Many years ago, a mentor turned me on to a New Year's exercise that changed the way I write resolutions. The idea is to choose three (and only three) words that define your goals for the coming year. And the power behind choosing just three memorable words is in forcing yourself to drill down to the true roots of your desires. For instance, instead of saying, "I want to spend 1 hour per month at the local homeless shelter" and then forgetting about the goal a few days later, you could choose a word like "Contribute" that reminds you to do some giving back throughout your daily routine.
This exercise led me to Help, Don't Sell (in 2013), Who Then What (in 2014) and Create Optimal Experiences (in 2015).
And for 2016, here's what I'm thinking...
A Building Pressure To Choose
Due to greater competition, a newly emerging legal landscape, and serious shifts in the major listing sites, the vast majority of property owners and managers in 2016 are being pressured into choosing one of two groups to "affiliate with" moving forward:
1) Dependence: Continue to rely on listing sites, pay whatever price is necessary to get results, ride the wave…etc. In this option, the owner/manager will play by the terms of the platform but will also be free from any real investment or online infrastructure building. This route will likely describe the majority of hosts because it's easier and still great money.
2) Independence: Begin to establish one’s own marketing portfolio and reputation and take control over one's VRs destiny. In this instance, leveraging listing sites or social media in order to build a sustainable brand “in the meantime” is common. This route however, in line with its great return, requires significantly more effort and learning.
When presented with the fork in the road, most VR professionals will say (at face value) that they’d prefer group #2: that they’re willing to put in some work in order to reap the rewards. However this is always followed by a big doubt:
But How Do We Compete For Bookings With The Big Listing Sites?
The biggest problem with the question above is in assuming that you (as an independent vacation rental owner/manager) are a hunter out competing for the same-sized capture as the major listing sites…because you’re not.
You need to fill a limited number of nights per year in a limited number of vacation rental properties. As a hunter, you need to go out and bag one meal for your family. Whereas the bigger hunters need that multiplied by many. Sure, there are other more advanced hunters out there. But your challenge, due to the sheer nature of your small size, is actually relatively manageable.
But the second thing that’s wrong with this question — how can we compete for bookings with the big listing sites? — is far more important: because the best vacation rental marketers in the world are not even hunting in the first place. They are farming.
The best vacation rental marketers plant, water, and harvest their vacation rentals guests. And with the new big shifts in the direction of big listing sites, the case for farming becomes more compelling than ever before. Sure, it’s more labor intensive…but it’s also far less risky (because there's no reliance on large corporations). And it scales! Ask any host who’s been around a while: repeat and referral guests are like gold.
Which leads me to my 3 words...
My 3 Words For 2016: Farming Trumps Hunting
I want my 2016 to be less about trying to get something from people...and more about planting seeds for friendship. A sale/friendship/guest stay won't happen with one blog post or one invitation to coffee. It takes time, thought, care...etc.
In the VR world, hosts who want independence could benefit from farming more in 2016 too. Here is a just-published example of 6 VR professionals who are doing incredible things. But if you're not there yet, since the majority of folks are new to marketing and business in general and thus don’t know the best practices, you'll want to invest time learning to:
- Nurturing repeat guest relationships with a regular newsletter
- Publish informative blog posts to build good faith & reciprocity
- Establish personality, trust, and rapport through the use of video
- Leverage social media platforms to build brand awareness
- Invest in vacation follow-up emails (whether the individual stayed at your rental or not)
My goal for VRMB in 2016 is that owners and managers have an unprecedented level of "farming resources" available to assist their growth. More educational materials, better data, best practices, and expert advice than has ever been freely available in the history of our industry. To remind ourselves that our job doesn't just start and stop when guests enter and leave our properties.
In 2015, we achieved this in part as visitors to VRMB reached record heights:
But we need to go bigger.
So in 2016, I WILL BE SHIFTING MY EFFORTS FULL TIME TO VRMB and this "farming trumps hunting" mission.
I am making this commitment because I believe that the vacation rental industry represents a marathon race and those who get out in front early enough -- with the right principles and habits -- have the potential to conquer their respective markets. I also believe I am very fortunate to be in a leadership role and that I have a responsibility to press forward.
Do You Want To Be A Change Agent?
Those who align with this strategy can start 2016 off right by becoming a member of our Inner Circle Community. Having launched in January (2015), we have inducted 650 owners and managers who have begun over 1,600 constructive discussions consisting of nearly 18,000 posts. The leadership and progress that I see inside the IC represents the farming prototype that I believe will one day change the VR industry on a very large scale.
To show the true value of the community, I have shared some recent quotes about what the Inner Circle means to our members and why we all believe it's such a unique place to be:
Being in the forest I did not see the tree (loose translation from a German saying). I am so happy I finally found this small but incredibly useful Inner Circle community. I have been managing our vacation rental for 10 long years in solitude without access to like-minded peers. As a stay-at-home mom, my brain was so under-nurished and I craved professional development. Not anymore. DANKE!!!
One quickly realizes that Inner Circle is possibly the most instructive forum for professionals where genuine, straightforward, well intent support, advice, tips are provided freely, without limitation or people holding their input. And, where it stands way beyond any other forum, besides the quality of the input, is that absolutely EVERY COMMENT is POSITIVE with mega CONSTRUCTIVE thoughts and contribution. BOOM!
The Inner Circle has done two main things for me. First, it helped me identify what I needed to do to grow my business and make it more successful. Since my business was dropped into my lap, I didn't come into this with a pertinent degree and a solid business plan. Second, the IC has given me not only the tools to achieve that growth and success, but a group of mentors to teach me how to use those tools. Being part of the IC is like being in a room with friends and advisors currently practicing in my same field, and like friends and advisors do, all those people are willing to collaborate, to share their trade secrets, and even give their opinion on specific things I am dealing with. The outpouring of help is incredible! Having goals is like having a flight plan, but having the IC is like having the airplane and pilots to mentor my own flight. So 2016, here I come a soaring, with the IC on my wings!
Stay At Crescent Beach
A co-All Star from the HomeAway Community reached out asking, "Was the Inner Circle worth the monthly fee? Would it help his business? Or was it just another discussion format like the VRBO Community?" I told him that being a part of the IC is like getting a masters in Vacation Renting. Plus being surrounded by others with the same goals and like minds will elevate his support circle which will definitely elevate his vacation rental business.
Lazy Bowen Hideaway
Here's To Reaching All Your Goals in 2016!
Thank you for taking the time to read my 3 words for 2016. Please feel free to share your own 3 words in the comments section below. And if you are ready to join our one-of-a-kind movement, you can become a member here.