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Dear Abel & Sofi: Help! My travel agency has been a failure to launch. How can I get it to 'take off'?

About Dear Abel and Sofi: While the Q&A Forum addresses 1,000+ public questions weekly, we wanted to give our small business owners an outlet to anonymously share the kinds of frustrations, fears and private struggles few people express openly. Father-daughter duo Abel and Sofi co-author the column, bringing diverse perspectives to both professional and personal problems. A serial entrepreneur and counselor, Abel, 65, is known for his empathy and his uncanny understanding of many issues. Co-owner of a salon, Sofi, 28, has a younger, more candid approach to life’s challenges. To submit your anonymous questions, click here.

Dear Abel & Sofi,

I started a travel agency a year ago, with no working capital. I've gotten two clients in that time. And while they were both happy with my work, I need to be booking at least that many clients each week.

I have a website and a blog with travel advice. Plus, I joined nearly every social site out there trying to get visibility. Some of my contacts here at Alignable have recommended me, yet I just can't seem to gain any traction.

I've traveled the U.S. extensively, but Canada is my only international trip. I lost everything to homelessness several years back, so I don't have any of my beautiful photos to share. While I have the knowledge and passion for travel, I can't say I've been anywhere to speak of outside of the U.S. or Canada, so how can I build trust?

I've been trying the "fake it ‘til you make it" approach, but that doesn't seem to help.Any advice would be great.

Thanks, Untraveled Travel Agent


ABEL: Dear Travel Passionista -- I just broke the mold hereby renaming your post, but I did it for an important reason. Based on what you’re sharing, you’re selling yourself WAY TOO SHORT!

You are a Travel Passionista, so that’s how we should refer to you. See, we’re already turning your ship around to sail in less choppy waters…:).

Let’s build on that momentum by looking at what you have -- and NOT what you don’t have (yet). People who focus on what they don’t have won’t ever be happy -- and I want you to be happy. So Ms. Passionista, you have a lot:

  • You love travel and have a true passion for this business. Don’t quit. You will find a way.    
  • You have a site and blog and you’re involved in social media. Those are all key components of online success. You just need to google the optimal ways to use them -- and follow those best practices daily.
  • You’ve traveled extensively in the U.S. -- whether or not you have the photos to prove it. Invest in stock photo sites and use the royalty-free photos they have to illustrate ideal trips. Focus on mapping out the best trip options for every budget level in cities that are reinventing themselves, as well as all-time favorites.
  • You climbed your way out of homelessness! Ms. Passionista, that’s a huge achievement on many levels: psychological, physical, spiritual, and, of course, financial. That’s amazing.
  • You’re a good, clear communicator and seem to really care about what you’re doing.
  • You also are part of the Alignable network and need to mine all kinds of opportunities here. Check out some shortcuts from a very active member here: I think you could even create some partnership deals with other solo travel agents in key cities, as ambassadors to what’s really new and exciting in their hometowns. And you could give them advice about areas you’ve recently traveled, not to mention your hometown or state.

And if you need to get a part-time job while building this business, to keep income coming in, that’s fine, too. But I say stick with this, emphasize what you know (travel in the U.S.), team up with other experts when you need them, and continue to move ahead -- never looking back.

Best of luck to you, Abel  


SOFI: I think all you need here is a bit of rebranding. While you might not have much experience with international travel, you are extremely well-versed regarding domestic vacations. Brand yourself as the travel agent who helps people explore the great United States. If the entire U.S. feels too broad, consider becoming an expert in travel to places like Orlando, Florida. I’ve known some very successful travel agents who only plan Disney and Universal vacations.

You’re already blogging, so you’re off to a great start! Keep creating content to showcase your knowledge, and consider adding posts such as the top things to do in each state, or the best places in the U.S. for a family vacation. Don’t worry about having your own photos to use for these posts! For now, just use pictures you can find online. If you write about specific restaurants or attractions, reach out to those businesses to see if they have any media they’d like you to use. Send them links to any posts that include them, and see if you can partner with them to offer special discounts to your clients.

As you build traction, be sure to use your customers to your advantage. You have some recommendations here on Alignable which is great! Reach out to your clients and have them share some photos from the trips you planned for them. Use those photos on your website and social media. Not only will this help you build up a reservoir of travel-related images, but it is a great way for you to showcase the fun and happiness associated with one of your expertly planned trips! Offer current customers a discount on a future booking for every friend they refer who books travel with you.

One thing that you can’t fake is passion, and as Abel said, it’s clear you have it! I think once you’ve gotten a few more customers, you’ll gain more confidence. Congratulations on all you’ve already accomplished. If you can overcome homelessness, I’m pretty sure you can do anything. Stick with it and I’m sure that soon, you’ll be booking all sorts of vacations for your well-traveled clients!

Au revoir! Sofi

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