How to Know When it's time to Course Correct
By: Sandy Saburn, CTIE

Ask any IT professional what they recommend 99% of the time to resolve computer issues and they will tell you, “restart the computer”. If only life were like that: just restart and wake up fresh with all the problems mysteriously gone. I guarantee you someone would have restarted 2020 by now! 

Unfortunately, business doesn’t work that way either, but you as an entrepreneur you can course-correct. It can be subtle adjustments like adding or adjusting professional fees. Or changing a vendor you work with. Eliminating one marketing channel in favor of another. Focusing on a specialty. All these course corrections are important to keeping your business running smoothly.

But knowing when to course-correct and how to do it is an art form, not an exact science. Two experts might have different approaches to the same problem – and both could be right. The important thing is to look at what’s working and what isn’t. Ignoring it won’t make it suddenly start working. Stubbornly sticking to it just because you’ve done it that way for a long time won’t fix it either.

While there are thousands of topics that could lead an entrepreneur to course-correct, here are two I see a lot:

  1. You aren’t making enough (or any) money
  2. You have fallen out of love with what you’re doing

The first one seems pretty clear cut: Are you making money or not? While it seems straightforward, there are a lot of travel entrepreneurs that cannot answer that question. They don’t know the numbers because that’s not something they want to deal with. As an entrepreneur, you have to keep on top of the numbers, because there isn’t anyone else to do it for you.

The first step is to determine how much (if any) money you are making. Don’t look at sales – look at commission received. While there are a lot of ways to define “profitability”, here’s a suggestion to give you some insight: divide the amount of commission you earned by the number of hours you work. Now you know how much you are making per hour. If this number is lower than you want it to be, don’t let it discourage you! Look at it as an opportunity. Now, what are you going to do to fix it? Continuing to do what you are currently doing and working more hours is NOT the solution! 

For most people, you have two primary revenue streams: commission and fees. You have control over both! Many agents don’t think they have any control over commission, but you do. You can control it in two ways: you can change to a vendor who pays more commission or change to a host that has a higher rate of commission with your top vendors. This is where many agents make a big mistake: thinking that working under their own credentials is better than being with a host agency where you can make more. If you are making 10% or even 12% with your top vendors, you are going to work yourself to death trying to make a decent income. Especially if you aren’t charging fees.

You can also change vendors you work with. I hear agents say all the time, “That’s what the client asked for and that’s what I have to book for them.” No, you don’t! You’re the expert here! They may say, “We want to go to Sandals for our honeymoon.” But what they are really saying is, “We want to go to a beautiful all-inclusive resort in the Caribbean.” They asked for Sandals because that’s probably the only all-inclusive resort they know. This is true of other resorts and cruises too! And even if you decide to book Sandals for them, you can book it through a wholesaler and might earn more commission. You have to know your options.

Admitting that you have fallen out of love with what you do is harder for people to admit. As Americans, we have this notion that when you’re finished with high school you should know what you want to do, and then go do it for the rest of your life. That’s not the least bit realistic. Jobs come and go. Markets change. Consumers change. You change. And the same is true for your business.

But before you walk away, take a hard look at why you don’t love what you are doing any longer. Maybe what you need is to do some strategic restructuring. Get rid of what isn’t working and add more of what is. That’s hard for people to do because they feel like getting rid of something means “failure”. No, failure is continuing to do the same thing over and over even though you know it isn’t working.

Look at where you’re getting joy and what’s giving you a headache. Can you do more of the former and hire someone else to do the latter? I am always amazed by agents who won’t pay someone $15 per hour to do administrative tasks that would free them up to make 4 or 5 times that amount! That’s very short-sighted. Sometimes you need to invest in your business in order to make more money.

Here’s a radical idea: Maybe what’s frustrating you about your business is the number of hours you are working for the money you’re making. You can fix that! I’ve seen agents cut their number of clients in half and double their income. Seriously! But only experts get to do this. Generalists do not.

Making these decisions can be challenging. Thankfully, you have something that will guide you: your intuition. Listen to it. If something doesn’t feel right, look deeper. Why doesn’t it feel right? Just because it is something others are doing doesn’t mean that it will work for you. Just because no one else is doing doesn’t mean it won’t work.

Here is a suggestion that will make these changes and many others easier: Surround yourself with successful people who will inspire you. Listen to what they are doing. Learn from their example. Ask if you can have 15 minutes of their time to ask them questions (and stick to the time they agree to). Remember, just because you are surrounded by agents who talk a lot (as I see in some travel agent Facebook groups) doesn’t mean they are successful travel entrepreneurs. They may have a lot of product knowledge without much sales. That’s not a model to follow!

The bottom line is that this is yet another instance where you have to be the boss. You cannot delegate this to someone else, because in most travel businesses there isn’t anyone else. As an entrepreneur, you control the destiny of your business. To be successful you have to own that responsibility.