Despite the name, being an independent contractor, doesn’t – or shouldn’t – mean operating in a vacuum. Host agencies and independent contractors should be in a symbiotic relationship that serves both parties.
Not sure what that means for you as an IC? Travel Market Report spoke to a number of long-time advisors to find out what advice they have for independent contractors.
(This is the fourth in a five-part series in which travel advisors who have been in business for at least 10 years share the wisdom they’ve learned over the course of their careers. In the last installment, we spoke to advisors about supplier relations. Next week, we discuss the most important advice they have to give.)
1. Be a Team Player
“Be a team player,” said Penny Rushing of Four Points Travel, an Avoya Travel agency. “Be willing to assist any of the other IC’s with situations they may have.”
As an independent contractor, you’re part of a larger team. The better the team plays together, the more successful everyone is.
2. Find a Host that Matches Your Values
The most successful host/IC relationships occur when everyone is on the same page, said Ray Teet, co-owner of a Palm City, Florida Dream Vacations franchise.
“Find someone who has the same care and concern for the well-being of their clients as you do. They must be honest and above-board in all of their dealings with the client. They must also pay attention to details and always follow up with their clients, beyond the sale.”
3. Know What’s Expected of You & What Support You Can Expect
As mentioned above, the relationship between host and IC should be symbiotic. To ensure you’re both benefiting, be sure you understand from the get-go what a host expects from you and what you can expect to get from them.
“Have a clear understanding of what services the parent company provides, what’s not included, what type of support, etc.,” Ann Sadie Osten, president of Sadie’s Global Travel Ltd., a TRAVELSAVERS member agency, told TMR. “Know what they expect you to provide, if there are minimum production requirements, etc. Make sure your agreement is in writing… Many IC’s are interested in the bottom line only – what commission levels – when really, you want to make sure you’re working with a parent agency that is providing much more – ie training, support when you’re out of town, marketing their brand, etc.”
John R. Schmitt, Jr., president of Frankenmuth Travel, also a TRAVELSAVERS member agency agreed. “IC’s would be best advised to work with host agencies who are available for training and guidance.”
4. Take Advantage of Your Host’s Resources and Experience
One of the best aspects of being an IC is having a support net to fall back on if you need help. But not all IC’s take advantage of the help their host agencies can provide. It’s a mistake experienced travel advisors say they’ve seen too often.
“Over the years I have had and do have IC’s that work for me,” said Richard Stieff, owner of a Boynton Beach Cruise Planners franchise. “I find the biggest ‘mistake’ IC’s make is simply not realizing that the greatest asset in their arsenal is the experienced agent/agency they work for. I encourage my IC’s to come to me first when they don’t know something or need assistance. The ‘host’ normally has a path forward because of their experience. IC’s don’t always keep that in the forefront of their minds.”
“New advisors shouldn’t try to go it alone,” Schmitt, Jr. said. “Join up with some type of larger entity that can provide training and be there to answer questions along the way.”
Relying on his host agency is something John Gawne, co-owner of a Virginia Beach-based Dream Vacations franchise, said he did for the many years he worked as an IC before purchasing his own franchise.
“As an IC with Cruises Inc., I relied on the parent agency for marketing ideas, direct mail offerings, and for a while they even had a phone lead program. I took them up on every lead for FAM trips for several years until I had acquired significant first-hand knowledge.”
5. Build a Solid Book of Business
The more business you bring to your host agency, the more valuable you are to them. And, the more power you have to negotiate a better deal for yourself. The two go hand in hand, said Justin Smith, president of The Evolved Traveler.
IC’s should “build their clientele to the best of their ability,” Smith told TMR. “The stronger the relationship they have with their clients, the stronger they’re going to have with their agency.”
The goal, he added, is to be valuable to both your host agency and your clientele.
“References and word of mouth are priceless. You want to nurture them. Each one you get makes you more valuable to your host agency.”
6. Don’t Be Afraid to Switch Hosts
As for switching host agencies, Smith said, IC’s shouldn’t be afraid to do it, especially if they’ve grown their book of business, but their contract hasn’t changed to reflect that.
“If it’s a static situation if the percentages aren’t changing and you know you have a solid book of clients, the client doesn’t care who the host is as long as nothing changes for them. The value of your clientele is your negotiating power with your current agency and allows you to make a change that benefits you.”