If you have a spare bedroom or two, offering bed & breakfast (B&B) can help earn extra money.
B&B can work particularly well for older homeowners with space after their children move out. It can boost your income while working from home.
I’ve just made a flying visit to see my mother and step-father, who moved to Madeira after they retired. They have been running a top-rated B&B for the last year, with some surprises along the way.
Here are my mum’s top tips on where it’s possible to save, and where you should splash out, if you’d like to make money running a B&B.
1. Count the costs
Running a profitable B&B isn’t just a matter of changing the sheets and bunging out coffee and cornflakes.
You may need to invest up front, in aspects such as:
- buying equipment like bedding, towels, black out curtains, hairdryers and fire extinguishers
- setting up a website with decent photos
- making sure you meet any regulations around for example registration, fire safety, electrical safety, hygiene and environmental health.
Then brace youself for ongoing costs including:
- marketing and advertising
- specialist B&B insurance that covers public liability
- extra costs for heat, light and (if you’re on a meter) water
- paying anyone to help, such as an accountant, cleaner or handyman
- replacing equipment like bedding, crockery and even carpets, cushions and mattresses
Visit Britain has info about starting and growing a business in tourism.
2. Take advantage of tax breaks
If you offer B&B in the UK, you should be able to take advantage of the Rent-a-Room scheme. This allows people to earn up to £7,500 a year (or £3,750 each if you are joint owners) without paying a penny in tax, when renting out a furnished room in their own home.
Check out the HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) helpsheet for more info.
Luckily, if you don’t host more than six people at a time, you don’t have to pay business rates but just ordinary Council Tax. If your B&B is a soaraway success, you could end up paying Value-Added Tax (VAT) if your turnover tips over the registration threshold, currently £85,000 a year.
3. Offer an en-suite
Fundamentally, you can charge more if the room available has an ensuite bathroom. Expensive to arrange if it’s not already there, but a private bathroom will earn extra.
4. Go all out for reviews…
If you’re starting up a B&B, you’re caught in a vicious circle. Guests don’t want to book somewhere without reviews – but how do you get reviews without any guests?
So at the start, be prepared to offer lower prices and accept bookings for a single night, to get those essential ratings and reviews.
5. …but then avoid one-night stands
Long term however, bookings for one night are a lot of work for limited money. Think of the time and effort to meet and greet each set of guests, and the cleaning and laundry in between. My mum now only accepts bookings for a minimum of two nights.
6. Weigh up the costs of websites
You can promote your B&B via a whole range of different websites, from Airbnb to Booking.com and Tripadvisor. Bear in mind that any site offering to boost your bookings will probably want you to offer a deeper discount, or pay an extra percentage, in exchange. Weigh this up carefully, as it all eats into your profits.
Bookings with the most margin are likely to come either from your own website, or websites that charge a flat fee such as BedandBreakfast.eu.
7. Wise up to white bedding
If you offer B&B in more than one room, colour-coordinated bed linen may seem a lovely idea.
Stop right there.
To cut down on the amount of spare bedding needed, stick to white in the same sizes throughout. This saves money, because you need fewer spare sets of bedding to cover changeovers and accidents.
8. Invest in extra towels
You might think one set of towels in the room, and one set in the wash, would be sufficient.
However, you also need to allow for changeover days, when one set of guests leaves in the morning with another set arriving a few hours later. Guests who stay for longer sometimes request clean towels every other day.
Apparently hotel towels are normally sold in “sets” with hand and bath towels for two people. My mother offers two double rooms – so that’s eight sets of towels to launder and store, which is actually 16 of each.
9. Get obsessive about cleaning
Looking around at my slap dash approach to housekeeping, I’m not sure I’m cut out to run a B&B.
Bedrooms, bathrooms and breakfast areas should be spotless. Key point? Guests should never, ever find a hair in the bathroom. Banish any dirt or mildew. My mother has regaled me with stories of scrubbing the grout in bathrooms using a toothbrush, all in pursuit of the excellent reviews that generate more bookings.
Her other top tip: lay in extra loo brushes as they also need to be immaculately clean.
You can of course pay someone to help with cleaning, ironing, laundry and inevitable breakages – but it will eat into your profits.
10. Always offer wi-fi
In these connected times, high speed internet access is essential. If the wi-fi code isn’t immediately obvious, you will always get asked. My mum’s solution is to present all guests on arrival with a wi-fi booster plug, with the wi-fi name and password taped to it. Simples.
11. Bring on a brilliant breakfast
Providing a decent breakfast, rather than just a dusty croissant, can really boost reviews.
Cut costs by offering a limited range of decent versions, rather than a groaning buffet. For example, when guests arrive, check if they want orange juice or apple juice, rather than putting out both every morning, or a wider range where less popular options go off before they’re finished.
Cut wastage by putting out smaller quantities needed for that specific meal, for example small bowls of jam, jugs of milk or pots of butter, rather than the whole jar, bottle or pack.
Think about how you can make breakfast special – my Mum for example offers scrambled eggs from her own free-range hens, makes chutney to go with cheese, and provides hikers with a couple of slices of home-made cake to take with them. (Cakes like lemon drizzle are super easy to bake).
If breakfast is a big attraction at your B&B, make sure you mention it and provide photos on any marketing materials. Similarly, make sure you shout about anything else that makes your B&B special, whether location, facilities, proximity to tourist attractions or transport, accepting pets and / or children
12. Don’t scrimp on coffee!
Whatever you offer for breakfast, don’t scrimp on coffee. My Mum tried swapping to cheaper coffee. Bad plan. Guests who want coffee first thing in the morning appreciate good, strong coffee and will mark down their reviews if they don’t get it.
Also, if you offer more than one room, you may need more than one kettle in your kitchen, so mutiple guests get speedy service if they want breakfast at the same time.
13. Save money and cut plastic pollution with refillable toiletries
Much as I like scooping up teeny toiletries when staying in hotels, you don’t necessarily need to stock up on lots of little bottles. My Mum found her guests don’t mind the larger refillable bottles of shampoo, conditioner and handwash she provides, with less wastage and excess plastic. People who prefer expensive options tend to bring their own anyway.
14. Be prepared
Most guests don’t want to hang around waiting for breakfast. The key is to prepare ahead, with trays set up and tables laid the day before. If there’s any risk of flies, cover everything with clean linen. That way, when guests appear, you just need to bung the kettle and toaster on, but everything else is either in place or ready to be carried out.
Once people have finished, allow time to clear away, get everything through the dishwasher, and set up again for the next morning.
Brace yourself to get up early to make sure everything is ready – B&B is not a great option if you like lengthy lie ins!
15. Live by lists
My mother’s other top tip was to keep a little notebook in the kitchen, with one page for each guest. Write down the guests names and any advance requests, such as extra blankets, dietary requirements, arrival times.
Then add details after meeting them, like what time they want breakfast and preferences for tea vs coffee, and types of tea.
Guests will also appreciate information, like leaflets about local attractions and recommendations for local restaurants with their menus. Providing feedback forms also means people can raise concerns privately, without having to rant in online reviews.
16. Keep it quiet
Guests want peace and quiet first thing in the morning, rather than being woken up by their hosts thundering about. In practice, this means preparing breakfast while wearing noise-deadening socks or slippers, keeping conversations quiet, and avoiding the clatter of crockery and cutlery. If you still want friends and family to stay sometimes, you’ll need to arrange dates well in advance before you get booked out.
17. Use plants not perfumes
A last money-saving tip – my mother recommended putting an air-purifying plant in each bedroom. Less expensive than forking out for assorted air freshners, doesn’t create a smell some guests dislike, and better for the environment. Check out these RHS suggestions for air-purifying plants. and also these 17 houseplants that clean the air.
Overall, running a B&B can be a good boost to your income, but don’t under-estimate the costs and hard work involved. Fundamentally, if you like making people feel at home, offering B&B can be an enjoyable way to earn a bit extra. But if you can’t stand strangers in your home, it might not be right for you!
Now – over to you. Any tips if you’ve run a B&B yourself? Or any advice on what makes a great B&B as a guest?