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Start a self-catering business


Step 1: choose your location

In general, it's a good idea to holiday in your chosen location before you buy, preferably at different times of the year. Think about who your holidaymakers are and what facilities they'll need, how they'll get there and whether transport links and local facilities are seasonal.


For Joss and Philippa, who opened a self-catering cottage in Mousehole (, as featured in Coast's March 2009 issue), their choice was initially purely emotional but it was backed by business thinking. Though they knew the area well, Philippa also asked Cornish accommodation agencies where would be a good place to invest, and they all agreed that West Cornwall was ideal - unspoilt but ripe for discovery.


Juliet Kinsman, editor-in-chief of the Mr & Mrs Smith hotel guides, says the right location is vital.

‘When choosing a location, put yourself in your guests' shoes. You wouldn't want to be stuck in the middle of nowhere with nothing to do,' she advises. ‘The coast is the number one attraction, but people also like to be within reach of pretty towns with nice shops and good walks. If you're aiming for a high-quality experience for couples, avoid family attractions but look for things like a great gastropub within walking distance.'



Step 2: create a niche

Families, golfing groups or well-off urban couples? You'll need to identify the right market for the size and style of your property, and the area it's in. Look at anything that will make the property stand out and equip it with everything that could possibly be wanted by your target audience, says Juliet.


Joss and Philippa, for example, have opted to let small cottages suited to just one couple, perhaps with a small baby. They knew that there was little competition nearby, especially if they offered stylish décor, a highly personalised service (they'll book surf lessons, theatre tickets, restaurants or spa treatments) and provide luxurious extras, such as a breakfast hamper containing organic bread and local free-range eggs.

‘The extra expense does hit our bottom line, but it's what sets us apart from the competition,' Joss explains. They did masses of research into what the market was after, reading books, speaking to agencies, looking at other websites - ‘We even stood in St Ives with a clipboard one New Year's Eve, asking holidaymakers what they wanted.'


The buzz in the travel industry at present is all about boutique holiday lets, places that combine the luxuries of a good hotel with the suit-yourself dynamic of self-catering.
‘Five-star self-catering is a big phenomenon,' Juliet says. ‘These days, people notice if something's high quality and they're prepared to pay for it.'

Step 3: sell yourself
Marketing is make or break, and it's important to be as pro-active as possible. If you want simple and cheap, start with word of mouth, then print some flyers to put up in the newsagents. Magazine advertising is expensive, but may pay off if you're trying to attract specific groups, such as garden lovers, pet owners or families. And don't forget social networking sites, such as MySpace or Facebook - add a line and a link to your profile and you're promoting your property for nothing.


These days, however, the internet is the main method of reaching potential guests. For Boutique Retreats, two forms of online marketing were vital: its own website and signing up with well-known agencies Mr & Mrs Smith and Alastair Sawday's Special Escapes. Joss and Philippa spent months perfecting their site, commissioning professional photography and design, and ensuring that it had the right feel.
‘The website is people's first experience of us and it was absolutely key,' Joss says. ‘It's what got us reviews in the national media. Everything sprang from it.' Simplicity of use and plenty of gorgeous images are the key to a good website, Juliet says. ‘Don't be seduced by flash nonsense; just convey your info clearly,' she adds. ‘If you are doing it yourself, learn about search engine optimisation so that you appear high on the lists when people search the internet.
And, though I'm bound to say this, I do think that you should sign up with a good agency. They'll get you the right clientele who will pay top dollar for your property.'


Repeat bookings are the backbone of successful self-catering businesses: it costs little or nothing to keep in touch with former guests and email them with news and special offers (but be careful with data protection laws). And finally, another clever trick could be to get together with local shops or restaurants - ones that fit your profile - and recommend each other.


The realtities
The day-to-day realities of running a coastal self-catering business range from making sure you're up to date with public liability insurance and fire regulations to dealing with middle-of-the-night emergencies.


Go to your local tourist board for information or read VisitBritain's How to Run Quality Self-Catering Accommodation (£7.99 with free p&p from General principles cover Britain, while legislation details cover England and, in almost every instance, Wales. For Scotland, call 0131 472 2222 or go to; for Northern Ireland, call 02890 231221 or go to


You'll also need to be prepared to sort out every problem, whether it's a bath plug that gets stuck or a guest who holds an indoor barbecue and sets off the carbon monoxide alarm. Both incidents happened to Joss and Philippa in their first few months of business. ‘Don't underestimate the hours you'll put in,' Joss says. 



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Research self-catering properties in your chosen area with Allaboutyou's online accommodation finder


Keen to start your own business? Find ways to make the most of your talents


For more inspiration, see Coast's best 10 self-catering places to stay







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