Author Topic: Work harder to make home-based biz (not MLM) or lose it? WWYD?  (Read 2870 times)

babysnowbyrd

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Work harder to make home-based biz (not MLM) or lose it? WWYD?
« on: December 27, 2014, 04:43:30 PM »
I used to work two PT jobs in addition to my day job. One was a newspaper route and one was a cashier for a store at the mall.

Obviously, they didn't pay well for the time. The cashier job paid almost a third of my hourly rate at my job, and it was the better-paying of the two.

I talked with a friend who also has side jobs, but were on his schedule and much more lucrative: massage (unlicensed, mostly friends and family) and jewelry appraisal (licensed). I told him I wished I had more useful skills to earn more $. Since I've had the opportunity to travel a bit he suggested I become a travel agent. I told him I thought that it was a dead career. He told me he and his family use a travel agent regularly for trips. The agent was fairly wealthy and over the years had got to the point where he only worked six months out of the year and traveled the rest.

I did some research on it and decided to go ahead and give it a try. However, I've run into some hiccups:

1) Initially I did a lot of work to do trainings and research. The problem is that there are thousands upon thousands of products to sell. Different vendors require different training. It's been pretty overwhelming to sift through. I feel just as useless now as far as helping someone book a trip as I did before I started the "training." I feel stuck between needing to get clients so I can actually get some experience navigating everything and feeling that if I HAD clients I would bumble my way through it all and lose them in the process.

2) I don't feel like I have much in common with my potential clients. First, because they will most likely be much wealthier than me if they can afford to pay for these kinds of trips. I know I shouldn't, but the reality is that I can sometimes be intimidated by high-earners like businessmen and doctors, engineers etc. Second, while I've had the opportunity to travel a lot, it's been with college programs or friends with connections in places, or done on my own planning. I've never paid for a "vacation" trip or any kind of "luxury" anything. I feel this makes me less useful as an agent. With time, I would likely be able to go on some as a business perk, but that will be a while. Third, because some of these things are decidedly un-Mustachian. I know people do it all the time, but I will have a hard time selling something to someone that I know I wouldn't pay for myself!

3) I need to narrow down my focus. I could choose a niche more appealing to me. There are some experience-based vendors instead of luxury-everything that I would enjoy selling but at the same time, the real money is in cruises and all-inclusives. My "hair is on fire" and I want to be FIRE so the expensive packages would make more sense.

4) I have a website that is costing me around $33 a month. (www.hunttravelagency.com if you're interested or would like to offer suggestions.) I don't use it much, and I can't add custom content without a more expensive package. It's not bringing in clients or referrals, so it's just a money-suck. However, I feel like having a website is imperative. With my current host, it's got a lot of good content, and I don't have to do anything to keep it updated. I'm thinking about moving to a free host, but then will have to design the site myself and I don't know that I have the time/ability to make it look professional.

5) I've made nothing so far. I haven't really put myself out there to "pitch" to anybody. My reasons are mostly stated in #1 above. If I want to keep this, I need to put myself out there.

But there are several reasons why I'd like to keep it:

1) I enjoy travel, and while I can't afford to do any more for some time, I'd love to help other people go on trips. I would especially love it if they had meaningful experiences with other cultures.

2) If I lose hours or even my job (oil company) having an already-established business would give me a little bit of a buffer. If I already have some clients and bookings under my belt, I could potentially ramp it up full-time and cover the bills, and possibly turn it into a career.

3) I know this shouldn't matter, but if I give it up now, I'll feel like a failure. There's also the "sunk" costs. It just bothers me.

4) It would put me in a place to be able to travel in the future (when I put my hair out) for awesome deals.

5) Income. If I pick this back up and work harder to get clients, then obviously, there is a financial benefit. If I only sold a couple of packages a month I could still bring in around $400 on commissions for not much work. $400 is approximately what I brought in on my paper route. Only with this it would be 90% less time consuming, no need to get up at 3:30 am, no stop-and-go wear on my car, no extra gas, and no bitter cold mornings folding papers with ink-covered fingertips! It would help me plow through debts much faster!

Advice? Should I ramp it up more? Or cut my losses now?

LokiMom

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Re: Work harder to make home-based biz (not MLM) or lose it? WWYD?
« Reply #1 on: December 27, 2014, 08:23:11 PM »
1. Can you work PT in an existing travel agency for a while?  That would get you some real life experience and you might feel a little more comfortable and confident.

2. & 3. You do have something in common.  A love of travel.  But look at it this way. While the luxury stuff might pay more you'll also have more competition.  If you specialize in budget travel you'll certainly get more clients and you just might make it up in volume. Sam Walton allegedly said. "If you sell to the rich, you'll live with the masses.  But, if you sell to the masses, you'll live with the rich." There's nothing wrong with volume, and there's nothing wrong with being a Mustachian travel agent. Happy customers are what get you more customers and if you find them a great deal then they'll tell anyone who will listen. Especially if you just ask them to let their friends know about you.

4. Are you under contract for that website?  If not then you really need your own site with a .com extension. Perception is important and if someone doesn't have their own site it just doesn't look as professional to me.  Besides, $33 a month is pretty darn expensive.  My site is through Bluehost and is $10.00 a month and I can customize it all I want.  For photos find a Microstock site (look at several) and buy some good photos for use on your site. You want to buy them so you don't run afoul of copyright issues.  Microstock isn't expensive and can be dirt cheap if you can find a promo special. 

5.  Unless you are interested in what you are doing, you aren't going to be as good at it as you could be.  Find a niche you like. Think of it as helping people be happy.  You'll do fine. 

Cpa Cat

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Re: Work harder to make home-based biz (not MLM) or lose it? WWYD?
« Reply #2 on: December 27, 2014, 09:05:48 PM »
I think you should keep trying - primarily because your biggest hurdle right now is fear.

Fear that you won't be able to create your own website (you could always go back to the $33/mo one, so what do you have to lose?).
Fear that you have nothing in common with your clients.
Fear that you will muddle through and make mistakes.

Pick a product or two - not too many, given the training requirements. Focus only on those. Choose whatever you think will be easier to sell - nevermind what makes you the most commission or what you think you'd enjoy if you were buying (unless those also happen to be the easiest to sell!). Gain confidence  and experience with an easy sell. Once you've gotten your feet under you, then consider branching out to the experience-type products that you would enjoy more or products with a higher commission.

The worst that's going to happen to you is that you'll hate all your clients and they'll think you're an awful travel agent. Failure! But as you've pointed out - you'll have failed if you quit now, anyway.

Work on a customized website. Customize it for the specific couple of products you've chosen to focus on. Instead of pitching yourself as a general travel agent with thousands of products - pitch yourself as a travel agent for these couple of expertly chosen products.

Spondulix

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Re: Work harder to make home-based biz (not MLM) or lose it? WWYD?
« Reply #3 on: December 28, 2014, 01:20:40 PM »
I agree the website is really expensive. Unless people are booking through your website, just make it a simple visual resume so that people can find you. Take the extra money and go take a business class at your local college (or community college) - that will serve you much better in the long term.

Did you have other motivation for getting into this other than meeting someone else who made good money? Your friend who has the client base now and established career - how long has he been in it? How has he found clients?

Honestly I'm with your initial instinct that I'm skeptical of the future of travel agents. There's a subset that will probably use it because they can't navigate travel websites (or are busy and want to hire someone else to do it). I see the client base being baby boomers and people who are spending money in retirement (those people who have money that you have trouble relating to). But in 10-15 years? Anyone who's 20 now is probably doing their own planning online, and I don't see that changing. If you grow up never hiring someone else to plan a trip, when would you start? Or do you see something differently? I would go into this business with an exit plan, cause you could be building up a client base that by the time you hit those high earning years, the career and client base could be shrinking. Maybe it's just something to get you started and build capital while you start another business.

Have you considered reaching out to foreigners looking to travel in your community, or places you have been? I know a travel agent who specializes in travelers from India looking to travel in the US (but she Indian, which helps build the relationships)
« Last Edit: December 28, 2014, 01:23:00 PM by Spondulix »

babysnowbyrd

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Re: Work harder to make home-based biz (not MLM) or lose it? WWYD?
« Reply #4 on: December 28, 2014, 02:49:07 PM »
Thanks everyone for the support!

1. Can you work PT in an existing travel agency for a while?  That would get you some real life experience and you might feel a little more comfortable and confident.

Unfortunately, no. It would have to be during evening hours when "traditional" brick-and-mortar places are closed.

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4. Are you under contract for that website?  If not then you really need your own site with a .com extension.

?? That is my own domain. The content is what I'm paying for. I'll start looking around for other options. I like the idea Spondulix has of making it a "visual resume."

Did you have other motivation for getting into this other than meeting someone else who made good money? Your friend who has the client base now and established career - how long has he been in it? How has he found clients?

My friend is not the one in the business. His family uses the Travel Agent. Obviously he's had a lot more experience and was initially full-time. The point wasn't to say "You can live like he does!" but to show that there was potentially a side-job that aligned with my interested and (limited) experience that could be more lucrative and enjoyable than what I was already doing for extra money: paper route and retail cashier.

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Honestly I'm with your initial instinct that I'm skeptical of the future of travel agents. There's a subset that will probably use it because they can't navigate travel websites (or are busy and want to hire someone else to do it). I see the client base being baby boomers and people who are spending money in retirement (those people who have money that you have trouble relating to). But in 10-15 years? Anyone who's 20 now is probably doing their own planning online, and I don't see that changing. If you grow up never hiring someone else to plan a trip, when would you start? Or do you see something differently? I would go into this business with an exit plan, cause you could be building up a client base that by the time you hit those high earning years, the career and client base could be shrinking. Maybe it's just something to get you started and build capital while you start another business.

Since this is going to be a side gig really, I don't think I really need an exit plan. If there are no clients, there is no extra money.

As far as the industry goes, here's how I understand it:

1. Internet did almost kill off the whole Travel Agency gig. However, the field isn't dying. It's actually changing and becoming more relevant.

2. You're right that people interested in TA services don't want to deal with the time/hassle of planning their own trip. Not only that but the Internet has an overwhelming amount of information for travelers. As I've planned trips before, it can take HOURS to plan stuff. Especially if you're on a budget. There's the research into the areas, the places to visit, the activities you'd like to try (that you can afford), then finding housing, organizing transportation, sifting through airlines for the best flight deal, etc. There are a lot of people (not necessarily rich boomers) who would be willing to pay more for someone else to take care of. Also, if the trip is to a foreign country that you're not familiar with, it can be downright daunting to do.

3. With prices as competitive as they are, clients don't actually pay TAs a commission. The resorts/vendors pay it. It's worth it because TAs can keep bringing them business.

4. If you plan your trip yourself, you have to take care of any problems yourself. If you have an agent, you can call him/her if your flight is delayed or some catastrophe happens. You can go ahead and get on your delayed flight knowing that your TA will be on the phone with your upcoming appointments/transportation/hotels to make new arrangements as necessary. Or they can be tracking down your luggage while you go ahead to the Taj Mahal.

It's not for everyone, but then again, nothing really is.

Spondulix

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Re: Work harder to make home-based biz (not MLM) or lose it? WWYD?
« Reply #5 on: December 28, 2014, 04:24:30 PM »
Your response is really interesting, and what you said sums up what your website needs to get across. As an uneducated (but potential) customer, I had no idea that a TA doesn't charge for services, and that's why I've never even considered working with one. For someone like me, I'm traveling somewhere new, there's too much info on the internet (too time consuming), vacation packages are too generic, and I'm not really concerned where I stay as long as it's safe/comfortable and I can do the things I want to. Now I see how you could get clients (beyond the senior crowd or rich crowd), but it could take some education for your younger client base.

I just looked at your website - it's very nice, but it's probably overkill. Anyone who is coming to you probably already has an idea where they want to go and has done some research (and like you said, that info is everywhere, so it's just clutter for you to provide that, also). You probably want people to talk to you directly in order to get prices so you can try to establish a relationship (vs showing quotes on your site). I know some people say that you yourself don't want to be the business (meaning, you want it to run without you, if needed). In this industry, your competitive advantage could be you, and building loyal relationships. For me, it doesn't matter if the provider has traveled themselves cause for me, it's more about getting a deal. I'd just be looking for someone I trust to fill in the details of the trip, assuming they can do it for the same or less.

Now I'm seeing how you could design your business to appeal to a younger crowd. Maybe it's using social media, like a Facebook page or blog where you post pics that people send you from the trips they book through you. What I see a lot on travel sites is a very impersonal/corporate feeling. Any of the booking sites (Travelocity, Kayak, etc) or travel brokers like AAA, Costco Travel or Virgin Vacations feel like you're just another pea in a pod following in the steps of everyone else who has done the same trip before. I think the under-40 crowd is looking to feel special when they are traveling, like they are doing something unique (even if they are doing the exact same trip).

babysnowbyrd

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Re: Work harder to make home-based biz (not MLM) or lose it? WWYD?
« Reply #6 on: December 29, 2014, 09:33:47 PM »
Thank you very much for your input. It's given me a lot of great things to think about!

I agree there's a TON of information on my current site. It does look pretty corporate. I'd love for my site to be more "comfortable" so I'll play around with how to still look professional but with some more warmth. I've seen some really terrible TA sites with cliche pictures, awful graphics (think 1990's .gifs), and even the dreaded Comic Sans font. *shudder*

I've decided to give Weebly Pro a try at $8 a month. I found a few travel products that I really like. One is called Monograms by Globus Travel. It's like a partial tour package where some of it is structured with a guide, but for the rest you can just go where you want. The local guide is the main benefit, and you still get others like having passes for public transport and "fast passes" for major tourist sites etc. A few meals are provided (usually breakfast, sometimes lunch too) but you can go where you want for others. The guide can offer good suggestions and is a phone call away if any troubles arrive.

I think I will start there and then add other packages as I get familiar with more. I think this is an attractive option to start with because I feel (as a young person myself) that young people who travel these days want more freedom and independence. They don't want to feel like sheep with a tour guide. This kind of package helps you do that without making you plan all of it yourself.

Anyway, when I get my new site nailed down I'll post it here. Looking forward to your suggestions. I consider what you've already shared very valuable. Thank you!