Launching Your Travel Business The Right Way
by Jason Block, CEO of Travel Quest Network
Last month I told you that the ‘single greatest time to start a travel business’ is right now. If you’re considering entering the travel industry for the first time or you’re an experienced agent weighing out whether or not to hang your shingle, I encourage you to take a look. I outline five key factors that signal that this moment in time marks the dawn of a new golden age in travel selling.
This month I want to focus on those of you who have decided to take the leap to join this incredible industry. First, congratulations! You have not let fear or media hysteria blind you to the apparent fact that travel demand cannot be contained forever, and in fact, could rebound much faster than most believe.
Fear is easy to succumb to, but you didn’t let it alone decide your future. Again, congratulations.
So now what?
In many ways, the hard part is done. Deciding to start your own business can be agonizing. You likely spent many days, and maybe even a few sleepless nights, debating whether to start your own travel business. That is a trying but necessary process. It can be all-consuming, energizing, draining, uplifting, and frustrating, all at the same time. You have felt the emotional high from imagining incredible possibilities only to be brought back low with the terrifying images of failure and feelings of self-doubt. You have written down ideas that are sure to win, only to second guess yourself the next day. You have created a sales plan, only to scale it back to be more conservative, then ramp it up again, thinking I can do this!
I’ve walked this path—several times—and I know these thoughts.
If none of the above sounds familiar to you at all or the only scenario you have imagined is sales greatness and free trips, I’ll caution you to STOP, like right now.
Yes, great travel perks are out there, but you’re not ready to run your own business. That may sound harsh, but not nearly as harsh as spending the next year or two realizing that you just weren’t ready yet.
It doesn’t mean you aren’t cut out for it or that you’ll never be ready; it just means that today is not yet the day. If this is you, and if it isn’t too late, get your old job back. If you still have it, hang onto it until you are ready.
However, if some of those thoughts resonated, you are ready because you know that failure is possible. You know that every single idea you have may not work out. You know that you will fail occasionally. Running your own business is not just about growing sales, or hiring the right people, or protecting against risk, or finding the proper support structure. Those are extremely important, but the most critical factor that leads to long term success is being resilient when things don’t go well. I submit Exhibit A: 2020.
There has been no more significant test to those in the travel industry than the COVID pandemic, and maybe even no bigger test to any one industry in modern history. Resiliency means that no matter the challenge, no matter how much bad news comes your way, you are determined to succeed.
This next part is for those of you who’ve conceded to the reality that we’re not invincible, knowing that some of your efforts will fall short from time to time, but swearing that you’ll never let discouragement get the better of you. How do you get started and take advantage of the travel sales boom that is coming?
I want to give you a sneak-peak at a FREE new course Travel Quest Network is introducing in December, just in time to get your business cranking to start the new year: Launching Your Travel Business The Right Way.
This is not a course on suppliers, booking tools, or how to close a sale.
This is not a course aiming only to sell you another paid course (those are lame).
This is a course aimed at new entrants who want to get off on the right foot and agency owners who want to reboot their business in 2021.
Whether you choose Travel Quest Network as your host agency or not (btw, we hope you do!), we want a robust and vibrant agency community, and the steps outlined in this course will help ensure that more agents will be successful.
It takes all of our experiences and boils them down to real-world, practical actions that you can take NOW to launch your business the right way. While the course is free, I guarantee that it will save you tens of thousands in wasted time and costly mistakes, and maybe even make you hundreds of thousands by getting your business launched in the right direction.
We explore many facets of launching your business in the course, but we’ll deep dive into the five critical steps to Launching Your Travel Business The Right Way. Here’s a preview. In the course, we’ll dive in deep, discussing each of these topics at length, and give you Take-Away Tools to put them into ACTION.
The right relationships are essential to any new business’ success, but the travel industry takes this rule to another level. The industry landscape is such that without the right relationships, your odds of success are reduced dramatically. What kind of relationships?
Independent, OTA Affiliate, Host, Franchise, or Consortium?
First, as a new startup agency, you’ll need to decide who you’ll align with. Do you go totally independent, become an affiliate of an online travel agency (OTA), join a Host Agency (hey, you’re on the right site for that!), but a franchise, or join a Consortium?
There is no one right choice. Your decision needs to be based on your background, budget, objectives, and skillsets. We’ll help you get clarity on the differences and evaluate your choices so you can make the decision that’s right for you.
The Right Host Agency Relationship
There are loads of articles on finding the right host agency, many on this site. Doing your homework is critical. Talk to several host agencies. Read reviews! Find the host agency that delivers the education you need, the programs you want, and has the people that you can count on. You’ll get a feel after talking to a few which one is the right home for your new business.
Once you select a host agency, work to foster a relationship with the team there. They’ll be able to point you in the right direction on the four remaining steps below and offer programs to help you get your business launched, but relationships are a two-way street. The most successful new agencies actively work to deepen their relationships with their host agency.
Suppliers and Mentors
A great host agency serves as a connector to the travel industry. Finding the right suppliers to fit your business growth plan and connecting with other members are critical elements to success. A great host agency will have programs and tools to help you make these connections. Look for things like an open agent community, virtual and in-person events, and a robust directory of suppliers.
Business Growth Plan
First, be clear about your goals. Are you looking for your new travel business to provide extra income on a part-time basis? Have you decided that this is a full-time business that will provide income for your entire family? Maybe you’re aiming to build a multi-agent agency as an asset that you can one day sell?
Your goal is entirely up to you, and there is no wrong answer. The only mistake here is not being clear because your entire business growth plan stems from this first fundamental choice. Take the time to consider what is right for you and your family, and then move forward with conviction, whatever your preference.
What monthly or annual income are you aiming to achieve in your first year and second year? How quickly do you need to generate an income? How much and when? I advise new startups not to waste your mental energy on anything further out than two years. Too much will change between now and then to make it useful to you. Your energy is better focused on a clear plan and then get to action.
Second, you need to select an area of focus to start with.
This is somewhat of a controversial subject, but I firmly believe that every new travel agency should develop a specialty from day one. Today’s consumer wants an expert—period.
The internet brings the universe of information to the consumer's hand, and if you attempt to be a Jack (or Jane) of all trades, you will be a master of none. Worse, if you look to take on every client inquiry, you’ll find that many prospective clients know more about the destination or supplier than you do. This is not the position of authority or strength that commands awe (or service fees).
Part of selecting your niche is understanding some of the basic economics. How much do these products cost? How much commission can I make? This is essential information to build a Business Growth Plan.
You must use a process to methodically select the right niche and define scenarios where it is and isn’t okay to deviate from your niche.
Business Growth Plan
Finally, what the heck is a Business Growth Plan?
You’ve undoubtedly heard of, or maybe even written, a business plan. This traditionally covers an analysis of the market, your competitors, product and service descriptions, a marketing and sales plan, and financial projections.
Think of a Business Growth Plan, on the other hand, as a bullet-point version of a business plan that boils it all down to the most crucial elements but puts the real emphasis on action. It is your roadmap, addressing what you need to do to hit your goal.
A Business Growth Plan starts with the end in mind (your income goal) and works backwards so you can identify what you need to do to be successful. You can make this Business Growth Plan as detailed and sophisticated or as simple and straightforward as you like, but the key is to understand what forces move your business. Your Business Growth Plan plus some third-grade math will tell you where you need to spend your time, energy, and resources.
Building a personalized Business Growth Plan will get your business pointed in the right direction from the beginning.
Education is an essential ingredient to travel industry success, but knowing where to start can be overwhelming and downright confusing. There is literally a world to learn, so a clear plan to begin your education is critical. There is a point, though, where you must leave the comfort of learning and start doing! The experience of doing will reinforce and build on your foundation of knowledge. Then, the more you do, the more you realize you need to learn. This is an inevitable cycle. The best travel professionals—the ones with dynamic, thriving agencies—know this to be true. Going in with the mindset of continual learning will set you up for great success.
The minute you stop learning, you stop growing. There’s an old saying that you either get better or get worse; you never stay the same. Is this true? You bet it is. You might think that once you’ve mastered selling a particular product or developed your lead generation system to produce the results you want, that you can keep the status quo, that you don’t need to keep learning. The problem is that everyone else (your competitors) aren’t going to stop. They’re going to put in the work to build their expertise, develop new ways to attract new clients, and expand their service offering.
Just because you like where you are, doesn’t mean the rest of the world will stop moving. As it moves, customers begin to demand new things until one day you wake up, and your sales weren’t what they used to be, and your most loyal clients have gone away. Never stop learning.
Too often, the travel industry equates education with product knowledge. It is essential, but there is so much more to run a successful travel business. Building skills in marketing, sales, technology, legal compliance, and financial management, just to name a few, will give you a well-rounded capacity to thrive in an ever-changing marketplace.
As you chart your business’ new course, you need an education plan that will develop your competency in all of these areas and get you out of the classroom and into the real world as quickly as possible.
Customers and a Sales System
Your Business Growth Plan will tell you exactly how many customers you need to achieve your goals, but how in the world do you get them?
You probably have many ideas for ways to get customers. As you’ve discussed the idea of starting a travel business with friends or family, many of them have likely said to do this or do that. Some strategies are more effective than others, but the issue is not how to get customers.
According to the U.S. Travel Association, Americans spent more than $1 Trillion on travel in 2019. That’s a lot of zeros. Even more impressive, just last year, Americans went on 1.9 Billion vacation trips alone. While that includes everything from short day trips to 90-day around the world cruises, many people were traveling (and many will be again).
I don’t know your personal revenue goal, but I think it is safe to say that you don’t need to capture a huge percentage of the 1.9 Billion trips to hit it. There is not a shortage of customers.
There are great strategies to attract new customers and some not-so-great ways to build new customer relationships. The more significant point, though, is how you make sure you’re getting the right customers at the right time and for the right cost?
You Need a Sales System
Think of your sales system as a machine that translates your Business Growth Plan into the right customer relationships. Customers who buy the products you want to sell at the prices you want to sell them, without taking too much of your most precious resource, your time.
Your sales system guides your marketing activities, your sales approach, your fee structure, and how (and when) you communicate with prospects and customers.
But a sales system is not a magical contraption from Willy Wonka’s factory. It is a process. It requires thought, effort, measurement, consistency, and above all, discipline. Once you build a sales system, you must trust your sales system. While the best sales systems are refined over time, you can’t make constant changes that prevent you from measuring the effectiveness of those changes. You can’t be distracted and chase squirrels into the street like your neighbor’s dog. You know what happens to dogs who chase things into the road, and you don’t want that to happen to your business.
Building a framework for your personalized sale system will give you greater confidence promoting your new business with the knowledge of what you need to generate and how it will be generated.
Be a Legend – Legendary Customer Service
Legends are fascinating to me, the ancient equivalent to a viral story on social media. Something so unique that it was worth telling someone about. I’m sure you’ve had a positive experience in your life that was worth telling someone about. It may have been an experience with a company, or a teacher, or from any other aspect of life. You thought it was so great that you just had to tell someone.
Like a viral social media story, a legend doesn’t stop there, though. The experience can’t just be great. It has to be so amazingly unique that the person you share it with is compelled to then share it with someone else.
Ancient legends have reached us today because they were passed from person to person, village to village until eventually, someone decided it was so impressive that they just had to write it down. Then it continued to be shared, again, and again, and again.
When you think of how you serve your clients, your goal should not be to wow them. Your goal should be to deliver an experience that is so special that the third or fourth person that hears about it, a person that may not even know your customer, says Wow!
When you do that, you are delivering what I call Legendary customer service. It is our aim at Travel Quest Network to provide Legendary Support to our agents.
So what does Legendary Customer Service look like?
We all want to provide outstanding customer experiences. I can’t recall a single business owner who said, “Nah, I don’t care about the customers.” If you ask most business owners, they will tell you, “we provide the best customer service.” The truth: some do, most don’t. Many provide customer service that is just good enough to stay in business.
You can build a business that way. It may not sound good to say, but it is true. You can create a company with customer service that is just good enough, but you are unlikely to build a great business that way.
I assume if you’ve read this far that you’re not interested in just being good enough.
Delivering fantastic customer service every single time requires building a service system. Then, when you expand beyond yourself, a service culture.
A customer service system identifies the experience you want your customers to have and translates that to defined actions that you perform to deliver that experience. It goes beyond being courteous and responsive. It is a framework for making sure that your customer’s experience meets your requirement every single time and must include a response plan when that experience is not what you require it to be. Your Customer Service System should include service standards, measurement, and response plans at a minimum.
Customers who enjoy this kind of experience will become relationships and we go back to step #1 as the circle of life rolls on.
I hope that you’ll register for the course. Whether or not you’ve chosen Travel Quest Network as your host agency, I know that you’ll find great value in this content, and if you apply what you’ll learn, I know you’ll be amazingly successful.