Travel Agents

“Don’t compete, find your niche”: High-achieving agent spills secrets to success

Ever wondered what it would be like to work for yourself?

You’d get to be your own boss, set your own targets, and approve your own holidays!

We daydream about it regularly, but unfortunately would probably never earn a cent because we’d not only approve 365 days of holidays for ourselves a year but we’d also set our target to one story a week so we could take regular naps and watch Netflix all day.

But if you’re a motivated and hardworking individual, willing to go out of your way to work on your terms, making the switch to the home-based model could be the best thing you ever did.

Just ask Sonia Jones of Sonia Jones Travel.

She’s been a travel advisor for 16 years, with her first 12 spent split between Flight Centre and Travel Associates. Four years ago, she made the switch to the home-based model and hasn’t looked back since.

Now, Jones is an independent affiliate with Savenio, where she’s able to brand her own business and now employs three staff.

We caught up with the woman her self to find out how her life has changed since she made the switch, and how she copes with all the challenges of the industry, including OTAs.

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Travel Weekly: Could you start by telling us about the challenges you faced switching from brick and mortar to the home-based model?

Sonia Jones: One of the biggest challenges with moving to a home-based model was the fear of being isolated and I wasn’t sure how I would cope with working from home.

I decided that I needed to be actively involved with fellow home-based agents and attend supplier meetings whenever possible to keep my product knowledge up-to-date.

The other big challenge was trusting that my clients would continue to book with me.

I knew that I had loyal clients and good sales figures, but would that translate into the world of self-employment? Did those clients really book with me, or did they book with the office and just happen to select me as their travel advisor?

TW: Have you had more success with the home-based model? Why?

SJ: Working as a home-based travel advisor has given me far greater flexibility than working in a store did, and I believe that it is this flexibility that has lead to my business being so successful.

I can work in around my clients and my family, resulting in a healthier work-life balance.

I am also far more productive as I am only dealing with my clients, my bookings and my phone calls, and while I loved being in an office environment, I would always end up helping others out, or doing office jobs, or spending too long chatting about something or other!

However, the biggest difference when I moved is that my business was suddenly that – MY business.

Clients were dealing with me, and were keen to support a small business and to see it succeed. They became advocates for me, with referrals flowing in and my repeat client list growing rapidly.

Since I rebranded last year, I have experienced even more growth and success as now my business name means you know it is mine and nobody elses! It makes it even more personal and my clients love it.

TW: What, in your opinion, are the biggest challenges facing agents today?

SJ: The biggest challenge that travel agents face today is around aggressive marketing from online travel agents, such as Luxury Escapes, Webjet and the like.

Travel is bookable 24/7 and everyone has a deal, making it a very difficult space for a person to compete in.

My advice is don’t compete.

If an individual travel advisor tries to pitch against an OTA and go after the same market, you are not going to succeed.

I have worked at finding my niche and delivering a consistent, personalised service to my clients, offering them knowledge, advice and contacts that they cannot find online.

Zhujiajiao Sonia

TW: How did you manage to double your business in a year?

SJ: I had a really solid first year after I started working as a home-based agent, thanks largely to getting out and seeing my clients as well as spending a lot of time connecting with them through emails, phone calls, client events and social media.

I also invested time and money in training. I did webinars, went to supplier meetings, did online industry and product training, and travelled to both domestic and international travel industry events.

I worked on my business all of the time, and regularly reviewed my goals and business plan. I was focussed, driven and excited, but above all I wanted to give myself the best chance of making my home-based business a success.

It paid off, and my turnover had doubled by the end of my second year. I’m also incredibly lucky to have such wonderful clients who eagerly spread the word and do so much to support my business.

TW: Do you have any tips for agents who want to do the same?

SJ: My tip for anyone who is considering life outside of a bricks-and-mortar store is to just do it! There is never going to be a perfect time to make the move.

There will always be bookings left behind. There will always be worry over whether clients will follow you.

The move will be difficult, but it is short term pain. The bigger picture has unlimited possibilities – whether you want to be a digital nomad, or to be able to pick your kids up from school, or to develop a niche travel business, or to simply be renumerated fully for the bookings that you make rather than funding someone else’s agency.

Don’t wonder “what if” – just take the leap!

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