These days, many consultants entering the industry do so as home-based agents. But that wasn’t so for Jennifer Shouse. She started as an employee of a traditional brick and mortar agency before branching out on her own last year, launching her agency, Stamp Your Passport. Recently we sat down with Jennifer and talked about the transition from employee to independent contractor and agency owner.
Travel Research Online (TRO): How long did you work for a brick and mortar agency, and why did you decide to move on?
Jennifer Shouse (JS): I worked as an employee for a large, national brick and mortar agency for approximately 12 years before I decided to leave in late 2015. Over time I felt that their attention to employees and clients had shifted. They pushed preferred suppliers even if they weren’t the best fit for the client. I eventually came to the decision that we were no longer a good fit.
TRO: How has it been, shifting from a guaranteed paycheck as an employee to being 100% reliant on commission checks?
JS: As an hourly employee I got a regular paycheck and had the potential for quarterly bonuses. My pay was never tied to when clients traveled. Now, I only get commission checks and typically it’s after clients have completed their travel. It is definitely a major shift in mindset. I planned ahead, however, by saving up so that I would have enough money to live off, until the commission checks start coming in with some consistency.
TRO: Are you completely independent, or do you work with a host agency?
JS: I actually tried becoming an outside agent/independent contractor with my old brick and mortar agency, but they weren’t interested in the idea. So I started my own agency, Stamp Your Passport, and am affiliated with a host agency, Travel Troops. With a host agency I have support as well as access to better commission rates with their preferred suppliers. I also like the fact that they allow me the flexibility to work with vendors that I want to work with, even if not preferred with Travel Troops. This allows me a lot of freedom to focus on the clients, and what is the best fit for them; something that I felt was lacking at my old brick and mortar agency.
TRO: What has been the biggest adjustment for you so far?
JS: The whole business part is still foreign to me. There are a lot of moving parts involved when you run your own business. It isn’t simply about booking travel. As an employee you don’t really get into the business side of the agency. We’re talking bank accounts, website building, licensing, picking a business name, setting up your business structure (LLC, corporation, etc.), developing a logo, coming up with a business plan and marketing plan, etc. That has probably been the biggest adjustment for me so far.
TRO: What advice would you share with others looking to move from employee to being independent?
JS: Take it slow. Plan for the financial issues of supporting yourself before commissions start coming in. And do a lot of research before making the leap. Research who you want to be affiliated with; host agencies, consortia, associations. There are literally hundreds of host agencies and consortia out there, and they aren’t all the same. Look for a host agency that will provide the kind of support that you need.
Also, take the time to think of an agency name; making sure that the corresponding domain name is available as a dot com.
I would also recommend attending trade shows before you strike out on your own. I attended the Home-Based Travel Agent Forum in Las Vegas in June 2015, and talked with a lot of other home-based agents to get information and tips.
TRO: Striking out on your own has meant starting from scratch building your clientele and supplier connections. How have you approached that?
JS: I think the most important is relationship building. It is necessary to attend as many trade shows as well as local events like supplier workshops. Meet the supplier representatives in person whenever possible, and build those relationships early so they can support you when you need it.
As for clients, I am focusing primarily on referrals and then repeat and referral business from them. I am not doing a great deal of marketing right now. Eventually though I will be looking into social media marketing.
TRO: Any last tips you would like to share?
JS: Don’t put too much pressure on yourself and don’t get in your own way. Give yourself permission to succeed.
Susan Schaefer is the owner of Ships ‘N’ Trips Travel located in Tennessee, and specializes in leisure travel with a focus on group travel and charity fundraisers. Through their division Kick Butt Vacations, she focuses on travel for 18 to 23-year-olds. Susan can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (888) 221-1209.