Where are you in the North East?
I am a Personal Travel Counsellor, with the multi award winning ‘Travel Counsellors’. I hold customer service close to my heart. I take time to understand my clients so that I can provide the highest levels of personal service, care and attention at no extra cost. I provide personalised travel arrangements for leisure and business customers and am part of the UK’s largest independent travel company, with over 1,300 personal Travel Counsellors worldwide. Founded in 1994, we’re all about creating perfect travel experiences and we do this by getting to know our customers personally – their hopes, their dreams and their aspirations.
When did you start your business and why?
I originally started in travel back in 2000 with Airtours, working in a Call Centre. I quickly worked my way quickly up to management level. In 2013, because I have a degree in Business and Economics I set up my own Corporate Business company but quickly realised that my Corporate clients needed their Leisure needs too. Therefore, in February 2014 I joined Travel Counsellors and haven’t looked back. It’s the best decision I ever made. I have the autonomy of ‘being my own boss’ with the global support and buying power of an International, Award Winning Company.
What gives your business the edge?
I am a ‘Personal’ travel counsellors. I get to know my clients likes and dislikes on a 1-1 basis, without the hard sell. I’m available when it suits my clients, whether that’s in the evenings or weekends. Whilst my clients are travelling, they also have a 24/7/365 day a year Duty Office should they need help for any reason. I am very competitive within the industry because of our good name and relationships with our suppliers, built over 21 years. We recently won our 2nd Queens Award for International Enterprise. No other travel company has won even one.
I always give that extra passion along with my expertise. I offer unrivalled 100% financial protection with everything you book with me.
What is the best thing about running your own business?
I have autonomy and the freedom to ‘dance to my own tune’. Having self-accountability keeps me on my toes. I am in complete charge of my own goals and finances. I keep up with my own Continuous Professional Development because I want to and I’m passionate about my work. I love to keep up to date with a constantly changing industry so that I give my clients the most up to date and accurate information available.
I love meeting my clients face to face over a coffee, knowing that I am bringing them happiness. Whether it’s a short UK break or a no expense spared Destination Wedding/Honeymoon, I class all my clients as VIP’s no matter what they are booking (I make sure my suppliers know it too)
And what is the worst?
I don’t charge for my services. As with any other travel agent, I am paid in commissions by suppliers. These suppliers have been strictly vetted for financial stability and customer service, and we’ve worked hard to build fabulous relationships.
What is so hard is when someone spends hours and hours of your time, utilises all the years of knowledge, relationship building and expertise and then goes elsewhere – often with some of the ‘dodgy’ online sites that send links through to companies that don’t exist, charge extra after giving you the quote, or haven’t any customer service whatsoever.
It’s incredibly frustrating. I’ve had a number of people do this and then pick up the phone to me to help them out of a fix. My professionalism means that I can’t ignore it and will do all I can to help. I don’t think people realise all this work is free of charge if they don’t book anything with me.
Describe a typical day running your business and balancing family life:
One of the things I absolutely love about my business is that no 2 days are ever the same. The Travel Industry moves at such a fast pace, you need to be really switched on and keep up to date always.
Even on New Year’s Eve, I was on my way out to a party when news came on that there was a fire at ‘The Address’ in Dubai. I had 3 different clients out there celebrating New Year, so I stayed in and ensured I contacted them to check they were safe. My sons are grown up, but my youngest has high functioning Autism and PTSD. Working for myself means that I can tailor my day around appointments. I get up early and sort out my corporate clients. They often travel at very short notice and make LOTS of changes, usually last minute. They’re often flying early, so I’ll call them at the airport to ensure everything is fine etc. Once they’re off on their travels, I’ll pick up emails and enquiries and work on them. I have a couple of hours off in the afternoon, try and get some fresh air, then tea.
Evenings tend to be very busy from the leisure side of my business. When clients get home from work, they often want to call in the evenings and at weekends, so I make time in the evening to catch up with them. The key is flexibility. If I have any private appointments to attend, I can, knowing that I can make up the time elsewhere.
How do you envisage your business changing over the next 5 years?
Already, we are becoming more of a Tour Operator. This means that we go direct to supplier to source the best option of each element of the package for my clients. I source the best flights, flight times etc., find the most suitable accommodation, add on transfers, trips, cruises, ferries, internal flights etc. etc. and then package them and add our 100% financial protection.
This gives an awful lot of flexibility, enables me and my clients to create some fabulous tailor made itineraries and cuts out the middle man, making it a very cost effective way of booking a holiday.
Do you have any advice for other Women in or starting a business?
Make sure they have a great product that is sustainable?
They know their niche?
That it’s very much a rollercoaster. There are difficult times as you’re not guaranteed a salary, but utilise networking groups. The Inspire Network is growing exponentially. Even now, you have over 6000 other North East business women there to support you and help with advice. Sometimes it’s just someone to say ‘I’ve been there too’, but it really helps.