After a recent conversation with a colleague at a trade show, I had a bit of a revelation. We tell clients to work with a professional to book their travel, and we can give them a laundry list of reasons why. We advocate working with a professional, but then we often don’t practice what we preach. When it comes down to us enlisting the services of professionals, many travel professionals resist. They mimic those consumers that they despise, the ones that won’t work with a travel professional and just book online or direct.
It is astonishing how many travel professionals have never spoken with or worked with an attorney, or refuse to work with a CPA, bookkeeper, graphic artist, local printer, website designer, marketer, etc. We expect clients to work with us as a professional, yet we fail to see the irony of refusing to do the same. Typically, the reason given most often is “I can’t afford it.” Sound familiar? Working with an attorney when setting up your business may cost money, but in the long run it may save your business from bankruptcy when you’re facing a lawsuit. The same goes for using a CPA. Everyone thinks they can do their own taxes, until they are faced with an IRS audit wishing they had a CPA or tax attorney at their side saving them from potential financial hardship.
Sure you can do it yourself. There are legal forms and Turbo Tax software that you can pick up at any office supply store. But guess what? That doesn’t mean you’ll do it right. At least one person I know was informed they filled out their LLC forms wrong. Fortunately they had an attorney review it and were able to save themselves a great deal of future heartache. Travel professionals are always complaining about some client they lost because the client did it themselves (booking online or direct with a supplier). We are no better when we try to pick the brains of other professionals, knowing full well we’re going to try and do it ourselves.
THIS IS A BUSINESS, so treat it like one. That means investing in your business, especially at the beginning. An attorney can advise you whether you should operate as a sole proprietor, LLC, or corporation. They can help you file the necessary paperwork with the IRS, state, and local entities correctly. They can also help you with your terms and conditions and your disclaimers and waivers to help you minimize future issues with liability lawsuits.
Spend money on your branding and marketing. If you have a business card from Vista Print that looks like the business card of fifty other travel agents, you don’t stand out as unique. You blend into the crowd. It didn’t cost too much for me to work with a graphic designer to have possibly the greatest business card on this planet designed for me. Yes, printing costs a bit more (it’s folded and two sided), so I order in larger quantities so I can take advantage of the price breaks offered for ordering more. The last time I ordered new cards, I ordered 5,000. I don’t think I’ll ever have to re-order business cards again. But the price break was worth it, especially compared to what it would’ve cost if I had just ordered 500 or 1,000 at a time.
And then there are websites. There are a lot of free website options out there, and unfortunately many of them look like they were free. There are limits on how much you can customize a free site and truly make it unique for your agency. Ultimately you have to decide what you want a website to do for you. Do you mainly want it for current clients to keep up with new information? Do you want it to attract new potential clients? Or a little bit of both? Are you a skilled web designer? Do you know what colors work best or which audience you’re trying to attract? What do you know about layout and content? Do you understand what SEO is and how to maximize it on your website? If you just asked “what’s SEO” then you need to hire a professional!
Ultimately, as travel professionals, we are sometimes talking out of two sides of our mouth when we insist that consumers use travel professionals to help them with their travel needs, yet we turn our backs on the professionals that can help us with our businesses. Think about it!
Susan Schaefer is the owner of Ships ‘N’ Trips Travel located in Tennessee, and specializes in leisure travel with a focus on group travel and charity fundraisers. Through their division Kick Butt Vacations 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).