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Tips for Saving Time and MoneyJune 1, 2008 By: Eric Butterman Home-Based Travel Agent
Here's how to get even more out of technology to improve and organize your business
There can be no doubt that technology is constantly changing the travel industry. Beyond the obvious convenience of how e-mailing has cut down on your calls and the manner in which e-tickets have saved your absent-minded clients, there are many technology tips that could improve the efficiency of your business.
Let's look at the most common travel technological gadget: e-mail. Although you might be a speedster at sending them off, it's not necessarily so smart to delete them as quickly. By keeping the "save as" button checked, you may be making yourself money for years to come. First, by keeping all e-mails you have written documentation, which counts as legal documentation in case a client tries to go back on a deal. Second, if you think of a client for a trip who somehow isn't in your database, e-mail will have their information—just type the name into the search function. Finally, if you read something about a trip that you think could be helpful, you can cut and paste the text into an e-mail. And, by putting the vital information in a subject line, you can later recall the e-mail as you need it.
Next, we come to the scanner. By coupling one of these with Adobe Acrobat Professional software, you instantly have every important piece of paper at your fingertips. Get rid of that overflowing file cabinet and simply scan every document you need and, again, e-mail it to yourself under a subject line you're bound to remember. And what of that bulky fax machine? With your scanner and e-mail fax services, such as RapidFax (www.rapidfax.net), you can scan and fax everything through your computer. Simply scan the pages you want, click on "create PDF" in Adobe, attach the file into an e-mail, send and now you're done faxing. Faxes also can come to you from anywhere with no printing costs and no worries that your fax machine has to be on (RapidFax starts at $9.95 a month and has a 30-day trial). Microsoft offers tutorials to help users become tech-savvy
Audrey Kennedy, co-owner of Tarzana, CA-based agency On The Map, communicates often with her St. Louis, MO-based partner, Anne MacIntyre, via computer. But what really changed her business was her partner's decision to switch computers from a PC to a Mac. That's her top technology tip, which she's deciding to heed herself.
"I'm getting ready to join her after using a PC for years," Kennedy says. "I was concerned about 'unlearning' everything I know on a PC, but she was offered a package from Mac where she can come in to the store and get 52 hours of training for $99—one lesson a week for a year. And it can be on any topic she wants. All of a sudden, she's turning into a master of Excel and it's all because of the service Mac provides. I want to know that whatever computer software or technique I want to learn for my business, I can ask someone without feeling embarrassed."
If you don't have time to go into a store, there are many tutorials online. Microsoft, for example, has an Excel tutorial and several for Outlook (www.microsoft.com/education/tutorials.mspx) But Kennedy also believes that Macs can be easier to navigate. "The shortcuts they've come up with are more straightforward and commands are easy," she says. What isn't so easy is the price, with many Macs coming in at more than 50 percent of their PC counterpart. However, with Macs having a reputation of lasting longer, the longer you stay in business the better chance you have of recouping costs. Five Quick Tips
Kennedy also is big on the smartphone to keep her in the loop of her e-mail-centric customers. "If I leave my office, I've got to have that connection to them," she says. "You know what it's like when you have a small business and things are happening constantly. If I'm expecting to hear from a client or supplier and I'm not at my computer...no sale. I know some people like to avoid them, or are intimidated by any technology, but if you don't keep up, someone else will."
The Tech Mindset
Darla Graber, founder of Ashland, OH-based database company ClientEase, is a strong believer in asking yourself how technology can help you, as opposed to just allowing the applications to take control. "When you're working with something new, take a moment to really think about how it affects your particular business," she says. "If you're someone who's forgetful about dates, then put your daily reminders first—if you don't remember to follow up on a sale, then that reminder should be what you see first. It's easy to alter something to accommodate you, so be willing to play around with it. And if you don't know, ask. People shouldn't let laziness stop them from making the most of what's available to them."
But some believe it's laziness that allows people to use technology as a crutch when it may not be the best course of action to begin with. Ted Wiggins, of Encino, CA-based Pallazo Travel Consultants, notes that maybe the best technology tip of all is to know when to put it aside. "I've been doing this for 19 years and you see too many agents who are forgetting to use the phone," he says. "Technology was meant to help, not cut us off from human contact. The number-one compliment I get from customers is that I'm always there for them and don't make them have to check an e-mail when they want some back-and-forth conversation. It can take all day to say over e-mail what you could have worked out in two seconds by talking to each other."
Laurie Ducharme, a nine-year veteran working with Bolton, MA-based Harvard Travel Agency, says you can rely more on technology the more you know the client. "You have to initially make a connection with them so they'll trust you—that's through tone of voice, understanding their sense of humor and getting on the same page with them when it comes to what they want out of travel," she says. "After they've had a good experience with you, then they'll trust you more to interact through technology because they don't have to worry about you 'getting them.' And sometimes they don't want to talk anyway—they just want a deal."