Always be selling, the old business mantra goes — as true for vacation rental owners as it is for the hardware store up the street.

While you have a finite amount of “product” to sell, not an endless supply of widgets, nothing is stagnant these days — and definitely not the vacation rental industry.

How can you keep your marketing plan evolving so you’re left tweaking, and not scrambling, as things change?

Your network needs care and feeding

I think the number one thing you can do to maintain a healthy marketing strategy is to look after the people who’ve either stayed with you in the past or wanted to.

It’s cheaper and easier to hold onto your existing fans than to attract and keep new ones. But a lot of vacation rental owners sink all their energy into attracting new guests. After all, some trips are once in a lifetime, or at least once in a decade — why would they come back?

Staying in touch isn’t just about convincing the Johnston family that they need to rent your place for a week every summer. You may get repeat visits from some guests but there’s also an opportunity to:

  • Encourage them to tell their friends about their trip. “52 percent of travelers use social media to find vacation inspiration, with 29 percent of respondents flocking to Facebook for travel planning ideas,” according to a survey by MDG Advertising.

  • Reward referrals. There are different ways to encourage referrals: a gift certificate for every booking, a discount on their next stay, even a Groupon-style deal where everyone gets a great deal if enough people buy in.

  • Stay top-of-mind. Even if you don’t incentivize referrals, delivering great customer service and staying in touch effectively will increase the odds that your vacation rental will come to mind in conversations about vacation ideas.

What are a few ways to stay in touch?

  • Individual communication is the ultimate personal touch. Sending a card for holidays, birthdays or anniversaries — especially if they stayed with you to celebrate a milestone — is a very direct way to stay in touch occasionally.

  • An email newsletter provides periodic updates. Whether you do it monthly or quarterly, a newsletter is a great way to share information about upcoming events, deals and special packages, or recent upgrades to your property.

  • A Facebook Page provides regular interaction, plus it impacts where you show up in search results. It takes effort to regularly share information that’s interesting to the people who’ve liked your Page. But it’s also a great way to get insight into your past and potential guests, and is an increasingly important factor when it comes to where your vacation rental shows up in search results.

If you consistently care for and expand your existing network, you’ll already have a solid foundation in place when you need to get last-minute bookings or start attracting reservations for next year.

Look for ways to adjust your existing efforts

There are other ways to tailor your marketing efforts to create opportunities for new business. Here are some of the ideas we’ve discussed in the past:

Find a niche market. By now, you probably know something about the type of people who are attracted to your property. Can you add amenities or highlight certain features to make your home even more appealing to this group? Learn more about targeting your marketing efforts…

Make sure it’s easy to find you. In search results and on listing sites, showing up on a map can have a positive impact on how easy it is for people to find your property. Learn more about why mapping matters…

Start consolidating your reviews. With so many ways for people to provide feedback, you can end up with reviews spread across multiple sites. However, on any one of these sites, positive reviews can be the deciding factor between getting a booking or not. Learn more about steps you can take to start bringing these reviews together…

What are some of the challenges you’ve run into in keeping your marketing efforts moving forward? Share your experience in the comments below.

photo by MakerBot Industries