Practice What You Preach: The Story of a STR Business Coach

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In this Boostly podcast episode, host Liam interviews Amanda Stecker, founder of Unique Cotswolds Cottages and Holiday Letology. Amanda discusses her journey in the holiday rental industry, emphasizing the importance of guest experience and efficient marketing. She highlights her strategy of targeting a niche market for luxury, dog-friendly cottages for couples in the Cotswolds, which led to significant business growth. 

Amanda shares insights from her marketing background, emphasizing the need for positive guest reviews and direct bookings to drive success. She advises new hosts to avoid reliance on booking agents, citing misaligned objectives and potential financial losses due to high commissions. Amanda's personal connection to the Cotswolds, her strategic approach to property investment.

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Timestamps (audio)



[00:00:00] Liam: Hi everyone. Welcome back to the Boostly podcast. This is a podcast that gives hosts the tools, the tactics, the training, and most importantly, the confidence for you to go out there and get yourself some more direct bookends. Today we're diving behind the host of a successful, uh, host themselves. They're also a coach.

[00:00:16] So we're kind of looking at the spotlight on their business. We're also diving into their hospitality experience. Let me introduce you, we've got Amanda Stecker. She's the, she's a holiday rental owner, of course, and a property business coach from Unique Cotswolds Cottages and Holiday Letology. So we're going to find out exactly what that means, what that is.

[00:00:36] And, um, yeah, let's welcome her along. Thank you for joining me, Amanda.

[00:00:39] Amanda: Hello. Thank you for inviting me.

A bit about Amanda

[00:00:41] Liam: Give yourself the elevator pitch. What is it you do? And, uh, Tell us what you'd like to tell us about the business. Sure.

[00:00:48] Amanda: So first of all, Unique Cotswold Cottages. So we are a, I'm the founder of that company.

[00:00:54] Uh, we have five owner-managed holiday cottages in the Cotswolds, and we are particularly targeted at couples and, uh, and their dogs. And they're all very high-end. So it's a kind of luxury stay in the Cotswolds. And the reason why I focused on that market is that when I did my research and I was starting around five years ago, I could see that there was a real lack of smaller properties that just targeted couples.

[00:01:25] And so it felt like a really good place to start. And budget-wise, it meant that I could start off buying a couple of properties. In a couple of different parts of the Cotswolds and, and get going quickly with that target audience. So that's one side of the business. And that's grown pretty quickly. I think within four years, um, I've built it up to five properties.

[00:01:48] I'll be looking to purchase another one next year. And the aim is to keep growing that. And then the other side of the business is the coaching business, which I started in the pandemic, uh, because. We, as lots of us were, or, all of us, had to close our properties a few times. In my case, it was three times over the pandemic.

[00:02:07] And so I had a bit more time on my hands. My background is in training coaching and marketing. And so I decided to combine that and set up Holiday Letology. And the reason why I did is because when I started, I didn't feel there was much help out there. I mean, there is a bit more now, but, you know, Mark was one of the few voices at the time that I started and, um, you know, Bosley.

[00:02:34] And so, um, I felt stuck when I started. I didn't know how to set my pricing, how to, um, You know, it's set up the property effectively, how to market it. And I feel that I made my biggest mistake was I put myself on the books of a very expensive booking agent who promised the world, but sold me very cheaply.

[00:02:58] Um, was very much interested in the volume of sales rather than the value of sales. And. I very quickly realized once I'd started with them that I could do it better myself. And during the pandemic, when I had the time to develop, the coaching business, I'm now able to provide that support to others.

Why the Cotswolds?

[00:03:19] Liam: Just talk us through, the Cotswolds. Is it somewhere where you go on holiday or somewhere where you live? What, made you choose the Cotswolds?

[00:03:27] Amanda: So the Twas is in sort of heading towards the southwest part of England. It's really beautiful. It's this beautiful honey-coloured stone. Um, and it's, and it's, it's quite, it's, there's a lot of history there.

[00:03:40] Uh, so it's a beautiful part of, England, a beautiful part of the world, and we get a lot of visitors to the area. Uh, my partner lives in the Cox Worlds, and so when I, um. So I, I, I got to know it. I'd visited it over the years, but I got to know it a lot more when I met my partner. And so it felt like an obvious choice to then start buying property there.

[00:04:05] So I now split my time between London, where I live with my family, and then when I'm not with my children, I'm in the cots squads with my partner.

Useful Transferable skills

[00:04:14] Liam: You mentioned you were in marketing and that side of things. What were some of the transferable skills that you've used for um? For doing holiday letting in general.

[00:04:23] And what are some of the skills you think that people should have or certainly work on, to do what we do? So I think the

[00:04:31] Amanda: biggest, the biggest thing I would say is thinking about guest service and guest experience because, uh, I had worked, I'd worked in marketing. I'd worked for advertising agencies, and I'd also worked within lots of different big financial organizations.

[00:04:48] Barclays and all sorts of big ones. Um, and when I worked in agencies in particular, but even when I was at Barclays and we were thinking about the, the end user, the client, it was all about making sure that you gave the best experience and I I've taken that into unique Cotswold cottages and I very much teach it because.

[00:05:09] The business is underpinned by reviews and it's a very quick and obvious way for potential guests to check you out. And so if you go that extra mile for that, those guests, if you make sure that those amenities that they're going to desire are there, and if you give them information and great communication, then they are more likely to rave about you and that drives bookings.

[00:05:33] So I feel that that was a big thing. Um, I was also very numbers-focused in my, you know, job I had, you know, I was working with big marketing budgets and having to deliver and make sales. And so, um, I'm very numbers-focused in this business. So whenever I or any of my clients are thinking about it.

[00:05:55] Setting up a property we, we start with the forecast and, you know, has it, has it got potential as a holiday rental is, are we risking our money, because, at the end of the day, these are really big investments, you know, it's a lot of money. So you've got to get it right. So that's the other thing. And then I'd say the third thing is.

[00:06:15] Thinking about the promotion of the property. So like you mentioned, direct bookings, um, how to, you know, when you're on Airbnb, how to make sure you're top of the first page rather than the bottom of the fifth page so that you are getting that visibility. Um, so the combination of all of those things I brought into the business and then the rest of it, I, I learned like lots of people, you know, lots of, of, you know, listening to podcasts like this one.

[00:06:46] And, um, trial and error. Um, once I started working with clients, obviously that collaborative, you know, that, you know, we all learn from each other, obviously I'm leading the way, but you know, we, we, you know, the, the clients learn from each other and I learned from them.

Advice for host listening

[00:07:00] Liam: One of the things which, uh, which I'd love to ask is, is we've mentioned that.

[00:07:05] You know, you can take the power back from agents. What would you say to people who are in that situation of going? Well, do I put it when I first start? Should I put it with an agent for a little while? Or should I just, you know, should I dive straight in? What kind of advice would you give to the host listening?

[00:07:20] Who's in that situation?

[00:07:21] Amanda: So the big fear when hosts start in my opinion is how am I going to get bookings? I just don't know how, and it's going to take all of my time. It's because often people start this business as a bit of a side hustle, either, you know, they want to do it, uh, to create a retirement income, or perhaps they've got a job and they want to invest some money and then they kind of eventually want to take it over.

[00:07:45] So that, so it said, because of those reasons, lots of people think, Oh, I'll just put it with an agent and they know what they're doing and they'll get me bookings and I won't have to worry. In my experience, and many of my clients experience that. isn't the case that often, you know, I would say those agents' objectives are different to our objectives?

[00:08:05] You know, they often, they, they, they, for example, some, some of them get 40 pounds or 50 pounds of booking fee. So they're interested in volume and just selling as many bookings, whereas we want to get high-value bookings and we need to trade off occupancy with how much you're charging. So, um, I would say If you, if you get yourself tied up with an agent, you're also often tied up for a lot longer than you think.

[00:08:30] It's, it's, it's often around 18 months before you can leave. So I would say you can do this. There is enough support out there. You know, there's some free stuff, there's some paid stuff, but there is support out there. And, if you don't run your own business, how do you know, how do you know how, you know, whether you could earn more?

[00:08:51] How do you know that? You know, that your guests are happy. How do you know how to get bookings year-round unless you do it yourself? So I would say. Ditch the booking agents, ditch those huge commissions, which are, you know, huge. You know, you've got to add VAT on and booking fees and sometimes they're as much as 25, 30%.

[00:09:12] Um, and do it yourself because that money could be going into your pocket. And in my case, I worked out with my one small first property. It cost me about 8, 000 in commission. And, um, and. Discounted bookings in my first year

[00:09:27] Liam: having a blast gonna get it on the Boostly podcast.

[00:09:31] Bruce Lee. Let Bruce Lee 'cause it's so hard on the teas.

[00:09:33] Loosely making up those rhymes. Don't write it, just do it loosely.