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When you start your first business, three things are guaranteed to happen-you'll work harder than you've ever worked in your life, your first sale will make you prouder than anything you've ever done, and every single person you know will have an opinion on your business.
The opinions become even stronger when those same people find out that you started a travel agency, an industry that most think went extinct. But the good news is, there are ways to get through it all in your first year.
While I'm not yet a seasoned veteran of the industry, I have enough years under my belt to share what I wish I had known before I launched my agency. I could talk for hours about this subject, but in this article, I want to share three insights that would have really helped me in my first year.
Choose the Right Host Agency
There are a variety of host agencies to choose from, and I can tell you from experience that a host agency will make or break your business. Before you start researching, create a laundry list of "must haves" for your agency. This should be everything from technology efficiency and assistant support to FAM opportunities.
After extensive research and stints at two other host agencies, I chose Brownell Travel's hosting program, and it felt like coming home. When they gave me the Handbook of Everything (cue the angelic music), I cried tears of joy because it answered every question I had.
With their help, I finally had the time to focus on finding clients instead of worrying about the small stuff. Plus, I got to meet empowered, funny and intelligent women who were there to guide the way. What could be better?
If you're currently in a host agency you don't feel happy with, there is no shame in moving around until you find the perfect fit. This is your business, and your business needs will change as you grow.
Reach Out to Potential Clients Before You Launch
In our entrepreneurial culture, we have this vision that if we just quit our day jobs and launch a business, everything will be fine, and it will all work out (cough cough, I'm guilty of this). But, there's a better way!
If I could go back in time, this is the number one thing I would have done differently. While you are at your current job, start talking about how you are starting a travel business on the side and offer your services to your colleagues. Send out an email to everyone on your list describing your ideal customer and ask your friends and families for referrals.
This way, before you even interview at a host agency, you have a whole list of potential clients to reach out to when you launch. Ideally, you should have a list of 10-20 people to start.
If no one responds to your request, it's also a good indicator that you should spend some additional time building up your network or working in-house at an agency before launching on your own.
Your Health is Your Wealth
I know the old adage is cheesy, but when you become an entrepreneur, your physical and mental health is more important than ever. In my first year, I was working 12 hour days and dealing with the stress of entrepreneurship.
My body responded by getting sick more frequently. I'd get major headaches and would be unable to work for days at a time. I'd lie in bed angry and frustrated that I couldn't answer client emails or get back to work, even though my body was telling me I needed the rest.
It's tempting to work all the time, especially when your income is tied to your productivity, but you must make time for work-life balance. Continue exercising (especially because it will reduce the stress) and eating well so you can function your best in your business. No one will be there to pick up the slack when you're sick so you must take extra care.
At the same time, you must also protect your mental health. According to a study by Dr. Michael Freeman, a clinical professor at the University of California in San Francisco, one in three entrepreneurs experience depression. Add in the fact that you are likely working from home for the first time and responsible for your own income for the first time-well, it's a lot.
To overcome depression and isolation, talk to other travel agents and share your experiences, find a mentor who can be your cheerleader when you're down, cut all the negativity in your life (yes, including your own parents, friends or partners if necessary) and if you can afford it, go to therapy to learn coping tools.
As I said, I could talk about the first year of entrepreneurship for hours. This is just the tip of the iceberg, but hopefully, these strategies will help you no matter where you are at in your business.
What do you wish you had known before you started your travel agency?
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