When I started my business in November 2005 I didn’t really have much of a plan. I had a lot of hope, ambition, and education, but no real work experience in the industry, and wasn’t exactly sure of where I was headed.
When I look back at the last nine years, I’ve had a lot of successes and a handful of failures as well. Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way:
- Formal travel training can really make a difference: It never occurred to me that I could get into this business without first getting a formal education in travel. While a lot of the stuff I learned I’ve never used, (like neutral units of currency or how train schedules work), I have found that just knowing terms like PNR or Open Jaw have made a huge difference when trying to get an airline employee to help you with an impossible situation. While a lot of people do get into this business with no formal training and do well, I can’t imagine getting into the business without it.
- You’ve got to spend money to make money: It’s an old saying but very, very true! If you have your neighbor’s kid make your website, and don’t have any money to invest in advertising, your long-term outlook may be rather grim. A professional looking website with content written, or at least edited by, a professional copywriter can make the difference between failure and success.
- Have a marketing plan and calendar: So many agents are looking for that silver bullet that will drive a ton of business to their door. There isn’t one. Pick one marketing strategy, test it, measure it, and if it’s not working after a reasonable amount of time…then try something new. Some agents have a lot of success with direct mail, while it’s something that has never worked for us. I’ve talked to agents who say trade shows are a huge waste of money, while we’ve always seen great results from them. What works for someone else may not work for you! It will take some time to find your formula for success. And you’ll likely waste some time and money along the way. But a mistake can be a great learning tool if you let it be.
- FAMS Matter: While the education I received was great, there’s just no substitute for having a first-hand experience with the destination. FAM trips should be a part of your overall marketing plan. A FAM trip should be treated like any other business trip! So dress professionally, act professionally, and be prepared to learn!
- Systems matter: I can’t tell you how many times we’ve gotten a lead and a sale from a bride who came to us because the agent they had been working with never got back to them. You’ve got to follow –up! Whether you’re using a formal CRM or a series of Post-It notes, you’ve got to have a system in place that allows you to see where each lead and each client is in the sales process at all times. And creating a sales cycle with documents that you can use for each sale will not only save you a ton of time, but help you feel more confident as well.
- You won’t be good at everything: Over the years I’ve learned a lot about what I can do, and what I should delegate. I am completely lacking in the design department. I have no idea how to create websites or pretty flyers. Knowing what you are good at and where your weaknesses are can save you a lot of time and frustration. Don’t be afraid to hire help. Look to Elance and Odesk to delegate the work that is likely keeping you from moving forward.
- Charge a fee: I know that I am going to take some heat for this one, but charging a fee has always been one of our keys to success. We offer a service worth paying for, and we’re not afraid to charge for it. Ever. No one would ever go to a job interview and agree to give someone several hours of their best work for free before finding out if they’re getting hired. If someone wants you to do the work, and you’re able to explain that value you bring to the planning experience, then charging a fee shouldn’t be an issue.
- It’s about sales, not travel: So many people get into this business because they love travel. But being in the travel business isn’t about travel–it’s about sales. If you’re not someone who enjoys sales and marketing, you may have a tough road ahead. Even if you DIY-it through books and online course, some sales and marketing training can make a huge difference in your business. There are even some fantastic business coaches out there who specialize in travel training.
- Your competitors can be your biggest ally: Were it not for the kindness and support of some of my competitors, I never would have made it this far. I can’t tell you how many times an agent from a competing agency has had a contact number or insight into a situation that has literally saved my sanity or a client’s trip. Don’t be afraid to ask your fellow agents for help, and give back when you can.
Laura Frazier is the President of Bliss Honeymoons based in Columbus, OH. For more information, you can contact Laura at email@example.com
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