Special thanks to this episode's sponsor: Avoya Travel
An entrepreneur twice over, Laurie Burg has seen her sales skyrocket from $15M pre-pandemic, to $20M today.
We sit down and talk with Laurie about why she made the decision to have her Disney-only agency broaden its focus beyond the World of Walt.
Not only that, we discuss how she has managed to make the complex Disney bookings with low commissions profitable. (gasp!) The past ten years, she’s managed to iron out all the wrinkles and systemized the Disney booking process for both agents and clients, cutting down friction and optimizing conversions through thoughtful tweaks, such as different quote forms based on where clients are in the customer journey.
Laurie also shares some tips on how she build community in her team of advisors. During the pandemic she realized the importance of motivating her team and keeping spirits up, which resulted in the creation of a recognition program.
Whether you’re a Disney booking agency, a person looking for small changes you can add to your website to increase our sales, or someone looking at how to build a remote team, we’ve got a little something for all of you.
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- An in-depth primer on all things travel agent commissions.
- HAR's annual fee survey data and guide for charging fees.
- Disney World Planning and Booking Cheatsheet
- Disney Dining Reservation Calculator
- Best Disney Travel Agents Share Booking Secrets
- Laurie's landing page for clients who already booked elsewhere to transfer bookings.
- Sign up for e-mail reminders when the next Travel Agent Chatter episode comes out!
Fly to the moon with Steph! (Well, our names at least)
[00:00:00] Steph: You're listening to Travel Agent Chatter volume 22. That's right!!! We hit our 22nd episode in 2022!! How exciting is that? Very exciting is the answer to that in case you weren't sure.
Travel Agent Chatter is an audio series produced by the team here at Host Agency Reviews. And if you're just tuning in for the first time, bienvenidos! If this is your many-th time, welcome as well! It's great to have you back.
I am Steph Lee, the founder of Host Agency Reviews and your host for today's show.
So currently our Travel Agent Chatter station has two programs on it. The first is our weekly Friday 15, where we take 15 minutes out of every week to answer the questions that come in through the site.
FULL TRANSCRIPTION BELOW VIDEO
And then we also have our quarterly Travel Agent Chatter podcasts that you're listening to right now! And that's where we do more in-depth interviews with advisors from all corners of the industry. So the Friday 15, I would say is like the quick hello with the colleague, you exchange a little info and then off you go on your next adventure.
And then Travel Agent Chatter, or TAC, is like that sit down business dinner, where you really get to know someone more in depth and hear about the inner workings of their agency, what makes them successful and what makes them unique.
So today we dive in and we chat with the owner of a $20 million agency that has a strong Disney focus and family travel. Sales at her agency have grown from 15 million pre pandemic to 20 million today. And we're going to pick the brains of this New Orleans based agency owner and she's going to give us a couple of tips on Disney for all the Disney lovers out there.
And for all of you that don't sell Disney or don't sell very much of it, we've got something for you too! Our guest shares some of the unique ways that she uses her website to increase conversions. And she's also going to share with us how she trains her IC network for success by systematizing sales and growing community within her IC network.
So whether you're a Disney adviser or not, there is something to implement for everyone in this episode of Travel Agent Chatter.
Now without further ado, let's get onto the show!
Happy spring everyone! I do not know about you, but I am so excited for spring! So I come from Minnesota, so this is always very exciting when the snow starts melting. And to gauge my excitement about all things spring, I think it's important that you know, that I currently have 200 seedlings I'm nursing to get ready for the warmth here in Minnesota, and I have hundreds more yet to plant still.
So it is not just plants I'm excited about though— although I am very thrilled about that— but I am really excited about today's guest. So I'll be introducing Laurie Burg, the owner of Cupcakes Castles Travel Company out of New Orleans in just a tidge.
But before we jump into that fun, let's break down today's itinerary, just like any good agent would! So TAC comes in a variety of formats. We have our podcast version. We have a video on our YouTube channel, or if reading the transcript is your thing. You can find that at hostagencyreviews.com/TAC and clicking on volume 22.
So let's see what we've got. Any links or resources that we talk about today will be listed in today's show notes. And that again, you can find out hostagencyreviews.com/tac and clicking on episode 22.
And today's itinerary. We are going to break it down into four segments. So the first is beginnings. Next up is Disney. Then we'll break it down into services and we'll end it with our warm fuzzy segment as always.
So without further ado, let's see who we've got. Oh, the puppies just came to visit. So Laurie, welcome to Travel Agent Chatter.
[00:04:12] Laurie: Thank you. Hi Steph. How are ya?
[00:04:15] Steph: Good. It is such a treat to have you on the show today. I personally cannot believe it has taken us 21 episodes of Travel Agent Chatter to finally get to an agency that focuses on Disney. It's it's about downturn time, so I'm super, super excited.
Good. Well, we're gonna hear about how you ended up in travel and just a little bit, but the first thing I wanted to touch base on was how your background kind of set you up for all sorts of skills to be a really successful. Agency owner, like everything seemed to have come together for you to have this agency.
So you and I chatted before about your family vacations growing up and your dad essentially being a hardcore travel advisor. So tell us a little bit more about that and your dad's mad travel skills.
[00:05:03] Laurie: Yeah. So my dad also grew up traveling his father. I had a government job which had, you know, two, three weeks vacation every year and they would get in the car and just drive.
And he was, you know, the guy who mapped out all the itineraries and my dad just followed suit. Just that type, a planner who, you know, would show up at the AAA office, get his little books and his trip kits. And you know, all of the things that involve a road trip and off we went. So for years, we did that, we traveled twice a year.
We were committed to that. And one of those trips was always a road trip over the summer. After they, their commitment and our commitment to sports and softball season was ending and school was about to start. So we'd go off on a road. So. And then, you know, he just planned everything out to the tee.
He'd have restaurants, you know? Yeah. So we got to see all well, I got to see all 48 states by the time I was about 18 years old. Oh, wow. Yeah. So that's pretty special. And then I just finished off Alaska and Hawaii of the last four or five years. So all 15 under my belt.
[00:06:17] Steph: Do you collect spoons or like the pins or anything from —
[00:06:21] Laurie: It's crazy, eh, dad is the collector. He collects a lot of things. They always like to bring home a moan, you know, momentum. Typically it was an ornament for the Christmas tree, but I did not adapt that tradition I should have, but now I don't, I just have the memories and the photos, thankfully. So that's about it.
Yeah. And went off to college. And then
[00:06:43] Steph: What did you major in again?
[00:06:44] Laurie: So I majored in print journalism with an emphasis in public relations, took a lot of marketing courses along the way. And then you know, just still had an interest in travel, just having done that my whole life and thought that I would eventually, you know, get into it at some point, but didn't really know how to monetize it at that, at that time.
So I went off into a few different sales and customer service roles throughout my career, and then actually played volleyball for the university that I attended. So we traveled a lot for that. So I got to have, you know, fulfill the little travel bug, just not really on my terms
[00:07:25] Steph: [laughter] In gyms, a lot of gyms around the area.
[00:07:28] Laurie: Yes. But it was nice to be. Stay on the road, you know, like I was used to, but graduated college and then, you know, started another business, which sort of led to this. And here we are. So, yeah.
[00:07:42] Steph: Yeah, no, that's fantastic. So I know with your other business and your other business, how long were you doing that for again?
[00:07:51] Laurie: That was a little over 10 years.
[00:07:53] Steph: Yeah. And that was, that was really successful. You had a lot of social followings on your Facebook page and obviously were able to make a living out of that for 10 years. So, yeah.
[00:08:03] Laurie: Yep. Yeah. So it was a printing and personalization business that at the time was a pretty unique business model.
For the products that I offered this type of printing had just kind of come on the scene for one-off. And so it was, it was awesome. It was a hugely successful business, but it was at the point where I was going to have to move everything out of my home, which would then tie me up and not really allow me to be with my children, which was the point of me being a business owner in the first place.
So much flexibility. But it was the same target audience and, you know, my clients transitioned to travel clients. They were my website, you know, business, and then now they're travel clients.
[00:08:48] Steph: So yeah. And now you're celebrating the tenure anniversary of your agency. You've made it through the pandemic and, well, I know we're kind of still in it, but you've, you've made it through so far and, and your sales have actually grown from your pre pandemic sales, right? 15 million beforehand. And now they're up to 20 million.
[00:09:09] Laurie: Yep. So a couple of bumps in the road in 2020 and 21, you know, but we were building significantly last year and had record booking months all throughout 21. So we are really poised and set to, you know, do a whole lot more this year.
[00:09:26] Steph: I liked the way you call it a couple small bumps as if you know, like the verge of world war three and the pandemic around the world.
[00:09:35] Laurie: And well, you know, you just keep on that stuff, you know? I mean, it's hard not to yeah. We just, I think we would all just lose our minds if we were just in that cycle over and over again. So...
[00:09:49] Steph: Yeah, it's, it's been a rough couple of years of plummeling over and over again. And at some point you just kind of have to like, be like, all right, this is what things are and let's live our lives.
[00:10:01] Laurie: New normal, you know. I mean, I don't think it'll ever go back to what it was, at least not for awhile, especially with everything else going on in the world. Hopefully we're on a better trajectory than we were two years ago.
[00:10:12] Steph: Yeah. And you know, there are no Disneys in Eastern Europe, so that's a positive too.
[00:10:20] Steph: So let's, let's move into Disney because that's kind of, you know, it's a specialty area of yours. You don't exclusively sell Disney, but you sell a heck of a lot of it. So. First question is let's break down your sales. Cause we said you had 15 to 20 million in sales. But how would you break down your sales with Disney versus other products of that 20 million?
[00:10:42] Laurie: So about half of that is Disney. That's the combined brands of Disney World, Disneyland, Disney Cruise Line, Adventures by Disney, and then Aulani. So we're definitely heaviest with Disney World just because we have a lot of agents concentrated in the drive market. And then I would say Disney Cruise Line comes second, and then Disneyland, Adventures by Disney, and Aulani.
So that's about, yeah.
[00:11:10] Steph: Well, you know, there are so many Disney fans out there that eat, sleep and breathe Disney. Selling Disney seems like just the perfect fit for them and so dreamy and, and in some ways it, it really is. But I think it's also important for potential Disney sellers to understand that Disney pays some of the lowest commissions that are out there in the industry.
And unfortunately you know, unlike other suppliers, the commission level doesn't increase for Disney World or Disneyland. Even if you sell tens of millions of dollars of the Disney parks. So I'll, I'm going to put a link in the show notes to our article that goes over more in depth on commissions.
So for anyone not familiar with it, you can check that out and kind of see how Disney lines up against other kind of sections of the industry. But. I guess I'd like to kind of check in on— booking disney is tons of work. You know, you have to do the reservations, there's different, special events. And it's a lot more work than other products.
And would you agree with that, Laurie?
[00:12:14] Laurie: 100%. Yeah, for sure.
Especially now with the new system they just rolled out. You know, it's, it's a little bit of job security, I would say because travel agents are definitely the most knowledgeable with the new system, but yeah, there's lots of moving parts, even more so now.
[00:12:31] Steph: Yeah. And I think there's the option that the Disney adviser could really look at charging higher planning fees, kind of for their service to compensate, but one of the things, so we're just kind of pushing out every year we do our annual survey and we're just pushing out some data on the latest fee survey and the percent of — let me pull something up.
So I don't screw this up. Let's see. So the percent of Disney focused agencies that charge fees was in the bottom two of all the niches, which with only like 20% charging, some type of fee if Disney was their niche. So couple of questions for you, Laurie. The first is, what are your thoughts about how the market would hold up to a Disney advisor, charging fees, like higher fees for planning a trip?
What do you think the market would bear?
[00:13:21] Laurie: So, I mean, I think, you know, we do have a few agents on my team who do charge fees and people are paying them. So I think the biggest part is on the advisor, you know, the fear of the client, not paying it or not wanting to pay for it.
But I found, you know, once agents sort of wrap their hearts around their value they have no problem taking that step forward to charge the fee. Especially now we've, we've gotten a huge cut in our revenue with no dining plan to add to the packages. So that really does significantly cut the commissions that we're receiving. Cause that kind of offsets the 10%. It's raising the package price and I would say probably 80% of our clients were choosing that dining plan to add in there.
So until that comes back, you know, I really think charging a fee is absolutely not, you know, gonna derail your business. Especially now with the new Genie+ and you know, Disney Genie system that just rolled out not too long ago. So definitely I think the market can definitely handle it. It's just a matter of, of selling your value and communicating that to the client beforehand.
So, I mean, and I think newer agents, you know, could kind of go half, half and half. So would adapt the fee right away and, and understand all of the work that's involved. And then some are fearful that they're going to not have as much business. So, yeah.
[00:14:50] Steph: And, and I'll, I'll also put a link cause we have, for those of you that are struggling with whether or not to charge a fee and how much to charge, we have a lot of resources behind that that can give you hard numbers on what people are charging.
So cause— sometimes having that data backed decision can make people feel more comfortable that they're not charging $800 when everyone else is charging $200. And it, and then it has, we asked, I think over a hundred agents kind of advice on when they started charging fees, like how they, the verbiage they use when they're charging fees to clients, how they process them.
So we'll put a link in the show notes to that, for those that are interested in.
And then so Laurie, the, the couple of advisors of yours that do charge fees, do you have any idea in the ballpark of what they're charging?
[00:15:40] Laurie: So they range from $50 a day to $150 for the whole trip. It just really depends on the length of the stay, the number of guests and, you know, some of them tier packages.
So if they're just booking dining you know, really not doing anything else that, you know, it's sort of tiered that way. So it definitely is different per agent.
[00:16:01] Steph: Yeah. Perfect. So I guess the second kind of question I have on your agency's approach or I should say the approach of most Disney agents that I've spoken with is that —you're you have to look at it more if you're gonna specialize in Disney as doing a high volume of business in order to make it work. So since you're selling a lower commission product and if you're doing it without fees, you need to sell a lot of it. So can you expand because that's kind of the approach you've taken.
Can you tell us more about that and where that comes from?
[00:16:34] Laurie: So I think initially, you know, when we onboard agents, we, we really try to focus on who they want to attract to their funnel. So if a, if an agent is, you know, sort of mimicking their own client avatar, if they're mimicking themselves, we can kind of cater what type of volume are going to need to book in terms of what level of hotel and package that they're going to sell the most of.
But if we have somebody that's coming in, who is on the uber luxury scale, and they want to focus on larger transaction sizes versus larger volume, then that's a whole different set of instructions or, you know tips and advice that we give to them to be able to attract more luxury clients.
So it really just depends on, you know, what niche in this special niche that the agent is going to focus on, whether they're going to be, you know, value-moderate clients, and a few little deluxe here and there, or if they're going to strictly focus on marketing deluxe only. So it just really depends.
But our agency as a whole kind of fluctuates value-moderate, you know, for the most part. So that's why we have to, you know, go up to the volume that we have, you know, just to be able to keep up with the sales requirements and things like that.
[00:17:51] Steph: And we'll, we'll chat a little bit towards the end of the interview about how you how you managed to do such a high volume with such a time-intensive product. I Kind of working on systemization, but...
Let's see. So I think this podcast is a, is a great resource for like aspiring Disney travel advisors, but also, you know, any, I know advisors get asked a lot by, you know, people that are going to Disney that are family or friends.
So this can really help if you're getting questions from friends and family about becoming a Disney advisor, this can really help break down, I think, for people what they need to be aware of. So now that we've kind of gone over and discussed how you're a top Disney seller. What are your top three tips for Disney, like Walt Disney World when someone's booking it?
[00:18:43] Laurie: So, you know, we, we really try to figure out the dynamic of the family and just to kind of, you know, what is going to be the best fit in terms of conveniences.
So if we have a younger family, we're going to try to put them in, you know, a room or a hotel that is closest to the parks that we know that they're going to be at, which is typically on the monorail, which is close to the Magic Kingdom.
So really, building out a convenient package for the client to make sure that— we always say, if you, if you want to go back, just make sure your husband is happy the first trip. You know, if he's constantly folding the stroller to get on a crowded bus and holding a sleeping child on the way home, that's going to be the one and only trip that you take to Disney World. So definitely make the husband happy first on that first trip.
[00:19:32] Steph: We'll be back in a moment after a quick word from our sponsor.
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[00:20:05] Steph: Let's get back to our show, shall we?
[00:20:07] Laurie: And then, you know, just making sure that people understand the dining dynamics and how important it is to have something like that in place, in terms of reservations ahead of time. You know, that is definitely something that some people push back and resist who aren't as familiar with Disney.
They don't want to plan everything to the minute they want to go and be impulsive, but we kind of outline it as, you know, we're planning a wedding where we're going to get that venue set up first, and then we're going to do the food, and then further down the line, we're going to get into the details of where we're going to be in each day.
So that would kind of be the, you know, the top three tips would be location, dinner reservations or whatever, the, the dining choice they choose, and then where you're going to be each day and really mapping that out to where you're maximizing your time every day.
You're going to be exhausted. That's one of the things that we like to prepare them for as well, whether you're a marathon runner or, you know, somebody who's not active at all, you're gonna get exhausted, you know, for walking as much. So we try to educate them on that too, and just sort of try to communicate the entire value of the trip based on where we put them, where they're going to eat, and then of course, you know, which day each park you're going to visit. So it's all sort of built into that presentation that we give when we're qualifying really.
[00:21:34] Steph: Yeah. Well, the the adults will be tired, but the good thing is that children are also tired.
[00:21:40] Laurie: Absolutely.
[00:21:42] Steph: That's the goal of all of this is to tire the children out and create the memories!
Well, we also have some a few articles about Walt Disney World. A link to in the comments if anyone's interested. So we have an article on Walt Disney World booking tips from some other advisors that people might be interested in.
We also have some resources like a Disney dining reservation calculator and resort reservation calculator. For those of you that hate doing the math backwards and things like that. And haven't come up with your own Excel sheet. We have it for you! So I'll put those links in the comments.
But before we jump into the next section, I just wanted to see if there's any sort of tips you have for agents that are booking Disney or aspiring Disney agents, kind of about their career trajectory and things to think about.
[00:22:34] Laurie: So it's, it takes a while for you to really get your footing and establish a foundation to attract clients.
That's the biggest piece you can know Disney up and down and backwards and forwards. But if you don't have clients, you know, you don't really have any reason to be in business. So that's the biggest piece is you're in business. You're in a sales position. You have to convince people to book Disney with you because they can get it from anywhere.
And there's, it's a very crowded marketplace, so really conveying why they want to work with you and establishing that at the onset. That's really important, but you know, you have to be patient and understand that it's going to take, you know, at least a year or two to really establish a foundation.
You might want to keep your day job. You know, when you first dive into this, unless you have a huge platform that you've already built, similar to the case when I started. I was able to dive in because I had that, that foundation of clients already. But when you're building, that's, it's tough to, to replace an income right off the bat.
So that's something that you know, we, we talked to our incoming agents about if they do have another job, you know, it it's, it can be a little bit of a struggle to juggle everything, but we try to teach them time management as best we can to do things in certain, you know, chunks of time.
I think that's the biggest thing that we get is that they come in and they're really excited and passionate about a product, but then, oh my goodness, this is a lot of work. I'm responsible for the success or the failure of this business. So that's not a position that a lot of people come to us being accustomed to. They're used to being, you know, an employee or a teacher or, you know, whatever the case may be, where they're not necessarily responsible for driving business to their door. So that's a big one.
[00:24:31] Steph: And then like, as cause I know for you as time went on with your agency, you, you made the decision to still focus on Disney, but also to move past Disney and add that to the repertoire. So is that something you would recommend that people think about?
[00:24:50] Laurie: Definitely, you know, in the most natural is to build with the other Disney brands first. So if you're, you know, heavy Disney World get on a Disney Cruise and figure out how you can market that to your clients. Typically your deluxe, you know, your higher end deluxe clients will be the ones that will want to go on a Disney Cruise.
And even if it's just the three or four nights sailing, just to kind of experience the product, it's definitely a good idea because you can earn up to 16% commission with that.
[00:25:18] Steph: Yeah, it's tiered! For now, anyhow.
[00:25:21] Laurie: Yeah. For now. Right.
And then, you know, Universal, that's right up the road. You may not really enjoy thrill rides per se, but they have a wonderful product. They're a great partnership. And they also— I know with Travel Leaders, we have a tiered commission program with them as well.
So depending on your consortium, I'm not sure if they have that agreement with any other consortias, but that's definitely a natural progression to you know, explore that destination as well, just to be able to increase that yield.
But we resisted that at first because we were trying to build our Disney business and we were just adding on tickets, but then we got down there and actually stayed in their properties and fell in love with the entire area. So we, I mean, we catapulted, you know, really quickly with them after we got down there and experienced the the hotels and the overall, you know, entire destination. So now we sell it as a destination in of itself.
You know, just don't be afraid to you know, explore other options. And then if you're doing a great job, your clients are going to need help with other destinations as well. And the next natural progression was the fun and sun packages in Mexico and the Caribbean.
So we've partnered with you know, different tour operators and wholesalers to you know, gain a lot of business as well because they were coming back from war.
[00:26:46] Steph: So, yeah, I mean, I think it really makes sense from kind of just a natural progression standpoint that your clients and their children are going to be getting older and not going to want to be going to Disney every year.
So instead of having to find new clients, it makes sense to kind of focus on products that they'll be interested outside of Disney.
[00:27:07] Laurie: Right. And, and you know what I try to coach my team is that, you know, you, you came here with a specialty in an expertise. And you're monetizing that at this point, but you still have to build that expertise in these other destinations.
So you can't just read from a book on how to sell Universal. You actually have to go there and, you know, feet on the ground and explore it yourself because you're in, you know, you're an accidental expert in Disney, because you've all you've been there so many times with your family and you're monetizing it now. You need to, to shift and try to monetize these other areas and it really takes a commitment. Getting to the destinations to take a deep dive and learn.
And even if it's, you know, your first visit as a family trip, if you want to take a family trip to Mexico and you know, to an all-inclusive.
[00:27:56] Steph: That's the that's the best way to sell is to actually experience it.
[00:27:59] Laurie: Definitely for sure.
[00:28:01] Steph: Well, let's, let's hop over to our next segment cause I want to talk about some of the service you offer. So there's a few interesting things on your website that I found that I don't often see. And the first is that you state that as part of the services that you provide clients for booking Disney, is that you do continual price monitoring for them and we'll rebook them at a lower rate if it's available. So how do you make that work with such a time intensive product already?
[00:28:26] Laurie: Yeah, so it's just part of our daily routine. I mean, you know, with our finger on the pulse of, of sort of when these offers come out and just knowing the patterns of, of when that happens, just from experience, you know, we, we just do that as a courtesy.
But we do try to, you know, let the client know, let's book what you're comfortable with. And then if a discount comes out, it's sort of land yap as we say, here in New Orleans— it's just a bonus.
So sometimes we'll try to move them up a category. If they're in a moderate resort and they're spending, you know, $4,000 already on a package and a discount comes out, they might be able to go over to, you know, a deluxe resort for about the same price or maybe just a few bucks more with a discount offer or not.
So we just try to keep them within that price range that they're comfortable with and then really try to, to keep them in that price range, if we can. If we know they're flexible enough to be able to move up that level of resort.
[00:29:28] Steph: Yeah. And then another thing on the site that you have is there's a specific page for clients who have booked direct either with Disney, Sandals, or the cruise lines.
And I'm going to link to this to that landing page in the show notes, if anyone wants to check it out. So you have this form where they can transfer the bookings to you, which is a really cool option I don't think I've seen elsewhere. So my question is like, how often is this used in, would you recommend kind of this approach for other TA's?
I mean, it's not front and center on there, but you can find it relatively easily.
[00:30:01] Laurie: So I guess when I started my business Disney did not have many limitations for booking transfers. We could transfer— I don't even know— they could be paid in full and then they could be checking in in a week and
[00:30:14] Steph: Wow!
[00:30:15] Laurie: — For the booking. Yeah.
But that ended a couple of years in, I guess. And then they started putting stricter regulations on it. But it's a good way to capture business when you're having some of these conversations early on. If somebody did just book their trip and you're spreading the word and they said, oh, we just booked, you know, or we were getting ready to go and in three weeks or whatever the case may be. It's just a conversation that you can have to be able to provide your services to them, if it falls within the criteria, of course.
And we just have it there just as a convenience to be able to redirect our clients if we know during that conversation, that that's, you know, what they're wanting to do.
But as a business approach, it's basically something we bring up in conversation if we're talking to somebody about what we do and they've mentioned to us that they just booked something. It's just a tactic. Sometimes it doesn't work out, but it keeps us top of mind with them for next time if, if there is an opportunity for us to capture business.
And then also when these discount offers come in, clients are quick to jump online and book something really quickly. And if we could not get it ourselves and the client could get it direct for whatever reason— with, you know, availability jumping around like crazy— that's another opportunity that we, you know, try to capture when they've had to book it on their own and they still need our help and are confused and just looking at all of the options...
[00:31:41] Steph: Well, and it's, it's like an, it's like a one-time form you set up on your site with this landing page and it's not a super complex form by any means. And it allows you to gather the data really quickly. It allows you to have a landing page to send someone with a really easy call to action.
So it's yeah. Especially when I'm hearing from you that people actually use it, it seems kind of like a no brainer to have on your site.
[00:32:05] Laurie: Yeah, like you said, it's not anything that's front and center. Before all of the, those restrictions were put in, we did have it on the front page. Something that's had already booked or whatnot, but we just sort of moved it to the back just because it's really not necessary at this point to, to really have that on the front page.
[00:32:24] Steph: Yeah. And then on one of your quote forms something else that I saw that was kind of unique. So when someone selects when they're on your team of advisors and they select one they want to work with, so it gives— the first thing that pops up is it asks two questions. So one of them is like, I agreed to work with the agency and place a courtesy hold in my name.
And the other one is I only want to price quote, but I understand that that quote is not guaranteed. So I'm kind of curious which one clients typically choose, because it would be great if we could tweak more prospects forms to ask about courtesy holds and like see higher conversion rates.
So what do you see happening with this?
[00:33:06] Laurie: So, I mean, most of them don't choose the courtesy form courtesy hold—
[00:33:10] Steph: Darn it!
[00:33:10] Laurie: But have that in place. Yeah. Really because of the, the nature of the discount offers that Disney puts out because time is of the essence, you know. If we know that we're booking into a very busy travel sometimes the agent will go ahead and put that courtesy hold in place, whether the client asks for it or not.
So it's sort of a business practice. We put it out there on the form just to inform them and let them know that it's there. But you know, it just really nine out of 10 times, they're choosing just the quote phase. But it was really developed because of the nature of how quickly some of these worms go during the the heavy travel season.
[00:33:49] Steph: I think it's a good reminder where they have to select it and read it. They understand the quote is not guaranteed because you can have that in your signature line or wherever you want, but it's just like another reminder to people that the inventory and prices change.
So let's see. So going along these quote forms too, I sound like I'm OCD about your site, the way I've been digging in. But I noticed you have to quote forms. So you have the one on the agent side that's a more in depth.
And then you have like a quick quote form that's on the blog and other places. So what's the thought process behind having kind of a quick quote and then a more in-depth quote form on your site?
[00:34:34] Laurie: So we really send most of our, you know, warmer leads to the more in depth quote form. So that we can extract the information that we need right off the bat. But if it's you know, a quick lead that, that finds us on the website, then we just send them through that quick quote, because it's just, like, it says it's a lot quicker to fill out.
We found that we've gotten a lot more, you know, inquiries that way, just by making it shorter and sweet. And then we just do some canned responses that we always send whenever we get the quick And just basic qualifying questions that aren't as long as the, the long form, but then you know exactly what we need to know based on what they've given us so far.
[00:35:17] Steph: Yeah. I, I liked the idea too. Cause again, that's something more unique that I've seen. Most people just have one contact us or quote, form that people are going to, but I think you're onto something, in that the visitors to your site, like some of them are much warmer leads than others and you're going to have a higher conversion rate if you're approaching them in the right fashion.
Growing Your Business
[00:35:39] Steph: So. Sure. Yep. Well, let's, let's switch gears and moving to another section. So talking about kind of growing your business. So the first question I have is how do you find new clients?
[00:35:51] Laurie: So, you know, Facebook used to be a huge resource for us in terms of you know, traffic to the website and people being able to see what we post. But at this point it's so tricky just to be able to figure out what all the algorithm is in place.
[00:36:07] Steph: Ah, Facebook. [laughs]
[00:36:08] Laurie: Yeah. I mean, we still use it as a tool and I would say we get a good bit of business from there and building relationships with our products. But mostly it's word of mouth and referrals.
Once we have clients, you know, already in our fold, we do everything we can to keep in touch with them and ask for referrals from them. Some of my agents have referral programs where they'll, you know, pay another, the person who refers a piece of business that's actually closed and travels, then that referral will get a $25 gift card or something like that.
So there's different tactics in place. We do a lot of email marketing. I encourage list-building like crazy just because social media platforms are just so erratic. We never know what what's going to happen to our information.
[00:36:55] Steph: Yep.
[00:36:56] Laurie: We've had instances where we've seen things where people lose their Facebook account altogether if, if they feel like they violated anything at all. It's you just never know what can happen. So we don't rely solely on social to market. And you know, some of my agents do trade shows and, and local you know, just markets that they go set up at to establish relationships in their communities.
[00:37:26] Steph: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So you, you also have a really strong blog on your site and by strong, I mean, it's very active cause sometimes you visit a site, you know, four years ago they went to a Aruba or something and that's it.
So that's like the big challenge. So how do you keep up with the blog post and post so often?
[00:37:46] Laurie: So I have someone do that for me.
[00:37:49] Steph: Well, I don't do it Steph, that's how!
[00:37:52] Laurie: So yeah, I mean, I've just adopted the philosophy just because you can, doesn't mean you should. And really tried to offload a lot of things that while I love writing. I don't have the time for it. So you know, I'll come up with some type of editorial calendar, you know, that my social media person and media person can follow or not.
She sometimes comes up with the content herself, but it's just something that I had to get rid of and we needed on our site just to be able to, you know, help in the search engine. You know, all of SEO and all of that stuff. So that's kind of why it's in place and just to be able to redirect our clients as well.
Sometimes agents will submit you know, an evergreen piece if they want it to live on the website and they can send their clients back to the article. It just depends. So we have a few different approaches there.
[00:38:43] Steph: Yeah. I actually saw something earlier this week or last week on a, an agency site where they had, they had a host of independent contractors, I think that worked with them, but they, they all had, like, I think they must've been assigned blogs or something. Cause then they had, you know, all of a sudden they had 50 blog posts on different kind of areas of expertise that the ICS were on. And I was like, that was really smart.
[00:39:11] Laurie: And that's opening for us with it. We don't require them to do that, but if they want to submit something that's evergreen and they would like to link back to it from an easy, or, you know an e-newsletter they can that, so, yeah.
[00:39:24] Steph: And do you, so, you know, you talked about the strategy behind the blog being SEO and bringing in, do you get a lot of organic traffic through the blog?
[00:39:37] Laurie: She's far more of an expert on the keywords and all of that stuff. So that again, that's another reason I'm not online.
[00:39:47] Steph: Well, okay. So you have IC's that you give leads to. So how do you decide who gets the leads and how do you, how do you divvy those up to be most effective for both the agent and the clients?
[00:39:59] Laurie: So some of what we don't have a lot of, you know, we don't give out a ton of leads. That's just not really in our in our contract and really how we coach the agents.
Some come in and I typically go geographically. Or if it's somebody who's come to us from a referral that we don't know that's a referral right off the bat, I always screen and figure out who sent them to us. So I always screen that and figure out if they've been referred.
But we try to coach from the beginning that it's the agent who wants to attract who they want to work with.
So instead of just spending money on lead generation we would rather focus on building each agents list in terms of who they want to attract. So we focus more on that then lead generation at the agency level. Some do come in through social channels through Instagram and Facebook, and then they're, you know, led to the website. And those, we just try to go geographically or if they've been referred by somebody.
[00:41:00] Steph: Yeah. Cause you, you had talked about with ICS. That, you know, really walking them through you, you talk about having an avatar on who this, who your ideal client is, you know, is it someone that's your age or do you want to be working with like wealthy populations that you don't fit into, but you think would be really cool.
You know, really focusing in on who that client is going to be. So as, and that's part of your training with the new advisors for your agency. So do you have any tips for agencies out there that might be looking to either on hire someone new as an employee, or if they're looking to start maybe a host agency division, but what kind of training tips have you learned through the years that are really effective?
[00:41:47] Laurie: Well, I mean, I think starting from, you know, that one element of who you want to attract into your business, that's a critical piece. Because if you just throw spaghetti on the wall and hope that it sticks, you never know. I mean, the messaging that you put out is exactly what you're going to get coming back.
So messaging is huge. The client avatar is huge. And if you know, good exercise is really just to start with yourself. And we find that that's the easiest transition for people who have never marketed a business or, you know, targeted a specific clientele. But since you know, all of the nuances within yourself and the pain points that you've had throughout your travel experience...
You know, we've all traveled with toddlers infants, all the way up to teenage, young adult people. So it kind of changes as we go through this, this cycle. But to start with yourself in a certain point of your traveling experiences is the easiest place to start. And then your messaging kind of flows after.
[00:42:47] Steph: Yeah. And, and for your, your training for your ICS, you have— and again, we'll get to kind of your systematic approach to things— but you have a 12 week training program for them that self-guided. Can you give us a big overview of kind of what's involved with that?
[00:43:07] Laurie: So the 12 week, the opt-in, you know, paid program that gets a paid one-on-one coaching program. So it's self guided to a point, but it's also, you have, you know, the mentor that's sort of leading you along the path of, of the scaffolding approach that we have with the training. So we just take them through the 12 weeks and we really focus on not getting behind on the work, just because it builds week to week.
And it's really just establishing that business foundation and adopting that mindset of being responsible for driving the business to your front door. Just because you are an agent and you're on the website and here we are in business, does not mean that you're going to get business coming to you.
So you can hang the shingle, I guess they call it. I don't know. There's some little saying, just because you hang a shingle doesn't mean you're going to have a business. So we really try to teach them those ideals that, you know, you have to start with this point and then build from here. And then if you need to revisit you go back and you know, to a certain point rebuild in the certain areas of the training program that we have.
And then if they opt out of the coaching program, they still have modules that they go through as a base training that brings them through, you know, sort of how to navigate the startup. It's just more completely self-guided. They don't have somebody there where you turn in work and they review the submissions and give you feedback on warm letters and all of that stuff. They're on their own doing that stuff themselves. I would say nine out of 10 agents that we on board opt into the coaching program versus just the self guided.
[00:44:46] Steph: We'll be back in a moment after a quick word from our sponsor.
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[00:45:20] Steph: Let's get back to our show, shall we?
You and I have talked about too, the, one of the challenges with a new entrepreneur, especially if they have traditionally held employee jobs, is that mindset switch from being an employee where there's a lot of people to take care of other things for you, versus when everything falls on your plate and you're the one driving the business forward. You have to have that... you have to have that energy and that vision. And, and, and coaching people through that. Cause it can be a mental block for a lot of people.
[00:45:58] Laurie: Definitely.
And we get a lot of resistance in the beginning if they don't fully understand that, that whole concept. But yeah, that is huge. It's huge.
And we get a lot of moms too, who have not been in the workplace for many years. You know, they've been raising young children and here they've found something that they can feel like they're contributing to the family household income and they are just, they're blown away at how much work it actually is .
And it's hard because we don't want to take the excitement or the wind out of their sails because typically when people come into this niche, they're so excited and it's such a place that brings so much joy to so many people.
And it's very easy to lose, lose sight of that when we're training them. Because we know that this, you know, we got to get down to business here. It's not just all of the pixiedust, rainbows and all that stuff.
[00:46:51] Steph: Exactly.
[00:46:52] Laurie: You know, delicate balance between. Feeding them a dose of reality and keeping that excitement.
[00:47:01] Steph: And I think something that you do well internally to motivate people is you have a lot of internal recognition and sales recognition set up for your team. So can you tell us more about how effective that is and kind of what type of recognition programs you have in place?
[00:47:18] Laurie: So we just started that a couple of years ago. And it really came about through the pandemic just to, really before the pandemic, because we were doing so well. And then all of a sudden we hit this wall. I felt like recognizing those folks who had really worked their tails off in 19 and going into 20, I needed to recognize them to make sure that they kept motivated, if you will. And, and just the desire to keep going and keep moving forward. That was something that I kept repeating in my head. Just keep moving forward, keep moving forward.
And so that sort of resonated with, you know, creating this, this recognition program to where we could keep going forward and just continue to hit these goals like we used to do and feel so happy and great about it.
And, you know, we've continued it on and, and it's just, it's, sales-based you know, we have to recognize that we are a sales organization, whether we like it or not. We have minimums that we need to meet in order to stay in certain tiers that we're in, that we've accomplished. So, you know, that that's tough for some to, you know, to digest.
But then we also have internal stuff that we recognize people for. I mean the Better Together award was actually just established last year, just for people that we have in our organization who really do exemplify the idea of the all around good person who, you know, really carry through our our ideals and, and just the types of, of atmosphere and culture that we want to cultivate and continue to evolve.
You know, some get their, their feelings hurt if they're not in the numbers, but it's also really good for the ones who are motivated by numbers to be able to feel like they are recognized and are accomplished what they are here to do. So...
[00:49:05] Steph: And you have within the sales recognition structure, you have it so, you know, if you're a new advisor, you're obviously not going to make the top sales most likely. So you, you kind of have it broken down. So there's no matter where someone is on their journey as an advisor, there's some kind of a tier that they can actually make it onto realistically, if they have the motivation and desire to do that.
[00:49:30] Laurie: Yup. Yup. And we've made it to where it's, you know, some of the, like the Rising Star awards, you know, those are a little bit easier to accomplish. But it is something that's building toward where we really want them to be. So they still should be recognized because they're working really hard, especially for, and you know, really building that foundation.
And it's not super low, you know, it's definitely up there for some who are just getting into the business.
[00:49:55] Steph: It's not a reward for everybody!
[00:50:00] Laurie: That is, you know, unfortunately the culture we're living in these days. But yeah, no—
[00:50:05] Steph: These are actually earned. These are actually earned!
Well. So one of the other things is your team is remote. And it can be really challenging. I think a lot more people are experiencing this now since so many people work from home, but it can be challenging to build a sense of community when everyone's remote. So what kind of tips do you have for other agency owners or entrepreneurs that are looking to build up their remote team? How do you build community?
[00:50:34] Laurie: Yeah, so I mean, the face-to-face interaction is always best. We try to plan as many trips together as we can. And even in smaller little groups, I have agents who traveled together. You know, on a regular basis of two or three times a year, if they can.
So really that is the most important is committing time to just get to know one another in person. But as a remote position, you know, having the, the Zoom meetings, having little contests in place and you know, just keeping the engagement up.
And it's hard as a business owner and a leader to show up in that way all the time, you know? So it's very natural for some of those things to rise and dip and rise and dip, you know, in terms of what you're able to contribute to lead. But being there and being present and letting them know that, you know, we're all in this together and to try to attempt to get as much face time as we can, even if it is virtual.
[00:51:32] Steph: Yeah. And you do, you do fam groups, you plan fam trips as well that allow your team members to get to know each other and kind of interact.
[00:51:41] Laurie: Those are the best. Yeah, we all look forward to that. And I mean, I know the first one we were able to do last year after the pandemic, it was like, oh my gosh.
You know, I think it was just so nice. Even if we were masked and outdoors, you know, it was still just really great to reconnect and be together again.
[00:51:58] Steph: Yes! Well, okay. So I saved the best for last and we talked about this earlier, how in order to make Disney work, you really have to have some kind of a system in place. And you need to book a lot of it, which is challenging because it's time intensive.
So you've really managed to systematize things. And I'd love to hear more specific examples that you do within your agency and that you teach your agents that have helped you out.
So what are things— what, what are some things agents can do, Disney or otherwise, to help really streamline their agency?
[00:52:35] Laurie: So we talk a lot about boundaries from the beginning and that sort of is a buzzkill sometimes. You know, a lot of agents, they shoot out of a cannon. And like I said, they're so excited and they're so passionate about what they're doing. And it's okay, you know, to be that passionate and be super available, which is critical in your business to be available right?
But at the same time, just keep in mind that it doesn't, it's not sustainable long-term if you're always on and you're always available to people. So that's the first and foremost.
But really taking the, the mundane tasks and breaking it down, even when it comes to client care. We all know that all of the moving parts in the Disney realm, we have to sort of compartmentalize each one of those sets of, of things that we have to do for our clients.
And what we try to do is to set up calls with our clients instead of having all of the email back and forth, back and forth. We like to schedule calls and really go through all of the information. It cuts down on the back and forth emails. It allows the clients to actually prepare for the call and it, and it really trains them on how you work.
So from the beginning, have conversations with your clients that this is how I work. This is the way that I'm the most efficient and the best way to reach me is X, Y, Z. So really defining how you work from the beginning is one of the foundational pieces.
And ,then you can sort of map out your day and your week from there because you're not constantly getting interrupted with texts and phone calls. And obviously the emails are gonna come through, but if you can chunk certain tasks throughout your day and doing similar tasks all at the same time, you're much more efficient because your brain power is focused on that one particular type of task.
So if it's data entry into the system. All new bookings, you know, you're, you're putting in on a Wednesday. All client payments, you're doing on a Thursday. You answer client calls from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM on Monday and Tuesday.
So really just trying to set up routines for yourself that become habitual and that, you know, things that it just makes you're used to operating your day that way. And then backing it up to step one is informing your clients and setting that expectation, this is how I work.
So that's been the best piece of advice that we, that I can, that I can think of to newer agents starting out is to start thinking along those lines that, yeah, right now you may have a handful of clients, but further down the line, when your volume grows, you're going to be treading water at best if you don't systematize and come up with what works best in your day.
We've all got the same amount of hours. It's up to us to dictate what those hours are going to do for us and what return we're going to get out of the work that we're putting in within those hours.
[00:55:36] Steph: Yeah. It's almost like the model T production line idea, where you're so much faster if someone's just able to focus on, on one thing instead of building the whole car and then going back and building another car.
[00:55:48] Laurie: Exactly. Yeah. And I mean, I think I brought this up in our initial call that, you know, in my previous business that's sort of, it was a production environment. So. I tied all of the bows at the same time on the packaging, you know, I've got it to a certain point and I was tying a bow over and over and over again.
And it just went so much more smoothly. Same thing with batching orders, you know, the same exact type of order that I'm doing, if it's a cup or if it's whatever the case may be. You're exactly right. It's the, the production line type of environment that if you can replicate that in a service-based business, it's much easier.
[00:56:24] Steph: Agreed.
[00:56:26] Laurie: Then you're not forgetting to do this particular task. It's all set and regimented.
Now, obviously there has to be some flexibility. You're going to have things that interrupt your day, but if you can become proficient and attempting to create your schedule that way, I think it's the easiest thing to follow.
And then of course being open for it to, to have to shift around a little bit too, is as your business evolves and changes. You have to change your workflow a little bit as you go.
[00:56:56] Steph: Yeah. I also find it's a lot mentally. It's a lot easier for me when I do things like during a certain time. Like I don't get as overwhelmed versus like jumping back and forth, you never really feel settled in that you're accomplishing anything. But, you know, if you sit down and you tie 50 bows or you, you know, return 50 emails, you're like, oh yeah, I did— I was pretty good today! You know?
[00:57:23] Steph: Yeah, well, I think it is time to start wrapping things up. So friends, we are going to head into our warm fuzzy segment. So for those of you that are new to the club, this is the segment to listen to when you're burnt out and you're wondering why we're in the business we're in. It's an awesome industry, but it's also a very tough industry, especially lately.
So, Laurie, do you have a story to share about something you've done for a client or a random act of kindness the client has shown you that really kind of warmed your heart, that you would be able to share?
[00:57:55] Laurie: So, you know, I think we all have those, those warm and fuzzies about our clients and how will they appreciate us in the many emails that we get, the flowers that are sent and, you know notes that are dropped in the mail to us that show appreciation.
But I feel like my warm and fuzzy is more so from the leadership role and what I've been able to provide to so many women: to be able to be present. I mean, for me, you know, growing up, all of my friends knew that they were going to be teachers, doctors, lawyers, whatever the case was. I always said, I just want to be a mom. I just want to be a mom.
And that just sort of carried with me my entire life. And then I become a mom and then I have to go to work. And I'm not able to be a mom. You know, so for me, that is the, the, the most rewarding thing out of this business is being able to be part of a community where I'm enabling other women, other moms, the ability to be able to be home with our children and still be present, but then make a contribution to the family, you know, to the household income.
And, you know, to know that I've made that difference in people's lives is motivation for me to keep going every day and keep forging forward.
And then from then, from an agent perspective, bringing that joy to those families. I mean, what more could we ask for? You know being able to open doors for people who didn't realize that those doors could be open?
My top producer, she did not think she could afford a Disney vacation until she booked one and was able to afford it. So that's who she targets. Those people who didn't think they could ever afford a Disney vacation and she makes that happen for them.
So it's really just the doors that, that we are all able to open to you know-- for me, in my case to my agents and the other ladies who want to come in and make a significant impact on their families income.
And then other, you know, agents who are able to open that door for their clients. And me personally, I've had moms cry in face-to-face meetings. Being able to put that deposit down finally, after waiting for so long to take their family on this, you know, meaningful vacation, they've actually shed tears.
So it's, it's such an amazing industry to be a part of. And, you know, thank God that we've been able to, you know, get through this and really see a light at the end of the tunnel and still be able to, you know, make this story happen for people. So it's, it's an incredible industry. I'm so lucky and so blessed.
[01:00:29] Steph: Yeah. It's you know — we didn't travel ever growing up and we took one big trip to Walt Disney World when we were younger and that was my first time on a plane. And I think my last time before I turned like 20 or 21, so like we did not travel. And it was such a big deal and like such strong memories for me. So I, I, I very much connect with what you're saying.
Well, thank you so much for sharing Laurie and coming on today.
[01:00:57] Laurie: Of course I'm happy to, it was exciting. I'm glad we were finally able to do it.
[01:01:02] Steph: Yes. And folks, we are going to wrap up another episode of TAC, but if you like the TAC episodes and want to make sure not to miss another one, you can go to hostagencyreviews.com/remindme—all one word and sign up for emails and we'll email you when our next quarterly episode comes out.
And we will be back next Friday at 12:00 PM central time for our weekly Friday 15, where we answer your industry questions. So we will see you next Friday. Thanks everyone.
You can read the transcript fee, view the show notes and watch video of today's episode all in one place. So head on over to hostagencyreviews.com/tac and click on episode 22.
And, you know, that's about all I have to say for this outro. It's strangely short, isn't it? I feel like I should be seeing a call to action or something, but all I can think of to say instead of a call— well, instead of a call to action having to do with Travel Agent Chatter or HAR, I'm just going to say I'm really excited because I signed up to have my name sent around the moon.
That's right. For those of you that have stayed on long enough for this intro, you're going to find out the secret that NASA is launching Artemis soon and going up to the moon and going around the earth. And you can sign up to have your name on a thumb drive that will be on board!!!! So I'm going to put a link in the show notes for those of you that want to join me on that thumb drive cruising around the earth.
So we will see you next time!