Vacation rental management companies almost always start with humble beginnings and big visions for a better future. Some of us begin as “rent by owners” who struggle to find a great management company, so we start our own. Others come from the real estate industry and see an opportunity to add a business that provides a more predictable income. Many are guests who simply love the concept so much they decide to jump into the game. Others acquire an existing company to jump-start the process. More recently, there are even franchises to buy into.
Whatever the path, becoming a vacation rental manager starts with a vision for a business that is driven by a passion for this industry and a desire to produce a better life for the owner.
Then reality sets in: This thing is hard.
In fact, after starting a multitude of businesses and studying many other industries over the past 30 years, I assess this to be one of the most challenging small businesses there is. You must do so many things well to produce the result of a great stay for your guest while also serving as an excellent property manager for the homeowner. From growing the inventory of properties to marketing, reservations, guest services, owner relations, housekeeping, maintenance, and owner relations . . . the list goes on.
In the early stages, this is exciting, and your passion carries you. The challenges invigorate you, and you have the energy for the many problems you must solve.
Then the inevitable happens.
This company you started to provide a better life for you and your family starts to become a burden. While you have grown your team and they help you so much, teamwork introduces yet another challenge in the form of a need for leadership and accountability. There simply isn’t enough time in the day to accomplish it all.
You start to burn out.
You realize the business you wanted to own now owns you. The burnout you feel is affecting the rest of the team you built, which causes turnover. Any time someone mentions “work–life balance” you simply cringe. You are trying to scale the business with the thought, “If I just get to X number of properties, things will get better.”
The brand you are building will take a hit. Your passion for this business may even start to wane. You question whether you should have entered the field in the first place. You may even decide it’s not for you and take an early exit. Or maybe you stay with it and work yourself into a tough spot—one where life seems all about feeding the company you started, only to find out it’s not what you thought it would be.
After 25 years in this industry, I have not only experienced this myself, but I have also seen it play out time and time again.
So what’s the answer?
Many decide it’s just too much and sell the company. While that can quickly alleviate the pain, it’s probably not going to produce the most optimal outcome because the business is not in the best condition for an exit.
Others seem to have figured it out. They seem to have it all together and are growing companies that they love to own. These companies are thriving brands with teams that love what they do and guests and owners who are loyal to the brand.
In studying hundreds, if not thousands, of management companies over the years, I can tell you I see a common thread in the companies that make it beyond this challenging point.
Enter “The Integrator.”
In their book, Rocket Fuel, Gino Wickman and Mark C. Winters describe the powerful relationship between the “Visionary” and the “Integrator.”
The founder is the Visionary, and the Integrator works to gain traction by harmoniously integrating the leadership team.
Integrators run the day-to-day. They excel at leadership, management, and holding people accountable. They integrate the business’s essential functions: sales and marketing, operations, and finance. Integrators manage and execute projects with a steady force, cadence, and consistent effort. They clarify and align the team’s goals, values, and priorities to carry out the business plan. They filter the Visionary’s ideas to remove obstacles for the leadership team.
This sounds simple enough. However, the problem is that an Integrator is not always easy to find in the business world. In the vacation rental industry, the dearth is acute. In many cases, the Integrator in a VRM is the general manager (GM). Some use the title COO or vice president. There currently isn’t a college degree or industry-specific education to encourage talent to look at this business as a great opportunity to apply their abilities. So many of the founders of VRMs are in both seats. They attempt to play the role as a hybrid of the Visionary and Integrator, and this rarely succeeds.
At my company (Better Talent) where we source talent for the VR industry en masse, one of the most common roles we get asked to source is the GM. I am always appreciative when I get to speak to a Visionary who is self-aware enough to realize they need an Integrator. It is common to think this role can be filled for a nominal amount. The reality is it rarely can.
The Integrator can make the difference between the Visionary achieving their vision or not, and it takes an investment in the right person to make it work. This is also something that takes time. Just putting a job ad up on Indeed will get you plenty of résumés, but it is not likely to garner the perfect candidate. Then once you find the right one, it takes an investment of time to get them fully onboarded into the Integrator role.
That said, it’s worth it. In fact, the greatest companies in this industry have achieved this.
The “Visionary” owner spent the time to identify the yin to their yang: their “Integrator.” They continue to take the time to cultivate their relationship, and they compensate them appropriately. They set the Vision, and the Integrator makes it happen.
Yes, this requires a substantial investment of time and resources, but the return on investment is exponential.
The real question is—as you experience burnout, the hamster wheel, the turnover, and more—can you afford not to identify and invest in an Integrator?
Personally, I will never run another company without one.
As a Visionary, not only will this make a tremendous difference in your day-to-day operations and bottom line, it will also transform your experience as a business owner and as a professional who is now free to work in your zone of genius.
Maybe until now, you have thought that you cannot afford to hire an Integrator, but after outlining the critical relationship, I will leave you with this:
How can you afford not to?
Coming Soon: GM Bootcamp for Vacation Rental Management Companies.
The role of GM/COO is quickly becoming the most important role in a vacation rental managment company. However, there is very little training or community specifically for this role. Consequently, VRM Intel is putting together a high-level GM bootcamp which brings industry veterans together with current GMs and COOs and people who would like to build a career as a GM in a full-service vacation rental mangement company.
Are you interested in attending or sending someone to an VRM-specific GM Bootcamp? Click here.