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When Life Gets in the Way

Susan SchafferIt happens to the best of us – life interferes with work. In the corporate world, or storefront agency model, there are other agents on hand that can pick up the slack. So if you call in sick, have a family emergency, or life gets in the way in others ways, there is someone available to take care of your clients in your absence.

For independent agents, even many with a host agency, most of the time we’re on our own. So if you have a few sick days, are in an accident and hospitalized for weeks, or have a family emergency demanding all of your time and attention, what happens to your business and your clients? In talking with agents, I have noticed that those never having faced this personally believe that they can continue to handle their business just fine. But once you have had personal experience with dealing with a dying parent, a child diagnosed with brain cancer, or your own hospitalization for weeks in a coma, your perspective changes.

I also think this is an issue we face, without knowing it, when talking to potential new clients. In the back of their mind, they wonder what happens to their travel plans if you die all of a sudden. Do they really want to take that chance of working with you? There was an issue awhile back where an independent agent died unexpectedly from a heart attack. No one in the family knew anything about his business. And client funds that he was holding in his bank account? Frozen by the bank, subject to a decision by the probate court (which could lead to the clients not getting their money refunded). So not only do you need a will, possibly more so than other people, but you also need a WRITTEN detailed plan in place for the methodical, structured handling of your business; and you need this plan in place not only for the permanent handling of your business (in case of your death) but also for the temporary situations.

Some of the things you should consider when setting up a plan:

  1. Who will handle the business for you? If not a family member, is there a travel agent (or three) that you trust to handle your business matters for you? I recommend working with 2-4 different agents that are scattered throughout the United States. For example, if you live in earthquake-prone California, you don’t want only California agents backing you up. One massive earthquake can put you and all of your back-up agents in the same boat – not able to work due to dealing with personal issues.
  2. How will they be able to access your records, assuming you are not capable of sending them anything via email? Take the hospitalized in a coma scenario. You are in no condition to access your computer files. But you have clients needing to make payments, travel documents to be delivered, clients getting ready to depart or that are currently traveling, etc. How can your back-up agents get their hands on this information? How will they know your supplier log-in information?
  3. Do you have an on-line CRM (like Client Base Online)? If not, how can your CRM be accessed remotely?
  4. Discuss compensation. If it’s something simple like backing you up for a planned vacation, you can theoretically take care of payments, travel documents, etc. before you leave. So your back up may only need to respond to random calls or emails. The agreement may be that you do that or each other with no compensation. But if an emergency comes up and they have to back you up for weeks, processing payments, creating new bookings for you, dealing with client issues while traveling, etc. then you might negotiates a commission split or per transaction late fee to pay them.

Even if you work with a host agency, do not assume that they will step in and pick up the slack for you. Talk to them about this. Do they provide backup services, whether you are on vacation or are unexpectedly hospitalized? If so, how does it work and do you have to compensate them for it? If they don’t have a plan in place, you need to put your own plan in place. You also need to find out what their emergency plan is as well. If your host agency is a smaller agency, what happens if the owner dies or becomes seriously ill? Who will continue to process commission payments? If you are thinking about joining a host agency, this is a valid question to ask them before you sign up.

I know this is as fun to think about as life insurance, but both are necessary, and can be somewhat depressing topics to discuss. You don’t want to leave your family in a financial bind, so you get life insurance. You don’t want to leave your clients in a bind either, so just as important as life insurance, you need a well thought out and documented plan for your business. This not only assures you that your clients are well cared for, but it reassures them as well.


Susan Schaefer is the owner of Ships ‘N’ Trips Travel (www.shipsntripstravel.com) located in Tennessee, and specializes in leisure travel with a focus on group travel and charity fundraisers. Through their division Kick Butt Vacations (www.kickbuttvacations.com), she focuses on travel for 18 to 23-year-olds. Susan can be reached by email at susan@shipsntripstravel.com or by phone at (888) 221-1209.

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