Many travel consultants assume that if they don’t have enough clients, they cannot afford to turn away anyone. Recently a travel consultant expressed envy that others could turn away clients (or fire them). She assumed they had enough business so they weren’t desperate for clients, giving them the luxury to fire difficult ones. Translation: she felt desperate for clients herself, and any clients were better than no clients, to the point that she didn’t feel that she had the luxury to turn away anyone, for any reason.
This is one of the harder concepts for many of us to embrace; the concept of turning away business, especially when we may not be making ends meet quite yet. One disadvantage when first entering this business is the lack of a steady income (as a non-employee; either as an independent contractor or owning one’s own agency). We don’t get paid until final payment or post travel. When I started ten years ago I had several bookings with 16 to 20 month lapses been the initial booking date and the date of departure. That is a long time to go before getting paid. It takes time to get enough bookings in the pipeline so that we have a steady income flowing in and covering the bills.
Until we hit a groove, which can take a few years, we may feel a sense of desperation. This may accompany the feeling that we cannot afford to specialize in a niche; we have to be everything to everyone. Also, many travel professionals that don’t feel they have enough clients are resistant to charging fees (for fearing of scaring off prospective business). This all may stem from a lack of self-confidence, a fear of failure, a desire to be liked by clients, a fear of negative reviews, a lack of referrals, or a combination of any of the above.
Believe it or not, it is easier at the beginning of your career to set parameters, instead of trying to change policies mid-stream. But even if you are years into your career, you can still make some key changes to your business. Here are recommendations from travel consultants that have “been there, done that”:
Interview Potential Clients
Be selective in accepting clients. Talk to successful consultants that have been in the business for a while, and you will find out that many of them are selective in who they will take on as a client. Some set a minimum budget requirement, based on their analysis of how much they need to make per transaction or per hour of work. Others may screen clients based on the client’s unrealistic expectations, their unwillingness to listen, or their general disrespect for the travel consultant.
Let’s look at a scenario most of us have experienced – the job interview. You walk into a job interview knowing that you need to work 40 hours a week and make no less than $25 an hour ($50,000 annually). You have analyzed your expenses (commuting costs, work wardrobe, child care expenses, etc.) and have determined what you need to earn to actually come out ahead at the end of the year. You also want to work in a friendly, encouraging work environment that will support your desire to advance.
After the interview, if you don’t feel good about the work environment, you’ll be inclined to turn down the job, no matter what they offer. But if you feel good about the employer, their work culture, advancement opportunities, etc. you’ll be inclined to consider their offer. But when they do make an offer they are only willing to commit to 30 hours a week and $13 an hour ($19,500 annually). Assuming you cannot negotiate more hours and higher pay, are you going to take a job that will end up costing you money instead of earning you anything, based on your pre-interview analysis? Even the most desperate job hunter would turn down the job, because they cannot afford to take a job that will have a negative financial impact.
The same principle applies to your travel business. Taking on some clients will cost you money, and too many of those clients can put you out of business before you have a chance to make a go of it. It’s just as important for you to interview clients, as it is for clients to interview you (they are hiring you to do a job for them, after all). An argument can be made that low budget clients can be lucrative in the future. But you need to be careful that you don’t take on too many money-loss clients hoping that someday they’ll turn around and start spending more, or maybe refer more lucrative business to you. If they don’t spend more eventually, or end up not being a solid referral force, they are only draining you financially and time-wise.
When They Slip Through the Cracks
Another reason to interview clients is to weed out those that may not be a good fit for your business. Regardless of how much they spend, the amount of stress that they can produce might make them a client you don’t want. However, you can’t always identify them before working with them. I wouldn’t recommend cutting them loose right away, but instead see if you can work through the differences. However, if they don’t change their bad behavior (i.e. belittling you, making unreasonable demands, wanting you to rebate your hard earned commission, etc.) then you need to cut them loose. No matter how desperate you may think you are for clients, the mental abuse and stress is not worth it. In the case of a client demanding a piece of your commission, the financial loss can put you out of business.
One travel consultant that charges fees and turns away some clients, Steve Cousino, had this to say:
I think we all want more clients to build up our clientele and increase our revenue, and thusly our income. However, I have figured out what clients are not worth the money I would earn from them. Some clients are so demanding or difficult to work with that it can cause me to be more stressed than I need to be, or can basically force me to neglect other clients. I have made a conscious decision to work with certain clients, and I *do* realize that means I may not have as many clients, or as much commission or retainer fees coming in, but I feel the tradeoff there is worth it.
By no means is this an easy decision to reach, or to stick to, but it is important to your financial future, business success, and sanity.
Susan Schaefer is the owner of Ships ‘N’ Trips Travel (www.shipsntripstravel.com) located in Tennessee, and specializes in leisure travel with a focus on group travel and charity fundraisers. Through their division Kick Butt Vacations (www.kickbuttvacations.com) 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.