07 Dec Entrepreneur GET your sticker
BY FRED VAN EIJK
The Oxford dictionary’s definition for an entrepreneur is…
“A person who sets up a business or businesses, taking on financial risks in the hope of profit.”
Well, I am sorry, but it takes a hell of a lot more than setting up your stall, taking a risk and hoping for profits. Your profile and enhancing your profile constantly is key in any professional landscape. The times of simply opening a business in a good location with the hope of acquiring a healthy base by chance are over. You need to get out there, connect – on and offline – and build trusted relationships with customers and your brand ambassadors. When it comes to successful business, it’s all about referrals and recommendations.
I learnt this rule in my early twenties, when I made a gamble and opened my own travel agency. It didn’t take long to realise that my network, consisting of students and other young people with limited funds to splurge on travel, was never going to be enough for me to build a stable and lucrative client base. So, I used my network of friends to tap into other networks; our parents, our parent’s friends, business associates of our parents and other keen entrepreneurs in my area. Reflecting on this, I am amazed at who I still consider a customer and that 30 years later, the parents of one of my oldest friends are loyal clients of Travel Counsellors, the worldwide travel company I have had the privilege of being part of for over a decade.
So, when it comes to start-ups, my mantra is simple;
Imagine there is a sticker on your forehead all the time and that sticker says what you do.
My imaginative sticker when I first started my business was “Travel Agent.” And I quickly became my own brand. Every room I walked in to, every party or event I attended, people quickly learnt that I was that guy with his own travel agency. Now my imaginative sticker says “Travel”. My sticker lets me start conversations about my passion for travel, the encounters I’ve had while I was travelling, and most proudly, about my job in supporting hundreds of experienced travel entrepreneurs, our Travel Counsellors, every day. Whenever I meet someone, I want them to instantly associate me with travel in every shape and form. I want them to ask me for ideas and inspiration, or share their experiences and wishes with me. It’s through these conversations that I have on occasion been able to connect people with a Travel Counsellor. I use every and any opportunity to get my passion and expertise across; Social Media, speaking at events, TV, radio, writing and even people I just bump into at a bar or café. They are all tools and outlets that I use to network.
Networking is everywhere and should be as natural and personal as possible.
I still talk about these moments abroad with family, friends, colleagues or people I’ve just met, long after I’ve returned. They’ve become everlasting memories of true joy and thankfulness that I will always cherish. If we take out the transactional element, these feelings are really what the travel industry is all about. We want to enrich our customers lives with spectacular experiences and unforgettable memories. In the end, experiences mean more than things.
When it comes to the travel industry, technology can do almost everything but care or feel. Similarly, feelings need to be the focal point of management in travel. I recently gave a presentation on leadership at an industry event in Melbourne and while I was doing my research, I became even more convinced that I am in exactly the right place, at the right time as a leader. The skills needed to survive in the travel industry as a leader fit me like a glove, and I have never been more effective or comfortable with who I am.
Fred van Eijk – Managing Director Travel Counsellors Australia & General Manager Netherlands and Belgium.
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