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With several major national parks within a day’s drive, Salt Lake City and Moab are among the key tourist hubs in the West. Starting a car rental company here can seem like a lucrative business opportunity – and it is, as long as you avoid a few common pitfalls.

There are several obvious things that any car rental business needs:
– Cars themselves – you can buy them second-hand if your budget is limited;
– A trusted mechanic and someone who will wash and fill up your cars;
– Business license, state registration, tax identification number;
– Insurance for your fleet;
– A website;
– Rental agreement and other legal documents.

As long as you have all these elements in place, your rental company will be able to operate legally. You can even buy an existing business to avoid the hassle. But the sad truth is, you can have all the necessary papers, a good fleet, and professional employees – and still fail to win a competitive advantage. Below are a few very common mistakes that beginner car rental entrepreneurs often make.

1) Not Researching Your Competition
You’ll have to compete with established companies, and this is both good and bad. Bad in the sense that at first, you’ll be the underdog, having to prove that you’re better. Good in the sense that you can study how others have done it – and where they are lacking.

One thing you should never do is mindlessly copy someone else’s business. This way, you’ll copy their mistakes, too. Instead, invest a few days into researching the car rental market in your area.
– Make a spreadsheet with other companies’ rental rates for various cars;
– Note if they throw in any extras for free;
– Check how much your rivals charge for a collision damage waiver;
– Run last-minute searches and see which cars are available. If you see that it’s hard to get a budget car on a short notice, think of how you can fill that void;
– Read all the copy on your competitors’ websites and look for ways you can do better.

2) Charging High Rates/Being Stingy With Extras
Most tourists come to Utah to visit its national parks, and chances are that they’ll spend a lot of time out of the car – hiking, climbing, and so on. For this type of clients, it’s the price that matters most. In particular, visitors from Europe have dished out a lot of money to fly to the US, so they are probably trying to limit their car rental expenses. Therefore, if you are addressing the active tourism market, you’d be wise to offer simple cars at affordable rates, not shiny premium vehicles.

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Here’s some advice from Sitngo, a rental car company from the small European country of Montenegro:
“European tourists are much more budget-conscious when it comes to travel than people in the US. They are used to low rates and lots of free extras. In holiday destinations like Spain, Turkey or Montenegro you can rent a car for under $15 a day. If you can’t offer comparable rates, at least include some extras. A child seat, a GPS device, and a complimentary meet-and-greet at the airport can go a long way to set you apart from your competition.”

3) Poor SEO
SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is the art of ranking high on Google. Many people think that SEO is just about keywords. Unfortunately, many car rental companies mindlessly stuff their copy with keywords, ending up with an unreadable mess:

Don’t repeat this mistake. Instead, hire a professional SEO specialist – and make sure to study some basics yourself. Here are a few things to include in your SEO strategy:

– Long-tail keywords: it’s easier to rank high for longer phrases like “cheap car rental in Salt Lake City” than for short, popular combinations like “car rental”;
– Backlinking: posting quality content on other websites that includes a link to your site. Google uses backlinks as a ranking factor;
– Meta descriptions: each search result in Google comes with a snippet – a 170-character description you see just under the title. Google will use a snippet you provide (a meta tag) or just grab something from the page if you don’t provide anything. You should write unique meta descriptions for each page on your site, making sure to include keywords.

4) Lack of Quality Content
If your site has nothing but a list of cars and sample agreement, it will be hard for you to get a good search engine ranking. You’ll need content – good, engaging content, with images and handy tips. Travel guides to your area will work best. You can share your own knowledge or hire a professional copywriter. Examples of things you can cover in your blog posts or articles include:

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– Guides to national parks, hiking trails, viewpoints, and campsites;
– Best places to eat, sleep, or shop along the road;
– Opening hours and prices;
– Advice for travelers on a budget.

5) Bad Communication
Some travelers really hate having to request a quote. For them, you’ll need to include an automatic booking feature. But others might have a special request or a question, so you’ll have to make yourself (or someone on your team) personally available.

A simple message form won’t do the trick, because people know from experience that questions sent through message forms often go without an answer. An email address AND a message form work better. A phone number should be there, too. But if you want to capture as many leads as possible, add your social media contacts: Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Viber, and possibly Telegram or Skype.

Adding contact details isn’t enough, though. You have to reply to all messages and emails within 24 hours – and on Twitter and Facebook, you should reply within a couple of hours at most. Also, remember that many of your potential customers live overseas. So, think if you can get someone to help you out and respond to messages at night.

Travelers looking to rent a car will usually browse or contact several companies at the same time. If you take too long to reply, their business will go to someone else.

Bottom Line

Hopefully we’ve convinced you that car rental isn’t just about your fleet. In many ways, it’s just like any other online business. Bad copy, poor choice of keywords, or lack of social media presence can hurt your business as much – or even more – than a technical issue with a car. The opposite is also true: if you devote attention to your SEO, communicate with customers in social media, and follow the best practices of digital marketing, you’re sure to get ahead of your competition.

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