28 Nov 2023by Debbie Ward
Networking to generate new clients or improve supplier relations is key to many agents’ business strategies, but a fresh take can also help boost your outcomes.
When it comes to networking, Edinburgh-based Gold Travel Counsellor Dave Bishop has a highly successful three-pronged business, social and online approach.
Like many homeworkers, he appreciates the regularity of breakfast club Business Network International (BNI). Here, he shares leads with others and gives weekly 60-second- or 10-minute pitches on his business. He finds it best to use specifics – “how I’ve helped a client, saved someone money or given someone a great experience” – to engage people and demonstrate his worth. With corporate travel part of his mix too, he also requests introductions to local CEOs he has researched who he thinks other members might know.
In contrast, a private school-related charity Bishop became involved with through a client directly attracts high-net-worth individuals. “[I’ve been] fed into this level of society that’s completely alien to me, but I’m quite adaptable and I make myself useful,” he explains. “I’ve got quite a lot of business out of it but it’s because I’m giving back, they can see I’m not just there to take.” He advises: “Don’t just think about the commercial… do the right thing and usually good things happen afterwards.”
His most relaxed networking comes socially through his tennis club, where getting friendly with other members is simply a handy by-product. But Bishop’s top lead generator is a virtual one: LinkedIn. He purposefully built thousands of connections while strolling with his daughter in a pram and he says around £100,000 worth of business a year now comes via this platform.
He finds a light touch yields the best interaction, like posting a daily A-Z of countries he’s visited with accompanying anecdotes. Though there’s always a call to action there may also be a picture of him with a beer. “I think people relate to that, they like there’s a truth in it,” he explains. “You’re trying to resonate with people.”
Justin Huxter, co-founder of Cartology Travel, has a simple technique for meeting potential clients: when the agency hosts social evenings, he tells existing customers to bring friends. He recently had drinks with clients and their guests in New York.
He also finds networking happens organically when travelling. “On safari works well; when you’re in a truck with someone and chat away. And at a luxury hotel, being open and chatting to guests about travel is helpful.”
Requests for upgrades or added value to push a wavering client to book fall on more receptive ears if you’ve also put in the networking time with suppliers, Huxter believes. Being London-based, he asks reps to let him know when they’re in town and meets someone every week. Cartology Travel has also hosted social meets for suppliers, including a barbecue at Huxter’s home. He says reversing the norm this way can help. “We do try to do stuff where we’re not always expecting the supplier to pay, whether that’s drinks or picnics in the park.”
As an Aito Specialist Travel Agent, C The World has regular opportunities to network with suppliers. The agency’s director, Carolyn Park, recently hosted the organisation’s regional dinner in Bristol. Around 22 attendees included seven suppliers who gave short updates then networked with agents over a meal. Park oversaw the table plan, ensuring everyone got a chance to chat, with rotations between courses.
“Aito has a really friendly atmosphere,” Park says. “[The event] is all about networking and making sure everybody knows what the Aito operators are offering and how we can work well together… it’s not about getting a goodie bag for turning up.”
C The World’s new clients come mainly through referrals, but Park says good networking opportunities have arisen through sponsorship of Bristol Film Festival’s themed screenings. Recently, fans saw a James Bond movie in an Aston Martin showroom and were incentivised to talk film location holidays with C the World. Park says: “It’s something completely di erent, and a completely new set of potential customers from the right sort of market.”
5 tips to network smarter
At Christmas parties, chat to as many people as you can about holidays, mention your job and always keep business cards handy.
- Tell stories
Mentioning an interesting or glamorous trip you recently planned is a subtle way to show your skill – and experience.
If selling yourself in conversation feels forced to you, try a business networking club with more structured presentation slots.
- Buddy up
Partnered events with suitable luxury businesses can give you the benefit of cross-networking with each other’s clients.
- Group action
Make sure you’re affiliated to groups such as Aito, Pata and Tipto to access the best supplier networking opportunities.