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Hallberg Travel & Tours — How to work with friends and family

Lately I’ve been thinking about the circus.  More specifically, I think I am channeling the tight rope walker who carries an impossibly large pole, yet walks gingerly across the high wire.  He takes one step forward, stops and then takes another.  Sometimes he takes a step back and then remains in place while the wire wobbles, maneuvering the pole to make it stop.  If he falls into the net, he’s embarrassed himself and those watching are disappointed and unimpressed.  Maybe they will never go to watch him again and he will be replaced with a better act.  Do you ever feel like a tight rope walker?

As a travel professional, I am acutely aware of the balancing acts I perform.  Some have always existed but it seems like the tight rope act has gotten so much more difficult, with more to lose.  Our world has evolved from simply balancing “work life” vs. “private life” and “friends” vs. “business associates“.  Now, it is all mixed up together.  Just consider Facebook–there’s my personal page where I can brag about my kids; and then there’s my business page where that would be unprofessional.  Yet, the social media pros tell us to be personal on our business page in order to relate more closely with our clients.  How am I supposed to be personal but not too personal?  Let’s face it, one of the more difficult balancing acts we must master is the friend-client relationship and I hope to offer some golden rules that might help us stay on that wire.

Rule #1:  Friendship trumps business

In my opinion, this is the most important rule when doing business with friends and family.  Most home-based travel agents have relied on family and friends to be their clients when first starting out, and I am no exception.  In fact, my friends encouraged me to consider the profession.  Ironically though, working with people we know very well can be hard.  I worry that the business will affect our personal relationship.  If something goes wrong, will my friend like me less?  Will I be embarrassed?  Why didn’t my friend book her up-coming vacation with me?  Did my nephew call me to book his honeymoon only because his mom told him to? Does he expect a big discount?  I have had these and other questions in my head when working with people I know well.  What I’ve learned is that not all of my friends and family members will be my clients.  In fact, many of them should not be my clients.  If they have difficult personalities and unreasonable expectations, then just like with anyone else, I can see that the end result will not be good.  Neither of us will be happy.  I’m better off keeping the friendship and saying no to the business.  Also, I accept that some friends choose to book their own travel for whatever reason and will never hire me.  Some people just don’t want help planning a trip, whether they are friends or not.  To save the friendship, I don’t question it, and try not to take their decision personally.   It’s not always easy to detach myself from my friends’ travel experiences, though.  Recently I booked a friend’s trip and there were some problems, one being the lousy weather.  While the friend did not hold me responsible, I did; and I was beating myself up over their less than perfect trip, which is taking it a bit too personal.

Rule #2:  Always get paid

There’s no good reason to work for free, even when hired by your brother.  While some friends and family do expect discounts, they probably don’t expect free.  And if they do, tell them to get over it.  Giving up your commission or waiving your fee will only serve to fan the flame of discontent whenever you work with this person professionally or personally.  When you hire your friend the insurance agent or doctor, do you expect them to give up their salary?  I do admit to treating my family and friends to something special – maybe an upgrade or a tour experience during their trip using a portion of the commission, but only in very special circumstances.

Rule #3:  No pushy selling in social groups

You know the guy–he shows up at a party with his latest business idea in his pocket and works the room giving demonstrations and passing out his business card.  Don’t be that guy.  How about the cousin who always has a Tupperware party to invite you to but otherwise never speaks to you?  Don’t be her either.  As a member of a book club, a gym, a church group, a neighborhood group and a golf group, I am very sensitive to over reaching the sales arm when it is inappropriate.  Your friends do not appreciate hearing a sales pitch every time they are in a room with you and a bunch of people.  On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with having your card and brochure with you in case an opportunity arises.  The subject of travel does come up in a lot of social conversations naturally.  Sometimes, when I have a group cruise or tour opportunities to sell and I’m attending a group gathering, I have successfully made a brief announcement like, “here’s a brochure for the trip I’m hosting next September.  Would love to have you come along.” And then place the flyers by the door.  I’ve had people pick one up and then call later.  I also try not to have discussions with clients in social situations about the logistics of their trip because I think it’s rude and turns off those who hear you.  These things are better handled in a phone call.  Asking about the trip afterwards in a social situation is definitely fair game, though.

Rule #4:  Clarify your role when travelling with a group of friends

If acting as a group leader or host on a cruise or a tour is part of your job, it’s important to remain professional.  Everyone else is there as a participant but you are there working as a leader who will handle logistics and emergencies.  Leading a tour group that contains a lot of your own friends means you are walking the tight rope even during the trip, and it is best to avoid the scenario completely.  I have found myself in this precarious position. What I believe would make life easier, is to communicate with the participants well in advance about the role I will play.  Am I attending as a participant or as a leader?  If I am attending as the group leader, I will tell them that I am available to answer their questions and handle their problems but I may not participate fully in every activity (so don’t take it personally if I don’t).  If the group is mostly friends and I am going as a participant, then I am not planning to work and will not necessarily be answering questions and locating lost luggage all day (again, don’t take it personally).

These are four rules that could help me walk the tight rope, but I’ve done my share of wobbling and falling, embarrassing myself.  I wonder what balancing techniques others use when working with friends and family.  How do you balance the relationships and keep from taking business too personally?

Am I handling it right? Do you have any rules for working with your friends and family?

Pam Hallberg is a travel consultant who enjoys arranging food and wine themed tours and cruises.  She owns her own home-based business, Hallberg Travel & Tours: Creating Tasteful Travel Experiences.

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