Business of Travel, Podcast, Travel Business CEO

Travel Biz CEO: Part 2: Bringing on IC’s with Michele Schwartz

Part 2: Bringing on IC’s with Michele Schwartz

Welcome back to Travel Biz CEO. This week is Part 2 of our 3 part series on bringing on IC’s into your travel business.  Last week we were joined by Denise Lorentzen of Dreams Travel Consulting, where we dug into the the path that led Denise to bringing on IC’s. We got into who this is a good business model for, who it isn’t for and what makes people like Denise thrive in this role. 

Same questions, same topic, but very different business model and approach, this week we are joined by Michele Schwartz of Making Memories Travel. Also a KTA member, Michele has a unique style of bringing on IC’s to her team. So enjoy this part 2 episode of bringing on IC’s to your travel business. 

Michele Schwartz is the Founder & OG of Makin’ Memories Travel Co.  Makin’ Memories Travel is a bespoke agency based in Austin which specializes in creating Disney travel experiences for adults.  For her #2020Pivot she started The First Class Blogging Academy to help travel agents (she used the word agent on purpose for that SEO juice) uplevel their websites and showcasing their expertise by creating weekly original content.    

Before founding her travel business, Michele was in the Austin events industry and based on her wedding blog was known as the world’s best authority on Jewish life-cycle events.  She built the blog, “The Modern Jewish Wedding,” to be an international source of inspiration and education for Jewish couples and event planners alike.  She retired from event planning and sold her blog after serving as the President of the Austin Chapter of the National Association of Events & Catering, to pursue her dream of a #wanderlust lifestyle.  

Michele’s love of travel began at a very young age when she hiked across the Continental Divide (well she was carried) at the age of three.  She went on to work at Walt Disney World as a cast member for several years before coming home to Texas.  

She has a bachelor’s degree from The University of Texas at Austin in Communications and studied for her Master’s at the UT School of Social Work.  She is a second mom to 2 great humans and 1 adorable puppy.  Her current claim to fame: despite the pandemic, a distaste for roller coasters and a fear of heights, she has been on Every. Single. Ride at Walt Disney World.  

 

For this week’s episode we’ve provided the transcript of the conversation below. Enjoy!

 

Ashley Metesh-McCoy
Hello, everyone, welcome back to KTA’s Travel Biz CEO podcast. I’m Ashley Metesh McCoy, one of the founders here of KTA. And today I am privileged to be joined by Michelle Schwartz, one of our awesome, generous, brilliant KTA members who is going to be talking to me about the whole, quote unquote queen bee business model- having IC’s in your agency, and I’m not going to take too much time talking here, I want Michelle to impart all of her wisdom on us. But just so you know, her business is Making Memories Travel, and she will be sharing her business information in the show notes. If you want to look her up. I would love for her to tell us her story about her business. So without further ado, take it away. Michelle, tell us about you and your travel agency.

Michele Schwartz
Oh, goodness. Well, thank you so much for having me. I love all three of you. And it’s such a pleasure to get to spend one on one time with you.

Ashley Metesh-McCoy
Yeah, thank you.

Michele Schwartz
Very exciting.

So Well, we’ve heard of the accidental entrepreneur. So I feel like I became the accidental host. Although I hate calling myself a host, because I don’t want to ever be a host agency. Like that’s not my goal. I but I was I offered to, you know, we’re stuck in COVID not traveling. And I am part of a group online – a Disney fan group that I’m a big part of on Facebook. and I am honored to be the person who does every week, we do a feature in that group called Travel Agent Tuesday. And I was selected to be the admin of Travel Agent Tuesday, which was just a huge, huge honor and a really big deal for me. And I so as that people started reaching out to me to kind of like be like, what’s it like to be a Disney travel agent? And what do you do? And you know, how did you get started, and I would just do informational interviews. And the first person who came on my team, she’s now my agency manager, her name is Erin. She’s my right and left hand side, she is amazing. And she reached out to me to do an informational interview and offered to buy me  a Starbucks gift card in return. And I told her, I was like, well, that’s fine.  I’m happy to do an informational interview. But seeing as it’s in the middle of COVID, I’m not very busy right now.

Please take your Starbucks gift card and pay it forward. Like next time you’re in the drive thru line, buy coffee for the person behind you or something. And that’s just the kind of person I am. I love to share my experiences. I’m a collaborator, not a competitor. And I always learn as much about the person that I’m talking to as the person hopefully learns from me. And so she said, I was the only person who did that. And so she contacted me and she was like, I want to I want to do this with you. And I was like, okay, you do realize, like, literally, I think it was April or May right after the pandemic. It’s really not the best time you get that right. And she’s like, it’s okay. And I really do feel like we were kind of destined to be together because her skill sets are everything that I am not like, I’m the market. It’s kind of like you and Krystal actually

Ashley Metesh-McCoy
I was just about to say that sounds like Krystal and my beginning!

basically, yeah, she is all about systems and our CRM and workflow automations and the travel joy and travel advice templates. And I am all about the social media and the marketing and the networking and the talking and this and that. And so we became a team. And then once I had her on, of course, her being the systems expert, she made me realize that I didn’t really have any in place. And so

That happens to a lot of people. You’re not alone.

Michele Schwartz
Yeah, so she kind of whipped up like, here is what we need to do and through her systems are developed and every time a new IC comes on. Our systems have just gotten better and better and better and because of what she put in place, actually better at self selecting. And I tried to call my team because even though in essence it is everyone’s individual travel business, there are some stipulations but I’m still sure you will ask me about that. So that’s kind of how it started, like I had no intention of getting outside of the Disney bubble or bringing on anybody else. And both of those things kind of happened organically.

Ashley Metesh-McCoy
That’s interesting. So you started your IC model, so to speak, in the middle of a pandemic. I want you to back up, though, just and tell us about the foundation of your agency, as I understand it correctly, you are a…. Well, you don’t have to answer this because I’ll toot your horn for you. It’s also very successful blogger. And if I understand correctly, that’s what led you into being a travel agent was you start off blogging? Or no, tell me tell me the right story.

Michele Schwartz
So I was was a very successful blogger. And actually, I’ll be honest, Literally, I know the exact day that I stopped, and it was November 8 of 2016. I woke up.

And I was like, I literally was like, how can I write about weddings and all things happy and engagements and pretty pictures and like, gorgeous wedding cakes and florals because I’m like, they’re basically meaningless right now, like the world is coming to an end. That was the devastation that I felt that day. And I, I just couldn’t do it. And so I couldn’t devote the energy that it needed anymore. And I felt like I taken it as far as I was able to take it. And I sold it.

And that, interestingly enough, it may be what was in my head at that moment, that led me into this kind of dark, deep place. But it turned out, I really think it was the universe talking to me, because I was on the tipping point about getting into wedding blogging, and I was on the tipping point of getting out of it. Like, right after I did sell and get out of it. The whole model kind of turned on its head, the biggest one, she had been my mentor, she actually ended up selling hers to AOL, and they ended up shutting it down. So it was just, I just had a sixth sense about it. And so then it was really like, wow, what am I gonna do now and I kind of, you know, I always love to travel. And that’s definitely part of my, my own self going happy therapy. So, like, Okay, I’m gonna, I’m gonna really learn about the industry. And I had always been in hospitality and the hotel side of it. So I really wanted to learn more about and I ended up in several bad models. So when I decided to go out on my own and start my own, it was really a chance for me to redo all the bad experiences I had had in being hosted or being an independent contractor with others.

And that’s not to say that because in case those people out there listening, that their model isn’t bad, it might work. It just wasn’t for me. And part of that, I think, is because I had been a successful entrepreneur. And I was so passionate about my branding, and about blogging and about SEO and about all the things that I had done as a successful wedding blogger that I didn’t like not having any control about that.

Ashley Metesh-McCoy
Yeah,

Michele Schwartz
I knew what needed to be done to put my name on the map, as a successor to showcase my, my authority. And I say that in the SEO way to showcase my authority. And I wasn’t able to do that. And and so I really started making memories travel with the idea that it was going to be different than every other model out there. And I took that even as I brought on IC’s – that I wanted them to experience the things that had made me irritated and felt irritated. The bad word. felt like I had a straight jacket on and I was just constantly trying to get out of it like

Ashley Metesh-McCoy
Well, you’re Yeah.

Michele Schwartz
So I tried to do things differently. And I think that ultimately, I don’t know if that’s the correct way. Like maybe some of these people actually knew more what they were doing in terms of making Revenue. But in terms of developing a team,

Ashley Metesh-McCoy
yeah,

Michele Schwartz
I think that I’ve done a good job at that.

Ashley Metesh-McCoy
Wow, there’s a lot to unpack there. I think you’re not the only one that went through somewhat of an existential crisis after the results of the last election. And so kudos to you for coming out, you know, the other end and figuring out something that’s gonna work for you. But the second thing is, I totally resonate with what you said about those other people have a model that may produce more revenue, but your goal was to create a team because that’s something that I found in my host agency. You know, I similarly wanted to create an environment that felt like a team felt like a place where people could completely define who they want it to be as a business owner. And, you know, admittedly, it’s, it’s not been the highest revenue producing team, but I feel good knowing that people feel free to do what they want to do in their business, how they want to do it, and that they can depend on each other. So I think what you’re what you’re saying, and what I’m saying is, there’s more than one way to run a business, and it’s okay. So, thank you for sharing that story. And, yeah, so thank you. All right. Move on to the next questions. Um, okay, so now, so since you had your first person, her name is ERin, right, reach out to you. So, you’ve had subsequent people ask to join your team? Um, I guess my question is, why did you decide to bring on subsequent people? Like what, what has been your motivator for bringing on more ICS?

Michele Schwartz
Well, I think originally it was, I want to be an ear marked agency with Disney. Like, that was just the goal that I had put out from the very beginning. I wanted to be earmarked and

Ashley Metesh-McCoy
Yeah

Michele Schwartz
Okay. And that in and of itself has its own like whole controversy that on Facebook, travel agent, Disney groups, you’ll feel the stress of it.

Ashley Metesh-McCoy
I can only imagine.

Michele Schwartz
Right when it comes to Disney travel fans get together it’s like and, but that was just something that I really wanted. For my own edification. I’m an educational snob. Like I love to learn if I could be a full time in college, like that was a dream life. So it was just I want that logo. I know that my clients will not necessarily know what what it is, but I want to be able to say it about myself. So I quickly realized that I wasn’t that wasn’t going to happen on my own. And so I think, originally, after Aaron came on board, and she started started to systemize things. I was like, oh, okay, well, if I really want to be earmarks, then now that there’s kind of a model in place for doing this, then I probably need to do it. But again, based on previous hosting experiences that I had had, I was like, no more than 10 that was always like, it was gonna be small, I was gonna keep it small enough to manage. And that included me so no more than nine others. I was like I can do I know that I can become earmarked with that. And I don’t have to be 60 people not being said those 10 or me and the nine others, we’re gonna have to have some serious, like, energy and momentum towards selling Disney. And then it also just worked out that each of us had sort of a different interest in different parts of Disney. And, and I’m also an avid cruiser. So then it was like, I specialize in adult only trips to Disney, but I also love to cruise. So now I kind of wanted to expand into cruises. So then it was like, well, they might as well learn how to book whatever we want. And not and hopefully, you know, become a specialist and more than just Disney even though I try and say in my bio Disney will always have my heart. And that’s and I do still want to be your Mars. But I also didn’t want to be 100% pigeonholed into only my agents only doing Disney so then it just honestly, I I’ve only ever posted about wanting more ICS once or twice. People like Aaron in that same group would talk about me. And it just it was really natural. I I don’t think up until really recently I was ready to like, actually advertise like, Hi, I’m hiring like it was more. Not that I would use those words because not hiring andhiring.

Folks, I just snorted. Sorry for the podcast listener. So I know that’s it, you have to be very careful as a host agency, not to say “hiring” I know. It’s so funny. Your vernacular has to change too once you become a host. Um, that’s interesting. Okay, so it’s just been, I mean, I’m hearing you loud and clear. It’s just been an organic growth, and it’s evolving. And yeah, so that’s, that makes a lot of sense. And, I mean, I think any successful business owner will say that things tend to evolve, and you’d kind of just have to be open to it. And, you know, roll with the punches. So I guess that being said, um, so even though because I think a lot of people when they try to actively bring on ICS. You know, it’s sort of a different process, but at the same time, I’m sure that there’s, you have a good answer for this. Have there been any important lessons that you’ve learned in the process of bringing on ICS? From just sort of like, small technical things like specific CRM to larger like, mindset, structural things? What would you like to share on this?

Yes, yes, and yes, so. Um, so the first lesson that I learned was about myself, and I will say it, this is a recent lesson that I learned that I learned really in talking through with someone the issues of some ICS, who were not at all responsive, like, here, I was paying for their CRM access, and their, you know, email account, they weren’t paying the monthly fees as they were supposed to, even though there had been a contract signed. And I was adamant that I was not an installing sales quotas. And I can tell that story in a minute. So I, I did have a monthly fee in place, but that those invoices were going unpaid. And so in talking through, how do you fire someone who’s you’re not who’s not your employer.

And I mean, that literally, in the vernacular of they’re not our employees, you write it, you cannot require independent contractors to come to a team meeting, you cannot require a certain amount of hours, like it is, in a sense, an independent business for that person.

And if the timing is bad, all you can do is say, Okay, I can’t however, require that you pay my invoices,

Ashley Metesh-McCoy
Right.

Michele Schwartz
Or my monthly fees, because I am paying the overhead of the agency. And so in talking through that with someone, and the person said, “Well, have you given that person sells goals? Have you? How have you managed that person?” You know what, I didn’t get into this to manage people. And that was like this big lightbulb went off. I was like, I’m a team builder, and I’m a great mentor. I’m a shitty personnel manager. Can I say that? Do we have the rating?

Ashley Metesh-McCoy
Yeah, no, we’re okay with that.

Michele Schwartz
I got out of working in a traditional work environment where I had a manager above me and I managed other people below me because I hated managing someone hated checking to make sure that they clocked in at the right time and doing six month evaluations on on metrics that didn’t have anything to do with their actual output and their job like a theoretically

Ashley Metesh-McCoy
You shouldn’t have to do that with an IC theoretically.

Michele Schwartz
Yes, so that that was the lesson I learned and in a sense. That is what finally turned things in terms of seeking other icees on its head for me, is that I didn’t want to seek someone who was like, No, you’re gonna have to tell me what to do. I wanted to seek someone who was like, I want to learn from you. But I have these ideas too

Ashley Metesh-McCoy
Okay,

Michele Schwartz
And that’s what I say I’m a collaborator. And then I want to be able to offer the person all the resources that I have and all the knowledge that I gained. But ultimately, the person needs to be self managing. Because I’m not going to offer that.

Ashley Metesh-McCoy
Yeah, that’s a really important lesson. And I, I feel like you taught me a lesson about myself, because I’ve been struggling with the very same thing, like, and I have a past career as a military officer. And I would say that, you know, exercise my leadership, team building skills. But I never fancied myself a manager, and I never really realized it until you said that. So thank you for teaching me an important lesson today.

Michele Schwartz
We have an anonymous friend of mine to thank for that.

Ashley Metesh-McCoy
Nice, thank you, anonymous friends. I think that lends us nicely into our next question, because in a roundabout way, I guess I’m so because so so the question I had planned was, how do you differentiate yourself from other agencies? But I guess along that lines, or if you’d rather answer the question, what is your evolved vetting process that like, how have you changed that?

Michele Schwartz
So those are good, and I can actually answer them both. So when I distinguish myself, I don’t call myself a host agency, really. And I call everyone my team. And I think of us as almost like a co op. As opposed to like, any big decisions, I try and run by the team. But I also have a, I have an agency manager, I have an agency CFO. And so and those have been put in place, you know, since I started but but my vetting process is I actually don’t even talk to the person until they complete some initial training. And it’s supplier based training. And we send out an email that says it’s that Aaron developed my systems gal, it’s automated. She says,

Ashley Metesh-McCoy
I need to talk to Erin – she sounds awesome.

Michele Schwartz
You would really jive for sure. It Yeah, um, so it’s, and they have to complete the Disney training and the Universal Orlando training, before I’ll even talk to them. Because that usually will self select out a lot of people, the training is long, it doesn’t actually teach you how to book it, it teaches you the product knowledge. And if somebody can get through it, and then wants to learn more, then I’m like, Okay, now I can talk to you. But first, you have to show me that you really want it. I still do informational interviews. But I don’t offer people to come on board. Like I’ll do an informational interview. And I’ll tell them the questions that they should ask of me and any other agent that they might or agency that they might want to work with, that I don’t just offer people to come in from that. So still I do an informational interview with someone, like how to become an agent, or what questions I should ask or what looking for, and you come back to me and you’re, you’re like, Oh my god, I really love you, Michelle, thank you so much. Here’s your training, let me know when you finish it. And I can tell immediately, if somebody is so excited to learn more, they’ll go through it and in a week. Like they’ll sit down on a weekend they’ll chunk it out. Or they’ll at least email me and tell me Oh, I finished module one, I’m going into module two, like I know immediately how motivated they are. But if it drags out, or I don’t hear from them again, like they’ve self selected out, and that’s great. So then then I will start. So then I’ll schedule an informational or more like an interview process of you know, why do you think you want to do this? How have you talked to other agencies, like my models kind of different? You know, I don’t have sales quotas. And here’s why. I also try and do less of the talking and make them do more. They’re talking. And I talk a lot so that’s hard for me. But I really I want to hear if they’re able to talk to people because ultimately, this is about connecting and talking to people and if you think you’re going to hide behind your screen, you’re not going to be successful. Even just connecting on zoom, like you just you have to be able to put yourself out there. So and then once I talk to people then And then I’ll put them through the onboarding. And we don’t, we don’t set them up with their actual email address, I mean, because once again, that’s, that’s a cost, as in giving them their CRM access, which is a cost to the agency, until they have done all of these other things. And they’re committed, they’ve signed a contract, and they’ve paid their first monthly fee, which covers the access to the CRM, and the access to their email address. And helps to cover at this point, it also helps to cover a few of the other overhead things. I that is something that, as you said in the last segment, and like we are constantly learning and I have learned a little bit more about what my overhead is, again, the difference between me and Erin, my systems, and what my burn rate is. And and that fee is pretty low considering. And that may have to change my ultimate goal

Ashley Metesh-McCoy
That’s something I’ve toyed with a lot. So you’re not alone. And

Michele Schwartz
my ultimate goal was, like I said, as a co op was to split the costs evenly amongst everyone. But then it’s like some of us are doing a lot more work than others. And so how do you how do you do that? And so that’s still something I’m toying with I have said to my team, that it’s not anything that I would change until the end, like until next year, like yeah, now we’re in a good place.

Ashley Metesh-McCoy
Yeah, it’s tricky. And then when you have contracts, you have to like, honor those contracts. And you know, think of the timing, and I have definitely been there, I get it. Well, you’ve inadvertently answered some of my other questions.

Michele Schwartz
I told you I like to talk!

Ashley Metesh-McCoy
No, I love it. I love it. And my plan was not to talk to you much today. So you’re a for talking. So I guess I’m just going to close with to two questions and answer them however you want. Um, so one is do you think that IC business model is for everyone? Or if you’d rather answer it more like, what characteristics Do you think somebody should have before they pursue this model? And in that, like, do you have any specific advice for anybody considering this business model?

Michele Schwartz
So I guess the first piece of advice I would give to anybody considering this business model, is to do just what you did when you started to enter into a travel travel agency. And that is talk to people who have different models, find out why they like their model, or they don’t like their model and what they would want to change about it, and then decide if it’s right for you to do. Secondly. I don’t know that, at least for me that I would think of it as a revenue stream. Like I don’t you know, it what it ultimately is going to help me reach my goal of becoming earmarked and that through volume. So I’m having additional people booking things and that leads to increased commissions. But it is not what Disney actually but with other suppliers. Yeah, but it’s it’s definitely not a, it’s my goal is not to get rich off of other people’s backs. And so I don’t at all, try and take advantage of them. So it’s not a revenue stream. For me. It’s, it’s what I try to have it do is basically not lose money on having them, but also Don’t, don’t try and make money off the backs of their hard work. Um, and then, I guess other thing I would say is, I mean, I don’t know that it is the right thing for everybody. Um, but it doesn’t hurt to at least have one person. Maybe not even that you call an IC but somebody who works to your weaknesses and somebody that you can play to your strengths. Like, I don’t even if I didn’t have IC’s like, I would not be where I am today without having had Aaron to look at the systems area in my business model like you can it’s impossible for us to be good at everything and I it’s just great having a partner, even though Yes, she is in in technicality. She is my independent contractor to have someone who is really really good at things that I am not good at. My agency would not have grown without having her as an addition.

Ashley Metesh-McCoy
Yeah.

Michele Schwartz
I mean, I think it’s hard to be out there in the pond all by yourself.

Ashley Metesh-McCoy
Well, and I think there’s a lot of takeaways from what you just said, number one is before you try to grow your agency in any way, make sure you have a solid business foundation. And usually that involves systems, which nobody likes to think about. They’re not sexy or fun. You gotta have them, but very few.

Michele Schwartz
Some people think they’re sexier than others. I’ve as I said, Yeah. And thank God for people like you, thank God for people like you.

Ashley Metesh-McCoy
And then the other thing I heard from you is just you can’t, you can’t and you shouldn’t do it alone. And, yeah, there’s so many reasons for that. And however, that manifests in your business structure, whether it’s, you know, you’re a solopreneur, but you just depend on the support from a similarly minded entrepreneurial community, or you have a ICA, or an employee or a business partner, however, you know, that manifests or takes shape. Nobody should and can do this alone. Amen. And you just think deliberately before you, you know, completely change your business model. Right? Yeah, for sure. Yeah.

Michele Schwartz
I mean, that’s something that three of you say, all the time about everything. Like, if you’re gonna do something, make it deliberate. I mean, I obviously didn’t do that. But I think that, I’ve learned that that would have been a better way to have done it

Ashley Metesh-McCoy
in something. But I feel like in a way you let it happen. You so I am not necessarily deliberate. But I feel like you kind of things happened, and you sort of let them happen without trying to force it into some kind of a box. And in some ways, that’s deliberate too. Yeah. can be hard for people if you’re sort of a control freak into sort of letting things evolve in a way that’s deliberately letting go of control.

Michele Schwartz
I definitely did. I definitely did learn that that was Pandemic Lesson number one: We are not in control

Ashley Metesh-McCoy
Yeah, no, control. No kidding. Yeah. How many times? Do we have to learn that lesson in our lifetimes? Right. Well, I thank you so much for your time today, I think that, you know, you’re talking with you actually, it was quite different than the conversation I had with Denise. So I think it’s gonna be interesting for our listeners to hear your different answers. And I think people will learn a lot from your experience. And then if anybody listening is interested in joining Michelle’s team, which, you know, if I were a new agent, especially interested in Disney, I would be knocking down our door cuz I love the way she described it, that would work for me personally. You know, I know that everybody has different needs. So, um, so yeah, so if you resonated with Michelle, we’re linking her contact information in the show notes. And we will also put her other business in there. She’s has a blogging Academy for travel advisor. So definitely check that out as well. And we intend on doing a future episode with her about her blogging Academy, which I’m basically committing her to right now without her consent. So thank you, I

Michele Schwartz
thank you so much. I you know, I love everything about kth. So I’m always glad to chat with you and I can’t wait to see you in person and about three weeks away. Three, four or five weeks.

Ashley Metesh-McCoy
Yeah, well, by the time this podcast airs, I don’t know what time it’s going to be but but thanks again, Michelle, and be sure to join us for our next episode of Travel Biz CEO

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

 

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