How to build a successful home-based travel agency: Interview 2

Welcome back to Andavo Travel’s new blog series, “How to Build a successful home-based travel agency.” Each month, we interview one of our Andavo-affiliated travel advisors, in hopes that sharing their success stories will prove useful to those travel advisors new to the industry.

For our second interview, we spoke to Margie Hand, an Andavo Travel affiliate located in Birmingham, Alabama, and a member of the Andavo Travel President’s Club, which recognizes those with top sales in our network.  She has been in the business for 21 years and specializes in the Caribbean, destination weddings, honeymoons, and family / multi-generational travel. Margie has been on Travel + Leisure’s A-List since 2007 for her Caribbean specialization.

We asked her the following questions:

1. What is your #1 tip for a travel advisor just starting out in the industry, on how to build a successful home-based travel agency?

Building relationships with your client, and truly listening to their needs. Being available is also important. Not necessarily 24/7, but try to respond in a reasonable manner so they know you are there and that you care about them.

2. In your early years, how did you build up your clientele?

I worked in a brick-and-mortar office where I started out as a helper, doing whatever they needed, and then they started to feed me, clients. After that, referrals became huge. I would ask clients to recommend their friends to me, even occasionally offering a referral incentive. However, what I learned is if you provide good service, they’ll refer you even if you don’t ask.

Also, in the beginning, I got lots of business from people in my church, people I did fitness classes with, etc. I think it’s a good idea to always let it be known what you do and have those business cards on hand. You’d be surprised how many people know you, that don’t know what you do.

Other colleagues I know have gotten clients via being involved in Junior League or volunteering at their kids’ schools, just getting in with a certain crowd of people helps get the ball rolling.

3. Why do you think you’ve become so successful? What keeps your clients coming back to you over and over, vs. using the internet or a different travel advisor?

Personal service. Having someone they can talk to, who is a good listener and provides them exactly what they are looking for.

Second, being available My clients appreciate how quickly I respond to them. It can be a burden sometimes, but I know it’s something that’s very important to them.

It’s also important to me to provide the same level of service whether it’s a $20,000 trip or a $2,000 trip because I never know when that $2,000 trip is going to turn into a $20,000 trip. Their situation may change, and also people can’t always do a huge trip every time, so I try to treat everyone the same, regardless of their budget for that particular trip.

Lastly, I think my clients enjoy my personal touches. If I know it’s a birthday or celebration, I try to pay attention to that. I’ll call and talk to the hotel and ask for a special amenity. It doesn’t always work out, but I do try. In addition to contacting vendors, I try to provide small personal touches myself – even if it’s as small as a gift card for a coffee on me at the airport, or a small Barnes & Noble gift card so they can get a new book for their trip – either option sent to them with their documents. Something I can do rather inexpensively, that is just a little personal touch.

4. What technology do you find the most useful in building your business?

Having my email so that I can provide that quick response time! I constantly check my email and voicemail. Anything that helps me do my job faster.

Also, Facebook has become a good technology tool in continuing to build my business. My clients love to send me an instant messages on Facebook, so that’s something I can respond to any place, any time. I’m surprised by how much business I’m getting through Facebook, but perhaps it’s just an easy place for people to find me. I keep up on my personal profile, as well as my business page. Many of my existing clients will contact me with a comment about what I put on my page, plus those I haven’t talked to in a while will see something there and it will spark something for them, and they’ll ask me to look at an option for them. It’s a reminder that you’re out there and what you do.

5. What personality traits do you think all successful travel advisors have in common?

Friendly and good listeners. I think sometimes travel advisors can be guilty of putting our personal taste into everything, and if we don’t really listen to the client’s personal preferences, we may send them where WE want to go.

Attention to detail is another key trait – especially these days. Paying attention to the spelling of names and accurate birth dates; making sure the itinerary matches up to that; ensuring they have proper documentation to travel; anything an advisor can do to help avoid hiccups along the way.

Be honest with your clients. As needed, say “This is not an area I’m comfortable with, but I can refer you to my coworker who is an expert in this and she can help you better.” You don’t want them to have a bad experience in the end by pretending to be an expert at something you’re not.

Lastly, follow-up is huge. That’s when clients know you really care. Don’t forget about them once the trip is booked.

6. If you had to go back, start over, and build your business again, what would you do differently?

I probably would have specialized earlier. When I first started, I needed to book everything in order to learn everything, but I think I would have made honeymoons my focus earlier.

Honeymoons are awesome because they start a lifetime of travel together. For most of my clients, if I do their honeymoon and they want to go to Europe the next year, they still come to me. They don’t drop off. And I’m now doing trips for them with their kids. Multi-generational travel is huge, and the Caribbean is a great spot for that. Not many people can take the entire family to Europe, but they can all go to the Caribbean so it still works out well for my specialization.

7. What do you do to close the sale?

Usually, it’s pretty easy if you’ve listened to and pre-qualified the client during your sales process. When someone has a request, I come up with options based on our initial discussion; we discuss further and find out what’s the best fit for them. I say things like, “I can book this for you, and the deposit would be X.” Don’t be afraid to give that little push to get it booked. Also, if someone has not responded, then I do follow up as well.