John Jameson is the owner of MayanRental, a brokerage that helps owners of timeshares at the Mayan resorts in Mexico rent out their weeks. He claims he and his wife Linda Jameson make the perfect pair when it comes to managing the business, “I’m the problem-solver and the person who figures things out. But if I didn’t have Linda to do the detailed things like the bookings and fixing all my mistakes, we’d be doomed!”
Website traffic is a major source of new customers for the MayanRental business. Jameson recently shared the challenges he’s faced and the successes he’s scored while building the company’s online presence.
How did you get started with your business?
We got started with this by making a mistake: We bought a timeshare. We were told how easy it was to rent it. After paying people to list it and all that, we found out that it’s actually not easy to rent it. I made a cheesy website to rent my week, and it worked.
Who was your first customer?
A lady out in California saw my website and said, “Hey, can you rent my timeshare?” I said, “I don’t know.” I listed hers, and from there we ended up renting about three weeks the first year. It wasn’t intended to be a business, but we realized it was going to keep getting bigger. Now, we have about 150 owners we rent for.
How did you fund your business in the beginning? Have you taken on any additional funding since?
In this business, the overhead is amazingly low, so we have not had to pursue any financing.
What’s the biggest mistake you made in the first year?
The thing that leaps to my mind is choosing www.funsunmexico.com as a URL. It was just a terrible idea. I chose it at random; it seemed like the thing to do at the time. But then, as I learned about search engines, I realized that was really a poor choice. Since Google likes age on domains and it’s been so established, I’ve never had the courage to change it.
What’s the smartest thing you did in the first year?
Even though we are really a mom and pop shop, I learned early on to find the people who are niche experts with special skill sets. I learned that my job as the business owner is to figure out exactly what we need and then to find somebody who can do that. That’s the reason we’ve been so successful.
Very quickly, I found a web designer who could do ten times what I could do as a web designer. And I found an Internet hosting guy who could figure out all of those problems that come up when you need a website to be high quality.
Running the Business
How did you learn to run your business?
In my “day job,” I am a faculty member at a university. I have virtually no business education or experience. I had to start from scratch. Basically, I problem-solved as I went. I researched a lot online and learned through trial and error.
The most important thing I did was that I spent about a year researching how to become visible on search engines through organic search. That is the thing that made the business succeed. A lot of what you read about search engines is not true. You have to learn how to experiment and figure out what works and what doesn’t work.
As the business grew, I had to learn how to automate a lot of what we do through database. I started with Microsoft Access and learned how to automate the functions of our business on there. Then, eventually, it migrated to the Internet once I learned how to outsource some of the developmental things like database development.
What’s the most rewarding thing about running your own business?
Part of it is the Y chromosome need to problem-solve. In this business, the rules and parameters for success change all the time. There’s always some sort of a challenge or a problem to be solved. I find it really rewarding to figure it out and to stay high in the search engines while keeping the resort happy!
Another rewarding thing is our ability to be generous to people with need. We are supporting a ministry down in Puerto Vallarta. That is a bonus.
What’s the most difficult/challenging thing about running your own business?
Not letting it take over my life. Part of that is to continue to outsource the things that I need done to other people. I know what I need done, I’m willing to not do it. The challenge is finding the right people to help so the business doesn’t take over and run my whole life.
What’s the most surprising thing about running your own business?
The fact that I have a business and that we’ve been so amazingly successful from just doing basic problem solving is surprising. I don’t even know what a business plan is! People ask me, “What’s your goal for your business?” I don’t know – I just do it! It just keeps getting better all the time, and it’s from doing basic problem solving and treating people right.
What business owner or entrepreneur do you admire most? Who is your role model?
Dan Cathy, the owner of Chick-fil-A. He is somebody who stands by what he believes and puts that above whether his business is successful.
I know it’s very controversial, but he made certain business decisions that angered the gay community. Instead of being angry and digging in, he went out and made friends with the leader of the opposition and made a lot of conservatives mad at him as some sort of compromiser. But he did what he thought was right in both of those cases. He didn’t just buckle to public opinion, and I was very impressed with that.
What I’ve Learned
What advice do you have for others starting their own business?
I’ve tried to look back and see why we’ve been successful, and I think it’s because we filled a big need that nobody else was filling. I think that’s the key to a successful business.
Also, our business was initially totally dependent on showing up in the search engines for our niche. Now, if I look at the business, 30 percent or so is repeat business. Another portion is referral business. Treating people well and giving them more than they expect is a make or break thing, I think.
What do you wish you had known before starting your business?
The thing I’ve learned over time that I wish I had known at the beginning is to be more confident and assertive in negotiating with people and dealing with the different players, like the resort where we do the rentals and the owners who we deal with. I wish I had realized I needed to stand in a strong place and be confident when dealing with people.
About the Author — Ashley Sweren is a freelance marketing writer and editor. She owns her own small business, Firework Writing, located in San Jose, California.
This article was originally written on May 25, 2015 and updated on July 21, 2016.