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Keeping Your Agency on TrackFebruary 3, 2009 By: Susan Young Home-Based Travel Agent
Many agencies measure their success in enormous steps, such as making a huge luxury vacation sale or bringing in 10 new clients this month. But perhaps Henry Ford, the auto magnate, said it best: “Before everything else, getting ready is the secret of success.”
Jotting down ideas as they come to you can help you grow your business
Updating your business plan at the start of a new year is a great way to get ready. Just keep in mind that a productive business plan is always fluid. It’s never finished, but is constantly evolving. A good business plan can help a home-based agent obtain financing, arrange strategic alliances, attract key employees and boost confidence. Here are a few tips to keep your business on track.
Create Constant Input: Think about your plan everywhere—when talking to employees, in a restaurant, while having your morning coffee, when sharing a fun evening with friends or even in the shower. A steady stream of creative ideas and continual marketplace assessments will provide valuable fodder when you’re assessing your current plan and how to adapt it.
Jot It Down: Keep a small notepad in your purse or a piece of paper in your wallet. Jot down all ideas—when you think of them. Even just a few words or a sentence will do. Write about a lead on a potential new business partnership. Jot down the name of a host agency to evaluate. Scribble a thought about a plan to incentivize employees. Acknowledge your concern about soaring IT costs.
Set Plan Review Intervals: Set specific times to review and update your business plan—certainly once annually, but then also quarterly, monthly or weekly. Make this a priority. Then evaluate your existing plan. Consider the notes you’ve jotted down. Adjust for current competitive conditions and recent business performance.
Be Honest, Eliminate Assumptions: Look at the plan with brutal honesty. Eliminate all assumptions. Is your current business proposition one that customers want? Are your sales projections doable or pie-in-the-sky? Are you realistic about market conditions? Don’t assume that what worked last year will work this year.
Talk With Customers: Times change and so do clients’ needs. Perhaps their kids have gone off to college; they’ve retired; their personal financial situation has shifted (loss of job, worries about a 401(k), housing woes); they’ve changed careers; an elderly parent has come to live with them; they’ve gained a new hobby; or bought a new vacation home. Never assume clients’ desires today are what they were a year ago.
Gather Intel From Your Customers: What are their personal thoughts on the economy and how it impacts them? What’s happening in their personal world? What type of vacation appeals this year? Has their mindset changed? What services would they like your agency to provide that you don’t? Where would they like to travel and why?
Spread Your Wings: Add new revenue streams. Start with what you do well and narrow the focus to also include a more specialized niche. For example, if you sell family travel, consider becoming an expert in single-parent travel. Or if you specialize in ski vacations, build your client base with a learn-to-ski package for novices who might be future ski clients.
Reevaluate Your Business Efficiency: Is your technology doing what you need? Are you spending too much time on back-office tasks and not enough on selling? Evaluate the potential benefits of a consortia or host relationship. Add operational changes into your business plan.
Create Quantitative Milestones: Build milestones into any plan. Quantify the steps whenever possible. For example, you might add to your plan: “Make 10 new community contacts by July 31 and send out an introductory packet.” Or, “Increase destination wedding sales by 6 percent by December 31.”
Review Results: Use a software program like QuickBooks to easily create financial reports and comparisons throughout the year. Look at variances between projections and results. Shift your business plan accordingly. Even if a long-term strategy is expected to deliver immediate results, ensure you’re not blindly following a strategy based on incorrect assumptions.
Never Stop: Finally, never say, “I’m done.” Keep revising. Keep fine-tuning. A finished plan is a dead plan. Going through the motions of a plan revision will help you continually view your business operation in a systematic way.
Need more help? SCORE, a group of retired executives, has free business plan templates online. The U.S. Small Business Administration offers a free online course on creating a business plan. States and local municipalities can often assist; for example, the Florida Small Business Development Council provides free counseling and a low-cost course on writing a business plan. Trade membership organizations such as the American Society of Travel Agents have online financial tools.