a quick launch site to test marketing and see if they can build an audience before, during, and after their product launch through engagement and referrals.
Decorate Your Space
Decorate your space. This is more about your brand. How you want people to feel in your house applies to how you want them to feel when they use your product. Decorate appropriately. Is your app designed consistently? Does it speak to your audience in a language they understand?
Have Plenty of Supplies on Hand
No one likes running out of toilet paper or not having a flashlight should the power go out. Does your product handle the customer volume? Do you have help articles on the ready should something go wrong with common solutions?
We did a lot of research on the compatible Airbnb’s in the area and even found a nifty tool to set dynamic pricing and custom pricing rules. Are you charging enough for your business and the experience you provide, or are you drowning in too many low- end customer support requests for people who will churn?
Make a Concrete Plan for Scaling
Be realistic in your scaling goals. But set the plan in writing and work towards it consistently. To grow your units, have a concrete number and where you want the new units. Then break down that goal into smaller chunks working towards each small section. Once you’ve reached one milestone, ensure you have those units under control and that they are making money before moving to the next section. That’s the way you grow your Air BnB business.
I never saw myself as an AirBnb host, but once I did it became apparent that everything I’ve learned managing KickoffLabs was also applicable to hosting and vice-versa. Remember…
- Identify what makes your business unique and communicate it to your audience.
- Remember, in business, it’s essential not to take everything personally; use those reviews to better your services and offerings.
- Identify your best customers and take care of them with thoughtful touches to help them enjoy their experience with you.
- Perfect your marketing with the right message that will attract your target audience.
- Prepare clients and customers with your expectations and tell them what they can expect from you.
- Identify the risks and work to avoid those pitfalls.
- Deliver a wonderful experience and be attentive and responsive.
That’s it; these tips I’m sharing have served me well and were learned over these six years and I hope you’ve learned something you can apply to your next venture. Get started today on KickoffLabs!