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Small Business

 

How to Make a Living as a Ski Bum

Find out how to be self-employed, ski every day and conduct business from the chair lifts. It may sound too good to be true… but I did it!

small business, new business, bed and breakfast, lodging

So your favorite thing to do is ski, and your least favorite thing to do is go to work. And of course you are under the impression that there is no possible way to combine both and make a decent living. Sure, you can become a ski lift operator and live in a small apartment with 3 other roommates eating top ramen every night. But I have found a way to be self employed, hit the slopes by 10:00 am and conduct business from the chair lifts. I hope this doesn’t come off like bragging, I just want to let people know that there is a better life out there. Personally, I haven’t had this much fun since college.

With that being said… I bought a home near the slopes of a major ski resort in Colorado, and converted it into a bed & breakfast. It is the most entertaining job I have ever had. You basically make breakfast every morning and ski the rest of the day. Sure you need to clean rooms every few days, but guests normally don’t want anyone in their room during their stay. They just want to be pampered during breakfast, hit the slopes all day, go out to dinner, come back to their room and pass out from exhaustion. Looking at the following schedule you might say that I work 7am to 5pm everyday, with a six-hour lunch break.

Here is the average Saturday for me:

- 6:30 am – Shower, drink coffee, check emails and the weather forecast.

- 7:00 am – Start guest coffee, prepare breakfast and set the table.

- 8:00 am – Guests start coming to the breakfast table. I give them a big plate of food and make sure their orange juice and coffee never run empty. During this time we talk about skiing and the resort. They always want to know the weather forecast, if I am skiing that day, and how many times I have gone during the season. It is always an enjoyable conversation, since they are on vacation and couldn’t be happier.

- 9:00 am – I generally need to run a credit card payment for someone, or check out a movie from the library (I will discuss this later). Guests are also heading to the resort during this time, so I let them know how to get there, the best places to eat and my favorite runs. I also start doing dishes so I can hit the slopes (be sure to see “friends” in my tips section).

- 9:30 am – The last guest has eaten and I finish cleaning. But, before I head out I need to shovel snow and check the hot tub to make sure no one turned the heat down the night before.

- 10:00 am – Hit the slopes.

- 11:00 am – Normally by this time I have already received a phone reservation. People get excited when I tell them I am on the chair lift, because they know that they will be there soon enough. Guests who reach me while I am on the slopes are always more likely to make a reservation. With a cell phone I can feel the vibration of a call and store numbers for a return call later that day.

- 4:00 pm - The lifts close and I head for home.

- 4:30 pm – I make a quick walk through of the bed and breakfast to find out how much fun my guests had and check in any new arrivals. Then I return phone calls and check emails.

- 5:00 pm – By this time all my guests have made it back from the slopes, so I check out movies and make recommendations for dinner.

After that I am done for the day, with the exception of a few miscellaneous reservations. I clean rooms on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, but can still make it to the slopes since I don’t have a lot of guests to tend to.

Of course there are a lot more things to think about before starting up a bed and breakfast, but these are the things that can’t be found in most of the books:

- Get a good cell phone. You need a phone that gets good reception everywhere on the mountain. Every resort has a tower, just find out which phone company owns it.

- Most people plan their vacation over the internet, so you must have an easy to find & informative website. Here is mine http://www.slopeview.com/. A lot of the things in this list can be seen in more detail on my site.

- Location is everything. Make sure people can get to the slopes easy, whether it be by shuttle bus or walking. They don’t want to drive, and you don’t want to offer transportation, because it will seriously cut into your ski day.

- You need a hot tub. If you don’t have one, you might as well sell the beds and let your guests sleep on the floor.

- Rooms have to be unique. People like interesting rooms that are unlike any room in their home. I have gone with a Five Great Things To Love About Colorado theme.

- Offer it as a vacation rental. This will allow you to take a few days off and get first tracks in the morning, or go out of town.

- Your friends are the cheapest employees you will ever have. If you have a place for them to sleep, and give them leftover breakfast, they will help you get to the slopes faster. Most of my friends that live in Denver have season passes, and I never have to shovel snow.

These are just a few recommendations, but not necessary:

- People like having their own bathroom! Not every room will have one, but they will have useless closets that you can convert.

- Set up a coffee & snack bar, and let guests make coffee whenever they want. Flavored coffee syrups and microwave popcorn are cheap, but offer a little perk for your guests.

- Everyone loves movies. I have set up DVD players in every room and have a library of 270 movies (it was a hobby before I started the b & b). You can buy used movies at video stores and ask friends to loan you theirs. Unique movies are great, because it is nice to recommend good movies that people haven’t seen.

- Waffle makers rock! If you take instant waffle mix and mix in fresh berries or nuts, you are going to have some happy customers.

People may tell you that running a bed and breakfast is hard work, but these people must think they have an obligation to clean rooms everyday and prepare a 5-course breakfast that takes hours make. I have never had a complaint, and many of my guests are repeat customers, that just like to ski. In fact I feel that the more time I spend at the resort, the better I am as a concierge.

Not only is it a good business venture, but the property around ski resorts will always go up value more so than anywhere else. You can also sell an established business for twice as much as a residential home.

So knock down the walls of your cubicle, grab your skis and prepare for a lifestyle change that will result in you becoming a bum… a ski bum.

 

Breaking the Chains!

How to compete and win against Corporate America.

small business marketing, small business promotion, small business web sites

Everyday, customers and business owners are bombarded with billboards, logos, print and electronic ads from huge corporations. With annual ad budgets that are more than our businesses' SALES in an entire year, our small independent businesses are getting squeezed out of consumers minds (and wallets) more and more each year. But the good news is, there are ways to fight back and “break the chains”:

Build that website and perfect your online presence.

The Internet is one place where, compared to print and other forms of electronic media, the playing field is relatively level. A website filled with loads of great content will be loved by the search engines like Google and Yahoo!, and because of that, customers that may not even know where you are can find you and buy online. If you own a retail store, start an e-store. If you own a restaurant or a service-related business, offer a gift certificate or printable coupon. Starting a mailing list on your website with the latest news, events and special offers is a great way to get (and keep) loyal, regular customers. The options are endless, and best of all, content is the Internet king, not slick, flashy, repetitive advertising. If you aren't comfortable with all things Internet, there are many companies that are, and can help you with web design, web hosting, search engine optimization, and web marketing.

Join (or start) a co-op or business association.

“Strength in Numbers” is more than a catchy phrase, it is becoming a necessity in our current business climate. Trade organizations can purchase products together to get better rates and buys, they can advertise together with direct mail coupons and newsletters (another big money saver), and they carry more political clout by appointing representatives to call on state legislatures or even Congress in order to promote legislation favorable to small independent businesses. If your area doesn't have a trade organization, or does but you feel it doesn't meet your needs, start one! The National Federation of Independent Business is a great resource with representatives in all fifty states and Washington D.C.

Don't mimic Corporate America

Advertising is not cheap, because the prices that the large corporations are willing to pay for it have priced it out of the reach of most small businesses. This is not necessarily a bad thing; let them have all of the cold, impersonal, beat you over the head repetitive advertising! People only care about this on Super Bowl Sunday anyway! Always go for the personal touch. If you own a restaurant or retail store, introduce yourself. Let them know you appreciate them coming by, and you can't wait to see them again. Always offer coupons or incentives, and be as unique, creative and memorable as you possibly can. Remember that “word of mouth” advertising is so great you can't put a price tag on it. Put yourself in the customers shoes, and stay there! Don't ever do what you want; do what they want. Don't just market your business, market yourself. It leaves an impression, and with the sorry state of customer service today in most (chain) businesses, people won't forget it!

Remember, you are an independent business because you wanted to do something new or different, so promote yourself accordingly. Here's to you “breaking the chains” and becoming successful with your chosen endeavor.

 

No budget for PR? Do it yourself with the help of technology!

Small businesses and non-profit organizations may not have the budgets to hire a PR firm, but that doesn't mean they can't still benefit from the advantages of editorial coverage. The Internet and technology are making it easier and cost-effective for small businesses and organizations to manage their own PR.

non-profit, small business, media relations, online press kit, public relations

Not so long ago, small businesses and non-profit organizations across the board were faced with a tough question: do we need a Web site? We know the answer to that as the majority of small businesses and non-profits offer effective sites that not only provide information but can sell products, accept online donations, and raise awareness.

The new question facing them now is: Do we need to hire a PR agency?

Unfortunately, though many small businesses and organizations would like to retain a PR firm, the cost just doesn’t fit into the budget. Well, that doesn’t have to be the case. Small businesses and non-profits can manage their own media relations with the help of a few tools of the trade.

Online Press Kits: Everything a business or organization’s press kit contains can be published and distributed on the Internet with online press kits. Now, an online press kit is not a Web site. Don’t be confused by the term “online.” Though an online press kit can be displayed online and present information like a Web site, it is really a virtual folder or briefcase that allows an organization to upload and store press materials on the Internet.

Once in an online press kit folder, these documents and images can be distributed as links – not attachments to e-mails. Most e-mails with attachments never reach their designated recipient in the media due to firewalls and anti-virus protection services. With an online press kit, documents are added as links within the message.

An online press kit can be linked directly to a Web site so that when the media visits in search of news and background information, they’ll know exactly where to go. Changes and edits can be made instantly, preventing outdated or incorrect information from being distributed. Plus, some online press kit services are so simple to use and manage; an organization won’t need to hire an “IT guy,” another budget-friendly feature.

Online press kit services vary greatly in terms of price and features. Take some time to research your options and identify your needs before committing to one service over another. Some services include features you probably will never use (but pay for), while others may not provide enough services, such as training or support.

Web-based Media Lead Services – One of the greatest benefits of the Internet is the ability to rapidly obtain information. What used to require a hard copy media guide or CD is now available from a number of providers online. An organization can reach virtually hundreds of thousands of media contacts with one click by listing spokespeople as experts, offering timely quotes on current events, or responding to the hundreds of media leads that come in daily from journalists on deadline. There are many providers out there that vary in cost and quality. It is worth the time and effort to do some research on which service is best for your budget and your needs. Some services are even free. Services that are used by the most media professionals will likely cost more than ones with lower membership.

Web-based Media Databases – Your business or organization has hot news and you want to let every daily newspaper in the country know about it. First, you must visit each paper’s Web site individually, record their contact information, compile a list and then blast that news out there. However, by the time you did that, your news would be at least a month old. Ouch.

Media databases to the rescue. There are many services available online that provide up-to-date media lists from every medium and market you can imagine. Most require a membership or subscription fee, but it is well worth the money if the alternative is to compile a list manually. Services of this type include BurrellesLuce Media Contacts program (www.BurrellesLuce.com), Bacon’s (www.Bacons.com), and Contacts on Tap (www.ContactsOnTap.Com).

Press Release Distribution Services – Got a press release that the world needs to see? You could compile the list as we mentioned above (the hard way), or use a media database – but you could also leave it to the experts and submit your release to a distribution service, or “wire.” There are many services available at various costs. One service is PR Web (www.PRWeb.com) which not only can run your release for free (limited distribution), but allows you to specify Internet search terms, making the release easily accessible to Web users.

The media savvy and expertise of media relations professionals is worth the money, but when the money just isn’t there, small businesses and non-profit organizations can tap the talent they have within and combine it with technology designed to make communication easier.

If you need some help developing your press documents, take a look at the press kits of other businesses or organizations in your area. There are also many Internet resources available that can provide tips to writing your own press releases and news announcements.

Managing media relations in-house is not impossible and can be a fantastic way to reach the media as a small business or organization grows.




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