The Hidden Agenda of Interning at Pablow

Introduction

“The CEO of the company was telling me about the things he enjoyed doing when he was my age.” Ask yourself, how many interns are able to say they had the opportunity of working alongside their CEO every day? It would be great to say a large number of interns have that opportunity, but realistically speaking that is not the case. When I was in the interview process for an internship at Pablow Inc. I did some research to get an overview and was not too impressed. I was not impressed because I realized they were a small startup founded in 2015 that had just 3 employees and when googling “Pablow”, Miley Cyrus kept appearing as the first link. My mindset changed completely once I started the internship.

 

Refurbishing Corporate Culture

This internship was full time summer internship; however, I did not have to be in the office by 8 a.m. or 9 a.m. (even though I was, because I’m a morning person). The culture here at Pablow allows you to manage yourself as long as job duties were done in the required time period. Imagine being told you get to manage yourself, I tried my best to respect that privilege and never show up as if I just rolled out of bed. We were allowed play music and there was always a bit of fun involved throughout the week. It was nice being able to have a laid-back environment, but more than anything it was a learning experience for me. When you treat people right and provide a unique working environment, you’ll find that they enjoy going to work. Throughout the period of my internship there was not one day where I didn’t want to go to work, I was ready to see what was in store for the day. Along with these fun perks it also led me to understanding how I can be a leader by respecting the self-management privilege I was given.

 

Be a Leader

I was fortunate to have worked on projects for Pablow where I was able to lead them in the way that I thought was best. One of the things I remember was when Steve, CEO of Pablow said, “Whoever suggests something, make sure you’re the one to lead.” It’s difficult to learn when you are being micro managed or being help step by step. Look at it as a child, if you try to keep them from getting hurt every moment, they will never learn. When Dylan, VP of sales and marketing, assigned my projects for the summer I felt overwhelmed. I was two days into my internship and already had been assigned projects that would last me the whole summer. There were five projects assigned, and I had complete control from beginning to end. I set timelines, determined the approach and led team meetings to complete the projects. This taught me how I should not fear to take initiative and set a standard for others to follow.

There are many traits and characteristics that describe a leader. Leaders are able to find a balance in certain situations, listen to others, and ask questions. “He who asks a question is a fool for five minutes, he who does not ask a question remains a fool forever.” I tried not to ask odd questions for the most part, but because I have little to zero knowledge about the travel industry there were a lot of questions that I had to ask my team members. Of course, to them it was probably old news, but they were very helpful and motivated me to learn more. You can never stop learning, no matter what the subject is. This led me to learning tools that I can use in the future.

 

Figuring out the tools

There are many software tools that businesses utilize that students don’t have the opportunity to learn since everything you need to know for your career apparently is in a textbook. In this internship, I was able learn and eventually use software tools that I had no experience with for business purposes. This was a fun learning experience seeing how a business can use tools such as Survey Monkey, MailChimp, Canva, and Asana. The best part of all this is that this business is a start-up, you can make it what you want it to be. These projects are an ongoing process, which I believe is great because you can see the improvement. For example, I was developing a customer satisfaction survey, which I predicted I would have done in two days or so. I was wrong, there’s more to it than just listing a couple questions on a survey. I had to look at it from two different viewpoints; the goal was to develop a survey efficient for the customer and valuable for Pablow. It took some time and toying around to understand these different software tools, but there was always help from team members if needed. When I first arrived at Pablow, Dylan made it clear that at Pablow things would be transparent. This provided me with a sense of comfort knowing that there would be honesty, which is great to have when it comes to working with others.

 

Conclusion

Growing up there were movies or television series where interns were seen taking lunch orders, filing documents, or cleaning. Fortunately, it seems like that stigma has been buried (at least with Pablow) and interns are learning and being compensated. I can honestly state that not once did I have to go get coffee for Steve, and I spent my time learning and contributing to Pablow. I am very fortunate to have had the great opportunity of working alongside talented individuals such as Steve, Dylan, Jay and Michael. The freedom I was given allowed me to take initiative and determine how valuable I can be as an individual. I was fortunate to have obtained such a great, motivating and fun learning experience. The beginning was a bit overwhelming, but with time, patience, and confidence it all ended just fine with many successful completed projects. I’m happy and fortunate to say I interned at a startup company rather than a corporate firm. This is an experience I would not trade for anything else and I hope to keep supporting the startup community in any way possible.

How to Increase Vacation Rental Bookings: Creating A Sense of Urgency

This is the third and final part of a series focusing on strategies and tactics that can help vacation rental managers and hosts increase their conversion rate among guests who are non-committal, comparing properties or “just browsing”. Each part of the series will introduce a new strategy or tactic and show you how it could play out for a vacation rental property manager in a simplified scenario. If you have missed part one (“Following Questions with Questions”) or part two (“The Expect to Book Mentality”), it is recommended that you check those out.

 

IN THEORY

Creating a sense of urgency starts with the qualifying questions that were covered in the first part of this series. Questions that will help property managers determine the budget, time, interest and need of a potential guest, can also help urge the guest to take action.

If property managers propose open-ended questions, guests will then have to explain why they are qualified to stay at the property, which in turn will increase the guest’s desire to book. The most powerful question to pose asks the potential guest to explain why they desire or even need to stay at a particular property.

Other commonly used tactics that can help create a sense of urgency include scarcity, time restraints, fear of missing out, responsiveness appeal, pulling away and making it difficult to book.

Scarcity and time restraints work because they put the potential guest in a difficult situation that often results in a decision to make a reservation. The two tactics can be particularly effective when combined together, or adjacent to a way that they can pull out of the reservation if they change their mind.

Property managers that can effectively target a potential guest’s fear of missing out (FOMO) are also incredibly effective at converting on-the-fence guests. The final push to book could alternatively come from a reward for making a decision, which could be anything from a giveaway during their stay to a small discount if they book directly and immediately.

The riskiest and potentially most effective tactics work against the natural instincts of most hospitality industry professionals. The first is to get an offer in front of a guest, but before they accept pulling the offer away from them, appealing to their desire to have something they can’t get. The other option is to make it more difficult to book than usual, for example with an application fee or a mandatory phone screening, which makes guests feel as if they earned the booking rather than simply receiving the booking.

 

IN PRACTICE

Scarcity and Time Restraint: “With the summer being our busiest season and new bookings coming in for our properties every few hours, I can only hold this property for a day without a reservation. Would you like to reserve it now so I can ensure that you will be able to stay there when you visit us later this year?”

Fear of Missing Out: “We are so excited for the upcoming music festival, especially with the awesome headliner. I heard they are amazing! Would you like to book our property now so we can make sure you have a comfortable place to stay when you arrive?”

Rewarding a Decision: “If you book today we can throw in a welcome basket with some of your favorite beverages. What types of beverages do you prefer?”

Pulling Away: “Thanks for your interest, but I’m not sure that our properties are the right fit for your needs. We specialize in luxury properties in high-traffic locations, which sound like it might not be right for your group.”

Be sure to check out part one and two of this series to determine potential strategies and tactics that you can use to improve the occupancy of your vacation properties and bottom-line profitability.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dylan DeClerck is the VP of sales and marketing at Pablow, a travel insurance technology provider and broker that works with vacation rental property managers to offer vacation rental travel insurance to their guests hassle-free and in a matter of minutes. The company is based in Iowa and provides travel insurance to more than 25,000 vacation rental properties in the United States. Dylan is also the executive director of a non-profit that teaches athletics to at-risk youth.

How to Increase Vacation Rental Bookings: The “Expect to Book” Mentality

This is the second part of a three part series focusing on strategies and tactics that can help vacation rental managers and hosts increase their conversion rate among guests who are non-committal, comparing properties or “just browsing”. Each part of the series will introduce a new strategy or tactic and show you how it could play out for a vacation rental property manager in a simplified scenario. If you have missed part one (“Following Up Questions with Questions”), it is recommended, though not required, that you give it a read.

 

IN THEORY

Inbound inquiries in the vacation rental industry come at varying levels of decisiveness. It’s easy for property managers to book the reservation for guests who have already made up their mind, but it’s often difficult to convince those that have yet to decide to book. While a property manager needs to approach each of the preceding situations differently, their mindset should be the same regardless. They should “expect to book”!

When property managers expect the potential guest will book their vacation with them it’s apparent in their guest communications. Suddenly the wording is more helpful, positive and confident instead of pushy or uncertain, which makes a huge difference for guests.

Obviously there will be some potential guests who decide to travel elsewhere or stay with another local accommodation, but the best property managers don’t let this get to them or affect their mentality that the next potential guest will book with them.

 

IN PRACTICE

Poor Wording: “Hello, I remember a couple of weeks ago we spoke about your family trip to Utah in July and I was wondering if you and your partner had made a decision about what kind of accommodation you would be staying in. By the off chance you haven’t made a decision yet, we would appreciate it if you would take a look at our property.”

Improved Wording: “Hello, it’s good to speak with you again! Our team is busy gearing up for a busy summer season and we are so excited to be opening up our property to so many families. I know that you said you were looking for a week in mid-July and I wanted to get your final selection of a date before we’re completely booked. Do you have an exact date that will work best for your family?”

To put this mentality into practice for your vacation rental or property management company start by writing down five positively framed sentences that you can use in your guest communications. This blog post was inspired by and based off of Bill Guertin’s article “The Secret, Subtle Language of Winning Sales Calls”.

Also be sure to check out part one and three (which was previewed in this blog post) of this series to determine potential strategies and tactics that you can use to build around the “expect to book” mentality.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dylan DeClerck is the VP of sales and marketing at Pablow, a travel insurance technology provider and broker that works with vacation rental property managers to offer vacation rental travel insurance to their guests hassle-free and in a matter of minutes. The company is based in Iowa and provides travel insurance to more than 25,000 vacation rental properties in the United States. Dylan is also the executive director of a non-profit that teaches athletics to at-risk youth.

How to Increase Vacation Rental Bookings: Following Questions with Questions

This is the first part of a three part series focusing on strategies and tactics that can help vacation rental managers and hosts increase their conversion rate among guests who are non-committal, comparing properties or “just browsing”. Each part of the series will introduce a new strategy or tactic and show you how it could play out for a vacation rental property manager in a simplified scenario.

 

IN THEORY

Whether a potential guest reaches out via email, website message or phone call it’s extremely important that the reservationist is fully prepared to quickly answer their questions about the vacation rental property. Every hour an inquiry goes unanswered the chances the guest will book the property decrease! Because of this property managers should monitor their messages, know potential questions guests might ask, and save responses in a FAQ document to improve future response times.

In addition, while answering the guest’s questions it’s important that the reservationist follows up with their own open-ended questions to determine if the guest is really worth their time. Potential guests are qualified when they have the right budget in mind, are truly interested in the vacation rental or area, and are in need of an accommodation similar to what is offered. Additionally it’s good to ask a few questions about the potential guest and their upcoming trip as a way to build rapport.

If the potential guest is truly on the fence there will be a point where they stop responding to emails or they say something on the phone that indicates they are not ready to commit. At this conjuncture it’s the company’s job to listen to their concern or objection, clarify their point to ensure understanding, empathize with their concern, give a genuine response and then ask if the response was appropriate.

 

IN PRACTICE

Guest: “Hello, I had a chance to check out your property online and would like to determine if I could rent out just a portion of the space for a three-day weekend?”

Manager: “Hello Guest, thanks for reaching out! Right now we only allow guests to rent out the whole property as the room units are all connected to the main living space. Is there a reason that you might only need a portion of the space for your trip?”

Guest: “I’m traveling to the area for work with another colleague, so we only really need two rooms.”

Manager: “I see the dates you’re traveling. Do you plan to attend the local film association conference in just a few weeks? My partner and I love to watch independent films and thought of attending ourselves!”

Guest: “Yes it is! Glad to hear that you’re also interested in independent films. I’ll be releasing my first feature film at the festival. Unfortunately I think I’ll keep looking for another place in the area given your accommodation just seems too big for us.”

Manager: “So you’re saying your primary concerns are the size and comparative cost of the accommodation?”

Guest: “Yes.”

Manager: “I understand that because we can host larger groups the cost of our property seems a bit more than other smaller accommodations, however because of our location right across from the festival you’ll save money on transportation and we can lower the cleaning fee if you will only be staying in two of the three private rooms. Does that sound fair?”

Be sure to check out part two and three of this series to determine potential strategies and tactics that can help you close a sale similar to the one above and book more guests.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dylan DeClerck is the VP of sales and marketing at Pablow, a travel insurance technology provider and broker that works with vacation rental property managers to offer vacation rental travel insurance to their guests hassle-free and in a matter of minutes. The company is based in Iowa and provides travel insurance to more than 25,000 vacation rental properties in the United States. Dylan is also the executive director of a non-profit that teaches athletics to at-risk youth.

The Best Time to Visit all 50 States

 

Pablow Infographic

 

*In the event that a state had more than one best time of year to visit, I chose to map the month that best fit with surrounding state patterns. To read more you can find the article we referenced for this data here. *

Have you ever wondered where else your potential guests are looking for vacation properties besides your area? We set out to determine the best time for tourists to book a vacation rental accommodation in every state.

To determine the best time of year for tourism in each state we considered multiple factors including temperature, number of tourists and popular seasonal destinations as we collaborated with property managers across the nation. With all of this information we produced a color-coded map, indicating the best month out of the year to visit each state.

Notice the lack of popularity among winter months! Besides Nevada, Colorado and Louisiana the winter months are not well represented on our map. In Nevada, the holiday season is popular, but the best time to visit is actually as the holiday crowds begin dwindling. Colorado is popular during winter months because of its booming ski/snowboard industry. Louisiana’s peak month is when the streets are packed during Mardi Gras celebrations every February.

September is the best time of year for tourism in 13 states, making it the most popular month for travelers. This trend is largely borne from the mild weather and popularity of sports during that time of year. Not only is the temperature not as hot as the summer months, but also the weather hasn’t yet made the full transition to fall making it the perfect time to enjoy a football or baseball game.

The best time to visit most Midwestern states (North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio) is either immediately before or after July. With extremely hot and humid summers in comparison to the rest of the year, it makes sense that tourism falls as the heat rises.

Take Minnesota for example, while the temperature rarely surpasses 95°, the state’s dew point during the hottest days of summer causes sticky, thick air that prevents people from enjoying the outdoors. At its highest, Minnesota’s summer dew point reaches 80% making 90° feel like 110°. As a native Minnesotan, I would have to pick August as our best month for tourism. With summer temperatures tapering, it’s perfect weather to enjoy a day out on the boat or a long summer night sitting by the bonfire.

Do you agree with what we determined was the best month to visit your state? Tell us what you think!

 

Building a Brand on a Budget: Industry Trade Shows

After a couple of days in Orlando, Florida at the Florida Vacation Rental Management Association’s annual conference, I’ve realized that it can be difficult for start-up companies with tight budgets to exhibit at trade shows and conferences. There’s just so much that you can mess up!

When our company first started going to conferences we made some rookie mistakes and learned some important lessons that I’d like to pass along to other start-up companies. Our tips and tricks may not be applicable across all industries, but they will help you build a brand on a budget.

Why Do Trade Shows?

Start-ups often attend trade shows, and in the process give away valuable development time and money that they could use improving their product, creating new products or adding value to their company in a multitude of other ways. So why even attend trade shows and conferences?

First of all, exhibiting at trade shows gives you the best possible opportunity to get in front of many of your potential customers in just a few hours, which is in incredibly valuable for your sales person or team. Additionally, it gives you access to many vendors who attend the show and could provide value to your company as a supplier or partner.

Outside of the personal connections made at these events, we have found it particularly beneficial when it comes to keeping an eye on industry trends and problems that our customers face.

Design it Like Martha Stewart

The exhibition booth is your most valuable investment as an exhibitor and the easiest to get wrong. Like any other investment you’ll want to spend some time planning what your exhibition booth will look like, what materials you’ll need, how people will interact with your representatives and how your materials will get to the trade show.

IMG_2962

There are a couple of guidelines to follow when designing your booth’s layout. First of all, you’ll want to think of a draw, something that will engage the conference attendees and bring them to your booth. Let me be clear: free promotional TRASH is NOT a draw. Your draw will want to be something unique that any attendee can do or participate in, there’s a chance to win something, allows people to have some fun and keeps them in one spot long enough for you to talk to them about your company or even better show them your product. Once you’ve figured out the draw you’ll then want to make sure that you pull your chairs off to the side (it looks bad if you sit and takes up a lot of room) and create enough room to stand with multiple attendees in your booth.

Now that you’ve come up with your draw you’ll want to begin gathering the materials you need. If you plan on doing more than one conference, then avoid renting anything from the conference provider. It is the biggest rip off! Last year we rented a few high-top tables from the conference provider for about $500, and to avoid that cost this year, we bought plastic stands to go on top of the table they provide all exhibitors for $50.

compu.png

Finally, you’ll want to figure out how your materials are going to make it to the conference. Your best options are to either ship it through FedEx to another FedEx store nearby your destination, which is relatively cheap and allows you to avoid the outrageous handling costs the trade show will charge you, or to pack it all up and bring it in checked baggage on your plane. From personal experience I can say that checked baggage is cheaper for heavier materials, but for lighter packages it’s often easier and cheaper just to ship everything.

Attacking Attendees

As an exhibitor you only have a few minutes of the attendees time to convey what you do and how you’re going to provide value to their business. Besides having a well-crafted elevator pitch that works within the flow of your booth you’ll want to have an attack strategy for each attendee.

IMG_3496.JPG

For those attendees that are a great fit for your product and would be worth your time you’ll want to walk them through your draw, continue the conversation, show them how you can create value and leave with some sort of commitment from them (e.g. “I would be interested in doing this”, “You can follow up with me next week”, “I will share this with our partners”). For those that don’t fit what you want in a customer you’ll want to share your pitch and move on, they are not worth your time if there is no potential partnership or opportunity to work together.

When your conversations go well with potential customers be sure to make some notes about their company and what you spoke about so you can properly follow up with them soon. A successful show means that you’ll have a list of potential customers divided into warm leads and hot leads that you’ll be able to follow up with in the next two weeks after the conference. Anything later is impossible to convert!

Eyes on the Prize

When done strategically and with effort an industry trade show or conference can be very fruitful for startups that are trying to get in front of as many potential customers as possible. These tips are just the starting point for those who are interested in doing trade shows correctly. If you have any additional questions or simply would like to learn from our experience please reach out and let us know how we can provide advice!

Screen Shot 2017-05-18 at 12.20.21 PM

Bootstrapping Pablow

With five years of experience working for small businesses and non-profits I’ve learned that budget constraints are difficult to deal with. To navigate these constraints, I’ve learned how to think with a bootstrap mentality.

This blog will explore the four main ways that Pablow bootstraps our startup and provide ideas of how you can bootstrap your own small business or non-profit.

SOFTWARE

Although bootstrapping software is not always a possibility (i.e. everyone must purchase the Microsoft Office product suite), it is an extremely useful strategy in software categories with plenty of competitors and similar features.

For example, instead of using SalesForce for our customer relationship management (CRM) software, we use Zoho and HubSpot for free. Zoho in particular is an effective tool that allows our small sales team to set up contacts, take notes and set reminders.

software.png

Zoho is a great CRM option for companies on a shoe string budget

Our development team requires a software development platform to collaborate on the projects they are working on, and instead of paying for a platform we’ve set up free accounts with GitHub. GitHub gives our team the ability to point out issues, assign team members to projects and chat about solutions to our problems.

INTERNS AND CONTRACTORS

Small businesses often rely upon interns to complete projects that are outside the organization’s current capacity and resources. At Pablow we take this a step further to utilize interns not only in positions that are outside our capacity, but also will bring significant value to the business. It’s a win-win in doing so, because we receive work that will ultimately contribute to the bottom line and interns receive valuable work assignments.

Additionally, as a technology startup our company qualifies for an Iowa Economic Development grant that allows us to split the hourly wage of our interns with the state of Iowa. This grant ensures that we are receiving quality intern help, without paying more than minimum wage.

The important projects that won’t be covered by our permanent team or interns are handed off to contractors, who have helped us with our product launch, cold email campaign, development and marketing content among other tasks.

TRADESHOW

Tradeshows are an important part of the vacation rental and insurance industries, but they’re often incredibly expensive! To avoid breaking the bank we’ve developed a few creative solutions and one very important rule to spend less money.

Rule #1: Instead of renting at a tradeshow, buy the materials you need ahead of time. This will require some additional work and planning, but figuring out what you do and do not need before the tradeshow will save you thousands as an exhibitor.

There are plenty of cheap ways that you can have a fun and engaging booth at a tradeshow. Why pay $1,000 for a fire breather when you can purchase a mini-golf putting green for $20?

At our most recent tradeshow we wanted to set up computers on a high table so that people could create their own travel insurance website without having to sit down. Instead of renting the expensive tables for just a few days we bought two computer stands on Amazon for $40 that will work even better for our booth.

compu.png

The tables I wanted to purchase were priced much too high for the conference, so I decided to improvise with a little help from Amazon

PROFESSIONAL EVENTS

One perk of taking classes for my MBA while working full-time is my student status. Besides receiving discounts at baseball games and the movie theater, purchasing student tickets for professional events and conferences saves my company thousands each year.

regpic.png

Student tickets for those in MBA programs or taking classes are often unbelievably cheap

At one recent conference I was able to sign up for a $40 student ticket (regularly priced $495) and participate in all of the same events as those who had paid full price. I essentially paid for my food costs for the two days and everything else was covered!

CONCLUSION

Bootstrapping is an incredibly useful strategy to save money and cut costs, but it’s a practiced mentality. I challenge you to start bootstrapping by thinking about five different ways you can cut costs in your organization without materially altering the product or service you deliver to customers. I promise it’s possible!