Driving down a canopy covered road in northern Florida yesterday, I spotted a sign at a Methodist church that indicated an “Alternative Christmas Market” was being held. The parking lot was filled with cars, and it certainly looked liked a good opportunity to pick up some interesting presents. The very thought that I would actually have any shopping done prior to the absolute last minute was a source of peculiar pride. The word “alternative” suggested to me that I would be able to find some most unusual gifts, something never before seen under a Christmas tree by any of the people on my list this year.
As I walked through the doors of the church, I saw immediately that I had misunderstood the nature of an “alternative” Christmas. Silly me. In two aisles were approximately 40 booths representing local not-for-profit organizations. There were homeless shelters exhibiting and organizations operating childrens’ homes. Several booths represented women’s safe-havens. The Alzheimer’s Project of Tallahassee, Big Bend Hospice, Literacy Volunteers of Leon County, and Habitat for Humanity were all there. One booth, St. Frances Wildlife Association, had a live American Kestrel, a small hawk injured when young and being rehabilitated. The “gifts” you could purchase were donations for any of these organizations in your own name or the name of another.
Even in TRO’s columns, we often approach the topic of marketing in the abstract. The reality is, however, that for all of the strategies and tactics you employ in marketing your travel practice, at the end of the day it comes down to how authentically you affect people. When people believe in your message, they are drawn to your business. This is a topic we discuss often on TRO, and there are a wide variety of venues into which you can project your personality and mission statement. You can tweet and post and advertise without end and often without any cost.
Let me suggest an additional, alternative possibility.
Pick a cause and give it your time. By joining others for good causes or civic committees, you not only work toward a positive goal in your community, but you also earn the opportunity to let new people know about your travel practice, your attention to detail, and the personality behind your skill set. As the other participants get to know you in a volunteer setting, their understanding of you in a charitable context serves to create a bond that can translate in a very positive way into a personal or business relationship. Importantly, you will discover that much of the pressure is off of you to “market” as you provide your services to the community. Knowledge of you and your business is a happy by-product of your central mission of giving to others.
It’s just an idea, but it is in local communities that most travel agents will find their largest base of clients, and it is your local community that will be most affected by participation in a not-for-profit. It’s Zen Marketing, the art of Marketing without Marketing. What a relief to get away from the office and immerse yourself in an activity where you get by giving. Who knows what may finally derive from your charitable activities?
As for myself, I intend to take my own advice this year. TRO will be donating to several of the organizations at the Alternative Christmas market and I’ll be volunteering at one in particular.
Somewhere in northern Florida, a small brown kestrel just earned its wings.