Marketing I know that many owners are already well into their booking season, and if your 2007 marketing was effective you'll continue to reap the benefits for next year. However, if you were not too satisfied with your advertising impact, or you feel your website is a little dated and needs a makeover, take a look at these ideas for getting your vacation rental promoted more widely in 2008. 1 Review 2007 Look back over the past year of rentals and review what worked and what didn’t. Were there any complaints? Were there any negative comments in your guest book? How much did you spend on advertising and was it effective? Take a look at each of the issues and plan some changes to improve what you offer to your guests and how you get the message to them. 2 Set a Marketing budget for 2008 When you are bombarded with opportunities for marketing your cottage rental, it’s easy to keep spending if you don’t have a budget. Apart from a couple of free listing sites such as Craig’s List, and Kijiji, and free blog options, you’ll be paying for all of your marketing efforts. Set and budget and commit to it. If you are looking at increasing your occupancy, allocate around 5% of your 2007 net profit on your 2008 plan. Providing this is spent wisely, you should expect a healthy return. 3 Plan marketing strategy If you haven’t prepared a strategy before, you should begin by brainstorming all the different methods of marketing you can think of. Then do some rough costings on each before you pare it down to a good balance of web and print media, memberships of local tourist boards, website design and hosting, and blogs. 4 Review your website If you count on people coming to your website through organic searches as well as from referrals, do some updating on your website. Change the photos, re-do the text and freshen up the look. If your site is looking tired and jaded, and particularly if you pay someone else to update it for you, consider changing to a content management system and creating your own site. This has gone far beyond the distinctly ‘home-made’ and non-optimised Front Page creations. With CMS you can put together a professional site that the search engines will notice. My favourite is Site Build It which at $299 per year includes domain name registration and hosting, as well as the best support you could wish for. More on that to come soon. 5 Update listings Now is the time to review all the sites you advertised on last year and check them for accuracy. Are the rates correct? Do you need to change any photos? Did the listing work well for you in 2007. If not, you might want to move your listing to another site. Don’t hang in with the same one if they are not sending you sufficient leads. 6 Set occupancy goals Decide you much you want to realistically rent in 2008 and work towards that. It’s unlikely you will rent every week in the low season, so target weekends and mid-week breaks, along with the long weekends. I usually factor in about 6 full weeks in low season (usually taken up in June and September). If you have a realistic goal you can create a marketing plan to get there. 7 Create weekend packages Develop some unique weekend packages you can promote on Kijiji, your blog, or website. Tie them in with an event or attraction and make them desirable. Offer romantic weekends using images of your hot tub and wood stove and a photo of your cottage dining table set for two with wine glasses and candles. You could team up with a local activity provider and include a voucher for moonlit dog sledding, or a discount at a local restaurant. Let your creativity run riot! 8 Join the local Chamber of Commerce If your budget includes having a marketing leaflet designed and printed, then joining your local Chamber of Commerce is a great way of having them distributed. You’ll be promoting your cottage at every Show and event the Chamber goes to, which is a good stretch of your marketing dollars. 9 Embrace the new Web Commit to learning a new way of marketing your property. The web is changing and static websites are becoming old news. The new marketing tools are blogs and dynamic sites that you can update regularly. Learn about RSS feeds (this is a really neat introduction), search engine optimization (SEO), and how to use keywords to promote your site to people who are looking for just what you have to offer. As we go through January I'll be expanding on all these ideas. 10 Subscribe to Cottage Blogger And last, but by no means least, subscribe to this blog. Just click on the orange RSS button and have each post delivered to you via your RSS feed. You'll find articles on every aspect of cottage rental; how to market effectively; ways of getting more traffic to your website; and tons of ideas on how to build your vacation rental business beyond just the rental itself. Why stop at income from the rental? I'll bring you lots of suggestions on how to generate additional income by simply using what you know about your vacation home, it's location, and anything that is related to it. It costs you nothing and your email address is safe from spammers. I hope these ideas give you some food for thought. I'd love to hear your comments, further suggestions and recommendations. There is a huge community of vacation home owners you can reach to share ideas so get blogging.