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Dynamic duo, Mark and Isobel, have booked over £10-million-worth of holidays from home (and abroad). Could you too?

Mark McCardie joined The Travel Franchise in 2017 with his partner Isobel. Six years on they passed the £10 million milestone, have around 1,800 clients on their database and employ several members of staff. While they work hard, they also spend the winter in the Canaries, travel all over the world and LOVE their job.

Find out the full story below.

Did you ever think you’d achieve £10 million in holiday bookings?

It’s a bit surreal to be honest because you think back to the first training and remember seeing these people that had done amazing sales and now that’s us. We’re very proud of what we’ve done, but it’s been extremely hard work. A lot of people ask: “What’s the secret?” And the answer is: Not much sleep! But it’s been a good journey so far.

Sounds like you work long hours? How many clients do you have and when do they book?

We have around 1,800 clients on our database. We do work a lot. We are early risers so we’re up at six and have a kind of team meeting on a walk before beginning work. Many clients want to chat in the evening but we try as much as possible to have a Sunday off now and not work full Saturdays because you need to have a balance, but with the volume and the amount of bookings there’s a lot of post-sale admin.

How did you find your clients early on?

In the beginning we went down the friends and family route and it started to build momentum. You’re not going to go from zero to 500 customers overnight, but if you have the right kind of practice and procedures in place, it grows over time. There’s no quick fix, but it’s important to gain good quality customers so that the repeat and referral business keeps coming in rather than clients that aren’t necessarily the right fit for you.

In what ways did Not Just Travel (NJT) help you along the way? 

The big turning point for us was quite early on at the Millionaires Retreat where the main takeaway for us was to get on the phone to potential clients and not quote without a conversation. Because firstly it builds rapport and secondly you can weed out if somebody’s just very price focused and they’re simply asking 10 different people to find the cheapest quote. From that point on, it’s then about really servicing and nurturing clients.  

Any stand-out memories and bookings? 

I had a flight-only enquiry once. It was business class flights from America for a whisky company and turned out to be just under a hundred grand. If we could have four or five of them a year, we’d be quite happy. We just booked it via Gold Medal and that was it. Very, very easy to organise! We’ve won various initiatives like the loan of a free car and I also remember winning the Money-Back Challenge – we were in Sandals in the Caribbean when we won so that was rather nice!

And do you specialise in an area and why?

Our audience is very family focused. It sounds a bit cheesy, but we get lots of emails and photos of families on holiday having a fantastic time. There’s not many jobs where you get the satisfaction of creating something for a family that really makes them happy and they’ve saved up for a year to make it happen. They just want it to be as good as it can be and you know, we facilitate that for them.  

How do you work with your partner Isobel? Who gets the bad jobs?

I actually volunteer for most of the bad jobs. When we first started we had our own customers and did the same things separately i.e. customer bookings from start to finish. Then, after a while, it was like the volume of bookings meant this wasn’t the best use of our time. Isobel is predominantly sales now and I look after operations, so there’s no real crossover which makes us a lot more efficient.

How have you managed to scale up the business?

There’s now four of us working in the business: Isobel and I, plus a concierge manager and a Florida expert.

So what added value do you offer the customer?

The part-time concierge manager takes care of the customers from start to finish and does anything that customers want us to do, for example from booking restaurants to organising a special occasion or sending out kids fun packs for the flights so they don’t get bored. We set up WhatsApp groups with customers before they travel and that’s our two-way communication. If they need us for anything, they’ll contact us and then we’re onto it straight away. It’s worked really well because they feel like they’ve got that backup if they need it. Nine times out of 10, they don’t need it, but when they do, they know that we’re there for them so it kind of gives them that safety net.

What’s your plan for moving the agency forward?

The five-year plan is to continue to grow, take on some agents and focus more on luxury and cruise. We’re now looking to recruit another sales agent, possibly an expert in cruise, so that we can start to really focus on ramping up the business in terms of new customers – and nurture the repeat ones even more.

Are you part of Not Just Travel’s Cruise Mastery Programme?

Yes it’s such a huge growth area with high commissions and repeat business. People can rebook a cruise while they are on the ship and it effectively becomes passive income for you in terms of commission. 

What company cruises have you been on?

We went on NJT’s first Seminar at Sea last year and we are due to go on the upcoming Cruise Mastery on MSC Euribia in October. The Seminar at Sea was good and covered off a lot of the basics on becoming a cruise expert but there’s so much to learn about the various different cruise lines and the ship classes within them. 

So do you travel much?

One of the main reasons for setting up the business and starting it was to travel. It’s effectively your research: the more places you go and the more things you experience, the easier it is to sell. All travel is basically research if you’ve got your own travel business. So it works really well. We currently have our sights on two big trips to Japan and South Africa.

So is it really a flexible career?

It’s hard work, but you can work from wherever you want. And if you go on holiday and you need to do a little bit when you’re on holiday, you can. So it gives you that flexibility to create the life you want to whilst still making the important money that allows you to do it.

So do you book holidays on the go?

Yes. If we are on a trip we do some work but get the balance right – there’s no point in going somewhere and being stuck in a hotel room for a week. We tend to work from the Canaries in January and February during ‘peaks’. It’s busy so we might as well be working from somewhere where you can go for a walk along the beach in the morning and evening and still work.

Have you noticed any trends?

From our own perspective the Indian Ocean and Maldives has become  bigger and bigger over the last few years and we get a steady flow of South African safari inquiries too as well as some family trips to Japan.

What do you think of the WOW app and exclusive offers from our key trade partners?

It’s good. There’s loads of great content and exclusives which gives a point of differentiation.  

The content is great and it keeps you in the minds of customers all the time and that is the key. That’s why we use social media and email marketing. Some customers don’t really know what they want. They just have a kind of an idea. And if you’ve got some inspiration, it might just, you know, tip them over the edge.

Do you use the NJT social media templates?

Yes, it works really well for us. We don’t tend to post loads and loads of offers but there’s some great inspirational stuff there as well and it just kind of triggers ideas so even if you don’t necessarily use exactly what’s there, you can create your own. There was one when the Barbie film was released about the pink hotel in America and it was just perfect and got really good engagement because it was something very different. 

Do you still need help from your business development manager?

There’s always something that you need help with and we’ve been working with Natalie recently and she’s been fantastic. She’s so proactive, I don’t know how many hours are in her day, but she’s an absolute machine.  

And do NJT consultants help each other?

Yes, we all started in the same place and all have different skills from our previous lives. I’ve never come across anyone that’s massively competitive and protected. We’ve all got our own businesses and our own customers to serve, so it’s just a case of just trying to help each other along.

And are you impressed with the growth of the company? 

Absolutely. Everything’s just becoming more elevated. We had a business development manager when we started, but now the calibre is so much higher and everything like the marketing materials are more polished. NJT has some great people now in key positions and I know that’s a focus going forward so it can only really go from strength to strength.

So do you see a future for travel agents and why?

Yes. I just had a conversation with somebody that was looking to potentially take the leap and join The Travel Franchise. She asked if I was worried that AI was going to wipe travel agents out. I said, not really, because it’s about personal service. AI can do so much and it can help make you more efficient and effective, but people still want to buy from people… not machines and I don’t think that will ever change.  

What sort of person makes a good consultant?

You have to be a people person and having a travel background may be beneficial in certain circumstances, but it’s all about communication and, as for the travel knowledge, you’ll build that up over time. It’s just like any other career, about having the right foundations and the right character, because running your own business isn’t for everyone. I’d always been in corporate life in one form or another (I’d worked for the Scottish Tourist Board in marketing and also for a destination management company) but I’d never worked or set up a business for myself. It can be hard work but very rewarding.

So final question: is the highlight moment of your entire career reaching the big £10-million milestone?

It is to a certain degree, but while the numbers are great, we are proud that we continue to do exactly the same as we did when we started. We’ve not become distracted by other things, we just continue to run the business in the same way…that we treat every holiday we book as if it were our own. It’s important to really remember that it’s about the holiday experience, the people, their families and memories that we hope they’ll remember forever.

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