For businesses and individuals who need
top-notch copy and content marketing . . .
SANDY WALKER WRITES . . . a blog
top-notch copy and content marketing . . .
SANDY WALKER WRITES . . . a blog
As I mentioned in an earlier Content Challenge post, my husband and I listed an efficiency apartment on Airbnb almost 6 years ago. As hosts, we’ve discovered both pros and cons of utilizing Airbnb or another vacation rental platform. Through our contact with hundreds of guests, we’ve also learned what Airbnb guests appreciate. Today's Content (Marketing) Challenge shares those discoveries.
What Do You Appreciate As a Guest?
In our experience, Airbnb guests, and travelers who use other sites, appreciate things that enhance their stay and meet their expectations. If you travel regularly, you’ll probably be able to mentally check off several items before you read my list.
All three of our units sit on the same property as our home. So, we usually get to chat with our guests. We place a guest book in each unit, and we carefully read all of the feedback our guests leave on the Airbnb site. After combining all that feedback, we’ve determined that these factors are what our Airbnb guests value the most:
A Clean Place
Guests expect vacation rentals to be clean. We do our own cleaning and follow a regimen. We wash all the linens, bed pillows, and throw pillows every time. We disinfect the furniture and wipe down cabinets. The bathroom gets a thorough scrubbing, too. We do our best to ensure each unit is thoroughly cleaned for every guest.
Since some people have a very acute sense of smell, we ensure each unit smells clean, too. My favorite cleanser is my favorite because it cleans well and smells good.
We’re not perfect. A few times, we’ve missed the mark. When that happened, we apologized sincerely and improved the next time.
Comments about how clean our places are top the list of what our guests appreciate.
Remarks about how friendly my husband and I are weigh in as a close second. We don’t consider ourselves particularly outgoing or gregarious, but guests seem to. They appreciate being welcomed and like the fact that we are accessible if something goes wrong, but give them their space otherwise.
Surprisingly, some people who we didn’t meet face-to-face commented that we were friendly. They based their opinions solely on our text communications with them.
A Spot That Matches the Pictures and Description
Our first venture into online vacation rentals occurred several years ago when we booked a “secluded” cabin via VRBO for two nights. The listing was new to VRBO, and so were we, so we asked a couple of questions. Was the bathroom furnished with toilet paper? Was there reliable Wi-Fi? We were assured that both were available.
When we arrived at the “secluded” cabin, we discovered that it was 20 yards from the owner’s home and shared the same driveway. The scenic woodland pictures in the listing were obviously taken from the only side of the house adjacent to a clump of trees. There was no toilet paper in the bathroom, and the Wi-Fi didn’t work at all.
We were frustrated but gracious. We swept up sawdust we found in the corners and left things neater than we found them. Our reward? The owner kept our security deposit claiming that we had arrived with a dog. (Any dog he saw was a figment of his imagination.)
We determined not to surprise our guests like we were surprised. We update pictures if we change furnishings and change our listing descriptions when they need to be updated. Our guests appreciate the fact that our listings match their expectations.
Our guests occasionally comment on some of the little amenities they find. They appreciate the shampoo, conditioner, and disposable razors we provide. The hand-made coasters, classic books, well-stocked cupboards, and the bowl filled with snacks all receive kudos. The pitcher of filtered water pleases folks with an eye to sustainability.
We grow a small “Simon and Garfunkle herb garden” with parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme, in addition to mint and lavender. We keep a flock of hens in the backyard. The yard is also home to several fruit trees. Year-round I have something growing in a small greenhouse out back. Most of the time, we have at least one working beehive.
Additionally, when we installed solar panels, we added an EV charger for any guests driving an electric car. To date, we haven’t hosted any guests who needed one, but hope springs eternal.
Many of our guests comment about one or more of these features, especially folks who value the sustainability aspects of raising chickens, keeping bees, and gardening. We regularly have guests who visit our chickens, snip a slip of rosemary or mint, ask to peek into the greenhouse, or admire the beehive activity from a distance. Guests like these features that set our location apart from other suburban settings.
In a nutshell, here’s what guests appreciate:
Today's YACHT Call-to-Action
Here's today's content marketing, no-strings-attached CTA:
You Accept the CHallenge, Too!
If you host travelers on Airbnb or a similar site, does your experience agree with ours? Would you add any items to the list?
If you don’t host travelers, How do you serve the public or other clients? Could you list the features that matter to the people you serve? Would your list be based on information they provided or on your best guesses?
Happy Monday! I welcome your feedback.
In addition to an old dog, we keep a small flock of backyard chickens. Actually, we keep only hens. Roosters are too noisy for our 3/4-acre lot with homes around it; most real roosters aren't like Foghorn Leghorn. They don't wait patiently until dawn to crow. Instead, they are apt to sound off before dawn, after dawn, and several times throughout the day. That's hard on neighbors.
Our little flock of backyard chickens is the focus for Content Challenge #3 Since this is a content challenge--and content marketing stresses creating and sharing valuable information--this content challenge shares 3 advantages of raising chickens. As usual, I'll close with a YACHT--a CTA designed to help us all.
Advantages of Raising Backyard Chickens
Before I list the advantages of raising chickens in your backyard, let me admit something obvious--not everyone will be able to do so. City and county zoning ordinances, HOA bylaws, and other government edicts often forbid the raising of any domestic livestock. Our county used to. Additionally, even if you could do so legally, you may not have the space for even the smallest coop. If you're in that category, please read on anyway. Much of the content will apply to you even if you don't have your own flock.
With that caveat out of the way, let's talk chicken.
Delicious Fresh Eggs
Fresh eggs taste better.
Remember last summer when you sliced a homegrown tomato and added a piece to your sandwich? If it was fresh-picked, you probably noted how much better it tasted than the one you purchased in the grocery store. The contrast between a fresh egg and a store-bought egg isn't as stark, but it's there. Fresh eggs taste better.
Fresh eggs are much . . . fresher. Duh, but hear me out. By law, farmers have up to 30 days to get an egg from the hen that laid it to the egg carton. Once in the carton, the egg can be sold for up to 30 days. So, if you pick up a dozen eggs with a "Use By" date just a few days away, you could be buying eggs that are almost 2 months old! That's part of the reason that fresh eggs taste better.
Laying hens are treated better in backyard flocks. I'm not trying to bash commercial egg producers. However, the industry has a reputation for keeping hens in tiny, barren cages that barely allow them to stretch their legs or wings. Most backyard flocks have at least a sizeable coop in which the birds can move around. Many--including ours--also have fenced areas outside. As a result, backyard hens live better lives.
Sustainability is a buzzword that's applied to situations both globally and individually. What's the word mean on both levels? How does keeping a small flock of hens in your backyard help you live more sustainably?
According to a United Nations committee report, global sustainability is “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." Global sustainability focuses on how nations enact laws that protect or destroy Earth's resources and how responsibly they use those resources.
In contrast, individual sustainability has a down-home flavor focused on what on individuals or families can do to minimize their effect on the environment. Raising chickens is one aspect of down-home sustainability. Other popular activities include gardening, composting and beekeeping.
Here are specific ways in which raising backyard chickens helps families live more sustainably:
Raising chickens teaches children--and adults--valuable life lessons. Here are a few of them:
If you'd like to learn more about chickens and backyard flocks, I recommend you go to the website for the Murray McMurray Hatchery and request a free catalog. (The link is at the top right of their homepage.) The catalog contains a wealth of details about chickens and backyard flocks. It is well-written and full of fun photos, too. I read ours from cover to cover every year.
Today's YACHT CTA
Here's today's content marketing, no-strings-attached CTA geared to benefit every reader:
You Accept the CHallenge, Too! If you could start your own little flock, I encourage you to at least consider doing so. Read the sources I've linked. Talk to someone who raises chickens.
If that's not a possibility, consider buying fresh eggs from a local market or someone you know. You'll pay a little more, but you'll be eating fresh eggs that taste better and are laid by a hen that isn't confined to a cage.
Watch for tomorrow's Content Challenge. Drop me a comment if you have questions.
When Honey Bees Leave Home
I thought they were happy here!
It’s early spring. You’re a backyard beekeeper concerned about sustainability and nurturing honey bees. You notice that your beehive has come through the winter safely and that the bees have begun early foraging. The next day as you walk in front of the hive, you don’t see any activity at all. No bees are visible at the opening of the hive. None are visible in the air. With a sinking feeling, you make a mental note to check again a little later in the day.
Subsequent checks throughout the day yield the same results. The apiary is apparently empty. Every bee has swarmed off. The hive has absconded.
That’s the million-dollar question. Swarming—when the existing queen and about half of the bees in the hive --leave their apiary and relocate to another home, is a common occurrence. Swarming can be good or bad, depending upon why the hive swarms and whether or not you—as the beekeeper—end up with any viable hives.
Ask a dozen beekeepers why swarming occurs, and you’ll get a dozen variations, all of which will contain a few common threads. Here’s the gist of why honeybees leave home.
This house is too small!
One of the biggest causes of swarming is a crowded hive. Swarming most often occurs in early spring, when the new batch of brood are hatching. If bees realize that their current hive is too small to accommodate all the young and everyone else, some of them start looking for a new domicile.
We’re not sure what signals the bees to do this, but at some point, they determine that swarming is going to be necessary. Worker bees prepare a group of fertilized eggs to become queen bees. Before any of these bees hatches, the queen of the existing hive says tally-ho, gathers about half of the hive with her and—literally—buzzes off.
A couple years ago, I saw a swarm flying across the sky about 15 feet above my head. It was remarkable—and noisy! Thousands of honeybees flying in a tight group are an impressive sight. If I had seen where they landed, I’d have made a beeline for them. (Yes, “making a beeline” for something is derived from worker bees flying straight back to the hive on the shortest path once they have a full load of nectar.)
Meanwhile, back at the hive, the baby queens are ready to hatch. The first one that hatches becomes the queen of the new (smaller) hive. The worker and drone bees carry on their activities in the same hive, which is now much more spacious.
Even if you can’t locate the swarm that flew off, you now have a hive with a young queen and a functioning group of workers and drones. They have a more spacious home in a location that has previously allowed them to thrive.
If you are fortunate enough to capture the swarming group and relocate it to another of your hives, you’ve gained a hive with a queen you know has been productive. That’s a classic win-win.
This house has issues.
The location just isn’t right.
Like Goldilocks, bees thrive in a situation that’s “just right.” They need abundant food supplies and a consistent source of water. Their home needs to be warm in the winter, but not too warm in the summer. They need ventilation. (If you had thousands of family members living with you, you’d need fresh air, too.) There’s a fine line, though, between too little air and too much. Excessive ventilation or breeze disturbs the brood and can make the hive hard to keep warm in the winter.
The “neighbors” are bothersome or destructive.
Small pests like hive beetles, mites, ants and other bugs sometimes infest a hive. Wasps and birds can also hinder a hive. Bees that are “worried” by these types of issues often look for a better location.
Animals that eat the bees, or try to rob the hive of honey, can also cause the hive to swarm. Raccoons and opossums enjoy an occasional snack of honeybees. Skunks are an even bigger problem. They love to eat bees and will return to the hive again and again unless they are stopped. And, of course, bears love honey and honeybees. They may attack the hive itself in their effort to get to the honey.
It’s just time to move.
Sometimes whole hives leave for no apparent reason. This is called absconding. If you’re a beekeeper, you know that having a hive abscond is very discouraging, especially if the hive has been apparently healthy. A hive that appeared to be a good source of honey for you is now completely devoid of honey producers. There is no queen left to repopulate the apiary; you’ll have to start this hive fresh.
The double discouragement occurs when you open the hive to gather clues about why the hive left, but can’t find any obvious reason. The hive isn’t littered with dead bees. There aren’t signs of parasites. Some comb is filled with honey. Other honeycomb obviously held brood.
At this point, you have a couple of options. You can buy bees for the hive. Many companies that sell beekeeping supplies also sell live bees. A local firm we’ve used is The Carolina Honey Bee Company, based in Travelers Rest, SC. Buying bees is generally a quick solution, but it’s expensive.
The other option is to capture a swarm. Some beekeepers specialize in capturing hives, and have developed a system for luring swarming bees from their hives and others’ hives. Others, like my husband and me, occasionally capture swarms when the opportunity presents itself.
We’ve captured 2 hives so far. One ensconced itself among the honeysuckle growing in the chain-link fence in our backyard. We heard it before we saw it. (Did I mention that swarming bees are noisy?) Extracting that swarm was tricky. My husband worked carefully. I stood back and took pictures.
We learned about the 2nd one from the parents of our daughter-in-law. We drove a few miles to extract this swarm from some overgrown shrubbery. This swarm was about 10 feet from the ground, and required some delicate ladder work.
After being in our hive for almost 2 years, this colony just absconded. They left behind honey-filled comb, but no bees. We’ve harvested some honey and left some in the hive. So, now we’re looking for a swarm that can repopulate the top-bar hive that’s sitting empty.
We didn't start keeping bees as a first step toward urban homesteading or down-home sustainability. We started because our oldest son, Aaron, read that eating local honey was good for people prone to springtime allergies. He was one of those people, and wanted to test the theory with his own honey. (Full disclosure: He was interested in beekeeping before then. The allergy idea was his catalyst.) He read books about beekeeping, then purchased an active hive from a retiring beekeeper.
The next spring he got a lovely batch of delicious honey and began adding hives. After having some issues with Langstroth hives (the stacked-box hives most commonly seen in this country), and losing a couple of hives during the winter, Aaron built a horizontal top-bar hive. A top-bar hive looks like a covered manger on stilts. It's a little easier to work with and easier to reach since it sits up off the ground. (The photo at the top shows a top-bar hive.)
Shortly after that, Aaron married and moved to Scotland. We inherited his hives and became beekeepers. I can't say that we've been particularly successful as beekeepers. We've harvested more beeswax that we have honey. We learned the hard way that Roundup kills honeybees. We lost two more hives during the winter, and had a couple of hives swarm and move on. That's the bad news.
There is good news. We have learned much about beekeeping and the importance of helping bees survive in an increasingly difficult environment that includes widespread use of pesticides and potentially-harmful herbicides. As growers of fruit trees, we now understand the delicate balance between keeping the blossoms safe for bees to pollinate, and keeping pests out of the fruit. We're learning the value of bee-friendly pesticides. After a time of seeing very few pollinators in our garden, we now have an abundance of them.
Beekeeping has also provided some really interesting stories. Twice my husband has successfully captured someone else's hives that had swarmed. The first one settled among the honeysuckle entwined in the chain-link fence at the back of our property. Michael donned protective gear and began to methodically and carefully extract chunks of bee-encrusted honeysuckle vines. He worked while I stood by snapping pictures and urging him to be careful. Things got intense when he said, "Oh, blast. There's a bee inside my pant leg!" He calmly continued snipping bee-laden vines. The bee apparently decided she'd taken a wrong turn, turned around, and exited the way she had come!
The biggest benefit of beekeeping has been the satisfaction of knowing that we're helping--in a very small way--to stem the tide of drastically-declining numbers of bees in this country. In the process, we have a well-pollinated garden and the joy of watching, and learning about, these fascinating creatures. Occasionally, we also get to taste some of their honey. Beekeeping has been the important first step for us along the road to down-home sustainability.
I'm Sandy . . .
I write crisp, accurate, engaging copy and content marketing for B2B and B2C clients. Calling on degrees in marketing and accounting combined with over 20 years of teaching experience, I write for clients that represent industries as diverse as SaaS, woodcarving tools, private education, life transitions, accounting advisory services, and residential and commercial real estate.