(Listen to this post, here.)
Back when our kids were little, taking a vacation was a huge ordeal.
Not only did you have to pick a spot that would satisfy the varied interests of each child, the packing and logistics involved required days of preparation and manpower.
At one point, in fact, our vacation lead time got so long that we had to start packing for the trip back home before we had even left the house.
Now that the kids are older (22, 19, 16) it’s much, much easier. My wife Linda and I simply select a destination, tell the kids the day and time we will be leaving, and hop in the car as planned, confident that everyone will be appropriately packed and ready to go.
Of course I am totally lying.
It’s just as big a hassle as it ever was. By the time we got everybody’s suitcase, earbuds, drinks, reading material and body into the car last month, all I kept thinking was that at least 15 years ago, I could pick them up and strap them in.
Fortunately, we did make it – three days in North Adams, a picturesque, former mill town in the top left corner of Massachusetts (bottom right, if your map is upside down).
But we didn’t stay in a hotel. We stayed in the home of a complete and total stranger, thanks to Airbnb.
If you’re not familiar with this concept, Airbnb is an online service that matches travelers with local hosts who rent out all or part of their homes. We’ve done it now six or seven times and it never disappoints.
But it is different.
Traditional Bed and Breakfast Vs. Airbnb
We’ve long been “bed and breakfast people.” But staying in someone’s home isn’t the same thing.
A bed and breakfast, I realized, is more like a “home simulation.”
There’s furniture and closets and all that, and the facility itself was at some point a regular house. But today, nobody actually lives in the part they rent out. So it’s absent the things that make a home feel truly authentic and alive.
Airbnb homes, on the other hand, are totally real. Even if the owners aren’t actually there at the time, it feels like you just missed them. There are photos on the fridge. There’s shampoo in the shower. There’s a six pack of beer on the back deck (ok, was).
And you know what? This seemingly trivial distinction is also the difference between a small or solo business and our larger competitors.
Big companies understand the value of connection and they try hard to look human.
They run funny TV commercials. They hire well known celebrities to represent their services. They put a lot of smiley people stock photos on their web sites.
But it doesn’t usually work so well. Like a bed and breakfast, we can feel that it’s a simulation.
Your job, therefore, in presenting your business to the world, is to do what the big guys can’t: Be more like an Airbnb rental.
In other words, keep the stuff – the real, in the moment, imperfect stuff – that helps people trust and connect with you on a human level:
- Pictures on your web site of people who actually work there.
- Handwritten notes to clients and others.
- Stories in your newsletter/blog with names, places and experiences of actual people.
- Flexibility in the way you offer your services.
- Jargon-free interactions (of all types).
Here’s the bottom line. The more people you put in a room, the more plain vanilla the words and ideas become. That’s the curse of being big.
Your quirkiness, on the other hand, is your advantage. If you want to stand out in a way that your larger competitors can’t, let the world see how you really live.
- What things do you do that your larger competitors can’t or won’t?
- Do you have children?
- Would you like some of mine?
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My son is beginning his college apps and having a hard time getting his essay started. As I read your post today I hear all the advice of “be yourself” in your essays, don’t be generic, be quirky! So yes, I have children, but I’ll pass on taking in any new ones. Especially if they are young enough to need prodding to write application essays.
I remember those first college essays (I wrote a newsletter about our first experience: https://bluepenguindevelopment.com/2010/03/are-you-college-material/).
Along with all the advice I recounted in that newsletter, I remember the admissions officer saying that the simple test he used when ready essays was asking himself, “Do I want to meet this kid?”
1. I create video newsletters for busy professionals, that let them stand out in a crowd.
The big competitors create boilerplate newsletters that look like everyone else’s newsletter and make children cry.
2. Oh do I. Ava – 6, Lilly – 4, and Lane (boy) – 2
3. If any of them are good at babysitting, then yes. Yes I do.
1. I’ve always liked your niche.
3. Excellent. Could be a long drive though…
Bwahaha, Michael. Very good. Yes, I have children. Five of them, to be exact. Now all grown. But back in those halcyon days of trying to take a vacation it was portable cribs, strollers, all their clothing plus ours, food, bottles, diapers, two huge dogs ( a Newfoundland and a Briard) and 5 kids under 10, the last three a single and a set of twins only 17 months apart. We were only going to the Cape from West Newton! But it was truly a military exercise every time. I exhaust myself just thinking of it now.
Your point is excellent. I suspect the reason why Airbnb has been so popular is due to that very personal touch. Your own quirky, personal take keeps all of us on board. Although I’ve yet to start the business I’d hoped to here in France, for what I AM doing I keep your advice uppermost in my mind, and it has always worked (so far!). Happy August!
That’s a lot of parenting Katherine! I hope to hear more about your business as you get it going.
Just one more thing….I notice the photo of me that ends up on your platform is from three years ago. Must change that. I now have pure white hair. I wonder why?
I used a site referenced here (https://bluepenguindevelopment.com/2011/08/how-to-include-your-photo-with-your-blog-comments/) for setting mine up. Not sure if it’s the only such site. But I suspect you need to log back into whatever account you set up originally and associate a new photo with your email address.
You, dear Michael, are the prime example of quirky! That’s why I always read your emails. I not only learn something from you – you make me smile. And at times laugh out loud, much to the consternation of neighbors in the cubicle farm. And your newsletter program is the best. Now, onto the questions.
1. I don’t do anything different than my larger competitors because I’m not out there competing yet. But you can bet that when I am competing I will remember Airbnb. It will be a key in my marketing strategy.
2. No, I don’t have children.
3. Thanks for the offer but at their critical stage in life … and mine … it probably wouldn’t be a good idea.
So, I can email you, web you – and book a room at One Ash Street? Sweet!
Thank you JudyB! Anything to disturb the cubicle dwellers on a Friday afternoon is worth doing (I was a big fan of floating bubbles across the room back when I occupied one).
And yes, you can book a room here in my office building (not very cozy though for overnight stays!).
1. YES…Solvit doesn’t just supply help desk and IT support. We get to know our customers and their needs. We are always just a phone call or email away if they need to discuss ideas or concerns. We help them figure out what path to take by getting them the information required to make good decisions and bring we bring new ideas to the table. We make sure service is fast and hassle free.
2. NO…This family has dogs. A couple of dishes some food and leashes and open the car door. They’ll beat us into the car every time. They have no opinion on the accommodations as long as they are allowed to go and their interests are anything they can smell.
3. Definitely NOT 🙂
1. How do you and your colleagues convey that difference relative to all the other IT support companies who I’m guessing claim the same thing (whether it’s true or not)?
2. I’m thinking it may have been a smarter choice.
3. I don’t blame you!
We actually haven’t had to because all of our customers have come from word of mouth. However, it is something we struggle with as we try to expand. Neither of us is good at blowing our own horns. We are in the process of building a new website that looks a lot less commercial and contains more useful information much like yours. As part of that, we have asked our customers for recommendations and their words are better than anything we could have come up with. That’s why this post really struck home for me.
1. Not only do you get a real person answering the phone on the 2nd ring (or less) but there is humor (generally), fun (almost always) and a personal touch with our customers.
2. Yes 3 grown and I too remember the “getting ready” for vacation and the “coming home” from vacations as very hectic times.
3. No, but thanks anyway. I prefer small grandchildren these days!
Really like your number 1 Gwen!
1. I can do things for many clients based on a handshake (often virtual) rather than a bunch of fine print. Sure, not in all cases but in many.
2. Do 2 kittens and a dog count?
3. Maybe, if they bring the beer from the back deck with them.
I’m with you on the lack of fine print. I think it demonstrates trust at the beginning which people clearly appreciate.
This is a helpful article, and so true to your point on simulation.
1. We have clients tell us that working with us is like having Disney imagineers, without the Disney cost. Can’t beat that.
2. I have two boys (1 yr old and 2 yr old) and another on the way. It’s a blast!
3. What’s another few kids?
1. Great to hear the results you’ve been getting.
3. Once you’re drowning, it doesn’t matter how deep the water is.