25 Jun Let’s Talk… Farm Diversification (Holiday Lets)
One of the subjects most talked about in the farming world, especially as Brexit rears its ugly head, is diversification. You want ideas, you want to talk to people who have done it and you want to know how to go about it.
Diversification is definitely the front runner when it comes to putting the farm to other uses and so we’ve teamed up with holidaycottages.co.uk to explain all you need to know if you’re thinking about taking that leap!
Farm Diversification: A Cottage Industry
Believe it or not, farm diversification has actually been a successful strategy for farming families for many, many years. Making the most of the produce at their fingertips through crafts or clever processing in order to produce cheese or hand-knitted jumpers for example, has not only significantly bolstered their piggy banks, it has also given farmers and their families an exciting opportunity to share their work and lives with the wider public.
In recent years, the diversification ‘net’ has been cast wider and more creatively than ever before, opening up entirely new opportunities and income streams to explore.
Farm Diversification sounds a bit boring. What exactly is it?
In fact, the question should be, what isn’t it? Farm diversification takes many forms, some of which you’re sure to be familiar with, others are, well, a bit out there (one of our favourites is hosting a nudist camp)!
Don’t go throwing off the threads just yet though. There are plenty more, shall we say, modest ways to attract an extra income, without laying it all bare.
Setting up an on-site farm shop, becoming a licensed wedding venue, offering cooking and baking classes, introducing unusual livestock such as alpacas (for wool and trekking) and utilising outbuildings and land for alternative purposes are just a handful of the diversification strategies being employed by UK farmers.
Whilst all forms of diversification should be considered, we’re going to concentrate on how holiday letting can be a good use of your outbuildings and land. Did you know,DEFRA recently revealed that letting properties for non-agricultural use can earn on average an additional £17,400 per year, per farm. That surely makes this a venture worth considering, right?
What’s the big deal about staying on a farm?
It’s no secret that people love the romanticised idea of the ‘farm experience’. They picture themselves cuddling fluffy little lambs as the children gambol about in the fields, sipping bubbly as the sun sinks down behind golden arable fields. Things you enjoy yourself on a daily basis of course…
Therefore it’s no great surprise that experiential travel is a holiday trend on the rise, with holiday-makers keen to spend their precious time away from the daily grind participating in ‘hands-on experiences’ to create rich, evocative memories for themselves and their children. Whilst living on a working farm may be day-to-day normal life for many of you, the thrill of collecting eggs, or waking up surrounded by nature and listening to the sound of animals in a field nearby should not be underestimated, and ‘working farm holidays’ are hugely appealing to many.
How do I get started?
Ok, perhaps we’re jumping the gun a bit. That old barn over yonder is far from habitable right now, even the chickens give it a wide berth for fear of falling debris. So where to start?
Of course, the first hurdle (as with all great ideas) is simply getting started. Weighing up the risks, rewards and setting aside a realistic budget to get the project off the ground is an essential step to a successful lettings business.
For advice with the calculations, the knowledgeable experts at holidaycottages.co.uk would be more than happy to help, even before you’ve evacuated the old troughs from the dilapidated barns! They can estimate projected booking figures and help decide on the best route for your unique situation. Once you’re up and running they can also help with pricing, continually analysing the performance of your new holiday let to ensure your pricing is hitting the ‘sweet spot’ – where your revenue expectations meet your guests’ expectations in terms of location, size and quality. However, ask them to help you muck out the horses and they might not be so keen to help!
Location pays a huge part in the success of a holiday let, and those properties closest to tourist hotspots will always find themselves with the best occupancy rates and able to charge a premium. There are some truly beautiful parts of the UK, but if they’re not commonly considered holiday destinations, you may not attract a high number of bookings initially. But fear not, even if your farm is tucked away in a remote part of the UK, cornering the market with a unique offering might mean a letting business could still be an option for you.
Does size really matter?
So, the numbers have been crunched and you’ve made the wise decision to invest in lettings: next on the list is decidinghow big you want this venture to be, and how many guests you think you can accommodate. Larger properties can charge more per week and are popular with families during the school holidays but are harder to fill during off-peak seasons. Properties that sleep two are likely to attract couples all year round but the price you would be able to charge each week is likely to be considerably lower.
Whatever your capacity might be, one important thing to remember is that guests will want (and need) plenty of space, so don’t fall into the trap of cramming as many people as possible into your property. In addition to making sure everyone has a bed to sleep in, you must also ensure there are enough bathrooms, comfortable seats in the lounge, dining chairs, plates, pillows (we could go on) to accommodate everyone, along with plenty of room for people to stretch out and fully relax. Offering flexibility with zip and link beds which can be swapped from doubles to twins could be a good compromise and appeal to a greater number of potential guests.
Finding your USPs
Once you’ve covered the basics and are clear on number of guests and where they’re going to stay, the next area to consider is much harder to define: the steps you must take to make sure your holiday let stands out amongst the competition. Today’s holidaymakers are a knowledgeable and discerning bunch with a great deal of choice at their fingertips; identifying your unique selling points (USPs) and shouting about them will make the difference between an empty property and a sold out one. These could be anything from a welcome hamper filled with thoughtful, locally sourced products to a top of the range espresso machine in the kitchen.
It’s also worth knowing that properties with a hot tub increase their revenue by 30% and installing wood burners could result in an average of 13% more revenue: both most definitely worth investing in if you’re able to.
Work with the experts
Marketing your property and bagging those all-important bookings may seem daunting initially with so many other priorities to take care of in a day, but the majority of bookings are now made online. However achieving the web-presence and exposure enjoyed by large holiday companies like holidaycottages.co.uk takes an entire team of marketing and technical experts who make it their mission to ensure their website consistently appears at the top of Google for holiday cottage related searches, as well as appearing in many well-known travel publications and websites. By choosing to let your property with them, the stress of promoting your property is completely taken away. They take care of everything, from marketing right through to managing the booking and payment process.
Which then just leaves the (by no means insignificant) job of cleaning, maintenance and hospitality, which on first glance might seem daunting, but with a little forward planning and help becomes more manageable. Maybe these tasks could either be taken care of by yourself and your family, or you could consider enlisting the help of local businesses if it becomes unmanageable.
Many farming families find that owning a holiday home slots in seamlessly with their everyday lives. Guests are reassured that you’re nearby and able to deliver that idyllic farm experience: watching milking, countryside walks, collecting eggs, or you can be as hands-off as they (or you) choose.
Maureen Bellew and her husband started their first holiday let on Tennacott Farm, a working dairy farm in North Devon, in 2010. It went so well that they added a second property in 2011 and a third in 2014.
“It took quite a long time [after getting planning permission] to set up our first and second holiday lets as we renovated some old farm buildings which needed a lot of work! However, the third property we bought from some neighbours who were downsizing and this one was in good condition and easy to adapt to holiday letting.”
Now the properties are all beautifully presented and are attracting fantastic booking levels, often with back-to-back weeks booked. This is great for business and keeps Maureen busy.
“It takes about three days a week to manage the business. That’s two changeover days on Friday and Saturday and at least one day on laundry, although this could be outsourced if preferred.”
“The benefits of holiday lets are the people you meet and the satisfaction you get when you know they have had a good time (regardless of the weather!) and that they have appreciated the lovely countryside around them. If they come back again and say they feel like they are coming home, you know you’ve nailed it!”
To make your holiday letting dreams become reality, give the friendly team at holidaycottages.co.uk a call on 01237 426709, they’ll be more than happy to help. Or for more information about holiday lettings, take a look at their Let Your Cottage page.