Do you have friends and family members who are locked in tight to their full-time corporate jobs, but you know that they’re secretly dreaming about starting a home-based business? Let’s be honest, nearly everyone has toyed with the idea at some point during their career. Well, the travel industry is one of the leaders in the home-based business model, with more than half of today’s travel agents being either home-based employees or independent home-based agents.
The upside? Freedom, flexibility, convenience, a 15-second commute, more time spent with loved ones, a better work/life balance; and, oh yes, you’re the boss.
The challenges? A feeling of isolation, missing the office banter, you’re the entire team, personal distractions, the out-of-sight-out-of-mind phenomenon, and you must be very disciplined and organized. And, since you’re the boss, the buck always stops with you.
Workplace analysts predict that the trend of working remotely will only continue to gain steam as we enter the next decade. So whether you’re already home-based, or you’re considering it, here are six ways to stay connected, confident, and successful.
1. Create clear boundaries.
One of the biggest challenges as an entrepreneur working on your own from home is the need to create clear boundaries. Set guidelines about such things as what your work hours are, whether you’ll work on weekends and evenings, and how you’ll handle client emergencies. If you don’t, and you have an ambitious personality, it’s easy to end up working more than you did at a corporate job.
“Because home is where I work, it’s easy to feel like I’m always ‘on duty,’” explained Chip Barker, owner of Oceans & Lands: Custom Travel Planners, in Apollo Beach, Florida. “My phone might ding with a text or email at 11:30 at night from a client. And often does. So the challenge is for me to decide whether I’m going to ignore that ‘til the morning during ‘business hours’ or immediately respond.”
2. Take the time to set up an office that you love to work in.
You’ll be spending about a third of your life there - and it’s the place where you make the magic happen for your clients - so set up a custom environment just for you. Consider what type of desk, chair, and other furniture you most enjoy; what type of lighting you prefer; whether you want an outside view from your desk; whether you like to have some background music playing; and where to put things like plants, a soothing water element, and your dog’s bed. Most importantly, have it be a place where you can confidently work without distractions. You may even want to pick up a book on the ancient art of feng shui, to effectively move the creative energy in your home office. You get the idea.
For those who would rather not be alone in an office, and who thrive in group settings, co-op spaces and shared office spaces are springing up everywhere. Or, have the best of both worlds by keeping your home office and occasionally working on your laptop at the local coffee shop (if you just need the energy boost you get from being around other people).
3. Get out in your local community and in the industry.
Make no mistake about it, home-based does not equate to homebody. Especially in travel, connecting with prospects and customers, as well as colleagues, is key.
Elise Newman, of Newman5 Travel LLC, in Bellaire, Texas, said: “Much of my core business comes from direct referrals, so maintaining positive relationships with my clients and members of my local community is a big part of my job. I am active in several charitable organizations and on several community boards. I participate frequently in online travel agent forums and leadership meetings with my host agency. I also make time to talk directly with vendors – cruise lines, resort chains, and tour companies – to ensure that I have the best, most up-to-date information for my clients.”
4. Volunteer - and meet people outside of your bubble.
When you pursue a passion outside of work, it can open all sorts of doors for your business as well. Barker, for instance, has been involved with the Southeastern Guide Dogs (SEGD) for many years as a puppy raiser. They take the pups into their homes for about a year, teaching them the basics of being a good dog (manners, sit, stay, come). And they get together with other raisers and visit different places in the community to expose the dogs to all sorts of things they might encounter one day with a visually impaired person or a veteran with PTSD. Barker even takes each pup to a Ritz-Carlton on vacation, which always ends up being a great conversation starter.
“I was involved with them long before becoming a travel agent,” Barker said, “but my association with them has become a huge boost for my business. I would never actively pursue clients or business from my work with SEGD, but it just is a natural progression when you spend so much time involved with people for a common cause. They learn what I do and ask me for help. My SEGD friends are like family, and I end up doing a lot of large group trips where many of my fellow volunteers join in and we have a blast traveling together.”
5. Take ‘me time.’
Even the most confident of personalities can sometimes feel alone or lonely in their home-based business. Although Newman said that she stays busy, so she rarely feels lonely, she did offer this insight: “The best way to combat loneliness is to establish a routine that prioritizes working efficiently, but one that also includes me-time. I frequently connect with clients and others in my community, and luckily, that is easy to do by phone, email, or other online methods. I go out to lunch with friends, clients, and vendor contacts, and my family is always nearby.”
Barker says for the real “mental health break” of getting out of the house, he tries to “regularly schedule lunches and dinners with both friends and clients to try out new hot spots. ‘Sunday Funday’ is a regular occurrence where we’ll just get a bunch of friends, (and honestly, most of my clients were already or became my friends) together somewhere, like Downtown St. Petersburg, to do a little shopping and eating and exploring.”
6. Keep close tabs on your work/life balance.
As Newman explained: “I need to remember that just because I work from home and everything is at my fingertips, that does not mean I run a 24/7 business. A big challenge is maintaining the always-important work/life balance, breaking away from my desk, and not working too many hours. Though I run a concierge-style, white-glove business and work hard for my clients, I leave my home office in the evening and try to address after-hours, non-urgent requests the following day.”
Is it worth the time and effort it takes to develop a successful home-based business? You bet. Take it from Barker, who shared: “What I love most about working from home is the freedom and independence. Knowing I wake up every day doing what I love and not having a boss (other than clients), and not having to ask for vacation time or permission to go to the doctor ... it’s priceless to me. I only wish I had figured out what I wanted to be when I grew up a long time ago!”
Newman is equally effervescent about her home-based business: “I really enjoy working from home. We have a relatively informal house, so there are several comfy chairs to relax in or on a big sofa. Being able to spend time with my kids, exercise, cook, and run errands when I need to, allows me to break up long stretches of work. My husband also works from home a few days each week now, which allows us to connect during breaks and interact regularly. I really cherish family time, meals, etc., and working from home allows that. Maintaining that work/life balance, as I said, allows me to enjoy what I do, which makes me better at what I do, and working from home is an integral part of that.”
FROM THE SPONSOR: At Travel Planners International, you’re more than just a travel advisor. You’re a small business owner who is curating experiences that have an impact on the people you serve. For the last 30 years, we’ve believed in, guided, and championed the small business owner – and we have no intention of stopping. So, along with competitive commission plans, profit-generating marketing programs, and access to cutting-edge technology, we give emerging entrepreneurs the tools, guidance, and confidence to be successful and to harness their entrepreneurial spirit. Plus, with our #BetheCurator campaign and Tourism Cares, our 2019 Signature Charity, we’re elevating our 4,000-plus community of agents to a platform where they can truly change the world around them. But, don’t just take our word for it. Visit travelplannersinternational.com and let’s get you where you want to be.