I have long been a proponent of the buddy system. We used it in kindergarten when we crossed the roads. We used it in high school and college when we were working on group projects. And right now, at this point in the history of our industry, it probably makes sense to revisit.
Pre-COVID I always suggested that agencies, especially the solopreneurs, find a trustworthy colleague and flesh out an agreement to handle one another’s business when needed. It made sense. Accidents happen. Illness happens. But vacations happen as well and when you are in the customer service business, “I’m out of the office and will be back in two weeks and I will return your call shortly after I return” simply does not cut it. Your clients, for better or worse, want their questions answered immediately. And that answer could very well be “wait until they get back, but you are god for now” to put them at ease.
But as we move forward in a post-COVID world, having a buddy will become more important with greater potential for illness (from the people I know who have had a case…it is pretty debilitating) and quarantining, your business must continue. There is a myriad of potential disruptors—kid gets sick, you get sick, local government closes non-essential businesses again, etc. As Frankie MacDonald says…”Be Prepared”
And there is another reason to buddy up; actually, it is probably more accurate to say mentor up. To put it mildly, our industry has been turned upside down and doing business today is vastly different than February 28 of this year. And you can be sure it will be different in September of this year. And it will continue to evolve as we progress through the process of finding a cure or vaccine. Most of us will struggle and will be looking for any help we can get.
Identify some mentors. They can be your buddy, a supplier, another agency you respect, or even a customer facing business not in the travel realm. Everyone moving forward will be looking for ways to do business profitably and safely and we cannot be expected to be know-it-alls.
Look to your mentors for what they are doing right and for what they may be doing wrong. I will call on the restaurant industry for an example. A local restaurant, when given the ok to open at reduced capacity, bought a huge tent and put seating under it. The tent and the limited indoor capacity nearly replaced the lost seats from indoor alone. Now, as other restaurants are thinking about what to do in winter, this restaurant is preparing to buy propane heaters for the tents.
Seek out those that are looking forward and trying to anticipate the changes that will be coming.
I might suggest creating a virtual roundtable of mentors and meet monthly (or more often as needed) via Zoom to discuss what is happening. Talk out ideas. Who is having more success with suppliers? Who has a lead on a travel related product that can earn you some income. True story, in the wake of 911, I had an artist create a cartoon character named Fred E. Flyer to poke fun at the crazy new rules. He was popular and I sold posters of him and to be honest, the revenue from the poster was the difference between red and black in 2002 for me.
Now, back on topic. We are all facing some very serious challenges in the years to come and we will need all the help we can get. We need to pinch pennies. We need to make wise decisions on who we do business with on the supplier and customer side—don’t deal with clients that do not make you money. And lean on our colleagues. Lean hard. Yes, we are competitors, but not likely together in our mutual back yards. But, we are all in this together and there is strength in numbers! Now let’s get busy re-building!