This page is part of a step-by-step guide to get your business up and running. There’s no fluff here - just information, help, and suggestions for doing it right - the first time!
Everything in this guide comes from experience.
Not a mere 6 months of experience in running an Airbnb, nor a year of co-hosting.
This is from 25 years of being in the vacation rental business, owning 7 properties and owning a seriously successful property management company with over 180 properties.
Our team have attended and presented at countless conferences and we continue our education by sitting in on hundreds of educational presentations, and still do to this day. So, we can bring you the learning from all those experts as well.
So, sit back and enjoy the ride…or the read!
Contents of this step:
Great homeowners (and homes) are the foundation of every vacation rental management business, and each year it becomes more of a challenge to attract them. As OTAs increasingly position themselves as offering many of the benefits of a property manager, the task of owner acquisition becomes more difficult every year.
Building a portfolio of great homes is a goal that needs to be quantified, qualified and actioned early in the property management process. If you don’t get this part right, you may end up with a great marketing and operational strategy for bringing in reservations, but lack the homes to fulfill the demand.
Identifying owners who would be great for your business is one thing – searching them out is another. Converting a good plan for attracting owner interest into a solid client base is the key to success in the business.
The common question “What can you do that I can’t do myself on Airbnb or Homeaway or VRBO?” is becoming tougher to answer. There are so many options for homeowners to manage their own rentals – even from a distance.
Technology has made it so much simpler for an owner to take a booking, automate much of the pre-arrival communication, handle check-in, have on-site issues dealt with, monitor noise and potential over-occupancy, and request feedback and re-market. However, there are many services and features a property manager can offer that an OTA cannot.
It’s up to you to find out what your potential owners' pain points are with a self-managed model, and convince them that choosing a property manager is the best decision they will make for their rental business.
The first step is to appreciate that this is not a one-size-fits-all process. Owners have different goals, needs, motivations, and level of interest/involvement that must all be considered. A minimal web page with a list of features, an information sheet, and a single follow-up call might have been enough to capture a new owner in the past, but now we need a comprehensive strategy that considers a multitude of personas and how to reach them.
Owners come to a rental agency through a couple of paths. Some are completely new to rental and need guidance and education on the process. They aren’t confident enough to carve their own way as an RBO although that may be a goal for them.
Others may have been managing their own rentals for a while, and are ready for a third party to take away the stress and time-eating aspects of the business. They have experienced the operational side of the business and want to hand it all over to someone else to manage.
Yet another group is the investor/owners who have thoroughly researched the market to look for the best location to purchase. They know what they want to achieve in terms of income, and are looking to a property manager to bring that in. They don’t have the time or inclination to work on the operational aspects of hosting.
Knowing the different types of owners you are likely to come across; identifying their pain points, and creating persona-based strategies for acquiring them will help you define the types of information you’ll need to develop, and how to approach each one individually.
Before embarking on any marketing program to attract owners, you will need to create an end-to-end strategy that covers all aspects of the lead-to-conversion-to-onboarding journey.
Having systems in place to send promotional materials, either offline or online, to potential owners.
Building a content-rich website with a section focused on owner education.
Developing automated email sequences that will drip-feed information over a period of time while you warm your leads.
Creating lead magnets and other marketing literature to assist in the conversion process.
Defining your standards and methods of sharing these with potential owners.
Curating a list of the most frequently asked questions.
Preparing a site visit plan.
Establishing a comprehensive onboarding process.
Owners are out there looking for reliable third-party managers, so your task is to position yourself as a viable alternative to doing their own marketing and operational tasks.
You’ll likely have strong competition, so spending some time defining your niche – what makes you stand out from the rest – is worth the effort.
Your unique selling point might be the type of properties you represent or a specific way that you service your owners or guests.
If your business or location lends itself to a more generalist approach, think of your difference in terms of what you can offer to owners. For example, in an area of multiple similar companies, a property management company could differentiate by providing concierge services if their competitors don’t offer these.
Will you only accept luxury properties? Places that accept pets? What about vacation homes on small islands, or those that have private waterfront? You could focus on family holidays or reunion groups, business retreats or even medical tourism. There are a lot of niches that are underserved where your business could shine.
Let’s look at the steps you need to take to ensure everything is in place when you get a lead.
Putting a package together ahead of time means that as soon as you hear of an owner who is looking for property management, an automatic sequence is launched that brings your company to the forefront.
Your website is probably the first place owners will go. They want to see the quality of the properties you represent and how they are presented to potential guests. They may even try you out by booking a property and see how you handle a reservation.
It may come as a surprise but very few PMs have a comprehensive owner area on their sites, with plenty of information on how to set up a property for rental. This is vital for a new owner, and they will naturally gravitate to the company that delivers the most information. This too can set you apart from the competition.
Set up at least a page with a list of the services you’ll be offering. Then add some additional pages with articles that showcase your knowledge of the business and will demonstrate your experience. For instance, you could have a page focused on Preparing a Home for Rental that has great information on what a new owner needs to do to get ready for rental.
The purpose of this information is to show why you are the company they should work with, so make sure you spend a good amount of time on copywriting and graphics to make it interesting as well as attractive.
Once an owner expresses an interest in your services the first thing they will want is some specific information on how you will manage their property, what experience you have in the business, the ways you market the homes in your portfolio and what services you offer. While you may have put some of this on your website, your info package goes a stage further.
The reason you don’t want to display everything online is that you want to capture email addresses from leads, and you’ll do this if you get them interested enough to ask for more detail.
Owners want to be assured that you will manage their property in a professional way. Get off to a good start with a well-designed information package. This could be a PDF that outlines the benefits of working with you and that gives them some brief but rich detail on your company.
Better still, create a digital version that can be opened on any device, and shared with others.
It should be:
Easy to Read
Answers key questions
States Your USP
Unless you have experience with graphic design, don’t attempt to do this yourself. Outsource the work to someone with the skills to develop an eye-catching, professional document.
Create a number of short but very relevant information resources. These could be checklists, staging guides, marketing reports, cleaning tips etc. In fact, anything that a potential owner would find useful and want to download from your site should be included. These ‘lead magnets’ will be used in your auto-response sequence after leads are captured.
A lead magnet is an offer (usually free) dedicated to giving your website visitor some relevant value in exchange for their contact information (at the very least, an email address).
The best downloadable resources are those that can be consumed quickly, have relevance to the person’s immediate needs and have a value that cannot be gained easily elsewhere. They deliver knowledge and information that will help that person achieve a positive result.
Here are some examples:
You will want to teach your owners about the nature of hospitality and how to present their home in the best way to attract guests. Doing this will show your new clients how knowledgeable you are about the business, and your willingness to share this knowledge will be appealing.
Create an education ‘hub’ on your website where your owners can go to learn everything about being successful. Show them what to put in a welcome book, how to create a child-friendly environment, ways to make their home safer, and the benefits of home automation. Those are just a few of the educational articles that could make a real difference for them.
Although it’s great to show a few examples on your site in a publicly available space, the majority of the educational material should be in a spot that is password accessible only – so only your registered owners can see it.
If you have some super-useful resources out in the front, and there’s the tantalizing prospect of finding more – but only if they become registered with you – there is a good chance you have a lot more to offer than your competitors.
Most people want to learn the ‘secret sauce,’ so hide it behind a registration wall. Then it becomes a seductive element in your owner acquisition plan.
As you build your property management business you’ll come across many other professionals that support the industry, from realtors to cleaners and caretakers to maintenance and service providers.
These connections become your referral base.
In areas where homes are typically bought and sold for vacation purposes, the shift to offering short-term rentals has become big business for some real estate agents.
Those who specialize in helping people buy and sell second homes including the business aspects of a rental are particularly useful to a start-up property management company.
While some will include short-term rental management within their portfolio, others will need to be allied to property managers and will refer their buyers to the ones they trust to service their clients professionally. This means you will need to find a few realtors in your area who would be comfortable recommending you to their clients.
As you grow, you will find that guests will come to you for recommendations of realtors who will sell them a property they can rent out. If you think about it, most people on vacation look at the place they are staying and wonder if they could have one, make money out of renting it, and be able to enjoy time there themselves. Knowing some great realtors can help you in a number of ways:
The guests become owners who then become clients in your property management company.
Your real estate partners will continue to refer clients to you as you refer them back when they are looking to sell.
You can share knowledge – your expertise on inbound travel and tourism and theirs on property values and trends in real estate.
In destination areas where there are many vacation homes, there will be numerous service providers dedicated to these types of homes. Cleaning companies, plumbers, HVAC maintenance and hot tub service teams can become stalwart referrers if you treat them well.
Create good relationships with these suppliers and they will pay you back with referrals to their clients. As with the real estate referral process, it’s a cross-market system so that everyone wins.
Build a business page on your website so that you can feature your partners and give them some additional marketing space. This is beneficial to them so you might find they will be more inclined to offer you the same courtesy if they have a website as well.
Just avoid a strict ‘tit-for-tat’ policy. It’s better to build trusting and respectful relationships with providers than to expect them to respond in kind right away
Traditionally, agencies used more offline tactics such as door hangers, printed postcards, and leaflets. Despite all the advances in digital marketing, these promotional methods are not as outdated as you might think.
We get so little physical mail these days that people are more inclined to read something that comes into their mailbox or drops through the door.
You’ll need printed packages to give to your partners, including business cards and leaflets describing your services. It a nice idea to create some professional folders to hold the published material. The same folders can include printed versions of some of the lead magnets you’ve developed.
Create a separate realtor package that offers customized rental valuation sheets for them to share with potential buyers. It would just take one of these winning a new client to pay for all the printing.
Once you have all your material ready, set up an automated system for sending emails using any one of the services available online, such as Mail Chimp, Active Campaign or Hubspot.
These systems range from simple to super complicated. Hubspot charges a lot for their paid version however you can create a very useful system on the free plan. When you grow bigger you can migrate
In the beginning, you’ll be fine with a simple system.
Create a series of emails that will go to owners at each stage of the lead nurturing process. Your goal is to drip-feed potential clients with informative and interesting emails and accompanying lead magnets.
For example, the initial email in response to a contact form being completed on your site would include your general information pack.
Send a second email the next day with another lead magnet, and a third a few days later. If you have not heard from the lead after this, it doesn’t mean they are not interested in your services – they may need more time to evaluate their needs.
The biggest mistake property managers can make is to stop wooing their owners once they are registered. Having made such an effort to convert them from a lead to a client, it’s important to keep them happy.
Building an onboarding strategy is just as important as getting them signed up in the first place, so don’t forget this essential part of the overall plan.