As part of its Think Small programme, Earnest is interviewing a number of small businesses to understand the changing business models, challenges and ambitions that are spreading across the small business market.
This month we met Ann-Marie and her husband Paul, owners of the Langdale View Guest House, over a portion world-famous breakfast pancakes to hear about how they decided to give up the day job, move to the Lake District and set up their bed and breakfast.
They told us how, after much searching, they ended up buying a business that was failing and came with a bad reputation. This left them with only one option – they had to start from scratch and aim to build a four-star business in as short a time as possible. The only way they could achieve this was to focus first and foremost on quality – but at the same time, they were constantly at the mercy of review sites. There are many small businesses that live and die by the ‘review culture’ but none more so than those who work in the tourism industry.
“I feel like we live in a world where it’s on trend to complain about anything you possibly can, while hiding behind a keyboard. This can make it much easier to forget that the people you are criticising are humans too, and the effects of the grumblings can be much wider reaching than you think,” says Ann-Marie.
But review sites are essential partners for small businesses to thrive and grow in today’s digitally-focused world – especially in crowded sectors (like tourism) where there is often little, on the face of things, to differentiate between the competition.
In a world where consumers are changing the way they research and buy online, it’s clear that review sites are going to have a bigger impact on small businesses than ever, and the stats speak for themselves; 83% of people say reviews on TripAdvisor help them choose the right hotel and 80% of people read six to 12 reviews before booking a tourist activity.
But life under the spotlight isn’t all-bad, in fact it’s helped Ann-Marie and her husband achieve their goals. “It’s driven up the standard, and rightly so. Why shouldn’t we get away with not sticking to the standards we have set out?”
So, what can marketers learn from Langdale View Guest House?
It’s worth considering what brands can do to help. What can you do to help small business owners improve the service and experience they deliver to their customers?