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Agent Diary: Top tips for setting up your own travel business

Setting up on your own travel business takes courage but Ponders Travel managing director Clare Dudley has no regrets and encourages others to ‘dare to dream’

Many experienced travel professionals may be considering going into homeworking right now.

Almost 11 years ago, I asked myself the same question. I had the benefit of not needing to look around for the right homeworking company, as I was already working within the Fred Olsen Group, which has the GoCruise division. I had no idea if I could achieve my dream but I was so determined, I had to try.

“In hindsight, it seems crazy to have quit the cruise development manager job I loved to start my own business, sacrificing a guaranteed salary.”

From day one I wanted a cruise and travel business, and to be able to offer clients whatever holiday they wanted. But I had to ask myself how would I pay the bills? How would I cope without a salary? How would I find clients? And how much would I need to set up?

When I started Ponders, I was a single mum of two teenage girls and in quite a bit of debt. So, in hindsight, it seems crazy to have quit the cruise development manager job I loved to start my own business, sacrificing a guaranteed salary. But I dared to believe I could do it.

Lay the groundwork

I spent six months, while still working, on the core elements. I designed and built a website, contacted every friend of friend and old contact to tell them of my new venture and asked as many people as I could to recommend me. I got business cards, headed paper and stationery made.

I had everything ready to take enquiries on day one, and the hard work paid off. I had earnt enough from bookings I’d made in my set-up time to give me a month’s buffer.

“It might be hard to decide if homeworking is what you want to do or if, like me, you want a little more and to have a shop of your own.”

Homeworking firms supply a lot of what is needed to start your own business. This is fantastic and can really make a difference. It might be hard to decide if homeworking is what you want to do or if, like me, you want a little more and to have a shop of your own.

If you are toying with either idea, ask yourself if you want to be a homeworker or to own a travel business. You may simply want to sell holidays and earn an income. If so, homeworking is the better option. But you may feel you have a great core of clients you can tap into that allows you to set up and run your own business without giving too much away to a handling company.

Do your research

Make sure you do your research; there are lots of options out there and the business models can be quite different. And ask yourself, do you have plenty of contacts? Are you creative? Are you brave enough to sell to friends and family? Could you reach out to groups and businesses? Do you know how to create lots of free marketing?

There are also some negatives you need to address before you take the plunge. Could you handle situations, such as Covid, where you may have to pay back money you’ve earnt? And how would you handle clients in resort who call with a problem late at night or at the weekend?

“If you dare to dream, there are plenty of set-ups which would take you in under their umbrella, so you get the benefit of the systems and support.”

Many homeworkers have a big company behind them, which is a fabulous safety net. But if, like me, you dare to dream, there are plenty of set-ups which would take you in under their umbrella, so you get the benefit of the systems and support.

I will never regret taking the plunge. It’s been hard work, stressful and, in the last 15 months, unbearable. But has it been worth it? Yes. And would I encourage others to do the same? Yes, I would.

More: Travel Weekly’s Homeworking Directory


Wedding cake

Note was icing on the cake

This week I have confirmed a booking for a wedding, honeymoon and all the wedding guests to travel to Barbados in 2023. The lady who booked it is a former marketing director for a tour operator, so you can imagine I was very pleased to help the family and to receive a bouquet of flowers with the following note:

“Just wanted to thank you again Clare. This is SO personal and I simply couldn’t imagine anyone else making these plans for us. After all of these years, you are quite simply the right person and the only person I would trust to look after us all – thank you.”

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