It’s a Wonderful Life…

Wow!

The last Sunday before Christmas 2020.

Traditionally a day of rest!

Well I think we can all agree that tradition has went a bit out of the window this year.

And here in the UK it is the winter solstice, the day with the shortest period of daylight and longest night of the year, when the Sun is at its lowest daily maximum elevation in the sky.

And for some reason this morning, I felt REALLY reflective, about the past year and felt like sticking my thoughts down on paper.

I woke up early this morning after, last night, making YET ANOTHER social media post on our Aberdeen and South Shields Facebook pages.

To communicate the ever changing rules on why, who and when we are allowed to take guests into our self catering places.

You might remember from one of our last blog posts that pre 2020 I’ve been non stop physically building up our self catering portfolio from 2-3 properties to 8 or 9 in the space of a couple of years.

Well I always got a diary for Christmas as a kid from my mam and dad but never filled it out so I am, right now, going to try to stop, slow down a little (honest), and take a look back at the last year.

It’s been a challenging year to say the least, haha! I’m pretty sure that is the one thing EVERYONE will agree on. I hope that you enjoy our 2020 round up!

JANUARY – Improving our presence

Having ramped up our business by about 3-400% I made it my main business objective of 2020 to start marketing them better.

And marketing them directly!

Direct to our customers.

Previously, our main method of attracting customers was via third party online agents websites.

Folk searched online, and these multinational companies who spend millions on marketing are the first to pop up, they find little old us, Dwellcome Home, and they book with us, albeit via a third party.

It had worked to an extent, we had taken some great bookings over the years, but as these third parties take a varying amount of commission (the 2 biggest fish now take 15%!) we needed a better method.

Once they stay with us, our great customer service inevitably leads to developing a relationship with our guests and 100% of the time they book directly with us next time.

But a that time third parties was our main method of attracting new customers.

I needed a better method to enable our guests to book directly with us.

We needed a WEBSITE.

With the help of a friend who set up his own website and works in the IT industry, I set about cribbing together one to show case our properties and all that we offer our guests.

I had considered sub contracting this piece of work out to a specialist, but like many aspects of our business I like to at least try it myself, to learn and to understand what is involved if I did get external help.

Dwellcomehome.com was born and although I was happy with my efforts I knew it needed improving.

And I would get round to that later.

But it was something.

A start.

And now time to move onto the next mini project.

FEBRUARY – Telling our story

I have learned that one of the best ways of driving traffic to your website was to write blogs.

Although I didn’t actually show it to the outside world until I issued it on our website in May, it was during February that I wrote my first ever blog post.

It was scribbled down with a few beers keeping me company in the early hours of Monday morning, started the Sunday night after my kids had returned back to their mothers.

I wrote it as a bit of an introduction of myself to anyone visiting our website. Setting the scene of how we came to be running self catering places.

EARLY MARCH – Get what you give

At the start of March we ran our first ever Facebook give away competition on our South Shields page. And, our winner, a lovely girl called Beau ended up staying at one of our places with her dad in August to celebrate his birthday back ‘home.’

We have had Facebook pages for a while, initially for our individual properties, but as we grew bit by bit, morphed them into one page each for Aberdeen and South Shields.

But I had never really gave them much TLC once they were set up.

They were a landing page.

But I had learned that Facebook was a great shop front for folk to discover you business and book with you.

Like I said back then I didn’t really invest much time into them and the result was a 100 or so friends liking each page.

Now I spend hours a day on social media for our business pages.

And with over a 1,000 followers on each page and numerous good bookings coming from folk who found us via Facebook it is clear that the hard work has paid dividends, literally.

So thanks to all of the folk who follow us on social media, I really appreciate it.

MID MARCH – The new ‘C’ word…

It was something we were reading about in other countries and there were a small number of confirmed cases in the UK leading up to then.

But I don’t think any of us really thought that this new ‘C’ word we were reading and hearing about on the news would affect us in the way which it has.

Having worked all my life in the risk management field I am used to trying to foresee problems and manage them.

It can be pretty annoying actually.

Being trained and educated to spot issues and correct or at least reduce their consequences.

You get looked at as boring or a party pooper. Haha! C’est la vie. It is what it is.

But what was to come would change things for the rest of the year for our business.

CANCELLATIONS.

Non-essential travel banned.

At the start this was not just leisure travel but also travelling for work unless you were a key worker.

Our first cancellation was 2 actors, who were booked to perform at His Majesty’s theatre in Aberdeen. It was a direct booking made in January and the money was in my account.

“Sorry Colin, our show is cancelled, can you please refund at least part of the money?”

Easy.

“Yes Jade, we can refund you. No problem, just send us your bank details.”

Maybe that cancellation was just a one off?

Then more.

Families coming for swimming competitions, a family coming from Canada, friends for the Brewdog AGR.

Then the big one!

My loyal contractors.

Who had been with us, from 5 to 10 guys, from September 2019 until the 26th March 2020.

BANG! The biggest door just slammed shut.

These were hard working blokes, working on supermarkets. Outdoors.

Keeping the fabric of the buildings safe so that these shops can operate and let us buy our food in this uncertain time.

If they are not ‘key’ things have just got even tougher.

We, of course (but unlike the VAST majority of other operators, it turned out) gave them a FULL refund. 3 days into their 10 day stay. It was a significant amount of money.

We wrote a blog specifically about it later but that is what we did. Looked after everyone one of our guests when the chips were down. We hope that people remember that. Refunded every single booker and there were dozens.

APRIL – Pivot.

I have always been very active, hands on and looking to improve but since COVID hit us, the fight and flight response has definitely well and truly kicked in.

Survival.

When this first ‘big lockdown’ came I was on holiday myself, supposedly taking some time off.

But even in your supposed down times, when you run your own business, the thing which puts the food and drink on the table, for you kids as well, and the clothes on your and their backs, you react.

Instinct.

Okay, so leisure travellers were out of the question for now.

Well, some workers as well….

BUT there will be people affected who will need EMERGENCY ACCOMMODATION.

So when back at the hotel I would work.

Calling those who I knew would have an increased requirement for accommodation, asking friends and contacts for help.

Emailing.

Messaging on Facebook.

Just generally being proactive.

And it worked.

During the first big lockdown form March to June we HELPED dozens of key workers.

Those fighting COVID on front line; Several doctors relocating to South Shields and Aberdeen. Nurses.

A team of rail workers in South Shields keeping the countries transport system going.

Then we HELPED several families in their time of need.

A family in South Shields flooded out of their home.

A family retuning to the UK from Bahrian to Aberdeen and their own home flooded.

And later when we had time to catch our breath we said a massive thanks to all key workers!

MAY to JUNE – Consolidate, then expand!

All along the line I was continually looking for opportunities, news and different ways to fill our places. With different and new categories of guests.

But the lockdown arriving coincided with my kids starting to spend half of the time with me.

So between the manic new work world we were all adjusting to I was really enjoying the luxury of being able to spend quality time with my son and daughter.

And I was grateful and showed this in my second ever blog which, along with the first was issued in May.

I went on from the first introductory blog to kind of write about where I came from and it took a few months of my sporadic posting to get into the real business side of things.

It was also in May that a landlord, a nice lady from the Borders, contacted us after seeing us on Facebook.

She wanted to know if we would be interested in using her place for our business, which after our usual appraisal and due diligence we decided we would go for it, even in these uncertain times, and after a little TLC was applied it has went on to flourish since we set it up.

Also at the end of May we ran our first ever Facebook giveaway competition on our Aberdeen page.

JULY to AUGUST – Busmans holiday

A glimmer of hope was introduced, which now seems light years away, when at the start of July both the Scottish and UK governments announced that the travel ban would be eased and that some leisure travel would be allowed.

So we were lucky enough to be able to have a short family break and we had a mini boom of decent holiday bookings in August in South Shields, but Aberdeen remained dead.

Well, I say a family break but when we were in South Shields it was more a working holiday, after the lockdown had prevented us travelling to inspect and maintain out places there in person like we normally do at regular intervals.

We also took the opportunity to showcase the area while we were down there on our South Shields page and documented it here.

As I check back our Facebook followers had grown to around 700 from the 100 in March so it was clear that our hard work was enabling more folk to see our pages.

And this is exactly how we secured a 3 month booking in our Aberdeen 4 bed house.

On a break from driving to the Lake District from Aberdeen my phone rang.

“A friend in Aberdeen had seen your places on Facebook and I wondered if the 4 bed house is available. The relocation company have sent us options but none of them are suitable. Your 4 bed place looks ideal.”

Bingo! Another great booking to help us through another few barren months.

SEPTEMBER – Birthday adventures and promotional material!

I can’t really remember what order they came in to be honest.

I could look through our Facebook pages where I post our updates and what rule changes affect us.

But I can’t be bothered!

And don’t really care; they’ve been and gone.

But Aberdeen (first I think), then South Shields came under stricter lockdown measures.

Minimal leisure guests, then no leisure guests.

So we slumped again in September on that front.

But again, we managed to secure a great booking for emergency accommodation for a family in need in the South Shields area.

I was feeling pretty burned out after all of the hard work over the 6 months or so since lockdown arrived so attempted to take a few days out at the start of September for my birthday and at the same time showcasing the Aberdeen area.

I went a bit castle crazy haha!

Might seem daft promoting the tourist side of your areas but it is fun, to an extent, at least visiting the places is, and I see it as investment for future bookings.

Hopefully!

Then after my birthday straight back into it!

Down to business.

Getting professional photos and videos of our places was high up on my to do list and with things being so quiet on the bookings front this commenced in September on our 4 Aberdeen apartments.

We also set up YouTube channels for Aberdeen and South Shields to show off not just our property walkthrough videos but also the live videos we had been doing of our local areas so that potential future guests could find us that way. Feel free to hit the subscribe button as they say!

OCTOBER onwards!

When I was down in Shields over the summer there was a few improvements I had identified I wanted to do and an opportunity arose to take a working week down there mid October.

And since we were so happy with the Aberdeen photos and videos we appointed the same company to follow us down for the latter part of the week to spend 2 days updating our material for there.

I’m getting tired of writing now so just going to divert you here to see how splendidly well it all went, along with the story of the naughty guest who slipped though the net and necessitated a clear up op of epic proportions!

Which kind of takes us up to now! All up to date-ish!

Our latest is that last week we have appointed another website company to rebuild our website.

Now that we have great photos complete to show off our great places it seems like the final piece in the jigsaw.

But it is never final, like we know.

And as this pandemic has shown, you cannot rely on others to look after you.

For various reasons we are not entitled to any financial support from the governments. So we have just grafted. It is in our nature and is how we were brought up.

And when the chips are down the big online travel agents have close their calendars, OUR calendars!

So that the people who need accommodation the most can’t find it.

So if you hear of anyone like that, someone in need, someone who needs a great place to stay in Aberdeen or South Shields, you know where to send them.

And you might be wondering why the random title for this blog.

Well a mate of mine posted about this 1947 movie on Facebook and I watched it last night for the first time.

My daughter hated it (it take a little while to get going) but I loved it.

1947!

2 years after the war. When the world had went though a lot more than we have this year when you put things into perspective.

And it’s all about being grateful for what you do have and not wishing for and worrying about what you don’t.

Which seems more relevant now more than ever.

And on that note have a great Sunday afternoon folks and don’t stress Christmas too much. For those of us lucky enough to be here, there will be others so KTF.

Cheers, Colin X

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