Tonya Dillard has been working since she was 13 years old. Now in her 30s, she wants to be her own boss.
A self-described “social butterfly,” Dillard decided to launch a career as a travel agent when she felt her entrepreneurial and maternal instincts coming together: “I want to do something that I can turn into a family business where my daughter can work too.”
So she went back to college, graduating last October with a bachelors in business administration and a minor in marketing. Then she enrolled in CareerQuest’s online travel agent training program.
Dillard is a fulltime federal government employee, so she was looking for a training program that would allow her to keep her fulltime job, move along at her own pace, and grow and hone her travel marketing skills.
CareerQuest did just that, for $495, offering a home-based agent course and an independent contractor course, with a payment plan.
Halfway through, the trainers focused Dillard’s attention on finding a niche and a host agency. She ended up signing on with Travel Planners International and going through its orientation program. Now she’s taking several courses offered by the host agency.
Dillard said she already has a big customer base. She has traveled often and lots of friends, family members and acquaintances have tapped her expertise.
She also has a business plan and a niche in group travel. Among her early clients: a group trip to a religious conference in St. Louis and an incentive cruise for a realtor.
She expects to gross between $25,000 and $50,000 this year.
She also has a little marketing hook: She will donate a percentage of her earnings to the Winship Cancer Center, a not-for-profit associated with Emory Hospital in Atlanta – “so my clients will know some of the money they pay is going to cancer research,” she said.
Keen on travel
Dillard’s biggest surprise was the red tape involved in travel, such as the need for travel agents to have errors and omissions insurance. But that didn’t quell her enthusiasm for travel.
“I love the world and everything it has to offer,” she says. “Travel lets you renew yourself. A trip lets you just relinquish all your stress.”
If you are hungry to have a successful business, you will find a way, Dillard said.
“You have to have an innovative mind. You have to constantly ask yourself what makes your business different from the next. And you have to network. As my grandma used to say, ‘A closed mouth don’t get fed.’”