In my early Twenties, I was immersed in family life with four sons aged under 4 years old… I dreamed of an escape to a peaceful, comfortable retreat, where I could stay in my pjs all day and drink copious amounts of tea. I could only find hotels – unsuitable, B&Bs – too restrictive with their timetables or Retreats – far too expensive. I decided that when I was able I would create a guest house for primarily women where they could relax, restore and rejuvenate.
In 2013 my plans came to fruition after working with my Business Coach Nami Haghighi. With his help and support I manage to overcome the challenges I had in getting started, like timing and startup capital and before I knew it I was in France looking for suitable properties. I found a fabulous place in the middle of a small town in South West France and a kind friend to back me financially. Limoux is a smallish town with a central Square surrounded by cafés and restaurants, on a good rail link and with the river Aude running through it. Perfect! I had decided (or my finances had decided for me) to rent rather than buy a property. I had a carefully detailed business plan with expenses for two years and then further estimated projections for the next three. I researched web designers carefully as this was effectively my “shop window”, and I was recommended, by a fellow networker, a woman who had her own business. I spent a decent percentage of my budget on the website and it was always complimented and well received. I bought decent bedding and luxurious towels, and lots and lots of English Tea, handed in my notice and said my goodbyes to family and friends and headed off to the South of France in a second hand Citroen filled to the brim.
I advertised in The Lady magazine, Airbnb (and in the second year Booking.com) and the bookings started coming in almost immediately. I love social media so took advantage of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. One of the most important things I learned was to nurture the business as if it were living. I constantly advertised and talked about La Maison Blanche, I networked in the UK and in France where I joined in local French and ex pat functions. I was passionate about my project and really believed it had a place.
My guests were, without fail, fabulous. My initial concept of “Women Only” had to become a little more flexible but this is an important lesson, ideas are organic and need to be constantly reviewed and changed. So I welcomed couples and groups of friends too. Although if I did have single women travellers booked in, the whole place remained like that to give the girls the space and peace they needed. I had older ladies arrive who had never travelled alone before but because of bereavement or divorce were in an unimagined position but they left me with a confidence and renewed vigour that pulled at my heart strings. I had a group of female NHS practitioners who had great plans for wild nights out, but they barely budged from the sofas, talking and sharing their stories. I cooked for them and discreetly left them to it. I had guests who were attending local weddings, dressing up and parading about in their finery, and then having a quiet post wedding day, nursing headaches helped with bacon & egg baguettes and post-mortems on late night behaviour. Without fail my guests became friends and my Trip Advisor ratings were excellent. I quite quickly became the 5th best rated hotel out of 15 well established businesses.
So why have I given it up? The truth is I missed my friends and family too much. I had completely underestimated in all my detailed planning how homesick I would be. I know that sounds childish but it’s the raw truth. But I don’t for one second regret my adventure. I have had the best two years and met incredible people, and offered a service in which I still believe passionately believe. If I could start the whole idea up again in the UK I would but as part of a team. I’m a big believer in team play and I truly think the basic idea of having a “chill out house” for girls works as a concept, whether it works for worn out mothers I’m not sure. These angels put themselves last generally, and can’t find the money in the household budget when there are numerous other expenses and this may always be the case. It’s a shame because a few days away with a bit of cosseting does everyone good.
But I’m returning to the UK with a spring in my step. I had a concept and made it work, and it was successful. I’ll use the numerous skills gained on my next project. I’ve learned the inestimable value of networking and how great customer service and a ready smile (and occasional hug) makes people feel valued and cherished. Isn’t that what we all want? I would also recommend working with an experienced Coach to help you realise your dream, it can help accelerate the process and give you the confidence to take action and move forward faster and find solutions to what may be holding you back.
I wish you all well with your businesses, put your customers first, always. And if you can’t, it’s time for a new path. Working with Nami helped me with my thought processes, he is a calm, thoughtful and learned man which allowed me to voice my thoughts without fear of sounding unprofessional or unrealistic in my dreams. His business advice is given in a such a way that you feel you can achieve reaching the moon…. And you can!