Here’s the ideal situation: Before you open your doors as a travel professional, you spend time figuring out what type of travel business you are trying to create. You would work with a mentor who understands the travel industry to help you with the process and understand how the travel industry works so you don’t open a business based on misconceptions (it happens more often than you might think).
Once you are clear about the clients you want to serve and the type of travel they do, then you create a marketing plan to get in front of those clients. When you understand what is important to the clients, it is so much easier to know where to find them and how to demonstrate your value. Then you are ready to launch your travel business.
Of course, many of you are beyond that “getting started” phase. You have been doing this for a few months or years. But you can still make a change in your business to make it serve you better. And no, you don’t have to fire all your clients, close the doors, and re-open with a new name and a new plan.
The first step is to dedicate a block of time to examining your business. You probably think I am going to tell you to look at your numbers and where you are making money. Yes, that’s important; but first I think you should look at what you are enjoying. What type of client makes you really happy? What destinations or type of travel get you excited?
You shouldn’t pick a specialty because it is something you think will be profitable – and that’s why you don’t start with the numbers. If you go that route you won’t be successful because you won’t have passion for it. It’s the same reason you don’t pick a college major based only on earning potential. You might make money, but you won’t be happy and can’t sustain that over the long haul.
Instead, your specialty should be something you feel drawn to. It needs to be something you feel excited about. When a client reaches out and wants to do a particular type of travel and you get really excited about it, that’s a clue to your specialty.
This is not something that you just sit down and write out in 5 minutes like a shopping list. You need to spend time brainstorming, thinking, pondering, and really digging deep. You want to be able to clearly define WHO these people are, WHAT type of travel they want to do, and WHY you are valuable to them. I suggest you plan at least a couple of hours where you are somewhere you can be undisturbed (get off Facebook and turn off the phone), and spend some time focusing on what you want. Initially don’t worry about how “practical” it is. Just focus on what you really want to do.
And while you are considering this decision here is one thing NOT to think about: location. Where you live does not need to play a role in your specialty. I often hear people lament the absence of their ideal traveler in their area. It doesn’t matter. Really! You can serve a client who lives 1,000 miles from you just as well as you can serve a client who lives 10 miles away. The reality is that most agents who work with “local” clients don’t actually meet with their clients face-to-face anyway. It’s nice if you can do that, but it isn’t essential. People don’t hesitate to order clothes that they can’t try on first from an online retailer, and they won’t hesitate to work with a travel professional across the country – if you can demonstrate value to them. That’s the key.
One final thought: some of you are saying, “I’m too busy to take a few hours to spend time thinking about a specialty.” You have fallen into a uniquely American trap: busy is better. It is a very dangerous thing for entrepreneurs to equate being busy with being successful. Because that is simply not true. You can work yourself to death making bookings and helping clients and at the end of the year you’ve averaged about $10 per hour. You probably got into this business because you want to do what you love and have flexibility in your day. If you are working 7 days a week, you might be making money, but you’re not successful. There is a better way, but you have to step off the treadmill to make it happen.
If you are reading this and are just considering getting into travel or have just dipped your toe in, you can avoid getting off on the wrong foot by enrolling in a comprehensive mentorship program like Travel MBA. You’ll be more successful and avoid making the mistakes people who are trying to do it on their own make.