VRS157 – Vacation Rental Stager & Designer Sally Lauren Nichols


Today’s episode is the second in our two-parter on design and décor in vacation rentals.

As we are planning the Vacation Rental Success Summit for 2017, I’m reminded how valuable the face-to-face networking is, and just why I love going to conferences to make new connections and learn a bunch of new stuff.

I met Sally Lauren Nichols at the VRMA conference as she was attending with her husband Darik Eaton – owner of Seattle Oasis Vacation Rentals. Darik had explained in an earlier episode that the successful operation of their business is dependent on the owners relinquishing design and décor decisions to a professional designer and stager – and Sally is that professional.

With a solid background in design, Sally has a full complement of skills to create guest-ready properties in a timely and to-budget manner, and in this episode, we talk about how her role with Seattle Oasis give her the scope to meet the needs of a defined market.

She explains in details what it’s like to work with a designer and how it can save significantly in time spent on a project without having to shop at pricier outlets.

In this episode Sally tells us:

  • How to make a small space look much bigger.
  • What projects are better handled by a designer.
  • What a designer wants from a client.
  • Her five best tips for preparing a property for rental.
  • Why the little things are just as important as major renovation projects.
  • The one item of furniture every property in their portfolio has in common
  • How to make a bedroom look ‘grounded’
  • Why you can never have enough artwork.


Seattle Oasis Vacation Rentals

VRS132 – Vacation Property Management with a Difference with Darik Eaton

Where you can find Sally:







VRS156 – Vacation Rental Design Made Easy with Sarah Honaker


Design and décor is an overlooked topic in most vacation rental expert websites and podcasts, including this one! When I looked back over the last 150+ episodes, there’s only been one that really focuses on design and that was back in September 2014, with Mercedes Brennan.

With so much emphasis on staging and great photography to sell in an increasingly competitive marketplace, getting the furnishing and décor right from the start has become so important. With that in mind, I’ve talked to two design experts to find out what we need to do to attract first-time and repeat guests.

My guest in this episode is the founder of Design Made Easy, Sarah Honaker. I heard of DME a while ago and fully intended to visit the booth at VRMA in Chandler in October. Unfortunately (or fortunately for Sarah), the booth was busy each time I went past so I didn’t have a chance to meet her face-to-face. So, it was a pleasure to pin her down for an interview and discuss the issues facing owners who, like me, have less design flair than we would like.

I had a lot of questions to ask about the mistakes owners make when they purchase a property and start on this journey. After talking with Sarah I realised I’d done many of these, and in retrospect, when I look around my own vacation rental, I know it’s time for a refurb, and this time I will get some help!

This episode, and the following one with my guest Sally Lauren Nichols of SLN Stage and Design should give you enough tips and suggestions to get started on a DIY revamp, use online tools, or engage the right design professional to create a fabulous result.

In this interview Sarah tells us about:

  • Her own vacation rental in Water Color, Florida and how she created the successful design makeover
  • How she used her own app to refurbish and furnish the property
  • The mistakes new owners often make when they prepare a place for rental
  • Her design tips for color selection and furniture purchase
  • The solutions available for owners who don’t want to do this themselves
  • Why your local independent retailer could be your best friend
  • How to get trade discounts from Wayfair, Overstock and Amazon Prime
  • The DME app and how it works


Design Made Easy

Wayfair.com & Wayfair.ca for Canadians

Amazon Prime


Farrow and Ball (colors mentioned are Borrowed Light, Parma Grey, Light Blue, Dorset Cream, Pavilion Grey)

VRS155 – The Vacation Rental Conversion Conversation Part 2

Listening to this podcast on the move? Get to the show notes here:
I have a lot of questions about email marketing, and my go-to person for the answers is my son and business partner, Mike Bayer.

Mike has made digital marketing his specialty and he not only talks about it – he is consistently walking the talk. From our early days of using Aweber to our business decision to invest in the (arguable) market leader, Infusion Soft, Mike has immersed himself in the technical and operational aspects of these systems. From the front line work of creating broadcast emails and newsletters to the intricate and more esoteric areas of funnel management, he has built a knowledge of digital marketing he’s now sharing with our vacation rental community. [Read more…]

VRS154 – The Vacation Rental Conversion Conversation Part 1


Listening to this podcast on the move? Get to the show notes here:

First things first!

If you have never been to a conference, in person, that is focused around a topic or industry that you are passionate about then you are missing out.

I don’t mean like you missed out on the last cookie or you didn’t make it to the grocery store before is closed. You are missing out like a dog who is brought into the pound the day after the annual adoption day or more literally, you could be missing out on changing the course of your business or your life.

No better example is that of my friend and now colleague Gary Miller who was not planning to attend the Vacation Rental Success Summit back in May 2016 then changed his mind at the last minute.

He attended the summit having no experience in the vacation rental business and without even owning a property, but was considering the possibility of investing in the rental business.

That decision to attend now sees him 6 months later with a cottage rental property called ‘Muskoka Pines’ that was fully booked all season. It also introduced him to Heather and myself which led to him being our very first member of the Vacation Rental Formula team outside of the original founders.

It is crazy to think how such a simple decision can be so life changing.

I have always been apprehensive of attending conferences. Partly because I can be introverted around large groups of strangers. That being said, if the attendees are all passionate about the same thing then that’s when the magic happens and the barriers are removed.

So, I just came back from the Converted16 conference hosted by LeadPages™ in Minneapolis, MN. The focus of this conference is exactly as you would expect, conversion. This is the conversion of leads to customers by online business owners just like you……..


Why would you think I’m an online business owner, I hear you ask.

Well, here’s the deal. If you are not in the mindset that your vacation rental business is an online business, just take a few minutes to let that one sink in.

Pretty much every business – brick & mortar or digital – needs to have an online presence.
Even if you are marketing your VR business by simply having a listing on HomeAway, Airbnb or any other listing site, this is still a version of online marketing that has the potential reach to thousands, even millions of people.

However, this message came across loud and clear:

“Don’t build your business on rented land”

When you rely on others to do your online marketing, you lose control.   Converted helped me to see how important it is to get some of that control back.

Converted16 was divided into 4 parts:

  • Driving web traffic to your site
  • Capturing that traffic and turning them into leads
  • Converting your leads to customers
  • Nurturing your customers into raving fans and repeat customers

In this episode of the Vacation Rental Success Podcast, Heather and I discuss the speakers from Converted16 and some of the tips and tools some for these speakers are using to achieve the 4 steps of conversion.

Links discussed in this episode.

Converted – I will be attending in 2017 so come and join me.

LeadPages™ – An online tool that you can use to collect email subscribers.
Drip™ – Email marketing automation software
Center™ – Integrates with all of your favorite business and marketing apps and automates actions between them.

Pat Flynn
– Pat Books ‘Let Go’ and ‘Will It Fly’

Ryan Deiss – DigitalMarketer.com

Steve Kamb – Nerdfitness.com

Andrew Warner – Mixergy.com

Check The Vacation Rental Success Chatbot Here……

VRS153 – 20 Common Vacation Rental Questions Answered

vrs153_20_vacation_rental_answersI get questions every day from new owners (and sometimes not so new) about things they are doing. Should I do this, supply that, charge for a service or amenity etc. Forums and Facebook groups abound with similar questions, so I thought it would be useful to address some of the most common ones here.

There are no ‘right’ answers to most of the questions, and just like the recent episode on damage deposits, some of my suggestions might spark a lively debate which is great. I would love to hear what your take is on any (or all) of these questions. [Read more…]

VRS152 – Vacation Rental Managers Association Conference Review


Over the course of a year I’ll talk to hundreds of influential vacation rental professionals from owners and managers to technology product developers, insurers, web designers and other providers to the industry. And talking over Skype or on the phone is great but nothing beats the face-to-face connection that a good conference brings. [Read more…]

VRS151 – The Case For Abandoning Vacation Rental Damage Deposits


This episode might trigger some argument and I think that’s a good thing. It’s a discussion that’s populated forums across the the VR world since the business really began and as we move into the mainstream of tourism accommodation we might need to revisit our practices.

Why do we insist on punishing 98% of our guests for what we anticipate the 2% might do.

On the one hand are owners who will argue their case for damage deposits thoroughly and will never back off on insisting they are covered for potential damage. Then there are those who trust in their guest’s honesty and transparency and have never taken a deposit.

I’m in the second camp.

Here’s some of our statistics.

Over 10 years of managing 6 of my own properties we charged one guest for a broken hot tub cover…and even that was because I got personally offended because the guest rubbed me up the wrong way. In retrospect I would probably have let that one go as well given the stress and anxiety it caused.

That is not to say it was the only issue we dealt with. There were broken beds; stains on mattresses and linens; broken knobs on appliances; cracked toilet seats; disappearing towels; tears in sheets

In an average year we’d be managing 180 rental periods. You can do the math here.

Similarly, in our rental management company we have minimal damage reports.

In an average summer we’ll check out 1500 families, and this year we dealt with a handful of significant damage issues.

As an agency we play a different role since we have two distinct groups of clients – our rental guests and owners.   A damage report from an owner triggers a robust investigation that involves examining photographic and video evidence, and then mediating between the two parties.

It’s a lengthy process and one we’d rather avoid, so we’ll often pay the owner the amount of damage claimed and save ourselves the considerable cost in time and stress involved in pursuing it.

This doesn’t mean we allow our guests to “get away with damaging property” as one owner put it. Rather, we err on the side of tolerance and understanding that the majority of our issues are purely accidental, and a result of guests being in unfamiliar surroundings.

In this episode I talk about the range of damage issues we’ve dealt with over the last 15 years; what owners can do to protect themselves and the insurance alternatives that are available.

I cover:

  • The pros and cons for collecting damage deposits
  • Whether having ‘skin in the game’ makes a guest more careful
  • Damage versus wear and tear, or when the leather finally splits
  • How to combat being offended by the actions of guests
  • Why we can’t blame a single guest for a broken bed
  • Cost benefits of self-insuring and other insurance options
  • 5 tips for reducing the risk of damage to your home

Rental Guardian

CSA Damage Protection

VRS150 – The Best of 150 Episodes of Vacation Rental Success


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In that time I’ve interviewed some of the most influential people in the vacation rental world. I learned about Airbnb in an early episode with host Glenn Cooley, and more recently interviewed superhost Evelyn Badia. Matt Landau of the Vacation Rental Marketing Blog has joined me on a dozen or more sessions of the ‘Mash-up with Matt’, and I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with many successful owners to talk about what they do that makes their vacation rental properties so special.

I’ve reported from Home Away Summits, VRMA conferences and stays at vacation rental places around the world, and along the way, shared experiences from my own property management company, CottageLINK Rental Management. And in that time, recorded 149 episodes.

*** This one is Episode 150 ***

With so many to choose from, it was hard to pick out the ones to re-share as highlights of the past 3 and a half years of recordings. However I broke it out into a few themes and selected the most popular episodes as well as those that may be worth revisiting to listen again.


1. Every owner should stay at least once in someone else’s vacation home.

I’ve repeated this many times and still stand by the view that you cannot ever really know what it’s like for your guests unless you’ve been to an unfamiliar property, got your first impression, explored on arrival and slept in the beds. VRS003 was the first episode where I talked about learning from other owners.


2. Using reviews to grow your business

Reviews a reservoir of suggestions, recommendations and ideas that can provide you with so much information on what you could do to improve the experience for your guests. Episode 064 explored 6 ways to use your own and other owners reviews to make your vacation rental business even better.


3. Listing sites are not the enemy

To listen to many ‘experts’ and vacation rental pundits, you would think Home Away and Airbnb are the obnoxious enemy to avoid at all costs, when in fact they are essential to kick start an independent business. Yes, we would love our own websites to rank on Page one of Google and for them to be seen before the big sites are reached, but without the reach of a billion dollar company, that’s just not going to happen. We need to take a different view, and use these site as stepping stones to independence – use them to bring you guests because once you have them in your home you can show your uniqueness and make them ambassadors, as Martin Picard of Vreasy pointed out in Episode 149.


4. Spend time and invest in great photos and videos

It’s common sense that you should make the images on your listing and website a priority but amazing how many owners don’t do this. Too often we see poorly lit and staged photographs and grainy, shaky videos taken with handheld phones. Photo experts will agree that unless you are able to shoot photos in RAW format and adjust them in a photo editing suite, you should get professional images done for you. Tyann Marcink is a pro VR photographer and explains some of the techniques in Episode 013.

In Episode 059 I talked to videographer Lou Bortone about creating video to focus not only on our homes but also to create short pieces on topics that help your guests plan their vacation. He had worked with owner Evelyn Gallardo who owns beautiful properties in Costa Rica, to develop her Youtube channel. I interviewed Evelyn on Episode 007.


5. Find your niche and promote it

Over the course of 150 episodes I’ve talked to interview guests who have found a strong niche they can build a brand around. Australian Dianne Denton has done it for her pet friendly (notable horse-friendly) home on Diamond Beach (VRS134); Andy Renals has made accessibility his niche as he explains in VRS113, and Wendy Shand of Totstotravel.com (VRS005) and Nikki Woodson Blair (VRS105) shared their focus on family-friendly vacations.


6. You need your own website

If you are reading this or listening to this episode and haven’t got your own website, make it your goal. In talking to successful owners, their own sites are the foundation of their move away from dependence of listing sites, and without one, you will always be at the mercy of the listing sites.

Whether it’s Wix or WordPress (Alan Egan 066); One Rooftop or MyVR, or using the options provided by companies such as Rentivo or Booking Sync, just do it .


7. SEO is not dead

Google “Is SEO dead” and here’s what you get:
….plus the other 800K results.

My guest on VRS116, Conrad O’Connell doesn’t think so, and since my management company is working with him on our new website, we don’t either. It has just changed focus from the old idea of keyword stuffing, to a greater emphasis on quality content, which means once you have your wonderful new website, you need to keep it populated with outstanding information on the area in pages and blog posts.


8. You need to capture the imagination of your readers

Telling your story is so much more important than describing the dining table or how many small appliances you have in the kitchen. The story of what made you buy the place and why you love it so much is going to engage your site visitors so much more. Then, in your description you need to fire up their imagination and tell them why they need to book. Travel copywriters Erin Raub (VRS011) and Jessica Vozel (VRS095) explain how important this is and how you can do it well.


9. And when you’ve had enough and want to sell….

This will come to most of us one day. We want to move on and do something else or the economy is just right to capture the fruits of the investment. But selling a vacation rental isn’t easy since most residential realtors fail to understand the vacation rental market, and commercial agents are fixated on longer term tenancies and cap rates relating to those.

Rick Oster talks about the issues facing sellers in episode 074 and explains what you need to do to prepare for a private sale. Then if you are thinking of buying or selling a property management company, listen to Ben Edwards, the President of VRMA (VRS092). Finally, if you’ve not yet bought your first property, or want to expand your investment portfolio, listen to Erica Muller from The Flamingo Group (VRS012) as she lays out the steps for a successful purchase.


OK – so you have a lot of listening to do!


I want to take this moment to thank you for being with me along this journey and hope you’ll stick around for the next 150 episodes.

VRS149 – Turn Your Vacation Rental Guests Into Ambassadors with Martin Picard

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Today’s guest is a sailor, adventurer, ardent traveler, software developer and founder of Vreasy – the Guest Experience Authority ™ – Martin Picard.

I met Martin in Barcelona at the European VRMA conference and attended his presentation where he talked about the value of knowing your guests and creating a personalised experience for them. It was an eye-opener for me as a property manager and an owner, as he shared the ways we can create passionate advocates

His focus on uniqueness and branding is evident in the way he talks about our industry with more emphasis on vacation and less on rental. We had a fascinating discussion on how we, as property managers or independent owners can create such a special experience for our guests that they become our most ardent ambassadors.

Using examples from his own PM company and experience of renting his own properties, Martin leads us towards thinking more strategically about our businesses.

In the interview Martin talks about:

  • The vacation rental business in Spain & the tradition of second homes
  • Why we need to develop uniqueness to build a brand
  • The importance of the word ‘vacation’ in vacation rental
  • The value of ‘client discovery’ and how we can use the information to enhance the guest experience
  • What can change a guest into an ambassador for our properties
  • The three things property managers need to do to create a successful business

Links mentioned in this episode


VRS148 – The Ultimate Vacation Rental List of People and Companies to Follow Part 2


Following on from Episode 141 when I sat down with Matt Landau to compile our Ultimate List of People and Companies to Follow, we’ve added some more.

We wanted to include some of the great communities and resources available for owners and property managers, as well as some great people we love and trust. In this episode we continue the tag format and share our favourites. [Read more…]