Susan earned a reputation as an excellent travel agent through years of dedication and relationship-building at her local travel agency.
As technologies began to evolve, however, she noticed that the internet and personal technologies were exponentially increasing the everyday traveler’s ability to plan their own trip.
Seemingly overnight, you could sit in your living room with a laptop and find the perfect hotel in Paris, a cheap ticket to San Francisco, or a five star guided hike through the Andes — all without ever talking to an agent.
Susan braced herself for major changes in the travel industry.
She began exploring more on the web and reading up on new developments in travel bookings. After just three months of informal research she could see the writing on the wall. Susan began directing some time and savings toward a travel consulting concept that she had been kicking around. It was something she could develop while still working at the agency, so she got right to work.
Her vision was to create a boutique service for business class travelers. The new web-based sites often left a gap where this niche market was concerned. This was a clientele of savvy travelers who wanted to optimize their travel, but who had neither the time nor the need to hunt for bargains — which is a different client than most travel sites focused on. Instead, these sophisticated travelers needed someone with the time and a great network in the travel industry– and someone who could also leverage evolving technologies to broaden their options and ensure a top quality experience. Best of all, they were willing to pay well for top-notch service.
Susan built a strong plan for her consulting business, and everyone agreed that her vision and prospects were excellent. After two years working on her strategy, Susan’s business instincts were proven right when the local agency closed its doors. She decided to use that opportunity to launch her travel consulting business.
Everything went really well with her first few clients, and she got so wrapped up in the details of creating great trips for them, that she forgot to think about finding more clients. When the first few trips were done and she had gotten a handful of great reviews, she realized that the rest of her existing business connections were largely with budget-conscious travelers. She needed to build up a network of people seeking her higher end service.
This idea seemed easy from a distance, but when she made attempts, it proved to be her biggest hurdle. She joined our group calls to get support for her goals in quickly building a strong network.
On the first call, we asked Susan about her online networking experiences. She was primarily focused on using LinkedIn since many people had recommended it. Yet she was only really comfortable with passive use, so she hadn’t spent much energy proactively using the site.
“I find myself occasionally scrolling through to see what’s up, or accepting invitations — but doing little else on LinkedIn. When I try to reach out, it feels really obvious that I’m trying to build a relationship to get something out of it, so I resist it. Ideally, I’d like to have referrals be my number one way of getting more business so that I don’t have to reach out much. That’s what has worked for me in the past, but it’s hard to do that without first gaining some momentum in this new niche.”
As she talked more, it was clear that Susan had a general discomfort with social media, which interfered with her success networking on LinkedIn in broader ways.
“Connecting with people on social media feels so inauthentic and orchestrated. I’m used to engaging in person or by phone, and getting to know people through asking questions and reading social cues. It’s easy for me to build rapport that way. But when I try to interact with friends and prospects on the internet, I feel like a fish out of water! It’s actually quite energy draining for me.”
Since Susan had built much of her success through face-to-face relationships, it was important that she could find a way to replicate some her best in-person experiences in the virtual setting. If she continued to feel exasperated with having to network in this new way, she would severely limit her network. To help her cast a wider net, the group came up with a few questions to explore so Susan might shift her paradigm about online relationship-building.
They discussed the following:
- Have you had any experiences online where you felt a genuine connection to someone?
- When someone reaches out to you to connect online, how do you feel and respond?
- Are there some online options for building your network that are more palatable than others?
To get the discussion started, group members jumped in with their own experiences. After reflecting, Susan could hear a trend where people felt flattered when others reached out to them online. They also gained insight into other people’s lives, who might otherwise be too far away to connect with if it weren’t for the internet.
Susan found herself agreeing with most of these insights. She also realized that some social media tools were very similar to those she had relied on in her former agency…they simply had a new look. One familiar feature was LinkedIn recommendations, which were publicly-posted, rather than being hung on an office wall where few people would see them. She also noticed how photos from happy clients might be added to her profile, where in the past she would put them on a bulletin board – or a website at most.
Once Susan could see some of the obvious pros to networking online, it helped her pinpoint some barriers to networking, which she could immediately overcome.
What Susan Did
During the next group calls Susan talked through the pros and cons of networking online. Feeling better about social media, she began to embrace LinkedIn as a helpful tool in building her business. She and the group made a list of concrete tasks to help her get closer to the point where her network could eventually do the work for her through natural referrals.
They decided on a three-tier approach that would help her ease into this plan:
- Update her profile to reflect her personality and services more accurately and creatively, so that she would feel inspired by her profile page
- Connect with people she was already close to in real life, like neighbors and family
- Follow some organizations that might help her connect with clients
- Post a few reviews of places she loved to refer clients to, which include intriguing pictures to pique people’s interest in travel
- Offer to write reviews for former co-workers on LinkedIn in exchange for a review on her page
- Request connections and referrals from a few of her best clients (To get past her distaste for doing this, she framed it as an announcement about her new business and a way to get involved by offering discounts for referrals and recommendations. This would make it feel like a fair exchange for their efforts.)
- Try reaching out to one or two new people who were loosely connected to her network to gauge their reaction
- Reach out to ten new people each week who were second or third degree contacts
- Create her own group for people who were interested in business class travel
- Set up systems to ask for online referrals and written recommendations (or reviews) from every new client she served. This would take some working up to, but she eventually felt comfortable seeing this as a standard part of her business operating model.
What Susan Learned and How She Changed Because of It
By talking through her networking challenges with the group, and then taking strategic steps to overcome those obstacles, Susan had a few revelations that helped her grow personally and professionally in the process.
First, she realized that even though she was needy at the moment, she could still be a valuable asset to others and come from a place of confidence when asking for help. Some of this took the “fake it until you make it” method of using scripts that sounded confident until it felt authentic.
But most of the change happened by simply taking the time to see her situation from the perspective of others and realizing that they might be excited for her and happy to contribute, rather than feeling burdened by helping.
Equally as important, Susan started to feel more comfortable using technology as another means for authenically connecting with people. This is can still be challenging at times since there are some inherent barriers to feeling truly connected over technology. But she is willing to deal with some of those feelings because she can now clearly see the benefits of technology in her industry.
Not only does this freedom allow her to be a better travel agent, but it also allows her to get word out to clients faster, to represent herself to many more prospects and clients than before — and to use her time efficiently.
If she focuses on the best aspects of social media, Susan actually enjoys connecting with people these days. Her favorite “task” every week is posting snapshots of successful trips she booked for her clients, which naturally helps her market those destinations.
Social media can bring many benefits and challenges for professionals who haven’t grown up with technology as a part of their lives. Additionally, some aspects of online networking may remain challenging for those who prefer in-person relationship-building. That said, it’s possible to still be successful networking online if we shift our paradigm and leverage our strengths.
The Aspyrre group discussion format was especially helpful for Susan when tackling this issue, since many members are going through these same types of issues today.
If you find yourself unsure of how to get the most out of evolving tools and technologies, consider joining one of our Aspyrre business support groups. We have discussions in a variety of formats (in-person or via phone / video conference), that allow you to easily talk through your challenges with others, get new ideas, discover new resources, and leverage the synergy of the group to achieve your goals. If you’d like to learn more, feel free to contact Nahid for a complimentary consultation.