Switching vacation rental software can be a daunting task.
Who has the best options?
Which offering is most cost effective?
What will you have to give up and what will you gain?
How disruptive will it be?
Before you undertake the task of switching software, there are a few things that you can do up front to make the job easier down the road. You will also want to give yourself plenty of time to prepare for the switch. I recommend budgeting at least a year for the entire process. That covers everything from looking at the different offerings to the actual installation of the software.
But before you start looking at what is out there, you’ll want to decide a few things first.
#1 Determine what your business goals are for the next 2, 5, and 10 years.
What are your goals as a company for each of those time segments? To increase your revenue? Stronger relationships with your owners? Growing your inventory? Enhancing your guest services? Reducing operating costs?
Knowing what you want to accomplish in the short, mid, and long term, will inform your decisions about the kind of software and services that you should purchase.
I recommend picking no more than 2-3 goals per time segment to drive towards. You can always update or adjust your goals if you find that your priorities have changed. Your long term goals in particular will change as time goes on, but they provide a clear direction for you to move in.
Write out exactly what these look like for you. What does “increasing your revenue” look like? By how much? What is the percentage or amount growth required to take your business to the next level? What are the specific steps that you need to get there?
What specifically does “enhancing your guest services” look like? What tools do you need to do it? What would you like to do that you can’t currently do?
If you don’t know the answers right away, that’s perfectly ok. Spend some time brainstorming, researching, and getting input from your partners and staff. The point isn’t to have the perfect list that will never change, but to have specifics that will guide the direction you move in. Those items may change depending on various things that are completely out of your control. That’s ok.
#2 Develop a comprehensive list of “must haves”, “like to haves”, and “nice to haves”.
No software package is going to do everything you could ever possibly want it to. There are going to be trade-offs and different ways of doing things within each option.
To get as close to the ideal for your business as possible, you need to know what matters most and what you can live without.
Instead of focusing on everything that your current software has that you don’t want to give up, focus instead on those business goals you wrote down. What do you need to achieve those goals? What do you need to continue to perform operationally while you move towards those goals? Define “need” as “can’t possibly live without”. It’s not that you could live without it and just prefer not to, you have to have that particular feature/report/widget in order to do what you need to do. This list should be as short and concise as possible. Remember, these are needs not wants.
Next come your “like to haves”. These are things that you could live without if you had to, but it could be fairly painful. They don’t directly tie into the achievement of your goals and operational requirements, but they support the things that do. Or they make your life a heck of a lot easier.
Finally there are your “nice to haves”. These are things that would be cool to have but your business isn’t any better or worse off with or without them.
Make sure to involve your staff in this process and have them come up with their own lists based on their roles within the business and the goals you developed. This will not only give you a stronger pictures of your business needs, but will also help them have a sense of ownership in the decision as well. This can make things quite a bit smoother down the line and shouldn’t be underestimated.
You will then combine all of the lists into one master list of “must haves”, “like to haves” and “need to haves”. Be brutal in your assessment of what is a “must have” and what is a “like to have” or “nice to have”. As painful and frustrating as this process can be, it will make things much easier in determining whether a product is a good fit for you or not.
#3 Data clean up
This is never fun, but you will be glad that you did it. Any software that you purchase should be able to import some of your data. At the very least things like Units, Contacts, and Owners.
If you have been using your current software for any length of time, there is probably quite a bit of junk in there. Duplicate entries, fields you used for things other than what they were designed for, etc.
As soon as you know you want to start shopping for new software, start on a data cleanup project. Determine what you want to bring over to the new software (it may or may not be importable, but it can always be manually entered) and what you don’t care about. Don’t fall into the trap of “I need to have everything”. If you host your current software, then you can always refer back to it if you find that there is data you need. If you are using cloud based software, export as much of your data as you can by running reports, exporting them to Excel or PDF, and saving them to a local drive to refer to later. (Make sure to save them to more than one drive in case your machine crashes. Burning the data to a cd is always a good idea.)
Then go about cleaning the data up. You may be able to pay your nephew a few bucks an hour to do this, or buy your staff pizza if they put in extra hours for data clean up. However you do it, you will never regret getting started sooner rather than later, and it probably won’t take as long as you think. A few hours each Saturday for a month will probably take care of it.
#4 What is it that you don’t currently know?
We’ve all had the experience of buying something only to find out about a different offering that, had we only known, we would have gone with. “I wouldn’t have bought the iPhone 5 if I had known the iPhone 6 was coming out in 3 months!” Right?
What is it that is just past the horizon that you are currently unaware of? Do your research and try to find out. Maybe there isn’t anything. Maybe you are totally up on all of the trends and new offerings in the marketplace and have a keen grasp on where things are headed. But make sure.
Read articles, talk to people, and attend webinars. Invest a few hours a week in your education on this. It can save you a bunch of anxiety and regret down the road if you know you are purchasing something that won’t soon be outdated. HomeAway, TripAdvisor, Tnooz, and PhocusWright are just a few of the companies that regularly report on new trends and technologies. I also write a blog post every Friday around news, trends and findings in the travel and tech industries that will help you.
No matter the size of your company, how long you have been in business, or how tech savvy you may be, give yourself plenty of time to choose and install new software. Make sure that you have taken the time to clarify exactly what you need to get where you want to be.
Next – Selling it to Your Staff