How to keep your CIs engaged and productive

If you’re considering adding independent contractors to your team, travel agency owner Valerie Gossett has some advice: only do so if you’re willing to devote a lot of time and energy to supporting them. .

Gossett, owner of Premier Resources Travel in Ellijay, Georgia, launched his agency in 2007 and, four years later, launched his first ICs. Today, Premier Resources Travel has 40 independent contractors and only three part-time employees.

Gossett is a hands-on owner/manager with extensive experience in sales management, training and education. (At one point, she was vice president of sales for an executive search firm where 500 people reported to her.) It’s a background that prepared her well for the role of supporting her independent advisors.

Today, his CIs drive 70% of his agency’s sales and Gossett the remaining 30%, for a combined 2019 total of $12 million.

Bringing in ICs isn’t for everyone, Gossett said travel market report. On the one hand, it creates more work, not less – or should, if done right.

“A lot of agents think that’s the next step – it’s not. Don’t do it just because an agent says they want to work with you. It should be part of your business plan, not an afterthought.

Here’s Gossett’s formula for supporting a winning team of independent advisors.

1. Be available
The most important thing you can do for your freelance contractors is “make sure you have time for every CI on your team,” said Gossett, who spends about 60% of his workday on his CIs. .

“My phone is always near me until I go to bed at night. You want them to get information from you first if it’s essential, rather than just trying to figure it out. I try to make people feel comfortable coming to see me.

2. Provide frequent training
To successfully host CIs, you need to take advantage of training and education, Gossett said. “You should be more knowledgeable than your agents and very thorough.”

Gossett offers monthly training with BDMs from his agency’s preferred vendors. It also does its own one-on-one training as needed, in addition to arranging familiarization trips exclusively for its agents.

Last year, she created an advisory board made up of herself and four of her “shining star” advisers, each of whom is a specialist in an area where Gossett’s own knowledge is lacking. The members of the advisory board each organize quarterly training in their area of ​​expertise. (The advisory board also acts as Gossett’s back-up, giving her ICs someone to turn to if she’s unavailable.)

3. Know Your ICs, Keep Them Close, Listen
It’s really important to “keep a pulse on what’s going on” with your freelancers, Gossett said. “Whether you have five or 100 CIs, you have to stay involved. Don’t let your CIs stray too far from you.

Keeping the pulse doesn’t just mean tracking sales numbers. Gossett also monitors for signs of disengagement, such as if an individual stops participating in marketing campaigns or sending newsletters. Likewise, “if someone hasn’t replied on our private Facebook page and contacted me, I’ll call them back.”

It is also important to meet the needs of your CIs. For example, last year Premier Resources Travel added a second CRM system after several of its CIs told it that a different CRM would provide better tools than their existing CRM.

4. Be a leader and a coach
Gossett sees his role as a business coach and mentor. She encourages her ICs to meet with her at least once a year to discuss their annual goals and develop an action plan.

His coaching can also take a personal turn, whether providing moral support to an advisor going through a difficult time or warning a CI who expresses ambitious sales goals of the likely impact on his personal life of pursuit of such goals.

During the Covid doldrums, Gossett held spontaneous Zoom calls to boost the morale of its freelancers. Conversely, when sales are up and everyone is having long days, Gossett will remind his CIs to make time for themselves and their families and to make time for training.

“When you have a team, it’s not about you anymore; it’s about everyone. You have to have that presence of a leader.

5. Pay special attention to new ICs
When an Independent Advisor first joins Premier Resources Travel, Gossett meets with them weekly for their first month, whether they are experienced Advisors or new to the retail travel space. “I need to know where they really are, what their goals are, so I know what kind of plan and workouts to put in place.”

After the first month, individual meetings are reduced to twice a month, then as needed.

Gossett also watches for signals that an IC, especially a new affiliate, might need help. For example, she recently noted that a relatively new consultant on the team had booked his first cruise. But the advisor had overlooked a group rate offered by the agency’s consortia that would have saved the client $300.

Spotting a training opportunity, she called the counselor and suggested they go on Zoom together to have Gossett walk her through how to get the group rate in the booking engine. “I really like when my new agents, when they haven’t booked a supplier yet, come to see me. I gave them tips and tricks.

6. Cultivate teamwork and commitment
It is also important to nurture relationships between ICs. Most years, Gossett hosts a two- to three-night retreat where salespeople provide in-person training. But retreats aren’t just about training. “It also builds team camaraderie, so everyone can get to know each other, leverage each other’s expertise and build respect.”

The familiarization trips it organizes for its agents have the same objective. “We try to build something like a small family. I want a long term relationship.

An internal referral program encourages Gossett CIs to turn to each other for help. Under the program, if an Advisor’s client requests a trip outside of their area of ​​expertise, they can give that particular booking to a colleague, earning a referral commission while retaining the client’s rights to the bookings. future.

Recognition is another way to keep freelancers engaged. Each month, Gossett publishes sales numbers for its top three salespeople, along with the names of other advisors who made sales that month. Periodically, she orchestrates a sales challenge, honoring the top seller with a prize.

7. Stay in the game
If you’re building a business that depends on ICs, it’s important that you continue to sell trips yourself, so you “really know what’s going on,” Gossett advised. “I always sell and reserve. I don’t just manage. I think it’s better because I know how to use booking engines. I know the challenges agents can have with clients.

“You have to think of yourself not as a manager. You are a team leader. You are part of the team. I consider each agent as a partner.

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