Travel agent Amy Rectenwald starts her workdays at 8 a.m., continues until her kids get home from school at 3 or 4 in the afternoon, then starts up again in the evening, often working until 1 or 2 in the morning. Every so often, the pace catches up to her. “Some days, I go to sleep before my kids do, because I’m dead,” she said.
Rectenwald, who launched her career as an independent travel advisor for Largay Travel in 2014, does pretty much everything herself. “I’m too new to know what parts of this I could outsource,” she told Travel Market Report. The thought of outsourcing also makes her nervous, since a mistake could prove costly to her or to a client. “I feel so much pressure to do this absolutely correctly,” she said.
Rectenwald’s predicament is not unusual for successful startup entrepreneurs. In fact, identifying which pieces of one’s business to outsource is one of the biggest dilemmas facing independent agents who are ready to contract out parts of their business, said Vanessa McGovern, executive vice president strategic partnership and business development for GIFTE, the Global Institute for Travel Entrepreneurs.
There is no single right answer. “It’s unique for every travel agency business,” said McGovern, who commented that “outsourcing” isn’t necessarily the best way to frame the topic. “Outsourcing means delegate and forget it. They’re looking to partner with companies or virtual assistants.”
Justifying the cost
For many solo agents, cost is another obstacle to paying someone to handle some of their tasks. “The big objection that comes up when you pose the idea of finding help is, ‘I don’t have the money; I can’t afford it,’” McGovern said. Similarly, agents are reluctant to take on debt, even though taking on debt is exactly what most new business owners do.
While McGovern wouldn’t advise agents to ignore the practicalities, they do need to see the expense through the eyes of a business owner investing in growth, rather than as an employee.
“They’re viewing their businesses as linear: ‘I will hire someone to help with social media when I get more leads from social media.’ True entrepreneurs take that leap ahead of the growth. That’s really critical when deciding to invest in whatever you need to grow your business.”
Another barrier for solo entrepreneurs is letting go of the reins. “One of the biggest sabotaging beliefs I hear from travel agents and other small business owners is that you have to do it yourself or figure it out on your own. No great business owner achieves greatness alone,” McGovern said.
Deciding what to outsource
To help get past the control issue and begin identifying what to outsource, McGovern urges agents to consider their strengths and passions. “Some agents love itinerary building. Others love talking to the prospect, painting the picture, but would rather pass building the itinerary on to somebody else.
Some agents outsource client care, then after the sale they tell the client, “I’m going to introduce you to my client care manager. She’s going to send you your documents, hold your hand, give you information on travel insurance, make sure your shore excursions are set, alert the hotel to your food allergies, etc.,” she said.
“You have to understand the best use of your skill set. Where do you shine? Then you can start prioritizing the other tasks and what to outsource.” A good approach is to think in terms of the client cycle, from client attraction to itinerary building and even client care, she advised.
What not to outsource
One phase of client care that McGovern believes agents should never outsource is post-trip follow-up. “You should be calling the client to talk to them about the trip – what did they like, what’s next. Then you can get your client care manager to put your notes into systems that you use for follow-up.”
McGovern also urges agents to be cautious about outsourcing social media activities and other digital marketing. “If you give control of your brand to an outside company, you’re allowing somebody else to speak in your voice, and it won’t help establish you as an expert,” she cautioned.
One option for getting help with marketing is to limit outsourcing to tasks like researching effective hashtags, finding blogs where you can guest post or pitching you for podcast interviews.
Another outsourcing idea: If, say, you’re a romance travel expert who’s invested in hosting a booth at a bridal shows, consider hiring someone beforehand to set up your post-show email campaign, including the technical aspects, so you’re ready with timely follow-up to the hundreds of leads on the attendee list.
One final cautionary note about outsourcing: If you’re contracting out business tasks, it makes sense to treat and pay the individuals or firms you use as independent contractors rather than employees. But be aware, McGovern said, that there are very specific laws spelling out the differences between independent contractors and employees. It’s important to learn and follow them.
In part 2, two travel agents share their personal approaches to and experiences with outsourcing.