5 Things I Learned After My Small Business Actually Made Me $25K During COVID
What any aspiring entrepreneur can take away from this, is how to take a calculated risk on yourself and your dreams. Even if it’s just a dollar.
Disclaimer: While I’m aware of the privilege to have had success in my new business — especially during a pandemic — the fact of the matter is I did not expect to see much money or success this year, considering the state of the economy. As a matter of fact, I expected for my business to take a loss in 2020, or have a failing year. And while I’m aware everyone’s investments and small business ideas are different, what any aspiring entrepreneur can take away from this, are a few important tips on how to take a calculated risk on yourself and your dreams. Even if it’s a dollar. Whether that investment is money, or non-tangible things like time or using social media to grow your platform — just do it. You’d be surprised at the types of businesses finding success this year, so who’s to say yours won’t?
Now that we’ve got the casualties out of the way.
I’ve always daydreamed of being able to live off multiple streams of income and wanted to be an owner of multiple real estate properties. Being in tech support definitely wasn’t going to catapult me into the right opportunities that will enable me to purchase rental or real estate properties with ease, but being in a long term relationship with a business savvy and wise partner has unexpectedly helped me get there. My boyfriend of three years has always had the financial know-how about big-ticket purchases and is well-versed in finances. As any long-term couple does, we started to think about our future, what it would consist of, and how we could reach our financial goals.
Thus, we began the search for a property that would double as a vacation home for us, and for others. The search lasted for a year and started in Joshua Tree (in California), then to random lots of desert land that was incredibly remote, then we finally came across a duplex in Big Bear Lake, CA. We found an amazing two-unit cabin right next to the lake and a mile away from the downtown area; he was able to purchase the property under a VA loan.
This property came with two matching units, two bedrooms and one bathroom in each cabin, a driveway to fit six cars and two small gated backyard lots. Within the next two months, we completed all of the papers for the city of Big Bear Lake to be a licensed rental property, start paying the appropriate taxes, go through the back and forth of establishing the business, and finally be able to get ourselves on the Airbnb map.
Here are 5 things I’ve learned from managing our own Airbnb business, that I feel can apply to any start-up or small business owner:
1. Simplify everything!
Initially, I assumed that our guests who booked with us have stayed at an Airbnb or have rented a place out prior to staying with us, thinking they would know how to use everything. From our very first guest and onward, I quickly received messages from every guest inquiring about how to turn on the heater, how to start the fireplace, how to use the dishwasher, where to park, etc. It gets tedious replying to a variety of guests with the same instructions on how to do x, y, z. Simplifying everything with small signs or gesture notes really helped show guests their way around the home, giving my boyfriend and I a breather on communications and making their stay much smoother.
2. Doing everything yourself is actually do-able nowadays (everything is online!)
Our lives changed with the pandemic and being able to work remotely enabled us to cut ties to a local property management company. There were already signs prior to the pandemic that we were contemplating on: not being given the correct financial information about our units or not knowing whether a guest was there and for how long. The transition took about a few weeks and then we were up and running on our own.
“Being able to manage everything saved us about $5,000+ so far, compared to outsourcing.”
Being able to manage everything from communicating directly with our guests to doing maintenance and repairs on our own has saved us about $5,000 and change so far compared to using the outsourced property management. We’ve learned how to be very handy such as replacing garbage disposals, repairing electrical wiring, appliance maintenance and killing infestations on our own – all due to the internet.
3. Do not get emotionally attached to your rental property
This goes for any business, especially creatives, who are particularly attached to their products. While people may spend with you (or in our case, rent with us), they may not have the same regard for the item(s), as you would have.
I was so upset when I found broken glass and chipped plates after our first round of guests left; it was so early on that it really caught me by surprise. My boyfriend and I realized that people weren’t going to treat our home with the same respect we would have treated it. The reason that people are renting out our cabins is to spend quality time in nature and with their families and friends. This can also mean: small parties, a drunk cousin getting out of hand so they break a light bulb or lamp, toddlers who enjoy drawing on walls and hiding candy under their beds, or just guests who don’t know how to use the dishwasher properly and therefore end up breaking two drinking glasses and a plate.
“Be prepared for the expenses that will accrue and move on.”
Doors get ruined with scratches, baseboards are plastered with who knows what, random colorings on the carpet and furniture… It sucks, but it is inevitable. Don’t get attached to anything inside or out of the home. It is all meant to be used, they’re all replaceable things and you’ll just need to be prepared for the expenses that will accrue and move on.
4. A strategy for maintenance, bad customers and other contingency plans, needs to be determined.
Due to our location, which is set stunningly in the mountains, the snow and very cold winters present another force that has to be reckoned with. We have to ensure everything from the heating unit to the bedding, the fireplace, outside deck, driveway and kitchen sink needs to be in working and proper condition. When it snows heavily and reaches temperatures of 20 degrees Fahrenheit and below, the pipes have a possibility of freezing up, our driveway might be packed with three feet worth of snow, the heating unit might stop working for whatever reason, the kitchen sink could be clogged up, the fireplace is filled with creosote because the prior guests used the incorrect fire starters…
“It’s a long list of what could go wrong!”
The key to making sure everything is smooth during the winter: maintenance, maintenance and maintenance! We have to invest constantly in making sure the cabins are prepped for the brutal winters. It’s costly but we can sleep at night knowing our guests are sleeping in a warm cabin and can cook without issue.
Now for bad guests… we’ve dealt with guests who did not want to leave on time, did not want to check in on time, left a bunch of trash and denied it, left broken glasses and denied it, etc. We’ve learned that it’s important to take pictures, have proof, and communicate with guests immediately to let them know that they’re not abiding by the house rules they’ve agreed to. We aren’t standing outside demanding anybody to leave, but we are insistent that you must go because you were supposed to check out an hour ago and our cleaning team really needs to be in there by now. If only a “Thank you so much for staying, but please leave now and take your trash with you, thanks!” could be said without it coming off as rude.
5. It is emotionally taxing to provide customer service 24/7.
In order for us to be successful on Airbnb and with our business as a whole, we need to be engaged with our guests 24/7 and bring our hospitality A-game every time. We’ve woken up at 2 am or 4 am just to see someone has messaged us an hour or two prior to asking us a question, and we 100% will reply to them ASAP. It’s normal for Airbnb hosts to set their hours to communicating with guests from 8 am to 5 pm or might not reply at all, but to us, it doesn’t seem right to not reply as soon as possible.
“Every single good and bad review is a chance for us to better our property.”
Every single good and bad review is a chance for us to better our property; our service to guests always provides us a learning lesson. Not only do we want to make sure we provide our guests with a great experience, we have to meet strict quotas to maintain our good status on the Airbnb platform. No matter how above and beyond you may go for a guest, it, unfortunately, can go unnoticed and unrecognized. It is always discouraging, but to keep our business afloat, we’ll still keep giving it our everything to each and every guest.
Darlene Kim is a writer and entrepreneur based in California.
Image via Unsplash