Interviews

Tips for budding hospitality entrepreneurs

9 min read

27 August 2014

Hospitality is one of the most popular industries for budding entrepreneurs to tackle – after all, hospitality employs over ten per cent of the British workforce and is the UK’s fourth largest industry!

This feature is placed in partnership with Manchester Business School.

Diverse and exciting, no two days are ever the same and the sense of achievement to be reaped from success in hospitality is huge. That said, it can be a challenging industry to break into, requiring a huge amount of planning, preparation and dedication.

So what kind of things should you bear in mind when you embark on your entrepreneurial journey?

Think long and hard

While hospitality is one of the most rewarding industries in which to flex your entrepreneurial muscles, it is also one of the most challenging. Hospitality success requires a huge amount of passion, and many people find themselves crumbling at the thought of having to pair such a huge amount of public facing with management duties. So sit down and think – do I really love doing this?

Guitarist Joe Penna once said: “Every single person I know who is successful at what they do is successful because they love doing it.” 

Dr James Hickie, lecturer in enterprise at Manchester Business School, has highlighted just how important it is to nurture a passion for hospitality in order to succeed: “Hospitality is undoubtedly an industry that demands hard work and long hours. But there are many examples of entrepreneurs who have made their fortunes in this industry from Luke Johnson, who grew the Pizza Express restaurant chain and other catering brands, to Surinder Arora, who has built a chain of nearly 20 hotels. 

“This is an industry in which it is easy for young people to get relevant experience, before they decide whether they want to start their own business in it. I would definitely recommend trying out a year or two in this industry to see how you like it, for example working as a waiter or a hotel receptionist.”

Research, research, research

Part of the reason why succeeding in the hospitality industry is so challenging is due to how competitive it is. Trends are constantly changing and new businesses are popping up (literally – pop up hotels and restaurants are huge at the moment!) regularly every month. So, as a budding hospitality entrepreneur, how can you stay on top?

The key is research; read up on industry news to stay abreast of hospitality trends and pinpoint niches that could be exploited. The British Hospitality Association (BHA) and Big Hospitality are both great places to start, boasting impressive blogs full of articles about every aspect of hospitality.

Research also means keeping an eye on your competition. Take a look at what they are doing right and why it works for them, but also what they are doing wrong. If you could avoid these mistakes in your own entrepreneurial venture, go ahead and do it.
Technology is your best friend

Technology has played a huge part in the hospitality boom, and definitely can’t be ignored if you are looking to reap success as a budding hospitality entrepreneur.

First there is social media. Almost every hotel in the world now has a social media presence, from Manchester’s Mitre Hotel to New York’s extravagant Waldorf Astoria (the latter of which covers Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and Pinterest). It’s perfectly understandable if it feels a little overwhelming though, so if your experience is lacking don’t rush into every network at once.

Once you are set up you can start building your audience by taking out cost-effective advertising and posting updates about your business. Keep shameless self-promotion to a minimum and, instead, balance out salesy updates with posts that remind followers there is a face behind the business. 

Post impressive images of your surroundings, behind the scenes business insights and run promotions and competitions to grab people’s attention. It’s also worth remembering that millions of people now voice their complaints about hospitality businesses over social media, so being available through this medium affords a fantastic opportunity to show off your customer service skills and build a trustworthy reputation.

Social media aside though, one of the biggest technological focuses in hospitality is the app. People now use apps like TripAdvisor and Expedia not only to look up reviews for different hospitality businesses, but also to make reservations, so it’s well worth registering your own business with them.

A huge 65 per cent of same day hotel reservations are made using a smartphone, so if the world of hotels is your chosen avenue of hospitality, you might also want to have an app made specifically for your hotel, or in the least a mobile-friendly website.

Learn from the best

Listening to the experts is one of the best things you can do as a budding hospitality entrepreneur. Learn from their experiences and, given that so many hospitality veterans own a Twitter account these days, don’t be afraid to ask them a question.

Alex Polizzi (@alex_polizzi), aka ‘The Hotel Inspector’, is definitely one for entrepreneurs pursuing a career in accommodation to follow. Although she mostly tweets about her television show (a must-watch for hoteliers), it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on her feed for snippets of advice. You could even tweet her a question, as she regularly answers her followers.

Lesley A. Ross (@lesleyaross) is another seasoned expert with an active Twitter presence. A retired hotelier, now working in the tourism industry, she posts just as many tweets offering advice and news about the industry as she does those containing stunning images of the UK.

Since Big Hospitality (@BigHospitality) and the BHA (@BHAtweets) have such great blogs to their name, it’s worth keeping an eye on their Twitter feeds too for quick links to their articles and more industry advice.

Don’t be afraid to talk to the people in your industry. Whether they are seasoned experts or entrepreneurs like yourself, ask for advice, exchange stories and make the most of the talent burgeoning around you. If you build a positive relationship with these people then they could even end up becoming valuable contacts for the future.
Don’t be too proud

Pride can be a budding entrepreneur’s downfall in any industry, and commonly manifests as a reluctance to ask for help.

In an industry as diverse and challenging as hospitality, there is always going to be an area where you’re lacking in knowledge. Don’t be afraid to draft in the experts. You could even register for a course to expand your knowledge, such as the MSc Innovation Management and Entrepreneurship course from MBS.

Build a brand

Branding is everything in hospitality, and is about much more than your logo. You need to be memorable – a solid entity that customers will instantly recognise in the crowded hospitality landscape.

Whether it’s a conversational social media style and tone of voice or a quirky USP, it is essential that every element of your business is consistent and works together to make you stand out from the crowd.

There is no denying that the life of a budding hospitality entrepreneur can be an incredibly demanding one, but by breaking into the industry with dedication, passion and resilience, the rewards you reap will far outweigh the challenges.