Last week I watched a really interesting conversation between Richard D’Ambrosio and David Chait the founder of Travefy. It’s part of Richard’s new series “Real Talk” with his Travel Business Mastermind group. (PS: If you’re not following him and watching that please do!) It’s the first of his series and I think he’s going to have a lot of really fascinating guests speaking on topics.
I loved the conversation he had with David about how David recognized fairly early on in the life of Travefy that it was essential that he pivot the model of his business in order to be fully successful. It was a fascinating story and interesting business case.
However, I wanted to break it down a little bit more and make it applicable to travel advisors. What kind of lessons we can learn from that topic? I feel like there’s four major lessons in ways that we can be more pivotable as travel advisors.
The first one is get to know your clients.
David found that there were power users using Travefy in a very special kind of way. In a way that he had no intention of serving with his product and he started to reach out to those power users and find out how and why they were using his product. That’s where he learned that a majority of his power users were travel advisors and a lightbulb moment went off.
He learned that it was possibly a good idea (even though scary!) to completely pivot his business model from a B2C to a B2B concept. He would not have had that opportunity if he had never taken the time to get to know his clients.
As service providers, it’s absolutely essential that we get to know our clients. By doing that we can identify opportunities to pivot.
The second is be willing to let your baby grow up a lot of times.
As entrepreneurs. we call our businesses our baby. Even though I literally have human babies right now, I feel the same way. If you start a process, start a business, start branding, you get really emotionally attached to it.
I totally understand how it feels when we pour our heart and soul into the creation of these entities and you find that it’s not working. And it doesn’t matter if it’s not working due to a global pandemic, a disconnect between you and your ideal client, or because you haven’t fine-tuned your messaging.
Maybe you start off in one direction that now does not feel genuine to you anymore. Now you realize that you need to do something differently in order to be more genuine and to attract your ideal client.
It’s really hard to let go of all that work you put into creating what you have to that point and start over in some cases or pivot. It’s really hard to let that go. What I want to urge you to do is reframe the thought. Don’t think about it like you’re letting your baby go. Think about it like you’re letting your baby grow up.
For example, I have a colleague who’s in the romance travel sector of the industry, and she started off serving middle-class honeymooners. Over the years she’s built a very successful business; however, over time, she became less interested in working with those types of clients. Also, those clients that had become loyal to her as a result of working with her on their honeymoons want to now do different kinds of trips. Now they have families are or in a better financial situation and want to take nicer couples trips.
Not only has her clientele evolved, but she’s evolved in who she wants to serve and what kinds of trips she wants to plan. Now she’s in the process of pivoting her branding and pivoting her business completely to serve the evolution of her clientele and the evolution of her interest.
It can be a grieving period to let go of what started off as a very successful Niche, in destination weddings or honeymoons and moving on to something else, but, in order for it to be sustainable it’s essential for your for your mental health.
If you’re not invested in a business, you’re not going to want to do it because it’s going to take a hundred percent commitment from you to keep it going. You also have to stay in tune with the needs of the business landscape. You also must recognize that you went through all that for a reason.
It helped inform you it helped to bring you to where you are to enable you to make the choices that you’re making and all of that stuff you wouldn’t have been able to get to if you hadn’t been through that process.
It’s about the journey not the destination.
The third is being open to how your business evolves or your ideal client involves.
I’m going to take it back to my romance specialize colleague. She started off serving young couples who have a middle-of-the-road budget for honeymoons, and, 10 years into that type of business she’s just tired of trying to find deals. Now she wants to serve a luxury market. Some of those people who start up as young couples have evolved in their careers and make more money and are willing to invest in a luxury price point.
If you’re open to evolving to, for example, serve a luxury client and sell luxury experiences, then you’ll be successful in that transition; however, if you’re not open to the idea that it can evolve then you’re not going to be able to pivot.
Maybe you have this vision in your head: five years down the road: “My business is going to be like XYZ.” You must pay attention to the market and how things are shifting and how your clients are shifting. Then you and your willingness to roll with it and maybe pivot to areas that you didn’t think your business would be going to in your initial Five-Year Plan, will make you successful. If there is resistance to change you will always struggle as an entrepreneur.
Fourth is niche by destination or mode of travel – niche by ideal client.
This is what we’re going to talk about in our Travel Career Summit. Often times you hear, “we all know that the riches are in the niches” in travel education. We’re always talking about identifying your Niche and usually it comes down to this: travel business coaches will say, “What is your Niche?” and usually it waters down to a response like “I’ma cruise specialist. I’m a river cruise specialist. I’m a I’m a Disney specialist. I’m a Europe Specialist or I’m a, dude ranch specialist.”
Those kinds of niches are better served by tour operators.
If you’re going to get focused on a particular type of travel, maybe think about going to work for a Tour Operator. YOUR job as a service provider, as a matchmaker of people to products and services, is to get to know a client and match them. It’s not to know a product or service at the end of the day. Don’t get me wrong. You do need to know the product and the service so you can advise them appropriately, but what you really need to be focusing 80% of your time on is identifying your ideal client and speaking to them so that that you can serve their needs.
There is no more apparent time than right now. At the beginning of COVID in March when Italy closed, all the Italy destination specialist had their businesses obliterated and they have not been able to pick that back up again. Going on seven months all the cruise specialist had their businesses obliterated. They have not been able to pick their business back up for seven months and counting. What needs to happen is you need to focus on your ideal client.
If you had a connection, and (as my partner Krystal always says, if you had 10 raving fans that are your ideal clients), what will happen is they’ll be less interested in continuously coming back to you and saying, “I’m ready to go on that next Cruise.” Instead they will say “I really need a vacation where can I go right now with COVID?”
You would already have that loyal clientele following you where you go because they want to work with you. You know how to speak to their unique needs as a client. And it’s not about the destination or the mode of travel. It’s about your relationship together.
I’m challenging you to start cultivating your community with your ideal clients. If you don’t like who you’re working with you’re not going to want to keep working in this job.
Period. Full Stop.
All I see on travel advisor groups on Facebook is people complaining about clients.It’s very clear when people complain about them, that they are not their ideal client. If you start eliminating those matchups of you with your not ideal client 90% of your business troubles will go away.
The other thing is how can you possibly compete against the Expedia cruise ship centers, and the Expedia’s and the Carnival.com’s and the Travelocity ‘s and the big business OTAs and direct travel supplier companies of the world based upon a product?
You’re never going to be able to compete with them. You don’t have the budget. You don’t have the scale as an individual service provider.
What you can compete with them on is personal service and that’s where knowing your ideal client comes into play. That’s how you can blow that so-called competition out of the water every single time. You cannot rise above the noise of those OTAs and suppliers without distinguishing yourself.
This comes back to the idea that you can’t possibly talk to everyone. You need to talk to that one you have in mind. All you need is 10 raving fans who will then refer you to 10 more raving fans to build up a sustainable Client List. And this is a topic I want you to start observing.
Fellow travel advisor and co-founder of Kinship Travel Academy, Wendy with Rebel on the Go Travel, has spent the majority of the foundation of her travel business cultivating a community with like-minded people who are her ideal client. She does it predominantly through Facebook groups. None of this has been disrupted with covid. She hasn’t been dependent on in-person events – in person networking. She’s built a community around connecting with other middle-aged women who want to fulfill their life’s dreams and goals and have rebellious tendencies and want to have transformative travel experiences. A large percent of her engagement in her social media posts is not about travel at all. It’s about addressing the lifestyle and commonalities that are within her ideal client group. She’s talking about pain points that that group of people have. She’s talking about things that would inspire them.
She’s creating a community, and she’s in the process of pivoting very seamlessly throughout this mess. She’s going to continue to be able to work with those ideal clients in other ways. She’s going to be able to offer them Life Coaching Services. She’ll be able to organize group trips for herself and her followers.
She’s hanging on because she established a foundation based upon an ideal client. Not a perfect specialization in a destination or mode of travel.
This is why it’s so important to know your clients. Getting to know your clients is absolutely essential to be a niched travel advisor because if you don’t then, again, you’re still going to be competing with the Expedia’s of the world and we can’t do that.
We don’t want to do it. If we wanted to do that. We should just go work as a customer service representative at expedia.com.
That’s four major steps to be able to pivot in your travel business. We are taking a deeper dive into all of this in our upcoming Virtual Travel Career Summit. Hope to see you there!
Thanks for letting me hang out on my soapbox today. Take care of you.
Ashley Metesh-McCoy is a co-founder of KTA Membership and the founder of Kinship Vacations, an independent host agency that helps train and mentor new agents in the industry. She is the also the creator of an independent education program for travel advisors that led her to win the 2019 ASTA Entrepreneur of the Year. Ashley has been coaching fellow agents for several years now, sharing her expertise in business operations, streamlining successful client care systems, and financial tracking tools. She lives in Carmel, CA w/ her hunky Army husband that she met while in service in Afghanistan, her two precocious daughters, and a pack of fur babies.