By Connie Miller
I frequently talk to travel consultants who are considering leaving their travel agent “job” to work for themselves as Independent Contractors. It’s a big decision to leave the security of a regular paycheck and a defined work model for the unknown and these agents want to know if the IC model is right for them. Will they be successful? Do they have what it takes to be self-employed? Should they or shouldn’t they?
Having worked as an agent, manager, corporate travel liaison and now as the Business Development Manager for Your Travel Center/Montecito Village Travel, I know that success can come from working independently or from working within an office and determining which model is best for you depends on your individual needs.
To better define who is most likely to be successful, I decided to do some research. First I investigated the personality traits associated with successful self-employed individuals. It was no surprise that successful entrepreneurs considered themselves to be creative, self-motivated and problem-solvers. They are risk-takers but not extreme risk-takers, they are confident enough to be uncomfortable while they try new approaches when problem-solving. This wasn’t much help because most of the successful travel consultants I know display these traits.
There had to be something more. And then it dawned on me… I work for a company with successful “brick & mortar” travel offices and a robust Independent Contractor (IC) program. This is where I should research. I then polled our Independent Contractor agents who had worked as an employee (“inside agent”) and as an Independent Contractor and asked their perspective on transitioning from an inside agent to an independent contractor. I then summarized their ideas.
What factors led to the move from employee to Independent Contractor?
Overwhelmingly, ICs that made the change did so because they wanted flexibility. They wanted to work when they wanted to work and with clients of their choosing. They also wanted to spend as much time as they wanted with their clients. They wanted to make more money and they wanted the independence of running their own business. Some chose the IC model when their office closed or they were terminated during a down economy. For these agents the independent contractor model was a viable option.
What character traits do you feel are critical to being a successful IC?
The number one answer was discipline and attention to detail combined with a sense of urgency and a cheerful attitude. Other key traits included accountability (both errors and successes), networking ability and communication skills. The trait that resonated with me the most, however, was self-confidence and action. You need to believe in yourself and your decisions…"analysis paralysis" holds you back. Kathy, one of our Independent Contractors, summed it up well when she shared, "Most of my best business decisions were when I jumped in feet first and didn’t overthink what might go wrong."
What advice would you give anyone considering the transitioning from an “inside” agent to an Independent Contractor?
This question generated nothing but encouragement. Jan wrote “At first you will be afraid, but as time goes by, you will embrace your capabilities.” And Kathy advised, “Just do it… change is good” and then added “learn to market” to her advice. Other words of wisdom included: Be brilliant, be excited, learn new things and keep up on travel trends and most of all, have fun. Also in the mix, was getting legal and accounting advice before delving into the world of self-employment. A good home office is critical as is finding a suitable place to meet clients. Others suggested considering a small office if you can afford it. Still others urged new ICs to create a strong visual logo and professional image for your business cards, etc. Other prudent advice included sticking to your regular hours, follow-up and follow-through, and remembering that there is no one there to cheer you on or a time card to punch…you have to rely on you to keep on task.
What would these agents have liked to have known before becoming an Independent Contractor?
Overwhelmingly the respondents said that they wished they would have known how easy it was because they’d have done it sooner. Other advice was to find a host that offers autonomy, tools and support. Yet another reflected on missing having colleagues to bounce ideas off of and subsequently had to find ways to make sure to stay on top of technology and new information. Still another reflected on how much better she was able to serve her clients because she wasn’t answering phones for everyone in the office or helping walk-ins wanting a professional to check their “internet homework.” Others cautioned that personal travel is more difficult and recommended having a back-up arrangement in place.
Would they do it again?
Overwhelming the answer was YES! Only two individuals reporting that they preferred the office environment to working independently. I think it is important to know that these two agents became Independent Contractors due to an office closing so working as an Independent contractor wasn’t their first choice and both felt it was a viable alternative to remain in the industry.
In conclusion, it’s my belief that if you are already thinking that the independent contractor model is right for you, it probably is. The most successful Independent Contractors I know are those that have a vision, are self-disciplined and understand how they will market themselves. They take time to create a business and marketing plan. Sound invigorating? Then find a compatible host agency and get going.
Still need encouragement, then listen to what Deb said when asked if she would do it all over again, “In a heartbeat! It’s one of the best decisions I’ve made; I’m responsible for my successes and my mistakes. It was a little scary at first, but it’s awesome!”
Article written by Connie Miller, Business Development Director, Your Travel Center.