The Travel Agent’s Guide to Building a Work Community
We put up a Facebook post asking our agent friends “Where do you go to find community?” and, man alive, did we get some amazing answers we’ll sum up in this article! >>> see original post
Intro: Benefits of Building a Travel Agent Community
Are you a home based travel agent without a travel agent community at your fingertips? Your own boss, your own bookkeeper, your own marketing director, your CFO/COO/CIO? Flying solo has its benefits, but even the most self-motivated travel entrepreneur needs support. When questions or challenges arise who do you turn to when you don’t have coworkers to turn to?
We chatted with beloved readers, suppliers and hosts to help identify a wealth of resources available to the home based travel agent: In this article, we’ll explore ways to expand industry knowledge and develop entrepreneurial know-how.
Benefits of Building a Travel Agent Community:
No one’s an island, people. You need a little support, no matter how stellar you are! Expanding your travel agent community can support you professionally and personally by:
- Staying current with travel industry news and resources
- Troubleshooting monthly/weekly/daily
- Peer accountability/ encouragement
- Revitalizing marketing strategies and thinking “outside the box”
- Building client-base/ developing leads
- Creating structure to set/achieve goals
Creating a travel agent community might just be your ticket off that lonely island—and, boy do we ever have some ideas for you.
We’re going to break it down into two major categories, Industry Resources and Entrepreneurial know-how. If you don’t have the time to dabble in all this information, you can fast-forward to what’s most helpful to you:
- Industry Resources: I want to expand my industry knowledge and learn a ton more about selling travel!
- Entrepreneurial Know-How: I have a pretty good foothold in terms of industry knowledge, but sometimes I suffer from tunnel vision and I’d like to know how I can look at my business in a fresh way!
- Choosing the Right Networking Group for You: I already know I’d like to join a networking group, but I’d like a few pointers on how to narrow my choices.
Industry-specific community building is a must for any travel agent—but especially for those who work in relative solitude. Here's a few ways to build up your industry know-how!
Social Media Groups:
If you are a Social Media fiend, there are ways to turn your (ahem) borderline addiction into a professional tool. Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+ groups can be a great venue to ask burning real-time questions and research destinations, vacation packages, best practices, events and agent resources (the list goes on, my friend!).
“It has helped me gain a fuller picture of anything I'm researching really. And in turn, I've been able to present more un-biased options to my clients.”
Travel agent Daniela Harrison, a travel consultant at Avenues of the World, has creative uses for her social media networks. According to Harrison, the forums can offer her a broader view, helping her see “multiple perspectives on any issue, product and destination. It has helped me gain a fuller picture of anything I'm researching really. And in turn, I've been able to present more un-biased options to my clients.”
The groups below are specific to the travel industry. Some groups are open, and some are closed with an opportunity to request entry. Here’s a few examples to explore:
- HAR's 7 Day Setup: Pardon me a moment while I self promote . . . this group is facilitated by Host Agency Reviews (c'est nous!). It's a very active groups especially for agents who are new. It offers peer support during the startup process (choosing a host, establishing a brand/logo, setting up website, etc.) and beyond. The group has been going a few years now, so there's more seasoned agents in the group too! (Sorry, no host agency reps or suppliers allowed!)
- HAR's Travel Agent Think Tank: Oh hi. Yeah, I'm still self promoting but for good reason. This is a Host Agency Reviews group for agents with a year or more of experience under theirs belts. (It's kind of like the sister group to the 7 Day Setup.) Agents typically post more specific questions about business operations, travel agent tools, or questions or insider updates on suppliers.
- Travel Agents Helping Travel Agents: A closed FB group for travel agents only to ask questions, link to resources and air grievances. It’s created in the spirit of support . . . the title says it all!
- Travel Agents: This group focuses on travel agent skills, including: marketing, sales and product knowledge.
- Team Travel Agent: Team Travel Agents’ aim is to inform the general public on the benefits of using a travel agent. This group contains agents, suppliers, writers, bloggers and travel fanatics.
And a FB group for the young guns:
- Millennials in Travel Millennials in Travel is a career development and networking organization for young professionals in the travel industry in any capacity (agent, tour operator, hospitality, cruise etc.). The group is restricted to anyone born on or after Jan. 1st, 1975.
Other ways Travel agents can leverage social media groups:
Travel agents find other creative ways for creative group engagement online! Here's what Harrison and West do:
- Harrison takes these groups one step further: She creates groups for her clients to share their travel experiences! This is a great way for agents to get some front-line knowledge about destinations they haven’t visited.
- Natosha West, who owns Authentic Escapes, follows a few favored travel bloggers. This can also help agents get insider information on destinations. (Hint: Check out some of West's favorite travel bloggers on the Facebook post!) Talk about a creative way to develop expertise!
Host Agency, Consortia & Vendor Forums:
Host forums got some serious love when we asked agents about community-building. Crystal Smith (Uniglobe), Michael Kahan (Smart Flyer), Greg Reese (Nexion), Ester Hertz (Nexion), Natosha West (Montrose Travel) all gave their host forums the thumbs up. According to our readers, these forums can be a great resource to develop connections with agents who are working under the same umbrella as you. They have access to the same suppliers and accreditations; the same technology, and marketing support; same host/vendor trainings and events.
Joining your host's forum can ensure that you have your fingers on the pulse of their resources, and provide an opportunity to foster close "coworking" relationships. Need backup support for your clients while you're on your own vacation? Want to decompress after a long day? If so, host forums can be a place to build those supports. Here’s a few hosts that have online forums for their agents (the lists below is nowhere near exhaustive)!
Your local tour operators/cruise BDM may even have a private FB group for you! (If you know of a forum not on the list, please share in the comments below!)
Maybe you want to strengthen your marketing expertise by learning how to take better photos for your blog. Or perhaps you'd like to become a more sophisticated user of WordPress. Maybe you want to find a better accounting software. Running your agency efficiently is just as important as industry know-how.
That’s the beauty of cross-industry networking—it allows you to connect and brainstorm with others outside (gasp!) the travel industry.
The following are a few ways to help build working relationships:
1. Coworking Spaces
Maybe you’re just dang lonely working at home. Maybe it’s hard to concentrate your latest Alaska land/cruise combo package when you can see a pile of laundry mounting day by day. Maybe you’re energized by the creative hum and buzz of people working hard at their ambitions.
It’s lonely having no coworkers, and now that most travel biz is done online, travel agents could go days without meaningfully interacting with someone who doesn’t live with them! Coworking spaces can be an affordable alternative to leasing an office space. In addition to lessening loneliness, coworking spaces might provide creature comforts for entrepreneurs like meeting spaces, social events and trainings. If you’re really lucky, they might even provide snacks (I make no promises).
No coworking spaces near you? Why not look into starting a small group of entrepreneurs that meets at each other’s houses?
2. Local Networking Groups
Can a networking group help you? There are a ton of networks to choose from, so it’s good to do a little research to make sure the network can help with your professional growth and career development.
There is a huge range of networking groups in terms of time commitment and fees. Some networking groups are intimate, tightly structured, meet often and have strict requirements for participation. Others are a revolving door with large social mixers where you might need to “work the room.” Some involve membership dues, and others are free.
When I chatted with my friend (and networking group junkie) Maria Johnson from Do Good, she had a few smarty pants insights on how to use a networking group to your advantage.
Below is a worksheet you can download to help you determine what kind of networking group might be a good fit for you personally, and professionally:
Here are a few networking groups:
- Business Networking International (BNI): BNI is a large, tightly structured networking group which meets weekly. BNI requires rigorous participation from its members (it meets weekly with strong recommendations to meet one on one) and focuses more on cross-industry education and generating referrals. Members are expected to educate the group on their business. They only allow one professional per industry to join, so groups won’t be saturated with travel agents. The tricky thing is, there are TONS of chapters through BNI and each one is different. The good news is that you can check them out without registering to decide if and which one might be right for you. (There is BNI, US and BNI, Canada and reader Vamsi Bartha is happy with his BNI India chapter.)
- Rising Tide Society (RTS): If you want to shake it up, Rising Tide Society is a networking group that focuses on creative entrepreneurs including photographers, bloggers, florists, event planners and everything in between. They have local meet ups so members can connect online and in person. The group was recommended by Daniela Harrison, who uses her membership as a tool to innovate her own marketing strategies. According to Daniela, “It's been very beneficial and people are happy to brainstorm and share new ideas... It's helped me to look at some of our marketing from a new perspective and learn/collaborate with the pros.”
At the end of the day, the more time and energy you put into a networking group, the more you will get out of it. Johnson's investment of time and energy had a long term impact on her personally and professionally—as a result of her involvement with networking groups, she formed lifelong friendships and loyal clients.
3. Online Work Groups
Online work groups differ from online forums in the sense that they impose a structure. Whereas a forum will have possibly hundreds of members, an online work group consists of a few dedicated members who decompress, troubleshoot, brainstorm business/marketing ideas, share resources and provide support.
One example of this variety of online work groups is Mastermind. Mastermind is an intimate work group of peers, each with a unique skill set. Typically the groups run smaller (if they get too big, you risk diminishing returns) and foster long-term peer mentorships. They can help entrepreneurs push themselves professionally by creating a structure to set and follow goals, provide a sounding board for your professional challenges and demand a level of accountability.
If you want to develop a work group, it’s important to create a structure and set goals:
- Figure out where you’re meeting online (Google Hangouts and Skype work great!)
- Decide how often you want to meet and how long (HAR founder, Steph Lee is has a weekly Mastermind and recommends you meet every week).
- Set a topic/purpose for discussion each meeting. Or, a structure you follow each meeting.
- Share goals, and set a goal for the next meeting.
- Hold one another accountable to your goals, by addressing continued progress.
You made it! There are a wealth of co-working/networking opportunities and we’d love to hear what works for you.
Did I leave out some of your favorites? Drop us a line in the comments below!
A MAJOR THANK YOU!
This article in and of itself is a testament to the powers of building working relationships in the travel industry and beyond! Thanks so much to our Facebook commenters—especially Tracee Williams, Daniela Harrison, Natosha West, and Maria Johnson who provided in-depth information about their first hand experiences! I couldn't have done it without your insights!