September 20, 2018 Blog

Every day I see posts in travel agent groups on Facebook from people who are trying to figure out the best way to make travel their career. They love to travel. They plan trips for their friends and family. They love researching and finding off-the-beaten-path places and activities. They craft amazing experiences for themselves and others and they want to know if there is a way to make a living doing it. Yes, there is! Unfortunately, many of them go about it the wrong way.

Starting a travel business is just that – starting a business. So, you need to understand what it takes to be successful in business. And not just any business, but a travel business. Which is different than many other business types. But taking all the destination and vendor training courses in the world won’t make you knowledgeable about entrepreneurship.

It’s like being a great cook and deciding to open a restaurant. There is so much more to owning a restaurant than preparing food. In fact, you can be a terrible cook and have great success as a restaurateur. (Isn’t it interesting that there isn’t an “n” in that word? But I digress.)

So what challenges people most when they get into business? There are two things I see most often. First and most frequent is client attraction. Once you have decided to do this, how do you get clients? You can’t just hang out a virtual sign and expect business to come rolling in. Your friends and family won’t be enough to support a business, so you’ll need to market yourself.

This is where the first – and biggest – mistake is made. People jump into travel without any sort of specialty or focus. They just want to sell “travel”. You can certainly book any type of travel you want once you have a client, but just marketing yourself as a “travel agent” isn’t going to get you any attention. There are tens of thousands of them out there. How are you going to stand apart? A specialty is the way to do it! It provides focus and clarity to your marketing. It gives you a target to focus your attention on and craft your message for. You go from “spray and pray” marketing to strategic marketing. And that’s where you will see results. Being all things to all people will NOT make you money. You might be busy, but at the end of the year when you look at your numbers you might find you worked your butt off to put $10,000 in your pocket. That’s not a business – that’s a profitable hobby.

The second mistake people make is to spend all their time focused on travel planning and none on business management. Sure, that’s the fun stuff, but when you start your own business you are responsible for marketing and finances as well as booking travel. This lack of focus on business can manifest itself in a couple of ways. Sometimes it is that people just do whatever comes along and don’t really think about how much money they are making for the time they put in. If you spend 6 hours assisting a family with a vacation and end up making $120, that’s not a great return on your time. Or the other thing that often happens is that they have an initial rush of business from friends and family, but then once that is booked they don’t have any prospective clients in the pipeline. So, they go from super busy to nothing in the space of a few weeks. Constantly building your prospective client list should be a top priority!

The bottom line is that when you are an independent contractor in the travel business, you are a business owner first and foremost. Travel is really secondary. If the idea of marketing yourself and building your own brand terrifies you, then a different role in travel is going to make you happier. If you are thrilled by the idea, but also unsure about how to start, that’s OK. You can learn! Some people are cut out to be entrepreneurs and some aren’t.

You need two things to be successful and avoid those two pitfalls. First, you need to learn how to operate a business and what works for marketing in travel. Second, you need a mentor to help guide you. Make sure you vet your mentor. Just because they have been working in travel for a while doesn’t make them a good mentor. Are they also a successful business owner?

The Gifted Travel Network Travel MBA program is designed to specifically address all these issues and more. We help you find your specialty, understand how to market successfully, and you have a skilled mentor with you every step of the way. And you do all this while you’re building your business since hosting is included. If you would like to find out more, just email us at joinus@giftedtravelnetwork.com and we will be happy to chat.

By Sandy Saburn