LAKE BUENA VISTA – More than a decade ago, when An Flamand opened her own business, one of the first things she did was draft a mission statement, keeping it short – but effective.
“The basic for any business is a mission statement,” she said. “My company’s mission statement is ‘Happiness for all.’ It’s very simple, but it means a lot to me. If my guests are happy, if my contractors are happy, if my employees are happy, everything will multiply.”
Years later, Flamand said, that simple mission statement has worked beautifully. She runs USA Vacation Homes, a property management firm that oversees vacation homes, or fully furnished houses rented on a short term basis to tourists. The vacation home industry has been a booming field in Central Florida, and Flamand has done well enough that she recently opened a new, much larger office in Northeast Polk County.
Flamand is also the president of the Central Florida Vacation Rental Managers Association, the trade group representing the vacation home industry, and when the association held its monthly meeting today at Cypress Golf Club in Lake Buena Vista, Flamand offered the members a workshop on “The Secret for Marketing to Direct Markets” – a guide to growing a small business in an otherwise rough economic environment.
There are some fairly simple tips that any small business owner can apply to their company – successfully, Flamand said.
And it starts, she added, with a clear vision of what they want to do and how they plan to do it. Not everyone, she added, starts out with something this basic.
“What is your vision?” Flamand asked. “What is your company’s vision? To me, a vision is one of the most important things you have. A mission plus a vision plus a plan equals success.”
She recommended that all business owners, even ones who have been operating for years, draft a business plan if they’ve never had one before.
“Is there a reason you don’t set up a business plan?” Flamand asked. “You have to know where you want to go. I write a business plan every year. Always build your business with the thought of selling it.”
She also urged business owners not to limit themselves or their vision of what it is they can accomplish.
“We often do that, we often limit ourselves,” she said. “We overcomplicate things too often.”
One part of that, she added, is when business owners make assumptions about how to target their audience – mistaken assumptions, as it turns out.
“Where do you think most people spend their marketing money?” Flamand asked. “Most people spend money to attract new customers, especially here in the vacation home industry. But do you know what is the most valuable marketing asset in your company? Most people don’t realize it, but their data base is their most valuable asset.”
Existing customers, treated well, become a company’s greatest source of new referrals, she added.
“What is the number one reason people don’t return? They forget — that is the number one reason,” she said. “And most people think it’s price.”
Continuously reaching out to existing customers, Flamand said, pays off. Flamand said she does this through email blasts, social media, and news letters.
“Email at least once a month or once a quarter,” she said. “I’m a very strong believer in testimonials.”
Don’t assume people won’t read emails, she added.
“One of the things I think is the most successful is e-blasts,” she said. “The marketing is saying ‘It’s me, it’s me, it’s me.’ You can do it in an annoying way, or in a pleasant way.”
But keeping up with your guests in a friendly and fun manner, she added, works because it establishes relationships.
“People buy from people,” Flamand said. “You can have the perfect product, but if you’re a jerk, you can’t sell.”
Emilio Montero, the president of Residual Networks LLC and a member of the CFVRMA, said fellow members should consider something else: networking opportunities, which the association’s monthly meetings provide a great forum for.
“I joined the CFVRMA seven months ago,” he said. “You can come to these meetings and you can be seen. You can meet with them one on one and see what their problems are, and see if you have a solution. My view is, be seen, be truthful, be honest, and have integrity – and then you can a part of te solution.”
The CFVRMA is also branching out, and has created an advisory council to assist members as they aim to grow their business.
Marilyn Pullen, the head of the advisory council, said it exists “for creativity, for feedback, and to bring a bigger and more responsive group. The whole purpose of this is to see who will come in and give us some help and feedback.”
The vacation home industry has grown tremendously in the past decade, particularly in Polk and Osceola counties, and there are now more vacation homes in Central Florida than in the rest of the state. Flamand said the association needs to creatively work together to make sure everyone rides that wave.
“For years we’ve run the association well, but now it’s time to run it a bit differently, and tap into the real potential that it has,” she said.
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