Finally Taking the Plunge, capitolo tre, THE TWIST

And, now we get down to it:  The thing that all my former hosts have been missing.  The new thing we are doing with Holman Travel:

Working and living in the 21st Century. 

Yeah.  You see, for all their high tech geegaws, even those big host agencies are hopelessly stuck in the 20th.  They actually sell their agents WEBSITES!!!  We, on the other hand, are harnessing this new thing called "social media".  That's where all the people UNDER 60 are hanging out these days.  For  $20 bucks a month they will sell you a website that is identical to their other 1000 agents websites, so NO ONE will ever find you!  I, on the other hand, have all my people set up Facebook Pages, Twitter accounts, Pinterest or Instagram for their photos, get LinkedIn, and encourage them to participate in groups and forums and ask.fm and stuff like that.  And I show them how to grow that Page.  I have 600 and some odd fans.  Why would I waste my time with an email campaign when I can get 600 people to see my promo with 5 seconds work?  I have 380 Twitter followers...doesn't sound like much, but they are real people.  My Klout score as of right now is 60.  It has been as high as 68, when I am traveling and blogging.  Got a 31 on PeerIndex.  And @Kred gives me a 629/5.  So, yeah...I can help you use social media to build your business.

As I said in the beginning, I've been in the business since 2007.  I've had my FB Page and a Twitter account since 2007.  Back before most people had heard of either.  I think Zuckerberg was still working on his first billion then.

Since then, I have assiduously cultivated Social Media for my business.  That is where 90% of my bookings come from.  I've learned some things (and will share them with you, if you join the team).  I am not going to talk about them here.  They aren't completely played out yet, like the WebSite thing is.  I am constantly looking for new ways to harness the internet to make money.  As I learn them, I share them.  Since I am no longer on the retail side, I've no reason to not tell my agents.

And along with the software side, we embrace the hardware end, too.  I, personally, own a desktop, a laptop, a netbook and a smart phone.  A good 90% of my business is done on my phone.  I can search a supplier, make a booking and take a credit card payment, all from my phone.  I no longer consider myself a "Home Based Agent" (something else that is soooo 20th Century).  Me and my team are the next new thing:  MOBILE AGENTS.  We don't have to be in an office.  We don't have to be in our homes.  We can do this from a coffee bar, or a baseball game, or a concert!  Most importantly, we can do this from a ship or a resort anywhere in the world!  Because we are MOBILE.

So, yeah...that's kind of "it":  We are Social and we are Mobile.  It's up to you - you can join us here in the new millennium or you can cruise your AOL chat rooms and send people to your website.  whatever. ;-)

Oh, yeah...and we know how to work smileys.

Finally Taking the Plunge, pt duex

So, yeah...corporations can't be good Host Agencies.

On the other hand, your friends can be worse.  After leaving ECSC, I bopped around, placing bookings with various people, mostly to help new Hosts get their numbers up.  Finally kind of settled in with an agent I had known for a couple years.  Or thought I did.  She knew from Day One that I wasn't there for the long haul, and that I intended to break out on my own.  Her right hand girl of many years said the same thing.  She always told us both that when we were ready, she would let us go, with her blessing.  And, you know...she was paying me 100% commission, so it's not like she was losing anything.  She kind of kept me on the outside of her core group, which was fine with me.  I really prefer NOT to be all up in people's business.  But things started getting weird and political, so me and her right hand started making plans to form our own agency.  And we did.  And then the shit started REALLY flying.  I shant bore you with all the sordid details, because it is pretty sordid.

 So, here we are:  Bridges & Holman Worldwide Travel!  Pretty lofty name.  I run the Host side as Holman Travel, because, well, it's easier to remember.  For me.

And let me tell you what I have done:  As in everything in my life, I have harnessed my varied experience, put in place some of the things that made all of those Hosts good.  Removed all the things that made those Hosts bad, and come up with a little twist of my own.

First off, I am small potatos, and will always stay that way.  I don't believe bigger is better.  I am going beyond even Peter Stilphen in maintaining a personal touch.  My agents have my home phone number, my address, my email.  We have a secret Facebook Group that I check in several times a day.   If anyone wants to know how Holman Travel does things, they can ASK HOLMAN!  Not some faceless office drone who takes several hours to respond to a voice- or e-mail. 

I will find 100 good agents, or create them.  And that is all I will ever carry.  See, in my previous business, a cleaning supply distributorship, I trained salesman literally, off the street.  I am good at it.  I have been a closer and team leader, developing new car salesman.  I am good at it.  That, more than anything else, is what I bring to the table.  If you are brand new in the industry, or just sorta new, I will work with you and develop your talent.  It is my hope that, every year, a few people who came to me as new agents, leave me and go off on their own, to make room for new people at the bottom rung.  I have no problem with that.  Conversely, if you are an experienced agent with a $1million dollar book of business already, you will keep more of your money working with me than with any other Host Agency in North America.  True fact.

Second off, I am not looking to make a lot of money.  Fact is, I am okay, financially.  I have created a commission structure that is fairly unique.  It is based on the commission structure at the first real estate office I worked in about 100 years ago.  We start new agents at 70% for their first $5000 in earned commission.  I know that sounds a little low, but some place put newbies at 50%, so...and, let's face it...it's getting someone to their first $5000 that takes a lot of my time and effort.  After that, most travel agents pretty well know what they are doing and don't need a lot of input from their Host.

After the $5,000, commission goes to 90% for the next $20,000 in earned commission.  Now, 90% is as far as any host I know will go.  Period.  But, me...I'm a nice guy.  After you have $25,000 in earned commissions, you are at 100% for the rest of the year.

 In your second year it drops back to 90% for the first $25,000, and then to 100%.  Yeah.  100% commission, with no monthly fee and no annual fee.  Bottom line is, if you start with me, today, and earn $25,000 in commissions in the next year, you will pay me $3500 total.  If you earn $50,000, you will pay me $3500.  If you earn a million dollars this year, you will pay me $3500. 

And the second year, you will pay $2,500.  Total.  All year.  No added fees, monthly, annually, or for access to programs and services.

Really, it doesn't get better than that.  Especially for some of you Big Dogs.  Even at 90%, you are getting screwed.  Why are you paying your Host $5 or $10,000 a year?  It just doesn't cost that much to run a host agency. 

So, yeah, we've got the family feel, and we've got the best commission structure...but do we have the goods?  After all, those big corporate guys all have higher commission percentage, right?  And all that great software for booking and marketing and customer relationship management, right?  I can't compete with that, can I? 

Well...yes.  Yes I can.  How about I aggregate your sales with 10,000 other agents in 3000 companies?  You only have to be so big to hit the top, you know?  And with my affiliations, we get bonus commissions, value added amenities, and all the things you need to compete with the majors.

How about a cruise booking engine designed by TravStar?  How about I get you commissionable domestic air ticketing?  How about a hotel booking site where you can set your own commission level, and add a service fee if you want?  Maybe turnkey marketing emails?  Where you keep your customer database to yourself, so you don't have to worry about anyone accessing your clients?  How about direct mail with 150 pieces, free.  And more, for cheap?

I set up webinars with suppliers for just my company, so you can stay up to date on the latest information.  Seriously, there is nothing Expedia or Nexion can do for you that I can't.  All they can do is charge you money.  I will get it for you, free to you.

So, yeah...what are you waiting for?  Honestly - if you are new to the business, don't you want someone who is committed to holding your hand and walking you thru it for the first little while?  Don't you want to belong to a community of agents that are, really, a team and a family? 

And if you are an experienced agent, I just have to do the reality check question:  If you thought you could make more money, faster, and with exactly the same tools you are using now, would you switch to a new Host?  If you said "Yes", give me a call at 760.265.3687.  If you actually read the question and said "NO", please don't ever call me.  You're just being silly.

Finally Taking The Plunge

So, pretty much since I got in to the travel business in 2007, I have known I wanted to be a Host Agency someday.  Back then, I thought maybe 3 years as a front line agent.  But this never ending recession has put a lot of plans on hold.  I just never quite felt like I had the cushion, financially, to take the leap of faith that starting a new business requires.  Having started many businesses in my lifetime, I knew what I needed.

And finally - I got there.  Yay, me?!

To give you a little background (because most of you know how I came to be a home-based travel agent in the first place, and if you don't, READ THE BIO) - I have worked, now, under 3 different Hosts.  The first, Coral Sands, is a 500 agent or so operation out of LaBelle, Florida, run by one Peter Stilphen.  I settled on Coral Sands after a couple months of research.  I liked that he maintains a casual, personal touch in his business.  I like that he is an outspoken smartass who is constantly goading other segments of the industry with his blogs and newsletters.  I like that he doesn't step over the Independent Contractor line and try to act like his agents have to do everything thru him.  I also like his fee/commission structure.  So, I was rolling merrily along, running most of my business thru Coral Sands, and working some side deals with other Hosts and Suppliers.  I was perfectly content there, and really had no complaints about my Host.  I would have continued for a few more years, and then branched out on my own.

But then, one day, Peter woke up with a bad case of stupid, and decided to merge his company with Expedia CruiseShipCenters/OVC.  Now, I am guessing he will read this at some point, and won't even be bothered at what I just said.  Because, skipping forward a couple years, almost immediately AFTER I plunged in and spent 100's of hours and thousands of dollars getting everything lined up to open my new Host Agency, I got an email from Peter.  He has pulled back out of ECSC and is restarting Coral Sands.  Had he come to that decision just a few months earlier, I would be back with him, no doubt.  The funny thing is that all his reasons for leaving are exactly the reasons I left ECSC a year ago.

Corporations just can't be Host Agencies.  They just can't.  And Expedia is just too big.  Which means they have huge overhead, as all Corporacracies do.  And all that overhead, deadweight, bloated and non-productive staff has to be paid for.  No way to do that but to charge high fees and pay low commissions.  And, of course, all those corporacrats have to justify their positions by constantly getting in the way of the front line agents trying to make a living selling travel.  So you are bombarded with useless information.  In their proprietary, fee-based email system.  And you have to try to use their proprietary, fee-based booking and CRM programs, which, again, are designed for bloat, and not for work.  And they get in the way of the agents relationships with the suppliers.  Peter never had a problem with his independent contractors reaching out to supplier sales reps to ask questions or favors or get things done.  About a week into my time with Expedia, I sent an email and asked who my business development person was with a cruise line.  The reply, 5 hours later was "Why do you want to know?".  That was followed up by a phone call telling me that "they preferred" I sent requests to the office and the office would coordinate with the suppliers.  Needlessly inserting themselves and slowing everything down.  Right then I knew I had a problem.  And when I asked him in that same phone call how they felt about me working with agents from other companies on large groups, I could hear his sphincter tighten all the way from Florida to California.  That is something I have done routinely.  I know agents all over the place, and we've been able to put groups together, let one or the other run it thru their host, and split the commission out.  Never had a problem.  But that day, I knew I had a problem.  So, within just a couple months of joining Expedia, I was plotting my escape.  Moving bookings to friends, waiting til I had next to nothing on the books for them to screw me out of, and went on my merry way.

THAT is why, I don't care what you say, Corporations CANNOT be good Hosts.  I know some of you are saying you found the exception, but you are wrong.  You are paying too much, getting lousy service, and not receiving ANY benefit that a "mom and pop" Host can't give you, by way of consortiums and affiliations.  All that wonderful tech they talk about and try to convince you is unique?  Everyone has access to it, or something like it.  Free.  And where it's not completely free, a good Host can get it and share it, so it's free TO YOU.  Why would you pay $29/month for CRM when you can get that identical CRM for free?  You wouldn't.  But the corporation has convinced you it's wonderful and unobtainable without paying them the $29 every month.  They're lying.