Setting Up Your Travel Agency’s Financials
Most of us aren’t in the travel business because we love numbers and bookkeeping. Yet, as a small business owner, you’re most likely going to have to be doing the bookkeeping (as well as the sales, marketing, and customer service). So let me give you a heads up on how to start your agency with a strong financial infrastructure.
This is one of those “learn from my mistakes” and “I wish someone had told me this when I started” articles. 😊
Setting Up a Business Bank Account
Keeping [business and personal finances] separate from the get-go will save you a lot of time in the future!
Why is business structure important when it comes to setting up a business bank account? Well, if you’re a Sole Proprietor you can use your personal bank account, so you don’t technically need to have a separate business bank account. That said—and please, take it from me—it’s a hassle to mix your finances. Keeping them separate from the get-go will save you a lot of time in the future! If you listen to one thing in this article, this should be it.
For those of you that chose an LLC or S Corp route for your travel agency business structure, I didn’t forget about you! Except for Sole Proprietor, any other business structure is required to set up a business bank account whether you want to or not. (IRS’s rules, not mine.)
How do Business Bank Accounts Differ From Personal Ones?
Business bank accounts are going to differ from your personal bank account in a few ways:
- You vs. Your Agency: Your clients make checks out to your travel agency, not your personal name. It’s thrilling seeing your first check with your agency's name on it!
- Interest (or lack thereof): Not all business accounts earn interest, either on the savings or checking. Boo. 🙁
- Cash Deposit Limits: Most biz bank accounts will have a limit on the amount of cash you can deposit each month. After that, plan for a fee. Note: Most agencies aren’t going to reach the monthly limits and if you do, don’t worry, the fees aren’t going to require that you sell your firstborn. (They vary quite a bit, but $5,000+/month for a cash deposit limit is a safe bet).
- Monthly Transaction Limits: You’d think banks would want you to be making loads-o-business deposits since that means they’d be sitting on heaps of your cash (seeing how they’re not paying out interest and all) … but no. Since business accounts usually involve more transactions than personal accounts, they’re deemed to be more work. As such, the banks will need some compensation.
Business and personal bank accounts do have some similarities—you can also count on minimums to open your account and monthly fees! That is . . . unless you look at a CREDIT UNION (enter cue music)!!
Credit Unions, A Steph Favorite
Here’s my little plug. A community credit union is a great option and typically less expensive than the Big Banks. Credit union business accounts typically have fewer fees and they usually do away with the cash deposit limits—deposit away! You can search for a local credit union here.
Still not sold? Alright, I see I need to pull at your lil’ heartstrings and not just your financial sensibilities.
Here’s my story: I personally switched over all my bank accounts from Wells Fargo to my local credit union once I started Host Agency Reviews. Yes, it was a bit of a hassle, but as a small business owner, I liked the idea of supporting a local, non-profit small business that was owned by its members. Bonus: My credit union business account was free to open and had fewer (and lower) fees than Wells Fargo’s business account option!
And if that doesn’t sway you, maybe the quote on my local bus stop bench will, Big Banks, No Thanks! (Or, the memory of the 2008 Financial Meltdown might do the trick?). End of plug.
Things to Consider When Choosing a Bank
When you’re choosing your banking partner, here’s a few things you may want to consider:
The closer, the better. When it’s 4:30 pm and you have a check you need to be cashed before the end of the day, the miles are gonna matter.
Does your bank have other branches? Of course, one of the advantages of the Big Banks is that they have a zillion branches, which is admittedly quite handy.
Are there hidden (or not so hidden) fees? Here are fees to look out for so you can see what aligns with your budget:
- Monthly service fees
- Cash handling fees
- Excess Transaction fees
- Overdraft/stop check/cashier’s check/wire transfer fees
In addition to fees, here are two other factors that might influence your choice:
- Minimum to Open
- Average Monthly Balance: Do you need to maintain a certain average balance?
It’s up to you what you prioritize! Every bank’s website will have its business account fees listed. Just make sure you’re reading the fine print!
Business Documents Needed by Banks
Imagine if I went into my bank and told them I had started up a new agency and would like to open a business checking account. They’re going to want some proof showing my agency is a legal business and that I’m the owner of said agency.
For those of you doing the 7-day Setup, you’ve already taken care of registering your name with your state and getting your Federal Employment Identification Number (FEIN) in yesterday’s action items. (If that last sentence was gibberish to you, make sure to sign up for our free 7-Day Setup challenge!)
It’s always good to give the bank a call before going in to set up your new business account to ensure you’re bringing everything you need. But, I know you’re chomping at the bit so mentally prepare to bring this stuff in (listed by business type):
Here's what you need for sole proprietorship:
- SS# or FEIN (and I really, really recommend getting an FEIN)
- Business license showing both business and owner’s name, or
- Business name filing document, such as a Fictitious Name Certificate or Certificate of Trade Name, showing both business and owner’s name
- Your First Born (HA! Gotcha! Just making sure you were paying attention.)
Here's what you need for a partnership:
- Partnership Agreement showing business name and name of partners, and
- Business name filing document, such as Fictitious Name Certificate or Certificate of Trade Name, showing business name and name of partners
Is an LLC more your style? Here's what documents you need:
- FEIN (notice a pattern here?)
- Articles of Organization or Certificate of Formation
- Corporate Resolution identifying authorized signers if officer names are not listed on Articles of Organization or Certificate of Formation
Opening a Business Credit Card
Your business is going to have expenses and a business credit card will be pretty hard to live without. You’ve already got a credit card, you say? Just like a business bank account, a separate business credit card isn’t required for a Sole Proprietor (although I do recommend it), but it is required for those of you going the LLC or any other route.
Opening your credit card right away—even if you don’t need it yet—ensures that your card will be ready when the rubber hits the road. Which is soon, by the way! Eeeeekkkk!
We have a few tips on how to walk through the process of finding the right credit card for your agency below:
- 5 Best Business Credit Cards
- Top Travel Brand Credit Cards
- Find the Best Credit Card Rewards for Your Agency
As for which one is best . . . well, I can’t really answer that as some people love the airline points, some love cashback rewards. I love the ones that allow me to put a picture of my dog Rigel on the front of it. (I have my priorities!) 😊
Looking for something a little more methodical perhaps? Download our credit card tracker spreadsheet to decide what is best for you! Here's a video tutorial on how it works:
Want to give it a go? Just download it below
If you have a favorite, please feel to comment below!
Choosing Bookkeeping Software (last but not least!)
Goodness me oh my … are we done yet?! *sigh* No. And before I launch into bookkeeping, I want to share a resource that's going to help put your immaculate bookkeeping to good use . . . HAR's tax organizer! You can download it below (and take a breather!)
Okay. Back to the task at hand. Now we’ve got to keep track of all the money coming in and out of that darn bank account we set up and the credit card we applied for! Doh, what were we thinking about setting those up? 🙂
The government is going to want to know how much commission you brought in from your travel sales so you need to keep track of that.
I’m going to launch in to bookkeeping software options, I promise, but I think it’d be smart to first explain what it is and why it’s so important. Bookkeeping helps keep track of your day-to-day expenses/income so that when tax time comes, everything is all organized in its proper category!
The government is going to want to know how much commission you brought in from your travel sales so you need to keep track of that, among tons of other things. The Balance Small Business has a recent article explaining the differences between an accountant, CPA, and bookkeeper if you’ve got 3 minutes.
Here’s the truth, most new travel agents I spoke with started with Excel as their bookkeeping software and do it themselves. It’s not pretty but it gets the job done . . . and for free! You can check out the original thread here (and please, feel free to share your experiences in the comments!)
Now, if you have extra cash burning a hole in your pocket, you can always purchase some bookkeeping software to make life a little easier (and prettier). Some of these are affiliate links, which means I make a little bit of moola when you buy something. Your purchase not only helps your business but helps supports Rigel's marrowbone obsession. 🙂
Without further ado, here are the main players most travel agents use for bookkeeping software:
- Excel Price: $139.99
- Numbers Price: Free for Mac users
- Google Sheets Price: Free with Gmail account
2. QuickBooks: Available in either the desktop (QuickBooks Pro) or online version (QBO). I use QBO and have been happy with the features, functionality. The support can take forever, though!
- Price: 30-day free trial. Their pricing changes with sales, but plan for $199 for the desktop version, $10/mo for QB online.
3. Shoeboxed: Send your receipts in one big envelope and the magic bookkeeping elf organizes it all! Integrates with Quickbooks.
- Price: 30-day free trial. Starts at $15/mo
4. Quicken: Also by Intuit, the makers of Quickbooks. Travel agents that use Quicken for their personal bookkeeping (which is what it’s intended for) often end up using it for business.
- Note: If your company structure is an LLC, go with Quickbooks. Having your personal and business financials mixed is a no-no for corporations.
5. TRAMS: This is the go-to, legacy, travel-agency-specific accounting system. In April 2021, it was sold from Sabre back to the original owner (Tres Technologies), which we're all pretty excited about since Sabre did a whole lotta nothing for the past 15 years with TRAMS. If you're a hosted agent with only your sales to keep track of, TRAMS, as it is now, is probably overkill. However, it's a great fit for larger agencies with more complex bookkeeping. The other thing to note is that Tres Technologies sounds like they're cooking up a new product to bring travel agency accounting into the 21st century! So keep an eye out for word on that.
- Price: As of now, June 2021, there is no pricing up on Tres Technologies website for TRAMS. Hopefully soon!
Once you’ve chosen your bookkeeping software, you’ll need to decide if you want to teach yourself the software, or you can look into hiring a professional bookkeeper (which I eventually ended up doing once my biz got off the ground because I am so terribly bad with accounting!).
Not sure where to start? Just so happens I have a few suggestions to help you find a bookkeeper for your travel agency:
1. Local Bookkeeper: Word of mouth can’t be beaten! Plus you’ll be giving this person access to your bank accounts and other sensitive information, it’s nice to meet them in person. Try putting up a post on Facebook, asking other entrepreneurs, or asking your tax person for a referral.
- Price: ~ $30-50/hr
2. Bench: I like to keep it local but sometimes, working with someone online is just plain easier. Bench gets great reviews but at around $125/mo, it’s probably spendier than a local bookkeeper.
- Price: Starts at $125/month for annual pre-paid plans
When it comes to payroll, I'm just going to recommend one company to you. Gusto.
For those of use that are S Corps or another business structure that has to run payroll, we need to dish out a bit extra each month for payroll software.
You're not going to need payroll if you're a sole proprietor or single-member LLC that is being taxed as a sole proprietor. That's because you're lucky and don't have to mess with payroll! But, for those of us that are S Corps or another business structure that has to run payroll, we need to dish out a bit extra each month for payroll software.
I started with Intuit's payroll software since it integrated so nicely with Quickbooks, but their prices kept increasing—my monthly fee nearly doubled over the course of a few years!
There are other payroll companies out there, but they are more legacy companies. And what legacy means is opaque pricing (call for more details), bloated programs, and high-pressure sales. The legacy companies target medium and large-size companies. They have way more bells and whistles than most small businesses need for their payroll.
- Gusto: It's easy to set up and navigate, affordable, and does the job. Their customer support is also superb—take this from a woman who has spent days on the phone trying to set up payroll at another place.
- Pricing: Currently $19/mo with the COVID Small Business Relief Pricing, regularly $39/mo.
Note: Yes, you can do payroll manually but that requires A LOT of work. You have to submit the taxes to the federal and state governments, submit unemployment insurance reports and money, calculate any other withholdings. It's brutal.
Breaking it Down, A Recap
That was A LOT of info. Cheers for getting to the end! Your brain is probably brimming over with info so I want to recap things one more time. Here are your key takeaways:
- Open a business bank account (*cough* with a credit union)
- Open a business credit card
- Decide how you want to do your bookkeeping (yourself or hire it out)
- Give this article a FB like/tweet/share or comment!
I know what you’re thinking, “Man, she’s long-winded. She babbled on for ages and then summed it up in four tiny bullet points.” As a reward, you'll get a bonus worksheet to help you choose a bank if you sign up for our 7-day Setup Challenge 🙂 Thanks for sticking with me!
Need More More Support Getting Your Agency Set Up? We Have Just the Thing
Are you in earlier stages of getting your agency set up? Kudos to you for thinking about your financial infrastructure from the get-go. That said, it's complicated, and making the best decisions right now about financial structure can save you money in the long run. If you want more personalized support in regard to finances and all things starting an agency, check out HAR's new course, The Complete Guide to Starting a Travel Agency.
The course is written and taught by yours truly and Bridget Lee professional educator with deep roots in the travel industry. Maybe you notice a last name similarity? We're sisters and we both came up in a family that is deeply rooted in the industry. Check it out!
Happy business building!
[Editorial Note:] Opinions expressed here are mine alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post. Because we all know credit cards and banks wouldn't be talking about and endorsing local credit unions or even mentioning the 2008 Financial Crisis. :) That's just straight-up Steph talk! More editorial fun: This was originally posted in Jan. 2017, and was updated on publish date listed! Ciao!