Marketing The end of the summer season is coming up and with it comes the opportunity to review your marketing strategy for the past year, and make some changes if necessary. Evaluating how effective your vacation rental listings have been is important, particularly if you are using a number of paid sites to advertise your property. If you don't keep track of your spending on advertising and marketing it's amazing how quickly it adds up. It is very easy over the year to succumb to advertising offers; create new listings; buy the occasional feature, or even to buy into print media slots. However, if you don't have a way of evaluating the effectiveness of each listing or advertisement, how will you know which one works the best? What was your marketing spend for 2008? As a general rule of thumb you should be looking to spend around 5% of your gross income on marketing, however if you have an established property that has maximum occupancy from returning renters, then this may be considerably less. Take some time to calculate what you have spent over the past year and work out this percentage of the income. Create a spreadsheet showing the different listings you have. Include the URL for each site; the cost of the listing; whether it is a local or international site and the renewal date. Make a list of any print ads you bought. Add up the cost of creating and printing any brochures or flyers. If you did them yourself, include cost of printer ink and paper. Did you produce any business cards or physically send out letters to previous customers? Did you join any local tourism schemes or take part in any promotions that had a cost? Do you have an annual Chamber of Commerce membership? Don't forget commission if you use a rental agency to do the work for you. Costs for your own web site include hosting and any expenses you've had for outside help to tweak it, or make any changes. When you add up all you have spent you can then work out what percentage that is of your gross income. If you have struggled to fill some weeks, particularly in the low and shoulder season, and have a low marketing spend, then you may want to think of adding in some new listings and finding different ways of reaching more people. If your percentage is high – say above 10% and have also been challenged in filling those weeks, take a critical look at where you have put your money. Was it in print space? Was it in creating a flashy web site that doesn't get enough visitors? Perhaps you bought a listing on an international site that doesn't get enough traffic to your market sector. I got caught up with a print media offer earlier in the year. It was relatively inexpensive to get a two colour ad in a directory aimed at a particular sector of the media industry, so I gave it a try. As far as I can tell there has been no response whatsoever from that ad, which made it quite a costly exercise and a lesson in poor planning. Owners who are serious about achieving the most occupancy for their properties know where their enquiries come from, continually look at how effective their marketing is, and adjust their strategy accordingly. Over the next few weeks I'll be looking at some low cost but effective methods of marketing so if you have any creative ideas you'd like to share, I'd love to hear from you.