A long, long time ago; in a land far, far away; travel agencies were the hobby of the rich and famous. Pre-Internet, if you walked into most travel agencies, they were owned by the wives (yes, sexist) of bankers, lawyers, and doctors. For the most part, the allure was the coveted IATAN card and all the discounts and perks that came with it. For lack of a better term, these businesses were hobbies for the owner. I bought my first agency from the wife of a wealthy land developer—complete with an IATAN list 40 names long. Of course, the perks are all but gone and travel businesses now need to be run like, well businesses to be successful. But I question why so many continue to run them as hobbies.
It does not matter if you are “open” 24/7 or only a few hours a week. The presumption is that you have this business to earn an income—not necessarily your sole income, but an income nonetheless. It is about time to start treating it like a business.
While I have several pet peeves about the hobby agency, most of then can be condensed into a simple phrase—don’t be so cheap! There is an old adage that in order to make money, you need to spend some. It is just as true for the $1000 per year agency as it is for the $100 million agency.
Customers are the lifeblood of any agency. Why on earth would you risk being able to contact them? I know of an agency that does an admirable job with email newsletters and communication to a relatively small audience. But for some reason, they will not commit to an email program due to the high cost–$19/month. Instead, they export and re-import and use the free-trial periods of many and then re-circulate. What does this say to your clients who are constantly re-confirming they want to hear from you? $228 a year is a bargain on this communication tool. Don’t scrimp.
Along the same lines, how much more effective could you be if you had all of your customers’ information at your beck and call? Not just their name, address and phone number–I am talking relatives, passport expirations, key dates, past travel, lifestyle desires, future travel dreams and much more. There are tools available for that as well also in the $20-$30/month range.
Nothing screams, “I couldn’t care less” than one of those stock freebie business cards from Vista-Print. I am not knocking Vista-Print at all—they do an excellent job and are great at marketing themselves on your back with their freebie cards. What does it say to your client when he or she sees the “free” from Vista-Print on the back of your business card. To me it says feel “free” to buy your travel elsewhere. Spend the nickel and kick it up a notch! But, the freebies are great for pawning off on suppliers at trade shows with a special supplier only email address.
Bonus tip: Never use a “stock” or “standard” anything for your business. You are unique. Your service is unique. Your product is likely unique when combined with you. Why would you use a “standard” business card that maybe 1000 others are using? Why would you place your unique qualities with a web host that offers a choice of ten templates? You’re better than that.
All tolled, these three tools will cost less than $600 per year. $50 per month. $1.67 per day. How much do you spend on a mocha choca veni vidi vici light whipped espressochino? You might be able to shake $1.67 a day from your sofa cushions. Even if you just took the loose change in your pocket each day, I bet you could afford these tools and kick up the professionalism a notch or two. And, if this still seems to be too much, I might suggest that another hobby might be more satisfying.