In TMR's recent "Ask an Advisor" column, one advisor expressed their frustration with trying to find good independent contractors to join their agency. This isn't the first advisor TMR has heard from having the same problem. To help agency owners find ICs, TMR reached out to The Travel Institute for advice on where to find prospects, what traits to look for, and what to be aware of during the recruitment process.
Don't reinvent the wheel
You're not the first travel agency to recruit and hire an independent agency. You don't need to start from scratch when it comes to figuring out the best process. Others have already done it for you. Lean on them for advice and best practices. That includes everything from identifying what you're looking for and where to look to figuring out how to train new hires.
"Most agency owners find it difficult to bring on new agents, including ICs, simply due to the time it takes to onboard and teach industry basics," said Guida Botelho, CTIE, senior direction of education, The Travel Institute.
You don't have to do the training yourself. Instead, take advantage of training programs that already exist, whether that's something offered by your consortium or Host or The Travel Institute's Travel Agent Proficiency (TAP) program.
Many travel agency owners want to find independent contractors who already have training. That's not always straight forward, but you can check out The Travel Institute's Hire Me page, which lists recent TAP exam graduates looking for entry-level positions.
"An IC who has taken the initiative to learn outside of your 'on the job' training is demonstrating a drive you can't teach," said Botelho.
Additionally, some consortiums, franchises, and hosts have programs that help match member agencies with advisors looking for an IC position.
Make sure it's a match
Once you've found a potential IC, you still need to ensure they're a good fit for your agency. Not only do you want somebody motivated to do the job, you need to ensure their personality fits your agency's culture.
At the same time, the agency (host) needs to provide the right environment and support for the IC to thrive and grow their own business.
In "Personality of a Travel Pro," Diane Petras, CTIE, president of The Travel Institute, offers some key insights into the personality traits agency owners should be checking for when hiring an IC.
- Sociability: Advisors should love people and know how to engage. The should communicate and interact well with others, love sharing ideas and experience, have a genuine desire to help, and remember things like names and birthdays (or know how to take great notes to keep track).
- Listening skills: A good advisor is an active listener and gives whoever they're talking to their full attention. Good advisors ask questions and aren't afraid to ask for clarification to ensure they understand what is being shared.
- Craves learning: Travel advisors should crave learning, whether that comes through new experiences or ongoing educational opportunities. They are proactive when it comes to seeking out the skills and information they think they need to serve their clients better and advance their own businesses.
- Embraces change: Anyone going into selling travel as a career needs to understand nothing stays the same. Policies change, country entry rules and tourist taxes change, weather is a variable you can't plan for. A good travel advisor looks forward to what each day will bring, and reacts proactively to change. Advisors see opportunity, not challenges and are flexible enough to pivot as needed.
- No fear of sales: This one can be hard for early career travel advisors. A successful advisor embraces the philosophy of not selling from your own wallet and is not afraid to discuss upgrades or higher-priced products.
- Highly organized: Most travel advisors have several balls in the air at once. They need to be detail-oriented, know how to track multiple projects (ie client travels), and be available at all stages of the sales, booking, and travel process.
The best way to find out if a prospect is a good fit for your agency is to ask lots of questions. Be sure to ask why they want to be an advisor (or got into the business if they're experienced), who their prospective clients are, and how they plan to market.
But don't fall into the trap of keeping the questioning one-sided. Be sure to allow time for your prospect to ask you questions. Their questions will give you an excellent idea of their motivations, their personality, and even their level of education and knowledge about the travel industry.
"Reversing roles shows the candidate that you seek open dialogue," Botelho added. "It also helps you understand how curious and knowledgeable this candidate is. If they don't ask questions, it's safe to say their heart isn't in it."
Be clear about contract terms
One thing that often trips up agency owners when looking for ICs is a misunderstanding of what they can and can't require of their ICs, Botelho said.
"An IC is also a business owner," she explained. "The agency owner cannot control an IC's methods or hours."
On the flip side, an IC cannot expect the agency to provide an office or to take employment taxes out of their compensation. ICs are not employees. They run their own business and are their own boss.
Never assume that the person you're thinking about hiring – especially if they've never worked as an IC before – understands their role in your agency. Spell it out in the contract or have a conversation (then document that conversation in a follow-up email).