At a glance
- Growth is possible even in turbulent times – turn negatives into positives wherever you can.
- Be confident and stick to your core vision and values. Never forget why customers come to you.
- A solid plan and expert advice can help you forecast and determine when to reinvest and build infrastructure to meet your long-term goals.
Britt-Marie Monks has rapidly grown her travel consultancy The Honeymoon and Holiday Fixer since start-up in 2016. She has built revenue to an expected £2.3 million in 2024, despite the double whammy of being diagnosed with cancer and COVID-19 travel bans.
Having previously run a franchise of another travel brand, which cost her tens of thousands of pounds to buy into, Britt decided to launch her own franchise but without the joining fees.
She started small, reinvesting profits to drive more growth – installing back-office systems and digitising processes – and offering a flexible-working approach, recruiting motivated mums looking for a job they could fit around their life commitments.
Here are her tips for growing a business.
Turn negatives into positives
In 2020, The Honeymoon and Holiday Fixer was scaling up when COVID-19 lockdowns killed the travel market. But while other travel agencies started shutting down, Britt spotted an opportunity.
“We knew the travel market would reopen at some point and people would be desperate to get back to normal. So I saw it as a growth opportunity; the number of people being made redundant gave us a chance to recruit talented people,” explains Britt.
“I was confident in the business model due to my previous experience in the industry, which helped me understand what works and what doesn’t.”
Her franchisees, known as “holiday fixers”, work on commission, while the company makes money from the holidays sold, plus a small monthly fee from franchisees.
As all her fixers worked from home and were self-employed, supporting themselves financially during the pandemic until the travel industry reopened, the business overheads were low. And as the market was quiet, Britt could spend lots of time training new recruits and helping them prepare to hit the ground running when lockdowns ended.
“This gave the team a good working knowledge of all systems and procedures, and freed me to create a marketing pack for more new fixers as they arrived. And it meant the original team could help support new fixers, too. So, when the world reopened, we were ready and the business grew rapidly. [Before the pandemic] we had a team of seven. Now, we have 22 and I can’t wait to see what will happen next.”
Britt, who won a travel mentor of the year award last year, adds that as most fixers are mums, working from home gives them the flexibility they need. For many of the fixers, it’s a new career and a life-changing one, she says.
Invest in infrastructure
“Initially, I didn’t have a robust back office, and I had to work hard to find a virtual-assistant team with experience of travel businesses. The new team understand the potential challenges and can support our growth,” Britt says. “Plus, I found a specialist firm to develop the websites.”
Fixers need to do everything virtually, including training, compliance and building their websites. With a good system, much of it can be self-learnt. So Britt also had to invest in an intranet in addition to an onboarding and training infrastructure.
“Getting fixers’ feedback has been invaluable – for example, asking them what they would like the onboarding process to cover. Once I had these things in place, I felt confident pushing for growth,” says Britt.
Understand when to delegate
The business had to navigate a major challenge in 2019, when Britt was diagnosed with cancer. This was followed by nine months of intensive treatment, all while she was still taking on fixers and growing the firm. But it made Britt realise the business can’t happen without her.
“That has stuck with me, and it’s one reason I’ve grown my team and infrastructure and will continue to do so,” she says. “Now, I’m taking on a business development manager to help with recruitment, onboarding and training – and moving myself into a more strategic role – that’s given us wings and moved us to the next level.”
Research before you invest
To avoid squandering your money in the early days, speak to lots of companies, research thoroughly and get quotes before investing, says Britt.
“I wasted lots of money on things I thought I needed rather than focusing on core drivers. For example, I invested in business coaches, and social media and marketing agencies, who all promised me a lot but didn’t deliver or didn’t align with me. There are some brilliant coaches but generally they are expensive.”
One key to growth is not to worry about what others in your industry are doing – just be confident in your vision and what you do, says Britt. “Ours is a person-centred industry. Customer service is integral to brand reputation, so we must always concentrate on that. The core reason people choose us is because they know there is a person behind the pretty website who goes above and beyond, and genuinely cares about them.”
Invest in planning
Britt asks new franchisees to create a five-year business plan, to understand their growth expectations and how she can best help them grow their franchise.
“I also need help to plan my next moves, which include developing a new brand, called Pinch Travel, that provides extra-special travel experiences. I’m talking to my accountant about this as I need to forecast and budget better over the next 12 to 24 months. This will help me understand how best to reinvest and when,” Britt explains.
“But if our future scaling plans are effective, I’ll also need a personal financial planner to look at things such as pensions and longer-term goals. It’s important to plan your finances to avoid pressure and stresses, so you can focus on taking your business to the next level.”
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SJP Approved 24/01/2024