Homeworker who runs The Travel Genius in Sutton Coldfield says she doesn’t feel like an ‘inspiration’ and that her personal relationships with clients have helped her get through a really tough time. By Ben Ireland.
Q. When did you find out you had cancer?
A. I was diagnosed in May 2020. It was a little dimple and I thought, with Covid going on, I might as well get it checked out. When it turned out to be stage two breast cancer, it took me by surprise. I decided to be quite transparent about it – I’ve found this really helps, and puts things into perspective. I had surgery in July and October, then started chemo in December and will have eight cycles of it until May. I’ll then have a month of radiotherapy in June and should be finished with it all in July. They’ve given me a 95% chance of a full recovery, which is really good. A lot of people who have cancer aren’t in that position – I’m one of the lucky ones.
Q. How has it been running your business at the same time as facing cancer?
A. Because I run The Travel Genius as my own brand, and it’s only me, I’ve had to really think about what’s important. I’m a member of Brilliant Travel [a homeworking division of Barrhead Travel] and they have been, well, brilliant. Head office has been amazing, keeping things ticking over for me when I’ve needed to take time out. It’s hard to ask for help when your business and brand is just you, and you take pride in dealing with all of your clients personally. I’m sure other homeworkers would agree. But Brilliant has been great and given me support when I’ve needed it, which is really appreciated.
“It’s hard to ask for help when your business and brand is just you, and you take pride in dealing with all of your clients personally. I’m sure other homeworkers would agree.”
Q. Have you told your clients about your treatment?
A. I made the decision early on to tell my clients what was happening. I called clients with forward bookings and told them I might not always respond quite as quickly as usual. Everyone’s been very understanding, and very patient. In a way, sharing my story has helped me become a bit closer with my clients. I‘ve always had a personal relationship with clients but I was always very professional, and kept my personal life separate. Now, they know me better as a person, not just ‘Michelle the travel agent’. Many of them have sent me flowers, cards, gifts and handwritten notes and we’ve become friends on Facebook. It’s helped me get through a really tough time.
Q. What’s been the hardest part of the past year?
A. Refunds. Becoming friends with clients also means I push even harder for their refunds. If it takes three months, I take it personally. I’m a perfectionist when it comes to my business, so I was always going to push hard for them. It’s the hardest thing to deal with because it’s out of my hands. It’s certainly made me realise which suppliers I’ll use in the future – probably only 50% of those I used before Covid. To deal with all that at the same time as having the cancer treatment was tough. Some days I just had to turn my out-of-office on and have a bit of a meltdown.
“I still want to go on fam trips, maybe even more so as soon as we’re allowed to travel again. And I’ll continue to do everything I used to do – like make videos for my clients.”
Q. Have you had to rethink your work-life balance?
A. It’s definitely been a reality check. I’ve learnt that it’s OK not to be OK. My passion for The Travel Genius will never diminish, but I think I will be more selective when it comes to new clients I take on. Money used to motivate me a lot, but less so now, so I’ll focus my energy on the clients I have. I also have a networking business in Sutton Coldfield with over 300 members. This used to take up so much of my time, but I’ve decided to hand it over to another trusted local business owner, who has also become a very good friend of mine. I’ll still go to all the events. I love the buzz of the business community, so I’ll still get on the mic and do all the good bits. But I won’t have the same input in terms of organising.
Q. Will your recent experiences affect your travels?
A. Travelling is where my heart lies. Like a lot of agents, one of the reasons I love our industry is the opportunities it gives us to see the world. I still want to go on fam trips, maybe even more so as soon as we’re allowed to travel again. And I’ll continue to do everything I used to do – like make videos for my clients from wherever it is I am in the world. If I give up some of the things in my life that take up time and emotional energy, then I can appreciate these trips and opportunities more.
“My passion for The Travel Genius will never diminish, but I think I will be more selective when it comes to new clients I take on.”
How have others in the industry reacted to your news?
I’ve had a lot of support from fellow agents. In the past, I’ve been quite a closed person with a close circle of friends, and kept relationships in the industry professional. But, for me, posting pictures and sharing my story has really helped me on my journey. I’ve been overwhelmed with the amount of support I’ve had, including from some people I didn’t know very well. People in the travel industry have their own hardships, but we are a close-knit industry.
“I wanted people to know that I’ve found sharing what I’m going through to be helpful and I’d encourage anyone suffering with anything to do the same.”
A lot is happening behind closed doors right now; it’s tough out there. But I wanted people to know that I’ve found sharing what I’m going through to be helpful and I’d encourage anyone suffering with anything to do the same. People tell me I am an inspiration and very brave, but I really don’t feel that this is true. It’s my way of coping to expose myself on social media by sharing my cancer journey with friends and clients. I get so many wonderful messages of support and help – it’s what helps keep me going on the really tough days.