Michelle Stammers, aka The Travel Genius, tells Benjamin Coren how she built up her homeworking business in Sutton Coldfield.
Q. Why did you become a homeworker?
A: I left Lunn Poly about 15 years ago, and back then homeworking was a new concept. I worked on Teletext, taking calls and booking cheap and cheerful holidays for people with Future Travel. It was commission-only, so quite a scary leap from a salaried position.
Q. How did it compare with the high street?
A: This was before most people had internet access at home and the biggest competition to the high street was Teletext. In the shop we could never match Teletext deals, and that prompted me to think that there was something in this. The deals came from the same tour operators that retail agents used, businesses such as Intersun, Cosmos Tours and Thomson. I would find the deals from these companies and put them onto Teletext. We knew what clients were looking for. It was fluid and we could react quickly to take those bookings.
Q. What do you like about running your own business at home?
A: I love the flexibility of my hours – sometimes I might work 12 hours a day, but it’s for me and my clients so I really don’t mind working late. I can always react to my clients’ needs and I know my niche is my personality, service, expertise and honesty, and helping clients find the best products for them.
Q. What’s your least favourite aspect of homeworking?
A: I’m never really off-duty, even when I’m on my own holiday. I offer a WhatsApp service for when clients are away, and wherever I am I keep a tight diary and I’m always on duty. It annoys my husband, but I don’t want to switch off because I get a real buzz from looking after people. I don’t miss the high street and I like being my own boss and making my own decisions.
Q. How do you keep your product knowledge up to scratch?
A: I try to go to as many travel and training events as possible – I aim to get to at least three a month – for my own development. It’s about more than destination knowledge. This is an evolving industry, so you need to know as much as possible. I go on fam trips too, where I make notes and create videos to share on my Facebook page so my clients know I travel regularly and can share up-to-date information with them. It gives me more credibility as an agent.
Q. How important are fam trips for your knowledge and business?
A: I try to participate in at least three fam trips a year. Last year, my focus was Latin America, so I went to Chile on my own holiday and joined fam trips to Brazil and Argentina with Latin Routes. Going on trips – and reporting live on social media when I’m out there – helps attract more clients, and generates interest and credibility.
Q. What has been your most memorable trip and why?
A: It was with Explore Holidays, travelling to Everest Base Camp, seven years ago. We had to do about three months’ training and spend nearly three weeks away from work, but it was really inspiring. Reaching base camp was a strong point for me. The trip took place soon after my dad passed away and inspired me to raise some money for the trek. It really got me out of my comfort zone, and made me take on new challenges and not be scared of the unknown.
Q. How is business going?
A: It’s going well. My focus is on the luxury market and I have an appointment system to meet up with clients to discuss their options. My average booking is between £7,000 to £8,000 across my client base.
How I met a millionaire client
I started a book club 18 months ago, and through that met a millionaire client. She booked a trip to France through me and since then has come back to me again.
The book club has been a great way to meet people. As they get to know me and what I do, it creates opportunities to do business. The club has been very successful. It started with 12 members and now has 150.
A lot of members ask me about holidays because they now know what I do. This happened naturally – I wasn’t pitching to them. We do four clubs and I host two of them, with two other people taking on the other meetings.
I’ve also started my own local business networking club. I’d previously been to business breakfasts with fees and you’d have to stand up and make a pitch early in the morning.
With my group there are no fees or pitches, it’s more an opportunity to get together and help each other. The first one was six weeks ago and 33 businesses attended. The second took place last week and 75 businesses signed up; we also welcomed the mayor of Sutton Coldfield to the event.
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