Networking, the art of generating new clients through social and business contacts, is easier for some travel agents than others. Extroverts have it made – meeting and talking with others at social functions, volunteer opportunities and community gatherings is a cinch to some outgoing souls. Others find socializing a bit more difficult, however. Regardless of our personality type, taking the time to meet new people, outside of the confines of your home or office, is a key tactic for any marketing strategy. Indeed, widening your “sphere of influence” is an absolutely crucial component to growing a business.
Networking is all about forming relationships. The people closest to you, your inner circle of family and friends is one layer, your most intimate layer of influence. Your business associates, clients and employees are another layer within your sphere of influence. Then there are the people you know socially, casually, perhaps from church, school or a club to which you belong. Each of the people in these closest layers of relationship to you know people that you do not. They have their own acquaintances, friends and professional relationships. Still further removed are people with whom you have no direct connection. They are separated by the infamous “six degrees” from you. The closer the relationship you have to someone in your sphere of influence, the easier you can market to them, and the less expensive it is to market to them. Conversely, it can be very expensive to market to people with whom you have no connection.
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The schematic of relationships that we have just outlined suggests that by widening our sphere of influence, marketing becomes easier and less expensive. Properly planned and executed, networking can be not only a valuable part of building your business, however, it can be rewarding personally. Ideally the process of building a network is a process of forming relationships that are both give and take: the more you put into the process of creating relationships, the more we derive from that same process in return. Because networking is all about forming relationships, it is important to develop the appropriate attitude. Relationships have to be built on trust and mutual respect – people buy from people they respect and whose opinions they value. Some networking will result in direct business for you. You will meet people who will ask you about a cruise or a tour they have seen. Sometimes the business will be indirect – you will receive a referral. On occasion the business will happen quickly and at others after years of knowing someone.
Whatever the course of the relationship, networking lays the groundwork for a continual stream of business activity, and its importance to a travel agency in a community is paramount. Some networking is inevitable every time you speak to someone, each time you are introduced to a new person. However, as part of a business strategy, networking is far from accidental or haphazard. Networking, properly situated, will be planned, monitored, fine-tuned and amplified in a very conscious way. A good networker has decisions to make with regard to which venues to focus their effort, knowing who at the event to target as an opportunity, how to tell their story as a travel agent and how to establish trust. A good networker will then follow up with their contacts and grow the new casual acquaintance into a business relationship. The good news is that the qualities required to network well you already possess. No matter how introverted, you can learn to network and to widen your sphere of influence to encompass many more business development opportunities that you ever thought possible. If you are a natural “people person”, you can learn to better organize and more methodically develop your casual relationships into business opportunities.
The 365 Guide continually refers to the importance of “brand” and more than once we have very clearly indicated that in the world of travel consulting, you ARE the brand. To successfully market yourself as a travel consultant, you have one mission: to create an association in people’s minds between yourself and “travel”. You have to become “that travel person.” When people think of you, they must think of travel. Why is this so important? Because it works both ways: the next time they think of travel, you want them to think of you.
The first tool you want to have at the ready when you begin planning your networking tactics is a finely honed story about yourself and the world of travel. The human mind has a fondness for “narrative” – we like stories. Whether you are a travel consultant in a large office or a sole practitioner, you want to craft your personal story and tell it well. Everyone you meet should know you as a travel consultant. Why are you in travel? Is it a passion for you? How did you come to the point you are at now? Where have you been? Have you traveled much? How did you choose the office for which you now work? Who are the people you work with? What is your favorite destination? All of these story lines are important to you because in the aggregate they build a very telling narrative about your passion for travel.
In a professional context, when you are networking, when you are at your children’s school, when you meet new people, make sure that you identify yourself with your passion for travel. Your business cards should always be close at hand. Never miss the opportunity to ask people about their own passion for travel. You have the great good fortune of being in an industry that people love to talk about. Take advantage by asking for permission to send your new acquaintances travel offers on their favorite destinations, just so they can browse and stay informed.
We will spend this week’s worth of articles identifying networking opportunities. Step 1 – spend some time writing down your story, learning to communicate it well. A little bit of passion goes a long way. We will use it to your advantage to create a strong identification between yourself and travel in your community as you network.
Tomorrow – Opportunities for Networking in Your Community