Building Your Business Plan
A critical part of developing a successful business is setting goals, determining the steps needed to reach those goals, and outlining how and when you need to put those steps into action. It’s called a business plan - yet host agency executives say that many travel agents fail to formulate one.
Why? These executives say it’s because the very idea of crafting a plan is daunting for home-based agents, most of whom are operating small businesses. In some cases, agents view business plans as complex documents that serve large corporations with hundreds, if not thousands, of employees.
But that’s not true of every business plan. A business plan is simply “a written plan that outlines the future of an agent’s business,” says Jackie Friedman, president of Nexion, adding that agents should think of it as “your personal road map to what your goals are and what to do to accomplish them.”
Kelly Bergin, president of OASIS, also uses the road map analogy when it comes to creating business plans. “Decide where you want to take your business. That’s your road map,” she says. “I always adhere to the KISS rule – ‘keep it simple stupid.’ If it gets too complicated, agents won’t do it.”
So where to start? Friedman advises agents to “begin with the end in mind.” In other words, they should determine the goals for their businesses, including what they want to earn, how they want to earn it and what plan they’re going to put into place to realize those earnings.
Host agency executives say that branding and marketing are integral parts of any business plan. “You have to have both: why you are in business - your position - and how to generate business. Branding is synonymous with your position statement,” says Scott Koepf, senior vice president of sales for Avoya Travel. “You can call it your unique proposition -whether that’s the insider information you provide customers or a different type of specialty, be it focusing on groups, honeymoons or certain types of travelers. You don’t need an MBA but you do need a differentiation -what makes you unique in your ability to sell that brand.”
Once agents have established their brand, they need to develop their marketing strategy, deciding what to sell and whom to sell to, Koepf says. “A marketing plan is the lion’s share of an [agent’s] business in today’s world for a typical agency,” Koepf adds.
Host executives advise travel agents to be as specific as possible when coming up with marketing strategies. Plans can include calling five clients a week following trips they’ve taken and asking for referrals, making calls to five new clients a week, sending out emails to clients, putting 20 new clients a week in their CRMs, posting on social media, writing a blog and/or checking in with their host agencies or consortia to target offers to be sent to their clients.
Educational and networking opportunities, including tapping into webinars and attending industry and host/consortium conferences, can also be a valuable part of a business plan. Agents should also be specific about scheduling all of these activities, writing down exactly what they plan to do and when they plan to do it. “The format can be as simple as a calendar with what you want to do every week,” says Bergin. “If it’s in writing, no matter if it’s elementary, it works.
She recommends evaluating the business plan at least once a year, and maybe as frequently as every six weeks, to accommodate an agent’s changing needs and goals to adjust to such events as the terror attacks in Paris and Brussels, and new supplier developments.
”It’s a living, breathing document,” Friedman says, advising agents to update their business plans on a quarterly basis to determine its continued viability. “Business plan strategies should be realistic, and their success should also be something agents can measure.”
In the view of executives, no agent is exempt from the benefits a business plan provides. “The majority of agents know they need one, but do they do it? Not so much,” says Bergin. “That’s because they’re very busy and life gets in the way. But agents should never let up on their marketing - even if they’re having a great year.”
And although there will be agents who find success without capitalizing on a business plan, that’s not the norm, says Koepf, referring to the “80-20” rule. “There are 20 percent of people in the travel industry who make 80 percent of the money,” he says. “Of that 20 percent group who are successful, 80 percent have a business plan.”
YOUR FOUR HATS
Travel agents, like most business people, need to wear four hats, contends Scott Koepf, senior vice president of sales at Avoya Travel.
The spheres of the four hats include:
The Trade - the agent’s day-to-day operations operational responsibilities
”A business plan sets up what you’re doing from a time perspective for each of those hats,” says Koepf. “It’s the solution for [each of] these four areas of your business.”
He advises agents to devote time to each of the four hats. “You have to document what you will do within those four spheres,” he says. “At the end of the day, the whole process is about how to grow your business.”
For more Travel Agent News
More by Robin Amster
Get Travel Deals and Travel News
A version of this article appears in print in the June 2016 issue of Agent@Home Magazine.
Recent Travel Opinions
Cruise Line & Cruise Ship
Airlines & Airports
Latest Travel News