Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Awards & rewards

So it's mid June already and I haven't blogged for a while so I suddenly felt like reflecting & writing a little bit about how my business has changed over the last 2 years, as finally things are coming good for us and I believe we are predominantly reaping the benefits from the outstanding Bournemouth University's Digital Destinations Social Media & Digital Marketing project that I was so lucky to be a part of. 

Rewinding back a bit to explain, we moved to our current address in 2011 and after a bit of time refurbishing the place and converting the spare rooms into B&B guest rooms we opened our doors in 2012. 

That year we basically didn't even exist anywhere because our location is so very well hidden, yet still in the centre of Lyndhurst.  Even most of the locals didn't and still don't know where we are.  This was one of the reasons we loved the location although we always knew getting noticed would be a slow process.  

Moving from a prominent position on the busy A337 Romsey Road where passing trade could clearly see us and stopped most of the year round, to a quiet secluded, well hidden gravel track that no one knew existed and couldn't see us as we are at the bottom, meant that business was almost non existent. We were totally reliant on other B&B's passing business on and the few websites that we were advertising with, as well as our own - which, to say it was under achieving is probably being polite.  

Because of the way our old B&B performed solely on it's location and repeat customers we had never really needed to bother with websites, advertising and I certainly hadn't even entertained other options like social media.  Suddenly not knowing what to do to increase bookings, when we had hardly any money to spend on advertising, things were starting to get me down, I was really beginning to think that we had made the wrong decision in moving to such a location.  Knowing that something needed to be done otherwise we might not have made it through another poor season I was starting to open my mind up to new options and strategies.  

Out of the blue one day I received an email from the NFTA (a support organisation for local tourism based business's) announcing that a project had been offered by Bournemouth University in conjunction with Tourism South East which would involve a selected amount of business's to work with and share the experience & knowledge of a final year marketing student and the project leaders for 8 months - for free!  
Initially I read it and thought it's out of my league, but maybe Fred would be interested, so I mentioned it and his response was "it's your business - so you need to do it for yourself".  Not really wanting to throw myself into something I knew nothing about, I decided it was sink or swim really and entered my application.  The amount of applicants for it was very high and I had already convinced myself that I didn't stand a chance of getting on it, but at least I'd taken the first steps of trying to change our situation. 

So when I didn't get selected I wasn't surprised, although I was surprised when I got a phone call from the University a few weeks later saying that someone had pulled out at the last moment and if I could make it to the first seminar the next week - I was in.  You can probably imagine that I was excited but afraid all at the same time.  On arrival my fear was compounded even more, all these other business's had already been doing some social media and 'little ole me' hadn't even been interested until a few weeks prior.  I was out of my depth big time and nearly never stayed, the only thing that kept me there was Sarah Willats from the New Forest Destination team, I knew her from other things I'd been involved with for the promotion of the National Park, if it hadn't been for her friendly face in the room I would not have continued - I'm sure.  
After a few hours of getting to know everyone in my team I began to realise that although they were already using social media, they didn't actually understand much more than me.  We all gelled really well and helped each other out to gain from each others experiences and failures which to me was invaluable - I owe a lot to each and every one in our #APPSFAB team inc Philip, Maureen & Steve and I want to thank them all again and again.  

To a small struggling business peoples support, help and encouragement can make so much of a difference, I know - Acorns of Lyndhurst is proof.

Anyway to get to the point, since that project which made me (with the fantastic help of my web page designer) upgrade our web page and get us on page 1 of Google rankings, I made 2 Youtube videos with 1 being an advertising promotional video & the other was used as an inspirational presentation at the Tourism South Easts AGM & conference, we joined Tripadvisor and have soared, I became a blogger and a regular Facebook & Twitter user making the most of all the free channels available to any of us, I now make my own
preserves too and I have just been invited to a special social media event on the New Forest Tour Bus.

It does take time to get a good presence on the social sites but the rewards are great when you see yourself on page 1 and you see the bookings flooding in.  Last year was a good year for us as we watched the business start to grow and made a little bit of money, but I have to say that this year so far has exceeded my expectations.  Listening to a lot of B&B owners in the area they have complained about how poor the first quarter of the year was - not for us.  We are up on the same period last year, and this second quarter so far, we have continued that trend.  We are having a very busy year and I am very happy.  To top off the amazing start we were unexpectedly awarded a Tripadvisor Certificate of Excellence last month, which is amazing.  I can't thank the people who have reviewed us enough, as that was all down to them.

I know sometimes you get fed up with people always bleating on about how well they are doing and everything is all about them praising themselves,  but I really wanted to share this because I really am so grateful for how my business has turned around from 2 years ago, and it's mostly because of a special few people that inspired me, converted me and supported me.  

I am eternally grateful and I can't say it enough, so using the skills they taught me this is my thank you.

Mel :)