Recently we had a FANTASTIC conversation in our private Travel Expert Marketing Academy Facebook Group (as we so often do) and the advice was just sooooo good that I asked if I could share it with you, too!
The conversation was sparked when a newer travel agent asked for advice on creating a schedule to work on their travel business while they continued to work their full-time “day job”.
We like to thank our very own Academy Coach Elizabeth Foss, owner of My Travel Elf for this list of 8 tips for building your travel business and not loosing your mind before you can quit your day job.
1. Don’t quit your day job – or even cut back your hours
If your day job pays for your necessities like food and housing, don’t quit yet. Even if you have some money saved up, you’d be putting too much pressure on yourself to replace that lost income within a certain time period – and no matter how many hours you work at it, your plan for when you can replace that income is probably unrealistic. Growing a travel business, just like any business, takes time. Anyone trying to convince you otherwise is lying to you.
2. Maintaining your mental health is critical to your success
Your brain needs chill time. It can’t run at warp speed every waking hour, so don’t make it try; you will fail.
Schedule your day job, eight hours of sleep a day, time to cook healthy meals, eat, shower and dress, and commute to and from work. Then schedule family time (every day), relationship time with your honey, fitness time (every day, even if you hate it), and a couple hours a week for your favorite hobby. Don’t skip that part – pursuing hobbies we love makes us better entrepreneurs! If you don’t have a housekeeper, you’ll need to add in some chore time. And then schedule 30 minutes a day for “flex” time – unexpected things will come up every day, and if you don’t plan for that in advance, those things will derail you.
Whatever time you have left is the time you can work on your new travel business. Even if that’s just 15 minutes a day, don’t worry. Consistency is the important thing!
3. There are just two things you need to do for your travel biz every single day
I call these the “mission critical” items. The first is reservation maintenance. That means making payments, sending out reminders, making changes, documenting everything, and whatever else you need to do to keep the reservations you have in tip-top condition.
The second thing is to communicate with your clients. Scan your email to see if anyone has reached out. Check your voice messages, texts, social media, etc. No matter how tired you are, you MUST act on every communication from your clients, and do it quickly. And then ensure that you follow through on whatever you tell them you’re going to do. Never leave a client hanging!
There are lots of other things you have to do to move your business ahead, but those are the only two things that you absolutely must do every day.
4. Use the tools available to you
There are so many incredible online tools available to travel agents that can make your life 10X easier! Research what’s available and set up your efficient systems now (if you’re in the Travel Expert Marketing Academy, hop in the private Facebook group and ask other members for their favorite online tools).
One of the most important tools in your business is your CRM (customer relationship management). Choose one, learn how it works and implement it from the beginning. Every single thing you learn about a client should go into their profile, and every detail about their reservation should go into that posting. While you may initially need to scribble something on a napkin or scratch paper, get it into the system right away.
Learning to use the new tools can be frustrating, but you’ll get it soon enough if you just keep at it. If used properly, you’ll never miss a payment or an opportunity. Create good habits from day one and start by making technology your best friend.
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5. Invest in yourself
No matter how much you’ve traveled, what you think you know is probably (to some extent) incorrect, and it’s most certainly just a tiny portion of what there is to learn.
There’s no faster way to get up to speed than to complete relevant training and to get first-hand experience. Much of the training offered to agents is either free or at very low cost, but certifications and conferences are both faster and more intense ways to learn and they nearly always cost both time and money. Programs like the Travel Expert Marketing Academy can add rocket-fuel to your business from the beginning. If you can afford it, and want to save time, they can be worth it.
Further, you will learn more by traveling yourself than any book or class can teach you. (And it will stick with you better, too!) Again, it takes time and money to do it, but you need to do so as often as possible. Save up, sell some things from your closet, do whatever it takes to pay for some good training and personal travel experiences whenever you can.
6. Hold family meetings
Sure, this is your dream, but your family plays a big role in how successful you’ll be with your new endeavor. Before you commit to building a travel business, hold a family meeting and explain to everyone why you want to do it.
More importantly, explain how it will affect the family and what changes they can expect. For instance, a closed door means “do not disturb” for any reason because you’re on the phone. You may not be able to attend every soccer game like before. Family vacation may need to be a couple days shorter for a while (so you have enough vacation days to attend a conference in the fall).
Schedule a family meeting every quarter to let everyone know how you’re progressing, address any concerns they have and ask for ideas on how they can help you with problem areas – it will help them feel like part of your team and they’ll be more likely to support you.
7. Don’t book friends and family
No, it’s not a hard and fast rule; some friends and family are lovely to work with, but no matter how lovely they are to work with, it’s always going to take extra time and effort to manage this sort of complicated “client” relationship.
And here’s the thing: if anything at all goes wrong, you will be the one they blame. In addition, you can’t assume that they will be dream clients… What if they’re a nightmare? Or expect you to match Costco? Or pass back your commission?
If you really feel you need to say yes, clearly explain this is your job, that you’ll be treating them like any other client, and that you expect to be treated as well as they’d treat another agent.
Then agree that, after trip #1, and periodically thereafter, you’ll both evaluate and decide if the relationship is still working for both sides. If not, agree to go back to just being friends/family with no hard feelings. (Easier said than done, by the way.) More often than not, while friends and family may be the “low hanging fruit” in the beginning, the damage that can be caused to the personal relationship by the business relationship is rarely worth it.
8. Always be kind and supportive to other agents
You’ve chosen to join a multi-billion dollar a year business. The bulk of that business is currently being booked either directly with suppliers or through an online agency. Your goal is to shift as many of those bookings as possible away from those direct and online channels to travel agents.
Yes, preferably you – but if not you, then another agent. A win for ANY agent is a win for all of us because the more people hear good things about working with agents, the more they’ll want to work with us, too. If even half those people booking direct decided to call a travel agent instead, there wouldn’t be enough of us to handle the business, so trust me when I say that there is more than enough to go around, and you WILL get your share if you just keep at it. In the meantime, help other agents when you can, and remember that they are not your competition.
Taking the time to be kind and supportive to other agents is always worth the extra effort.
Finally, toss out any expectation you have regarding a timeline to becoming a full-time agent. I wish I could tell you that consistently working on your business every day will allow you to quit your day job in six months or 18 months, but I can’t. All I can promise you is that you will get there. The average for those who put in the time and effort is about three years, but your journey is unique and there are no crystal balls. Have faith in yourself, because you can do this, and never hesitate to ask for help when you need it.