Travel Counsellor Helen Parker started her own home-based travel business in March 2017 after a successful career in Aviation – a huge passion of Helen’s. She started her career as Cabin Crew for British Airways followed by Japan Airlines, and most recently she managed cabin interior projects for Thomas Cook Airlines. Nearly 18 months on, Helen’s business is soaring and she has just celebrated her best ever month. We find out more about Helen and her experience of starting her own home-based business as a Travel Counsellor.
What motivated you to take the plunge and start your own travel business?
“I really missed the customer interaction that came with the customer-facing roles I’d previously had. My job at Thomas Cook Airlines was project-based and I worked on some cool stuff, but rarely got involved with real-life customers. I thrive on building relationships with customers and seeing the results of that. Organising and planning is something I really enjoy so for me, starting my own travel business felt like a natural progression.”
Do you feel the knowledge and skills that you gained from working in the airline industry have helped you as a Travel Counsellor?
“Absolutely! My customers love the little nuggets of information that I give them from my own personal experiences. It’s the little things like airport codes, aircraft types, onboard product and knowledge of how an airline works that gives you some excellent tools to provide your customers the best experience and it’s there in my knowledge bank. If you can give your customers one little nugget with each enquiry it helps to seal their confidence in you as a professional.”
What does being a Travel Counsellor mean to you?
“Being a Travel Counsellor has been completely life-changing. I’m enjoying the flexibility to go to the gym or meet my mum for a brew. It’s great not having to ask anyone for annual leave to go on holiday and working around other colleagues. I’m here for the kids when they get home and in terms of how far I want to take my business, the sky’s the limit. The buck stops with me so I do put in a lot of effort and I work full-time hours, but it’s on my terms so it’s fully flexible. It does take a while to build your network and contacts but once you have, the referrals do come and that’s really rewarding."
"In terms of my customers, I can be there for them on weekday evenings for any calls and bookings. I personally like to keep my weekends free for me and the family, but if a customer needs me or wants to book, I’m there for them. But it’s not too often as most are happy to do it in the week or an evening.”
“One thing I really didn’t expect was the fabulous people I have met – the Travel Counsellors who started the Academy with me, the Head Office staff and other Travel Counsellors I meet at events and conferences. It really is a big family and you really do get the support when you need it. I thought it might be a bit of clever marketing but it’s genuine and it’s wonderful to be part of.”
You’ve just celebrated your best month ever (congratulations!) - how have you built your business since you started and what do you think is key to your success?
“I want my customers to always think of me when they think about travel and for them to refer me to their friends and family. If you do a great job and get their trip spot on, give fabulous personal service and keep in touch, they will come back and bring more like-minded people. It doesn’t happen overnight and this can be tricky at first, so you need to be patient, persistent and most of all – personal.”
How have you found the training, support and tools available to you as a Travel Counsellor?
“I’ve been quite blown away by the support. My Business Development Coach is the most wonderful person who just ‘gets’ me and my business. Self-employment can be lonely usually, but this hasn’t been the case. I’m in touch with my group of Academy Travel Counsellors, Travel Counsellors in my local area and Head Office staff, so there’s always someone. In fact, you can call anyone across the board and they will always help or know someone who can.”
“The COACH training platform is really valuable. Plus, we have regular webinars, "Takeover" days at Head Office, supplier events and fam trips, so there really are lots of ways to build your knowledge, contacts and relationships. I’m a huge fan of the MyTC app and most of my customers use it. It’s a great tool for both travel and building loyalty – my customers love it. I’m excited to see what will be next for the app and technology in general for Travel Counsellors. We seem to always be one step ahead and working on the next thing. Not many companies can say that.
Did you have any concerns about becoming a self-employed business owner?
“Actually, I feel more comfortable being self-employed than employed. I’m in charge of my own destiny, I control how much or how little business I have, and I don’t worry about being given bad news at work. It’s all down to me. It is hard work in that I have had to be driven and committed to growing my business, but Head Office are outstanding at providing the tools, technology and expertise to enable me to do exactly that.”
“My biggest concern was getting enough customers to make my salary back up. It took me around 12 months to do it and it should get easier now customers keep coming back. I did give myself at least a year to start making money and this has been a realistic expectation.”
“I went to the Annual Conference in 2016 as a guest for the day and was sold immediately. I spoke to two lovely Travel Counsellors who had been Travel Counsellors for 12 and 15 years. They were really open, honest and very encouraging. I knew I could do it too as a I shared their passion. There was never any pressure to join either. My recruitment contact was just like a Travel Counsellor – warm, friendly and personable, but never pushy.”
Do you have any advice for anyone who is considering starting their own home-based travel business?
“If you’re the sort of person who can get on very easily with people, are organised, unflappable and adore travel then go for it. There’s nothing quite like it and the opportunity is there for the taking.”
“I wish anyone reading this the best of luck and hope to see some of you at a Discovery Day or indeed as part of our TC family in the near future.”