How to go solo: setting up your own travel agency

set up own travel agency
By Linsey McNeill
03/05/2021
Home » How to go solo: setting up your own travel agency

So, you’ve decided to go it alone and set up your own travel business, but what’s the best way to attract customers, where can you find support and, crucially, how long will it take to earn a living?

Here, the managers of three leading homeworking groups share their top tips to help you create and maintain a successful travel business.

Dress for success

Since the pandemic, there a lot of people working from home in their pants, says Gary Gillespie, Managing Director of Independent Travel Experts, “but if you’re one of them, you’re not psychologically prepared for work.”

Gary suggests you continue to dress as if you’re going into an agency or the office. Not only will this put you in work mode, it means you’re less likely to be caught out by a sudden Zoom meeting, or a customer unexpectedly FaceTiming you while you’re still in your PJs.

Define your workspace

Most people don’t have the luxury of a separate room to turn into a home office, but you’ll be more productive if you can find a corner of the living room or even the kitchen to use as your workspace. Setting up a desk in your bedroom isn’t ideal as you might find it hard to switch off at night.

If you’ve got your desk in your living space, make sure you have somewhere to store your work stuff in the evenings so you can separate your business from your home life, says Gary Gillespie. If you’re not able to do this, you could find running a business from home more stressful.

Build your brand

You have to specialise to pull in the punters, says Gary. “If you are a generic travel brand you’ll be competing with the online travel agents. You need a compelling reason for people to come to you,” he adds. “Focus on a destination or product and become an expert in that area.”

That doesn’t mean that you can’t sell other products, for example, an agent who specialises in the Maldives will still sell city-breaks. Your clients will want both, but you need to become an expert in one area to stand out from the crowd.

Get social

You don’t need to shell out for a website, you can use Facebook and Instagram to market your holidays. In fact, Gary says these are even better marketing tools than your own website.

Lots of agents use the Canva app to create Facebook and Instagram posts, and you can find plenty of other tips for free in the FB library or on Youtube.

“Creating polls, such as asking people to choose their favourite destination, is a good way to get people to engage with your brand,” adds Gary. “The main thing is don’t be corporate, use your own voice. 

“It will be trial and error, one day a post will work, another day a similar post won’t, but use humour, avoid generic – which is the worst thing – and you’ll build an engaged following.”

Don’t be available 24/7

It might sound counter-intuitive but being available around the clock is not good for business. In fact, Gary says it’s a recipe for disaster.

True, you might get a lot of requests for quotes in the evenings, especially at the moment because working from home has really messed up our body clocks and loads of us are awake at 3am planning our holidays.

But here’s the thing: you don’t have to respond in person immediately. Instead, you can send an auto response on Facebook Messenger, or however you’re communicating with clients, to let them know that you’re on it and you’ll update them as soon as you can.

“It is important to have auto responses set up because if you don’t keep in touch with clients they will walk, so if you’re waiting for a supplier to come back with a quote you need to let them know, but you don’t have to work around the clock. That’s just not compatible with a home life,” says Gary.

He suggests you analyse when the majority of your inquiries are coming in and adjust your working hours accordingly.

But Gary Duncombe, owner and founder of homeworking agency Holidaysplease says you need to accept that you might need to work evenings and/or weekends. 

“Check that your family are signed up to this, but you don’t need to burn yourself out,” he says. You can create free time or home time during normal working hours if you have set aside working time in evenings or weekends.”

Be realistic

You need to work out how many hours you’re prepared to work and how much you expect to earn before you launch your business, because running a travel agency is far from a get-rich-quick scheme.

“Those who fail have unrealistic expectations,” says Gary. You can expect to earn £20,000 to £30,000  if you work at least 20 hours a week, if you’re good, but you’ll need a customer database or a decent network to be bringing in a five-figure sum.

“If you don’t have a customer database you’ll need enough money to keep you going until you’ve built one, and you’ll also need enough to pay your bills until you get paid,” adds Gary.

Bear in mind that a lot of bookings you take might be for travel in 12 months’ time, which means you’ll have to wait up to a year for your commission.

Ideally, you need enough money in the bank to keep you going for six months. You’ll also need around £200 for things like social media advertising and agency membership fees.

Set your goals

Steve Witt, co-founder of Not Just Travel suggests you check that you’re launching your own business for the right reasons. “If you aren’t passionate about your business, no matter what it is or how much money you could make, you won’t stick at it and you will become demotivated quickly,” he says.

“Ask yourself why are you setting up your business, is it to earn seven figures, is it to have a better work/ life balance, is it to prove the naysayers wrong? 

“Whatever your why is, you need to find it – it will help you set and stick to your goals.”

Buddy up

Working solo can be pretty lonely, especially at the moment when it’s hard to get out and about and meet other people, but a lot of homeworking groups have buddy systems so homeworkers can support one other and share their experiences.

Alternatively, think about joining a Facebook group for help and advice. And once the lockdown restrictions are lifted, you should also make the effort to attend social events.

“You need to make an effort to reach out or you’ll get demotivated,” says Gary. “Pretty much all homeworking agencies have a support system and you need to make the most of it.”

Choose your franchise/consortium carefully

When picking a travel agency consortium or franchise to join, it’s not all about the cheapest price, you also need to consider what support you’ll receive, says Gary, ‘because you need support to succeed’.

Questions you should ask include whether you’ll get help with marketing, business development support, help with reaching your goals, and social media resources. 

Steve Witt says: “A good franchise will give you a proven blueprint to success that you just need to emulate. So, make sure you make the most of free training and advice from those who have already been through the process and have successful businesses because of it.”

Keep training

Charles Duncombe says it’s vital to keep your training in product, sales and marketing up to date. “You need to keep topping things up to stay sharp,” he says.

You’ll also need to prioritise your physical and mental health to make sure your energy levels stay topped up, says Steve. This is even more important when selling over the phone, adds Charles. “You need to ramp up your energy when selling over the phone because it’s harder to get your personality across than selling face to face.”

Don’t procrastinate

“Have a plan and goal and schedule your time,” says Steve.  “Focus on Income Generating Activities and then do it. You won’t regret it.”

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