Written By: Jackie Friedman, President – Nexion LLC
There are many benefits to being an independent travel advisor, including flexibility of working when, where and how you want to. Like any profession, there can also be challenges.
For example, independent travel advisors often tell me that they feel like a small fish in a big pond. There are many reasons for this – some experience being disconnected and isolated from lack of personal interaction or communication from being in an office environment. Others state their inability to influence consumers, differentiate their services and compete in an OTA world. Some ICs have even expressed frustrations of not feeling valued as travel professionals, which can affect career growth and their commitment. “Lonely,” “distracted” and “overwhelmed” are words I have heard as well.
The good news is that independent travel advisors are NOT alone, and there are many ways to alleviate the fears of the big, wide ocean by affiliating, connecting and collaborating. Here’s how you can take the power of being your own business owner – and the meaningful satisfaction that comes from it – by tapping into the big pond:
Affiliating with a host agency, such as Nexion, and/or consortia is an easy way to lose that small fish mindset. A host agency allows you to be part of something bigger and offers programs and resources to help you in your business, so you can concentrate on selling travel. In essence, the big pond can make the small fish more successful.
Benefits of belonging to a host can include:
- Enhanced earnings
- Tools and technology
- Marketing, lead generation
Another way to affiliate with other travel professionals is by joining trade associations, such as the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), the National Association of Career Travel Agents (NACTA) Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA). Some have informative training presentations and events that are useful in developing your travel knowledge base. Others have local chapters where you can meet with other travel agents in your area to share ideas and network. Nexion set up its award-winning Nexion Networks program, for example, after hearing from our members for the need of in-person, agent-to-agent connection. My tip to you is to find the organization with the right fit for your travel career goals, and then connect with like-minded travel advisors within those organizations.
The travel industry is all about relationships. Therefore, staying connected – with supplier partners, your clients, other travel professionals and even within your community – should be an integral part of your overall business plan and strategy.
There are many ways you, as an independent travel professional, can stay connected. In addition to the afore-mentioned chapters, networking groups such as meetup.com, BNI and others are another valuable connection source. Think about organizations – both personal and professional – that allow you to interact with people who could become potential clients or partners.
Taking personal connections to another level, do you have a personal advisory board? This includes people in your life who would make good advisors or act as a sounding board for business ideas for you. Examples could be accountants, other entrepreneurs and marketing or social media experts. These confidants may not be in the travel industry, but they are good business people that could help you build your own business skills.
Mentorships offer yet another rewarding personal bond. Connect with people in the big pond who you can learn from and who can help you succeed. Take advantage of peer mentorships as well. Some travel hosts have formal mentorship programs for their travel agents. Nexion, for example, has several mentorship programs, including peer-to-peer, staff-to-member and even a program for agents who are just entering the travel industry.
Attending conferences and events – both within the travel industry and within your own network – is also a valuable way to connect with your peers, supplier partners and more. And FAM trips offer the ability to interact in a smaller setting with like-minded travel professionals who are wanting to learn more about various supplier product and destinations.
Finally, to be the best small fish you can be, include collaboration regularly in your business strategy. One thing I love about the travel industry is independent travel advisors are generally very giving and willing to share best practices and ideas with their peer travel agents – it is not an overly competitive environment like other industries. So, be sure to tap into this expertise and seek out other travel agents in which to collaborate through online communities and your agent network.
This could be through groups such as Travel Professional Community, where you can find agents who are good at what you’re not good at to seek input on a specific question or general business practices. And while you’re exploring content, be sure to offer your own valuable insight on topics that you have knowledge on, and increase the knowledge base even more.
Exploring partnerships within your community and small businesses is yet another lucrative means of collaboration. (See Power of Partnerships: Cross Marketing to Double Your Exposure.)
The pond is big, but it doesn’t have to swallow you up. Understanding the various resources you have to support you and encompassing them into your overall business strategy will enable you to have the most profitable and successful business you can. Never lose sight, though, of your personal brand. In the end, it starts and ends with you.