Lessons Learned: Tips for Independent Contractor Travel Agents [Luxury Travel Exchange Recap]
We're here. In Vegas. We wish you were here but since you're not, we're giving you a write up. And, by the way, it's Winter in Venice at the Palazzo—there are elves giving away hot cider in the lobby!
We've been on the 'independent contractor travel agents track' at the Luxury Travel Exchange 2012. There was a great panel today featuring Steve Orens of Plaza Travel, Meredith Hill of The Global Institute for Travel Entrepreneurs (GIFTE), Anita Pagliasso of A Ticket to Travel, and finally, headed up by Jeffrey Anderson of Avoya Travel.
There were quite a few tips shared that I think you'll find helpful so here we go!
On Best Practices for your Home Office
Anita shared a secret you don't often hear, her home office is in the middle of her house. Feeling isolated in a separate bedroom, she moved herself to the living room, the heart of the house and in prime view of visitors. To conquer the clutter, she keeps the bare minimum in her 'office' and the rest is organized in her garage. I have to admit, I do the same thing. I have an 'office' but I usually like to hang out in the living room or dining room with my pup.
More food for thought when it comes to organizing your inbox. In the travel industry, we need to keep up with what the suppliers are offering but that leads to a full inbox. Anita suggested setting up rules to have the supplier emails all go into one folder. A word of caution from my experience on that, check it daily or the 'mark all as read' becomes extremely tempting.
Meredith threw in a great suggestion for cleaning out the over-stuffed inbox. Using the acronym FAST, ask yourself the following for each email:
- File - Does it need to be filed?
- Action - Do I need to something with this email?
- Schedule - Do I need to schedule something in regards to this email?
- Toss - Do I need to toss it?
Clients in Your House: Yes? No? Maybe?
A question all home-based travel agents need to ask themselves, do you meet with clients at your house? Really, it comes down to your comfort level and your relationship with the client but again, here's a great tip from Anita. Offer to meet people at their place of business.
It's not only the convenience factor but Anita swears she gets pocketfuls of business cards and the word spreads through the business quickly. How's that for killing 2 birds with 1 stone? Sealing the deal and doing some marketing at the same time.
How Do You Wear So Many Hats and Still Look Good?
Small business owners. We have no HR or Accounting. A blessing and a curse. So the panelists spoke about how they balance the jobs and still get things done: Steve said it best, work with people that help you do what you do best. Hire it out if it's not your area of expertise!
Another great point made was that when regarding contracting work: Either make sure they know how your business works or that they work with others in the travel industry. Anita offered a personal example about a recent IRS audit ... luckily, her CPA was familiar with how her company worked and saved her so much time (and she says, keep meticulous records of your travel expenses!).
Steve also mentioned that for his independent contractor travel agents that get their own E&O insurance, he gives a list of insurance companies that specialize in the travel industry. The quotes the agents get that use non-travel focused insurance agencies are thousands of dollars a year vs. $300-500 a year quotes from insurance companies that know the travel industry.
Added Bonus: More Steph-thoughts on hiring things out when you're an IC. ...
Education for Independent Contractor Travel Agents
This one hits home with Meredith who specializes in bringing agencies to the next level. Her advice? Don't over-educate yourself on suppliers.
Yuppers. That's good stuff. With all the supplier training out there, it's easy to get overwhelmed and get a certificate for everything. Meredith advises not to lose site of education on wider topics such as business-building. Continue your education outside the industry with classes on marketing, accounting, entrepreneurship, etc.
Searching for Your Perfect Host
When asked what independent contractor travel agents should look for in a potential host, Steve's reply takes the cake: It's not just about cost, he says. The value you can get through affiliation—higher commissions, streamlined technology, contacts and support—may actually help you earn more.
As with anything complex, there's more to choosing a host than meets the eye (or can be said in a panel). If you are looking for a host agency, here some tips on finding the best host agency or just drop us a line and we can help guide you.
Staying Focused & Excited
The foe of many business owners.
Meredith recounted how setting bigger goals helped keep her (and Richard Branson) focused. At her last agency, she decided she wanted to a clientele base with millionaires/billionaires, despite not knowing anyone in that demographic. Within 12 months, she had her first billionaire client.
Not only that, but Meredith says buy an egg timer. Give yourself chunks of time to get your projects done. Admittedly, most of her clients don't partake (even though there are so many cute egg timers out there!) but those that do, love it.
Anita cautions that just because you work from home doesn't mean you are available to friends and family for everything. Muster up the discipline to create a routine and do what works for you. And some great advice, "If you treat it like a hobby, you’ll be paid like a hobby. If you treat it like a business, you’ll get paid like a business."
Marketing! Ideas and Thoughts
Anita takes a cue from realtors and always attaches her face to her advertising. It works. You know Anita, don't you? You've seen her face in travel industry publications or websites? On our side, we actually knew Anita's face before we met her!
Steve reminded everyone of a very simple concept. You're a customer too. What do you value in a good customer relationship? Turn that around to build your business. Not only that, but invest in your future and dedicate a certain amount of time to contacting your current or prospective clients. We're in a relationship-building business, after all.
Meredith breaks down the 3 ways to build any type of business:
- Get more clients
- Increase business from existing clients
- Increase transaction sizes
She advises that if you adopt a marketing system that addresses all 3 of the above, you'll see tremendous growth. Adopt a system that addresses only one, and you'll see a snail's pace growth.
Jeffrey asked what the agencies did to expression appreciation for their clients.
We'd already heard about how Anita loves making gift baskets (so much so that she has a dedicated 'Pier 1 Imports' area of her garage) but here's the interesting thing—she invests 10% of her commission to give back to her clients. She says, "Just like your financial planner advises you to put away money for your retirement, I invest 10% of my commission. It's savings for my future." All of her clients are considered VIP, and she sends the GM of the hotels a note letting them know she has a VIP client on the way and any additional amenities or upgrades would be appreciated.
Meredith works with agencies to set up a 12-month keep-in-touch plan with current clients. Whether through hand written notes, a phone call, or a gift, the agency connects with the client 4 times during a 12-months period
We'll be posting a few more recaps later this week so keep an eye out.
I'm a huge believer in networking and education to grow your business, contacts, and knowledge. The Luxury Travel Exchange is no exception—it's great for all of the above and held every year (September 2013 in Miami Beach) so check our calendar for Luxury Travel Exchange 2013 details!
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