Last year, Louise and her partner Lee sold £1.6 million-worth of holidays. Just six years ago both were tired of working long hours in senior corporate roles.
“I worked in HR and just hated getting up to go to sit at a desk for eight to nine hours, probably longer, then driving home and doing the same thing again.”
Craving the flexibility to be her own boss, work from home, choose her hours but earn a similar salary to her one in HR, she began diligently researching options in more attractive industries.
“I was looking for self-employed opportunities and narrowed it down to something in travel or with animals. I considered things such as a pet services franchise but, after a little research, I realised that perhaps the money wasn’t really there and abandoned that idea.”
In 2017, Louise and Lee were on honeymoon in Jamaica when they bumped into one of our most acclaimed travel consultants, David Walker, on the beach.
“As it began to rain, we headed to the bar. He said he was a home based travel agent. Six weeks later, I did my training to become one!”
Louise, like many of our consultants, couldn’t believe that you can start an agency without any previous experience in the travel industry. But after doing some research she jumped at the opportunity to start her own business after just five days of training.
“I couldn’t think of a reason NOT to do it so it was a pretty quick decision!”
It wasn’t long before Lee left his job in IT and joined her. Neither regrets the decision now they enjoy a better salary and lifestyle. In fact, business is so good they are looking to employ another person.
“In this kind of role, once you’ve got yourself going, it’s amazing. And the travel opportunities are just a massive perk. This year alone, we’ve already been on a Hurtigruten expedition cruise and in September I am going to Dubai, the Maldives and Vietnam. So you know, I definitely didn’t get those perks in HR!”
However, Louise warns new franchisees that the first year can be hard work.
“It’s not a case of setting up a Facebook page and then your phone will start to ring. It
really is about you talking to people and I didn’t feel comfortable calling people at first.”
In fact, the couple were ready to throw in the towel after 11 months but were spurred into action with an invitation to Not Just Travel’s Millionaires Retreat in Mallorca, the free mentorship trip where you get advice from co-founders Paul Harrison and Steve Witt.
“I’d been scared of picking up the phone to call potential clients but spent that week getting over my fears and I got three or four bookings! We kind of had a penny drop moment and started taking it seriously.”
“While the Millionaire’s Retreat really taught us about getting sales, customers and really building the foundations to get the business off the ground, the Elite Experience was a great help in refining what we were doing and helped us look at our margins. Sometimes there are some very small but easy tweaks you can make that improve the financial stability
of your business. “
The couple celebrated a really strong 2019 and both went full time.
“As the momentum was building with bookings, you then get referrals and you get repeat customers. And so once you’ve got that ball rolling, it’s not as hard from then on as it is when you’re starting from scratch.”
Although the pandemic caused a small blip in the business, the couple stayed in touch with their clients helping them to rebook or get refunds.
“It put us in a really good stead from a customer service perspective, because after Covid, the
world started opening up and then travel went nuts. Everyone decided that they were going to do that bucket list trip and because they hadn’t been spending money for the last two years in the same way, they had these bigger budgets.”
While 2021 was a good year, Louise says 2022 was amazing.
“We’d set ourselves a sales target of £1.5 million and we did £1.6 in the end. And that’s carried on, I’m happy to say, into 2023.”
To keep finding new customers Louise and Lee have also invested in an office space in a retail unit.
“We get a lot of foot traffic and we get a good percentage of our bookings from people just walking past the door. As where we live is probably more of a retirement village, many people want that face-to-face contact, as opposed to a faceless company that switched their phones off during the tough times.”
They also generate bookings via social media, especially when they post pictures of holidays they’ve arranged for customers.
Their biggest ever booking was for £85,000 – and that client came via Facebook, through a local group.
“We were on our own holiday in the Maldives at the time and we had been working on the quote but they suddenlly sent a message telling us to book it and I remember having this ‘out of body’ experience that I was on holiday in the Maldives, about to earn thousands of pounds in commission for this booking that hadn’t really been much hard work.”
Louise is looking forward to repeat business from them and doesn’t worry about competition from online agencies because their USP is their personal service.
“What we offer is totally different. Recently we had a call telling us our customer’s hotel had just been evacuated and there were fires spreading through Rhodes. We immediately contacted the customer who had been evacuated to the beach and had been told to wait for further instructions. At that point we contacted the tour operator and stayed in touch with the customer to reassure them.
“We tried to look for alternative accommodation for the night but as every room in Rhodes was booked (or closed) we told our customer to go to the airport as they were really keen to go home as soon as they could. So they spent Saturday night at the airport and then by nine o’clock on the Sunday morning we had a hotel arranged for them and they got to have a shower and a good night’s sleep. And we also then got them on a flight home for Monday.
“So within 48 hours they were back home and while we didn’t necessarily have a lot of power in that situation his feedback has been to thank us for being there to talk to and not have to sit on hold for hours to get through to airlines etc.”
Louise has also recently helped a couple in their 70s on holiday in Thailand when they faced an eight-hour wait at the airport before their flight home due to a change in ferry schedules.
“I found a hotel that was only a 10-minute drive from the airport with great Trip Advisor reviews, a lovely pool and I booked them a room for the night for £38 and arranged transfers. They enjoyed a massage, had lunch and a swim in the pool and then got to shower before heading to the airport.”
Born and raised in Hong Kong and I’ve lived in Australia, Louise loves tailormaking long-haul itineraries, whereas Lee excels in sports travel and hospitality making bookings for the World Cup and Grand Prix among others.
“It definitely helps if you’re passionate about something you’re selling or have experienced,” says Louise.
The couple are going on Not Just Travel’s company trip onboard the brand new MSC Euribia cruise ship in October in a bid to boost cruise sales.
“We recently went on a Hurtigruten expedition cruise and had never booked one before. But within a month of being back, we’d booked a £10k cruise for two sisters that wanted
to go away and try something different!.”
So what’s it like working as a husband and wife team and are they competitive?
“Lee does all of our social media side and I prefer to do more of the sales and bookings,” says Louise who says she often wants to make another booking when Lee makes one.
But on the whole, they enjoy too many perks to complain.
“We have a team meeting every morning on a dog walk and get to go on fantastic trips and earn good money too. We do tend to work long hours and some evenings but we love it.”