This is the second of TMR's new Ask an Advisor series, a regular column where a team of travel advisors tackles questions from others in the industry. All questions from this series have been submitted by TMR readers and vetted by the TMR editorial team. The second question comes from a relatively new travel advisor who is having difficulties finding a steady stream of clients. The question, and the answers from the panel, are below:
Dear Ask an Advisor,
I was hoping you could help me with an issue I’m having trying to grow my business, mainly, I am struggling to find new clients. I have tried a lot of different ways to access new clients, including starting a Facebook Group, something that a lot of others have recommended, and branding myself with a specific, niche specialty. That method has brought me one new client in one year, someone who has booked to go to Europe next August. I know there are a lot of different approaches to this, but I am struggling to find the way that works for me.
Do you have any advice for someone like me when it comes to finding new clients? Should I explore different ways outside of what I have already tried? Should I continue to put time, and other resources, into my social media strategy even though it hasn’t worked?
Appreciate your help,
Annie Jones, Owner & Luxury Travel Advisor, Telos Travel
We can’t be experts on the entire world, so niching down to a specific region or type of travel, like luxury, celebration, family, etc., is a great first step! If marketing on a Facebook group is not generating leads the way you want it to, I encourage you to place your time and energy elsewhere. It’s important to have a consistent social media presence to build business credibility, but you shouldn’t force it to be your primary source of leads if that’s not where your clients are. Plenty of our fellow advisors are generating leads off social media, but it doesn’t work for everyone (myself, included!). If you’re feeling stuck, check out what your colleagues are doing or carve out some time to buy them a coffee and have a chat. Being supportive of your industry friends can have some surprising returns.
Taking some time to think about your ideal client avatar could be helpful in this situation if you’re unsure of where to focus your efforts. Thinking about an imaginary person can be challenging, so if you have some clients that you’ve really enjoyed working with, start there. What is their age demographic? Are they couples, families, or solo travelers? What are their goals/passions? Are they spending over a certain dollar amount? Reflect on the clients you didn’t enjoy working with as well. What felt difficult about the process? Did they call you instead of replying to your email like you requested? Were they traveling to a region you don’t have a vested interest in? Once you have an idea of who this person is, think about where they get their information from. For example, if your ideal clients are retired couples in their mid-60s, they likely aren’t as active on social media and may respond better to targeted email or print marketing. Regardless of which marketing avenue you choose, always remember to be authentically yourself!
Never underestimate the power of referrals from your current clients too! Requesting referrals can definitely feel uncomfortable at the start, so I’d encourage you to find a way to build this into your workflow. Making this a part of your process will help you become more comfortable with it over time! If your audience isn’t online, go to local events, and sponsor aligned groups and charities that might give you face-time with potential clients.
If you’re with a strong host agency, you can ask the team for advice. Or look for an agency that does send lead generations. If you’re part of a consortia, make sure your profile is updated with that client avatar in mind. You attract what you put out there whether at in-person events or online.
There is no secret sauce to finding your clients (though I wish there was!). Give something a try for a few months, if you’re not seeing a return, adjust your strategy and try something new. Don’t be afraid to pivot!
Annie Jones created Telos Travel in 2021 to share her deep passion for sustainable luxury adventure travel with clients. Telos is an affiliate of Avenue Two Travel, is based in the Greater Philadelphia Area and works with clients and partners all over the world.
Richard “Rick" Carlson, Cruise Planners
Dear Fellow Travel Advisor, you are not the only agent that strives to increase their client base. I am going to assume that you are home based in my response to you. One of the most important factors, if you are home-based, is to get out of your home, meet people and let them know you are in business. Secondly, you cannot rely on only one means of advertising to attract new clients. Let me discuss some potential opportunities and suggestions for you.
Meeting new clients - we are in a relationship-building business and personal connections are very important. You can have the greatest advertising program in the world but what will make the difference is you! If you are home-based make a point in your schedule once a week, get out of the home office, and meet people. Join your Chamber of Commerce and meet fellow business-minded people. Let them know you are in business and would like to refer people to them as well as them referring people to you. Some agents find the B2B networking groups to be helpful in building their client base and business. Listen carefully because there may be opportunities for a potential group based on what they tell you.
When we started our business 23 years ago with Cruise Planners, we needed to focus on building our client base. Our objective was to let our local community know we were in business and the services we provided. We took out tables at craft fairs, the cost was low $25 to $50 for a table. Yes, people were not coming to purchase travel at the craft fair, but it provided us an opportunity to connect with people in our community and develop a relationship. We were able to add to our database of clients that we could market to. We simply had an entry to win a gift basket. It worked for me and to this day I still will do a fair every year!
Develop a warm list of everyone you know, your dry cleaner, dentist, hair stylist, friends, and people you do business with already. The relationship is there already, they know you and start marketing to them. Ask for their business!
Marketing/Advertising – You cannot rely on only one means of advertising to attract new clients or for that matter to keep clients you already have. People need to see your name and company in many places. There is more than just Facebook, social media is wonderful but only 1 method. Do you have a Facebook Page for your business? If not set one up. Post interesting facts about travel. There are numerous places where you can get content to post. You will find interesting content right here in the Travel Market Report. Use your page to establish yourself as an expert, and a place where people will come to seek information. To help with advertising specials etc you can sign up with “Branch Up”, it is free and will post advertising from their travel partners to your Facebook page.
And more importantly, you must promote yourself in a variety of different marketing activities. Direct mail, email blasts, print ad, radio, Instagram, Facebook, and more. All of these are opportunities to attract new clients. I repeat, you cannot rely on just one means.
Travel Night/Cruise Night – These are great opportunities for meeting new potential clients to make them clients. Pick a brand, connect with the BDM for that company, and have an event. Every new person that walks through the door is interested in travel and is a potential new client. Make sure everyone registers and then get them on your email list for specials and newsletters you may send out. You can also advertise a virtual travel night. Or once a week get on your Facebook page and do a Facebook Live and talk about travel. Be consistent with your schedule. Maybe every Monday at 8 PM you have a Facebook Live and talk about the week in travel. Get followers and then always remind them if they are looking for travel to contact you. Again, you are demonstrating you are an expert and a professional. What you want is when friends get together and say we want to go on vacation or trip we should look for a place to go. You want them to say, “We need to call (your name) to talk about a vacation.”
Current clients – Your current clients are a great resource for referrals and expanding your client base. Remember every potential client can become a booked client. Here is one activity I do every year. In January I send everyone that has ever booked with us a nice New Year’s letter and let them know how much we value their business and support. In the letter, I give them 5 business cards and ask if they would please hand these cards out to five of their friends that are interested in travel. It works! And most importantly when someone makes a referral take the time to write a thank you note to the person for the referral and mail it to them. Do not use email. Take the time to write a thank you. I have a “Thanks a latte” card and inside it I enclose a coffee gift card and a personal note to the person.
Another very simple tip is when you book a new vacation for someone ask them if they know anyone else that might like to take this trip. And then when your client returns from their trip follow up with them and ask them to write a review for you. It can be posted on Google or Facebook. I am finding these to be very powerful and there is not a week that goes by that someone said they found us on Google.
I think about the gold miners and how they panned for gold. It took a lot of planning to get some gold. So too with gathering new clients, you will need to search and use different methods to attract new clients. The key is to keep it up, you never know the prospect you meet might become that person that calls one day and books that world cruise!
A proud agent of Cruise Planners now for 23 years. Member of the Millionaires Club and recipient of numerous awards for sales achievement, Richard "Rick" Carlson always has believed in helping others and offering insight and suggestions for improvement so others can build their business.
Kyle Stewart, Director, Scott & Thomas Travel Personalized
Dear Anonymous, some of the items I would normally suggest, you’ve explored: focus on a niche, and develop a social media profile worthy of drawing in viewers. But without knowing more specifically what your efforts are (taking your Europe mention as a possible clue) it’s important to differentiate a niche from a genre. Italian heritage trips are a niche, and Europe is a genre.
Pushing those to the side for a moment. I’m a little different from other travel advisors in that I have a digital marketing background. The number one rule on the internet is: content is king. Take stock of your social media: is it consistent, plentiful, and quality? I know a handful of agencies that post daily, but almost every post is a cruise deal for $250-350/per person (plus taxes, gratuities, and port fees) – yet they wonder why they only get inquiries for customers interested in the cheapest deals.
Your website should be not only aesthetically pleasing but should be designed in such a way that search engines can see and understand what the content is. Has your website been evaluated for Search Engine Optimization (SEO?) Are you focusing your full online presence on your niche? Are you producing blog posts and content (that Google can read) about your niche? If you’re not sure, hire an expert from Fiverr or Upwork to get you across the finish line. Use Canva to create social media posts.
From a local perspective, are you utilizing your resources? If you are an Italy expert, have you reached out to local groups for a guided trip to Rome with behind-the-scenes views of the Vatican? Updating your Google My Business listing can be a key part of your marketing effort too. Partner with interest groups to help them organize their travel. Do you know a travel soccer team coach? That could translate to hundreds of hotel nights booked for the family members of those teammates and if you can add value (insight, convenience, and availability) they will turn to you for their other travel needs too. Local businesses can be a great source for traveling executives on business trips.
People respond to authenticity over production quality. Represent yourself well, consistently, and for a market, you want to serve and customers will come.
Kyle Stewart holds several roles within the travel, miles, and points world. He is a Partnership Manager for BoardingArea.com (and the Freddie Awards), a writer at LiveAndLetsFly.com, and a freelance writer for several publications. He is also the Director of Scott & Thomas Travel Personalized.