Are you considering leaving your travel agent job to work for yourself?

June 8, 2017

By Connie Miller, Business Development Manager, Your Travel Center/Montecito Village Travel

Are you considering leaving a travel agent job to work for yourself? Are you asking yourself, “Will I be successful?” “Do I have what it takes?” “Should I take the jump?” 

Leaving the security of a regular paycheck and structured work environment for the unknown is a big decision. But as with all big decisions, it can have a big payoff.

Having worked as an agent, manager, corporate travel liaison and now business development manager, I know that success can come from working independently or in an office. In this article, I’ll help you determine which model is best for you.

Should I Work as an Independent Contractor Travel Agent or For an Agency?

As the Business Development Manager for Your Travel Center (a host travel agency) and Montecito Village Travel, I frequently visit with those struggling with this very decision. The truth is, determining which model is best for you depends entirely on your needs.  

To help advise those struggling with the decision, I decided to investigate the traits associated with successful self-employed individuals.

It came as no surprise that successful entrepreneurs consider themselves to be creative, self-motivated problem-solvers. They know when to take risks and they have the confidence to try new approaches to problems.  

However, while accurate, this information wasn’t helpful because most of the successful travel consultants I know display all of these qualities, whether they work from an office or from home.

There had to be something more.

Then it dawned on me…

I work for a company with both successful “brick & mortar” travel offices and a robust independent contractor (IC) program. The answer was in my own backyard. 

So I polled our independent contractor travel agents who were once employees (aka “inside agents”) for their perspectives and/or advice on transitioning from employee to independent travel consultant and summarized my findings for you below:

What It Takes to Be an Independent Travel Agent – QA

What Factors Led You to Become an Independent Contractor? 

Overwhelmingly, independent agents that made the change did so because they wanted flexibility. 

Some chose the IC model when an office closed or when they were terminated during a down economy.

But for the most part, they wanted to work when they wanted to work and with the clients of their choosing. They wanted to spend as much time as they needed with their clients. They wanted to make more money and they wanted the independence of running their own business. 

For these agents the independent contractor model was a viable option because it gave them the freedom to operate how they wanted.

What Character Traits Do You Feel are Critical to Success?

The number one answer was discipline and attention to detail combined with a sense of urgency and a cheerful attitude. 

Other key traits included:

  1. Accountability (both errors and successes)
  2. Networking ability and communication skills
  3. Self-confidence and action

The last trait resonated with me the most. You need to believe in yourself and your decisions… Or else “analysis paralysis” holds you back. 

Kathy, summed it up best when she shared, “Most of my best business decisions were made when I jumped in feet first and didn’t overthink what might go wrong.”

What Advice Would You Give Anyone Considering the Transition from an “Inside Agent” to an “Independent Contractor”?

This question generated nothing but encouragement. 

Jan wrote, “At first you will be afraid, but as time goes by, you will embrace your capabilities.”

Kathy advised, “Just do it… change is good” and then added “learn to market.”

Other words of wisdom included: 

  1. Be brilliant, be excited, learn new things and keep up on travel trends but most of all, have fun. 
  2. Getting legal and accounting advice before delving into the world of self-employment. 
  3. A good home office is critical as well as finding a suitable place to meet clients. Some suggested renting a small office. 
  4. Others urged new independent travel agents to create a strong visual logo and professional image for their business cards, etc.
  5. Some prudent advice included sticking to your regular hours, follow-up and follow-through, and remembering that there is no one there to cheer you on or a time card to punch…

You have no one but yourself to rely on and keep yourself on track. 

What Would You Have Liked to Have Known Before Becoming an Independent Contractor?

Overwhelmingly the respondents said that they wished they would have known how easy it was because they’d have done it sooner. 

Other advice was to find a host agency that offers autonomy, tools and support. Yet another reflected on the loss of colleagues to bounce ideas off of and having to find other ways to stay on top of technology and new information.  

Melanie shared how she could serve her clients better because she wasn’t answering phones for everyone in the office or helping walk-ins wanting a professional to check their “internet homework.” 

Some cautioned that personal travel is more difficult outside an office environment and recommended having a back-up arrangement in place. It’s always smart to have a backup.

That being said, becoming an independent travel agent was much easier than many expected. As long as our contractors were prepared and knew they had what it takes, any difficulties that came during the transition were well worth it.

Would They Do It Again?

Overwhelming the answer was YES! Only two individuals reported that they preferred the office environment to working independently.

(I think it is important to know that these two agents became independent contractors due to an office closing. While working as an Independent contractor wasn’t their first choice, they both felt it was a viable way to remain in the industry.)   

In conclusion, it’s my belief that if you are already thinking that the independent contractor model is right for you, it probably is. The most successful independent contractors I know are those that have a vision, are self-disciplined and understand how they will market themselves. 

Plus, they take time to create a business and marketing plan. 

Sound invigorating? Then find a compatible host agency and get going.  

Still need encouragement, here’s what Deb said when asked if she would do it all over again,

“In a heartbeat! It’s one of the best decisions I’ve made; I’m responsible for my successes and my mistakes. It was a little scary at first, but it’s awesome!” 

 Connie Miller, Business Development Director, Your Travel Center

Article written by Connie Miller, Business Development Director, Your Travel Center/Montecito Village Travel, Santa Barbara, CA 

Your Travel Center is a host agency with over 300 Independent Contractors, several branch offices and $125,000,000 in annual sales. Connie is responsible for developing Independent Contractors and Agencies. Her career includes work as Sales and Marketing Director, Corporate Travel Account Manager, Office Manager, Group Travel Coordinator and Travel Consultant. Connie's passion for travel is evident and it underscores her personal philosophy is travel is the perfect way to bring the peoples of the world together. 

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