I was delighted to be asked to write another piece for the Travel Trade Gazette's monthly homeworker column - written by homeworkers, for homeworkers.
I’ve worked as a self-employed home-based travel agent for the best part of 13 years, and there are a multitude of things I adore about being free from the shackles of a jaunty neck scarf and a nine-to-five existence – but not being able to see the whites of the clients’ eyes when relieving them of their hard-earned funds has not been one of them.
In the mid-noughties, I built my business from scratch using web-generated leads provided by my original franchisor. The website asked the enquiring party to enter their contact details and a brief outline of their requirements. In return, they would receive a phone call and/or email from yours truly.
Attempting to build instant rapport over the phone was not a job for the faint of heart or the sensitive of soul. The leads were not qualified, and responses could vary from "how lovely to hear from you!" to "who on earth are you?" and anything and everything in between.
Particular favourites were the folk who had very little recollection of submitting an enquiry for a French Polynesia island-hopping trip after pub chucking-out time, but were nonetheless keen to hear further details – even if they didn’t have the budget to back it up. Sigh.
How I longed for a brochure rack, a comfy swivel chair and a computer from behind which I could say "No!" with real feeling (and a cough) should I wish to.
In the early years, a forward-thinking director with his finger firmly on the pulse tried to persuade us to speak to our clients using video apps such as FaceTime, but the efforts were met with fierce resistance from his team of make-up-free, trackie-clad, mum-bun-sporting agents who were used to a far more traditional (and invisible!) approach to client relations.
I remember recoiling in horror when Mr Director dared to test me with an unsolicited video call – I’d just applied a hair-mask and hadn’t put my contacts in. For heaven’s sake, shiny and blind was not the look I was aiming for with my first ever video call!
I kept up this resistance, even throughout the first few months of the pandemic, seeing it as yet another indignity forced upon me by prevailing and uninvited circumstances. But with the advent of Zoom and Microsoft Teams it soon became tricky – churlish even – to refuse clients the pleasure of beholding my unfiltered boat-race in full technicolour.
Fast-forward another couple of years and it seems the home-based agent community has fully embraced the Brave New World in which we now live. It feels like a levelling-up of opportunity. We now have the same chance to build rapport on a face-to-face basis as our high-street colleagues – but we also have far more control over who we speak to, when and for how long, not to mention over what we are wearing from the waist down.
Some even more pleasant side-effects have been many of my loyal repeats and referrers, previously only contacted by phone or email, become – dare I say it – firm friends. Last week, I found myself taking a three-hour train journey to somewhere I’ve never been to join a client and her friends for a girls’ night out.
I do miss the thrill of making £25,000 bookings while wearing my pyjamas, without make-up or a shred of supportive underwear, but the discovery that I may not have a face that only a mother could love goes a long way to make up for it.
Jo Shayler-Tarrant of Jo Shayler Holidays is an independent travel agent with Travel Counsellors. She was named Home-Based Agent of the Year at the 2021 Travel Industry Awards by TTG, and went on to be crowned UK and Ireland Travel Agent of the Year. She lives by the sea in Frinton on the north Essex coast.
THE HOMEWORKER FROM TTG
The Homeworker is a new monthly feature from TTG taking you deeper into the world of homeworking. Columns are written by homeworkers for homeworkers and the wider travel sector, providing insight, support, reassurance – and inspiration.
You can read the original article here: www.ttgmedia.com/news/the-homeworker-i-sometimes-miss-the-thrill-of-making-25k-bookings-in-my-pyjamas-41972