As promised in my previous column, here are the “nuts & bolts” of connecting with your clients electronically. First, let me start by stating that because there are more options with all the new technology out there than there are types of clients, I can not begin to list them all. However, I will tell you what has worked for me and what I have seen others use. The Website
Your site is an extension of yourself. If you are an upbeat happy person that specializes in Hawaiian honeymoons then your website should reflect that. Chose bright colors, perhaps add Hawaiian music and absolutely have it packed with pictures of couples having a good time. If you are a more reserved, polished individual that books adventure travel your site should reflect more muted colors showcasing well framed pictures of people trying not to kill themselves while jumping off a cliff. The writing should be smooth and to the point. In other words, look at who you are, what you do and try your best to match your site to it. People who respond positively to a site that reflects who you are, will be more likely to respond to you positively as a person. So, with all the options, just what do you put on this website? Well, that is up to you and up to what you sell. However, there are a few basics that I feel every site should have.
A concise homepage is number one. This should be an un-cluttered “hello” from your agency and you. Put a welcome note inviting them to read more “About Us”, along with any pertinent information they should know about you. Just what it is you do and what type of client you market to should also be there. Example: “We cater to individuals who appreciate one on one service when planning their European vacation.” Add a link to your newsletter, a featured special or news updates but keep these links organized and easy to read. List your service fees, hours of operation and contact information as well. Think “Welcome”, “Inform” and “Connect” when designing this page.
The second must have page is the “About Us” page. This is your resume. Give your visitors a history of what got you interested in travel, how long you have been doing it, what types of travel you have arranged and the places you have been. Give a history about any background jobs but keep the focus on what they brought to your agency as far as skills or connections. Tell about your family and a few hobbies. People like to work with real people they feel like they know—not a faceless Internet site. Telling about yourself in a professional open manner builds trust. Another “must have” is a good picture of yourself–either alone or with your family, on a trip somewhere or even a professional portrait. Wrap up your resume with your industry accolades and affiliations.
The third page that every website should have is a news page. Whether this page contains links to the top travel news, news about your agency, current specials or your blog this is a page that should continually have new content and engage the client. If you are providing services for a niche market keep it on track to things that pertain to your niche.
For me, my newsletter page is my third page and I feel it is critical to keep that page (if no others) up to date. Keeping this page fresh is a challenge. I am often asked by colleagues, “When you have to change it all the time, don’t you run out of ideas?” Here are some resources to help you out with that:
- Your DSM’s…ask if they will help you write an article or perhaps submit to a written Q&A session about their product and the latest news from their companies.
- If you get a supplier special promotion for a particular destination, Google it and see what other interesting tidbits of information you can add to it to make it more “newsy” and less “salesy”.
- Your travel journals. When you travel keep a journal, even if you are only going for a weekend in the nearby city. When you get back to the office share about the experience. The cab ride, the dinner you had, the show you saw, the hotel you stayed in, people you met while in line for a hot dog. It’s all interesting and shows that you get out and about.
- When you get in a real bind get permission from other travel writers to post copies of their work as “guest contributors”.
- Pictures are worth a thousand words and can fill up any empty spots admirably.
- Travel comics, these can usually be found with Google images and can really be a hit with your readers. Just be sure to give credit where credit is due.
- Your clients. Ask them to give a report about their latest trip and a picture to be featured in the newsletter. People love seeing themselves in print!
There are several sites that can help you create an email enabled newsletter and handle your email lists. Personally, I host my website and email account through Office Live it is a Microsoft program that interfaces with Outlook and allows me to organize my emails into files and my contacts into categories like “Frequent Travelers” “Newsletter List” “Cunard Club” or “Vendors”. It hosts my website (for free!) and is easy enough to edit that I do it in my not-so-spare time. I create my newsletter as a page on my site and email a link to my “Newsletter List” whenever it is produced. The reporting feature allows me to track how many people view the page and where they came from.
Other options for staying in touch with your clients by email are Constant Contact, A Weber and Word Press. (Which is actually a blog hosting website but makes a great newsletter too! Is easy to update and then email a link out to clients on your “newsletter list”. I have not personally used any of the three, but thery have been recommended to me many times over.
A blog can be another great way to keep in touch with clients. You can post daily, weekly or just whenever the mood or inspiration strikes. I recommend the dedicated-to-travel blog site Travel Pod for its ease of use and ability to upload large video and picture files. Plus, it has a nice uncluttered look to it. One more benefit; it integrates with Facebook. Link from your website, your Facebook page or put a link in the signature of all your emails. Speaking of Facebook, use this latest rage to reach out to your clients! It can be a great tool for communicating to a group traveling together or to get a bunch of like minded travelers to form a group. Keep it fun but professional and absolutely keep it separate from your personal Facebook page. Post pictures, travel memories, polls or quizzes.
The important thing is getting your name out there in a way that interacts with your clients or makes them feel like you are reaching out to them. Establish yourself as the travel expert through your writing, advice and pictures and they will keep you at the top of their mind. They will also value you more and want to recommend you because they know and feel confident in booking their vacations with you.
I would love to hear what other people use to keep in contact with their clients so please post your comments below and let me know what works for you!
Nina Van Harn has been in the travel industry for the past 5 years and services primarily an upscale market. Her favorite cruise line is Cunard because of their traditional approach to cruising and friendly atmosphere. She lives in rural West Michigan with her husband and 2 daughters. She owns Ambiance Travel and her website can be viewed at: www.ambiancetc.com