Although I do not go out after the normal day-to-day corporate travel, I have expanded my travel business into the lucrative incentive and group meeting planning segment. To do this, I had to find ways to work my way into this market even though I knew that I would be competing with the large, established agencies.
SWIM WITH THE BIG FISH
In an effort to expand my home-based agency into this market, I researched and then joined numerous business associations, networking groups, and service organizations. However, it takes a lot more work than paying the membership dues and hanging a plaque on the wall. You must participate and get involved on an ongoing basis. This proved to be the right move because I am proud to call some of the most powerful people in the area my clients, including the Mayor, President of the Chamber of Commerce, the City Manager, and County Assessor, as well as numerous Presidents and Vice Presidents of major corporations. You can find many opportunities to socialize with people of influence not only by joining these types of organizations, but by volunteering at special community events.
Try untraditional approaches to marketing, such as this idea I just came across: Recently I put one of my business cards in a jar for a drawing for a free lunch. This restaurant happens to be a favorite meeting place for business people because it is centrally located, nice ambiance, good food and all at a reasonable price. Then I got the phone call that I had won a lunch for me and 7 of my business associates. All I had to do was listen to a 5-10 minute presentation by this sales person that works for a financial planning company. “Why not”? So I invited 7 of my agents. What the heck, we were planning on having a meeting anyway. We went to the lunch and sure enough, he ordered our lunch and while waiting for it to be served, he presented himself and his company and the benefits that he could bring to us should we need his services in the future! Our lunch was served, he asked us to fill out a form with our contact information, gave us his business card and brochure then thanked us for our time and told us to enjoy our lunch. Hmmm… What a great marketing idea! It cost him about $10.00 per person to have an audience with a targeted market that he would never have had otherwise. You can be sure that I will be giving this approach a try sometime soon!
GIVE THEM THE BAIT
So many times when I ask agents what do you do differently than everyone else, they are stumped for a quick answer. If you are going to be networking for new business opportunities, this should be something that rolls out of your mouth in an instant, because that’s about all of the time you will have to make your first impression. This exercise may even take rehearsing over and over until it comes out effortlessly. Figure out what it is that you do best, determine what your target market longs for and explain how you can do that like no one else ever thought of. Maybe it’s serving a particular destination or travel niche, maybe it’s a form of service, maybe it’s a way you package and deliver documents. If you still need help call up 3 or 4 of your best clients and ask them why they buy travel from you. Or better yet, ask them why they left their last travel agent to come to you.
USE THE HOOK
When approaching companies and business people, you need to have a proposal prepared outlining the benefits of using your services. I also recommend presenting your own personal business portfolio. You can include testimonials, certificates of accredidations, copies of newsletters that you have authored, sample gift certificates used for presenting incentive travel programs, and any other awards you have garnered during your travel career. You can put all of this in a half inch binder. I like to slip my contents into page protectors and as it grows, you can actually add tabs. This also serves as a guide that you can flip through as you are talking, allowing you notes to look at so you won’t forget to cover everything you want to convey.
REEL EM IN!
Once you book their travel, make sure you live up to all of your hype. This is the time to dazzle them with more than promised. Make sure to deliver their documents and include a travel gift from you… everyone enjoys a gift, even if it is a business client.
On a recent trip that I provided for one of my clients, who was named “One of the top 10 most influential people in Silicon Valley”, I made sure to have the hotel send a note from me to welcome him upon his arrival in the hotel. Knowing that it was important to him that the hotel have a work out room, rather than wine, I ordered a plate of fruit and cheese to be delivered each evening with my compliments. Although I knew he had a busy schedule during his trip, I made sure to leave him a voice mail to ask if everything was to his satisfaction and, of course, I followed up with a thank you upon his return. All of this attention and customer service, gave him enough confidence to award me his company’s next group trip to Washington, DC.
Remember, just because you are a small business doesn’t mean you need to act like one.
Anita Pagliasso is the author of “How I Made A Small Fortune as a Home-Based Travel Agent”, From Home-Based to POWERHOUSE!” and “Anita’s Toolbox for Home-Based Agents CD” (www.redticketproductions.com). She is the President of Ticket To Travel-Host Agency (www.travelagentathome.com), President of PATH and an Executive Board Member. You can contact Anita at 408-531-9228.