The biggest leisure travel agency trend in the past couple of decades is the shift from storefront to homefront. While it’s great to work in your sweats and skip the commute, running a home office can also bring challenges like isolation, and the need for self-motivation and work-life balance.
According to the most recent Labor & Compensation Report (2016) from the American Society of Travel Advisors, nearly 40 percent of the organization’s travel agency members are home-based. Skift sought the perspective from several veteran travel advisors on what it takes to run an agency from home and enjoy the process.
For many travel advisors, especially those accustomed to working in an office with colleagues, the sense of being “home alone” can be unexpectedly difficult.
While Lynda Phillippi, who has run Renaissance Travel and Events from her home in Portland, Oregon, since 2004, is happy with her situation, the down side is “missing out on the camaraderie of an office and the give and take and casual learning that comes from interacting with professional peers on a daily basis.”
Then there was the initial shock of “realizing that it’s all up to me and nothing will happen if I don’t shake the tree,” she said.Similarly,
Similarly, Stephanie Lee, founder of Host Agency Reviews, an online resource center for independent and home-based travel advisors, had a hard time coping with the isolation factor when she transitioned from a corporate job to setting up a home-based business seven years ago. She’s found several ways to cope, including joining a co-working space, which she uses once a week.
“Co-working spaces, where you share an office and can go in when you choose, are really more common these days,” Lee said. “It’s given me the chance to connect with other entrepreneurs. It gives me great ideas on how other people, including those outside the travel industry, are running their businesses.”
In the early years, Lee also made it a point to schedule an “accountability call” every morning with a friend, who was also starting her own home-based company.
“You can create your own community,” she said.
Recognizing the challenge new home-based advisors face, Lee started a free program on her website called 7-Day Setup, which includes a daily e-mail with an actionable item to complete and suggested resources. The program, which has over 10,000 users, includes a Facebook page where home-based advisors connect with each other and share tips.
Working from home doesn’t necessarily mean working entirely alone. D’Lane Massalunas, owner of Dallas-based D’Lane Massalunas Travel, said hiring a personal assistant who comes in two days a week is the best business decision she has ever made.
“I invested in training her, bringing her to conferences and it’s really paid off,” she said. “She takes care of all the administrative aspects of my business, allow me to do what I do best, which is sell.”
Also invaluable for Massalunas, a former corporate events director, has been joining a host agency, Oasis Travel Network.
“They were very helpful with basic things like helping me set up a website, get e-marketing and print marketing started, and, of course, training,” she said. “Once I got up and running, the marketing tools and training helped me over the next hurdle — finding clients. In addition, having a host agency gave me access to my peers facing the same challenges.”
Even without a host agency or assistant, there are no shortage of outsourcing services for home-based advisors to call on, noted Phillippi.
“Marketing, graphic design, website, social media, bookkeeping, accounting, tax preparation are all areas where it might be helpful to engage a professional service,” she said. “I also recommend having an organizer come in periodically to help you get rid of old brochures, trade show leftovers and the like.”
For many home-based travel advisors, the freedom to make one’s own schedule is also a challenge. How to motivate yourself to work without working all the time?
“The beauty of what we do is that we can usually work around things that come up, but there are days when all personal calls, texts and e-mails go answered until the day is done,” Phillippi said. “I try for 40 hours and figure if I get close to that figure, I’ve done a good job of balancing my life.”
A works schedule that keeps things in balance varies widely according to individual circumstances, Lee said.
“People with young children, who only see their kids after they come home from school, may find it makes sense to knock off work in the late afternoon or early evening,” she said. “For me, when I was living alone, I liked to have free time during the day and then work late into the night.”
Massalunas said she is committed to having a balanced life, although extra-busy periods like Wave Season are an exception.
“I make time each week for exercise, my bible study class and a little volunteer work,” she said. “I have one child left at home and a husband. It’s important to me to cook dinner and also have some time to spend with them. Sometimes I have to catch up at night.”
Lee urges home-based travel advisors, particularly now when mobile devices make it possible to conduct business away from any office, to appreciate their flexibility, Lee said.
“Being able to take time off when most other people are working is part of the joy of working from home,” she said. “I love going shopping in the middle of the day when the stores aren’t crowded.”