Prepare for plenty of planning, promotion and thinking about the practicalities, finds Samantha Mayling

More: Travel Weekly’s Homeworking Directory

Being interrupted at his desk by a toddler turned out well in the end for the academic whose disrupted BBC interview went viral in 2017.

But for homeworkers in today’s environment, there are few excuses for appearing unprofessional.

Richard Dixon, Holidaysplease director, says: “Traditionally, lots of agents moved to homeworking when they were on maternity leave, but if you were in a shop or office, you couldn’t have a baby with you for an eight-hour shift – you need childcare.”

Alistair Rowland, Blue Bay Travel chief executive, agrees. “It’s not ideal to have young kids around as you need to be serious on the phone,” he says.

He urges would-be homeworkers to assess their prospects honestly, saying: “Can you get 100 clients? Can you develop them to refer others? Can you see £300,000 turnover from them? Will they book every other year? Is a 60:40 split on 10% commission a living wage? How can you get through until next summer?”

Yet fitting family life around homeworking can be done. Tricia Handley-Hughes, UK director at InteleTravel, says: “Our top earner has a child with learning difficulties. You need to be disciplined: work in the evenings when kids are fed and in bed, or weekends. And allocate time each day for training and education.”

Getting started

Homeworking agencies offer a range of packages for different levels of experience and investment.

Some see low levels of fees as helpful, as they do not pose a barrier to entry, while those charging several thousands in set-up costs say it ensures they can recruit dedicated, committed agents. Some agents also rely on leads being supplied, while others bring their own clients – or work with a mix of both.

Gary Gillespie, Independent Travel Experts managing director, says agents moving from a shop cannot take the database of clients with them – but they can tell clients they’re setting up a homeworking business.

Homeworker dos and don’ts

Do

  • Have a dedicated quiet space with proper desk and chair
  • Arrange childcare
  • Write a business plan
  • Look after your mental and physical health
  • Network with local businesses and groups
  • Consider cashflow during troughs
  • Be disciplined and self-motivated
  • Ensure you have reliable, high-speed internet

Homeworking agencies, including Advantage and Global Travel Collection, can also help with professional marketing to your database.

Jason Oshiokpekhai, managing director of Global Travel Collection – the new homeworking brand from the Travel Leaders Group – says his brands’ marketing platform sends “very aspirational” messages to databases to inspire travel and retain confidence. Clients include wealthy individuals, celebrities and business travellers, all of whom were locked down like the rest of the country.

“There is a lot of pent-up demand from high net-worth individuals,” he says. “We’re seeing demand for last-minute private jets and private villas for multigenerational families.”

Be creative

Agents also generate their own promotions.

Samantha McGarrigle of Personal Holiday Advisors says: “I have been doing competitions with other local businesses such as an Italian restaurant – we both put £30 towards a £60 meal voucher prize. I also gave away a holiday hamper with fun items from B&M such as sun cream, getting people to share my posts.”

She also entered and won a competition herself. “I won a Jet2 competition for homeworkers – I changed the lyrics to the Shania Twain song That Don’t Impress Me Much,” she says. “I won local radio advertising and money to spend on social media; it will give me a good boost.”

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Jacqui Cleaver, Protected Trust Services’ head of communications, says: “Some of our homeworkers send gifts when the clients book or return from holiday, such as a small bottle of fizz or chocolates, or a box of milk, bread and cereal.

“The most successful homeworkers have niches such as luxury, honeymoons and weddings, as they have a good mark-up.
“You can’t compete on bucket-and-spade holiday prices with Tui or OTAs.”

She regards cloud-based technology as vital because it allows PTS agents to work in shared offices if they prefer, or while away on fam trips.

Support systems

Support from head office and fellow homeworkers is another crucial consideration, and many, such as Advantage, operate a buddy system to help cover holidays, trips or training courses.

During the pandemic, Advantage has also been supporting agents with video updates on its Wellness Wednesdays, offering tips about physical and mental health.

In a similar vein, The Personal Travel Agents at Co-operative Travel ran a virtual three-day conference in September to help homeworkers survive in the ‘new normal’.

Homeworker dos and don’ts

Don’t

  • Try to compete with OTAs or cheap packages
  • Rely on friends and relatives for bookings
  • Underestimate the hard work
  • Overestimate potential earnings
  • Neglect training and industry knowledge
  • Forget about good customer service
  • Neglect fellow homeworkers and head office colleagues

Video calls are another way to offer social and practical support. GoCruise & Travel Franchise hosted quiz nights during lockdown, while The Holiday Village and Travel-pa hold weekly Zoom catch-ups for their homeworkers.

Training at head offices is often provided although Covid-19 has meant much of it this year has been moved online. Not Just Travel would usually have a week’s training at its Bournemouth head office, plus a Millionaires’ Retreat in April and September. The group still hopes to take homeworkers away to Mexico next year.

Homeworkers at Not Just Travel events may also have seen the brand’s ambassador, former Olympic champion Daley Thompson, who talks about long-term visions, hard work and sacrifice.

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Tech talk

The quality of technology and booking systems is another factor.

Hamish Kaumaya, founder and managing director at Travel-pa, a division of Sunset Travel, says the company’s in-house system can help agents make bookings in “seconds”.

Francisco Canales, corporate development manager at Supertravel Concierge, also flags his group’s “standout” travel platform, Aztec.

And John Milburn, head of homeworking and telesales at Hays Travel, says: “Make sure you have a real office space or quiet place such as a spare bedroom. Don’t worry about the technology as we sort all that out for you.

“Depending on what package agents take, we will provide the leads, help develop your business to generate leads yourself, or do both.”

More: Travel Weekly’s Homeworking Directory