Recently I was speaking to a group of independent contractors and was asked about the importance of branding their business. My answer will probably come as a surprise to many (it certainly was to them) that, in my opinion individually branding their own business will have little to no effect on their success.
Yes, you heard me correctly and it goes against most of what we as an industry teach ICs.
Let me explain.
Prior to 1995, if you owned a travel agency, you basically owned a license to print money. In fact, like blank checks, ticket stock (remember paper tickets) was numbered, counted and kept secure in a safe on premise. Commissions while typically ten to fifteen percent, could go as high as forty-five percent with some carriers.
Practically overnight, all of that changed with two events. Airlines largely stopped paying commission and the introduction of Online Travel Agencies. Thousands of travel agencies closed, and many more agents were out of work. Suddenly vacations became the primary source of revenue for those who remained. It is no coincidence that the explosive growth of the cruise industry began about this time as well.
Why the history lesson? Evolution.
Independent contractors currently make up over 50 percent of the workforce in the retail travel industry. This a staggering number because it wasn’t that long ago that they not considered to be “real” professionals. However, the role of the agent has evolved and like any business, it will continue to change.
The skillsets required prior to 1995 are very different today, yet we are embracing them at a snail’s pace.
Throughout my career, I have studied and emulated businesses that practice a similar model to travel. While there are many from which to choose, the closest is the residential real estate model.
Agents are independent sales contractors who work through (not for) a broker. They can choose to utilize the branding and marketing services of well-known brokers such as Keller-Williams, ReMax, Windermere, and Coldwell Banker among others.
Like travel, residential real estate is intensely personal. It is people doing business with people. The broker, typically a franchisee, is there to provide advertising and operational support like a host and consortia.
In travel, franchise organizations such as Expedia CruiseShipCenters, Cruise Planners, Travel Leaders, and American Express are public facing brands. However, most hosts and consortia still choose to operate in the background and let their individual member agencies develop their own brands. The most notable exception is Virtuoso.
Virtuoso has built a very public brand synonymous with luxury. They advertise in leading luxury publications, produce their own, as well as associate with other luxury brands both in and out of the travel space.
Any agency, agent, and independent contractor associated with Virtuoso gains instant recognition as a luxury specialist. It is not uncommon for non-Virtuoso agents to confess to me that they didn’t know they could sell luxury travel products because they thought you had to be a Virtuoso agent to do so. Now that’s branding!
My point is, no amount of money invested as an IC will ever produce the kind of ROI and brand recognition you achieve by simply associating with a better-known brand. Virtuoso knows this. They build their brand so members can concentrate their time, effort and money on building relationships with qualified prospect attracted to what they can offer as part of the Virtuoso brand.
An internationally known brand like Virtuoso can provide some creditability, even some panache -but it is still up to you to back it up by building relationships with your prospects and sell preferred suppliers that are in alignment with your own business strategy.
Back to my original statement about why branding your individual business doesn’t really matter all that much. It’s because your customers don’t care about what you call your company – they care about you.
So never, ever forget, even if you have a multimillion-dollar book of business like some of my coaching clients; your customers are buying from you and you are the brand.
As long as independent contractors are responsible for generating their own leads, in my opinion the residential real estate model is the fastest route to success.
Dan Chappelle is a leading authority on sales performance and management specializing in the travel and tourism industry. His best-selling book “Get Your S.H.I.P. Together – The Wealthy Travel Agent Guide to Sales” is available on Amazon and Audible. To learn how Dan can help you accelerate your sales, visit www.WealthyTravelAgent.com
© 2019 Dan Chappelle / CCI, Inc.
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