Time for something new here at Blog Tyrant.
Hey! I heard that collective sigh of relief!
Anyway, for some reason I seem to be surrounded by people who are fantastically successful at what they do. I always seem to be picking their brains or soaking in their borderline-annoying brilliance. And it occurred to me that maybe you guys would like to hear from them as well.
So I’d like to announce a new section here on Blog Tyrant called Tyrades (sort of like a tirade!) where I interview people who are doing extremely well for themselves in the hope that we can learn a thing or two.
The big twist is that I’m not going to interview other bloggers. I want to look at what people in different niches/industries (but still with an online element) are doing so we can get out of our shells and apply tactics that we have long forgotten or perhaps never heard about. It’s also about staying inspired.
Let’s get started!
A chat with Mark Trim – founder of RoundAboutTravel.com.au
The first interview in this series is with a guy I’ve known for five years. In that small amount of time he’s gone from a top seller at Flight Centre to starting his own online travel agency called RoundAbout Travel that turns over $6 million a year, even in the GFC climate. Not an easy feat.
Last week I asked him a few questions I thought you might be interested in – specifically about his fast growth and success in a really competitive industry.
Make sure to leave your comments. If he gets time he’ll drop around and answer a few questions.
1. I first met you around 2007 at my local Flight Centre when I was booking my second trip to Asia. You had won a bunch of awards as a top seller but decided to make the somewhat scary move to leave that comfortable role and start your own travel agency. What motivated you to do this and what preparations did you make?
I was 23 going on 24 at the time and had been with Flight Centre for about 3 and a half years. I had originally set myself a goal to be an “area leader” by the time I was 25, this role was essentially being the boss to team leaders of about 15 stores. I was coming up to being 24 and realised I had made it to 2ic and then team leader but the next steps in the corporate ladder weren’t going to be as quick as I had once hoped for. I was the type to speak my mind and want to do things my way, so I wasn’t really the person to play the political game. It became apparent to move up you’d need to move interstate as there was quite a queue for the management roles in SA. My partner Amy [now my wife] also worked there and we were both ready for a change. Whilst on holiday in the UK it struck me that no one was really focussing on round the world flights. Everyone did a few every now and then but there weren’t any Australian based specialists [the UK had a few]. I decided to tell a few family members at that time what I was planning and then I felt like I had some accountability to follow through with my word. Round the Worlds were a product I always sold a lot of, I knew when they were good value and would often “switch sell” people from return trips to round the worlds. So we decided to start working on our own agency model. I would come home from work each night and spend 2-3hrs writing out business names, drawing up mock websites and trip planners in a scrap book and discussing with Amy. We then had to work out how to start a business, the hardest bit with a travel agency is getting licensed and working out the order that everything needed to be done in. My friend’s brother was a designer and we worked on the website for the next 6-9 months before it went live. I quit my job at Flight Centre and started working from home without the website finished, this was a bit risky but I had enough word of mouth business to get us going and then it was onwards and upwards from there.
2. Why did you decide to make RoundAbout Travel primarily web focused without offices and so on?
Essentially we thought that using a travel agent for a difficult booking was still a necessary and beneficial process. However, how people interact with agents was cumbersome and extremely time ineffective. You waste a lot of time simply chatting to people and the major problem with a shopfront is the interruptions, you just get started on something and then people walk in to get a brochure/ask for a price/you get a phone call/people want directions to the post office and so on. From the clients perspective they often have to sit and wait while the consultant finishes up. Basically it’s very hard to get anything done efficiently – go past any travel agent at 6 or 7pm and you’ll no doubt see people working back late. By going online we don’t have any disruptions and can out-service almost any other travel agent because we essentially retrain our clients to wait for an email reply from us – we get back to all emails very quickly and even have a 1 business day guarantee so people know they’ll get a reply [this limits the situations where people send an email then call immediately to go over it]. This means we can work on one things at a time and get it finished much quicker. Furthermore, it eliminates all errors because everything is in writing. In shop-front agencies there is a high error rate with dates and names being spelt incorrectly, there’s no proof of what people told you so it gets messy. With an email based consulting system there is a clear paper-trail. Basically we offer a hybrid between utilising booking online but still getting an experienced travel consultant without having to leave your house or workplace.
3. You’ve experienced some pretty fast growth for a new company working in a post-GFC climate in an industry that tends to suffer when people have less income. Can you tell us a little about that growth and what you attribute it to?
We started in August 2008 by the time we got our license and it was basically the start of the GFC. In our first year we sold around $900,000 and have grown that up to over $6 million in turnover per annum. We’re still a small fish in a big pond, if the whole market contracts 5% we’re not really affected because we’re not yet at our capacity. We’ve still got potential to at least double our staffing numbers, so we’re still in a growth phase. Any economic downturn is essentially outweighed by the growing trend for people to be booking online and the high AUD has kept up demand for international travel. We have noticed people are extremely price sensitive to their main airfares in this climate, they’ll make a decision on a $10-20k trip depending on a $100-400 fluctuation in their airfare costs which still strikes me as quite strange.
4. I know you get a lot of business from Google Adwords. Was that always the case or have you slowly improved your conversion rates by experimenting with different ad types, placements, etc.?
Essentially all our business has come from AdWords, those clients might then refer us on to someone or book again but it all started with search. We tried a few travel expos and the very occasional print ad but it’s really nowhere near the ROI that we’ve experienced with Adwords. This let us compete with the big boys like Flight Centre and STA on a relatively level playing field while we waited for our pages to start to appear organically. Over the course of the first year of our business we spent a reasonable amount of time in copy writing and amending our landing page to improve conversions and we got that to a place we were pretty comfortable with. From there we haven’t changed a lot, we have so much demand I haven’t been able to spend as much time with the stats as I’d like to, we tinker with it but the really big difference to conversions is the lead in rates offered by the airlines. So if they put out a special or sale that’s even $30-60 cheaper we see a marked increase in hits converting into inquiry and then into bookings. Again I can’t quite believe so many people let such small changes in the airfare cost determine their whole trip but it definitely happens.
5. Do you spend a lot of time with social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, etc.? What are your thoughts on their usefulness?
I used to spend a lot of time on Twitter. I got fed up with it, I found it was basically just people wasting time. Businesses all promoting to other businesses and not getting through to their end user. Sure if you want to network within your industry or follow what celebrities are doing maybe it has a place for you but I didn’t see any examples of when that part of the social media spectrum would actually result in leads or more clients. Facebook ads I’m not a huge fan of, I didn’t see any results there. As it’s interruption marketing it didn’t suit our products as people won’t just book a spur of the moment trip around the world. Whereas when someone searches on Google it’s at a time when they are more actively seeking information and more likely to act. I have found Facebook to be a great way to interact with your clients in an after-sales sense, if you can get them to ‘like’ your page then you can keep them connected to your brand and they are more likely to refer you to other clients.
6. Typically small businesses have trouble scaling up. They might be in a profitable niche but struggle to expand. You’ve put on four new staff and are looking for more. What tips can you share about bringing on new people or changing the business to take on bigger challenges?
This is definitely a challenge, finding good staff in Adelaide is difficult. We’re up to 6 staff in total and looking to go up towards 10-12 in the next 12 months. From my perspective it’s basically training your staff to think how you think, and employees are unlikely to have the natural thought patterns of entrepreneurs. When we first hired staff we had to break down and work out how we naturally communicate and how you can make that into relatable and teachable concepts. I didn’t want anything to be too much of a pattern or use any set templates with their consulting or sales, but they needed to know what the key elements that I cover in the sales process and the reasoning behind how I consult and why that has delivered consistent and measured success. I’ve really tried to get my staff to consult as close to how I do things as possible and we’ve seen great results, taking consultants and doubling the turnover that they had achieved in other major brand’s businesses.
7. In 2008 I was in your office with my buddy booking some plane tickets and you, while completely pre-occupied with something else, turned up the radio because you noticed we were enjoying the song (tapping our feet, etc.). I remember at the time thinking that was an incredible bit of customer service. Years later and my father, brother and a bunch of my friends use RAT after hearing about the high quality relationships you build. Is that kind of sales/customer service a natural thing or can a person develop it?
When I consulted face to face I did use to work on building relationships and feeding off of other people, often referred to as mirroring and matching and I would couple that with rapport building. That sort of sales had always worked well for me in that environment but when we went online we had to find a new way to approach customer service. Most sales courses will tell you that over 90% of your communication is done in body language and tone, so without that via email it certainly became a challenge to adapt and find the best way to consult. Essentially yes those techniques can be learnt, but they require a certain degree of confidence in what you’re doing and unfortunately I’m not a huge believer that rapport building is effective online. People just don’t believe it and are unlikely to make a connection with you until you speak on the phone. We have found that through Facebook we are able to make that personal connection, but usually that’s after the sale so you need to have a great consulting model and a lot of product knowledge not to rely face to face sales techniques.
Interruption: Ramsay again here. Interesting to hear Mark talk about the phone. Recently wrote about that here.
8. Running a company can be pretty stressful. Do you have any insights for dealing with the stress?
True, particularly in travel and even more so when you’ve got thousands of clients scattered around the world at any one time when there is a volcanic eruption or an earthquake. The best thing is a supporting partner and having enough success that they can commit to the business 100%. My wife Amy is amazing, whilst I’m “big picture” focussed she fills in the detail for me and we worked out our own roles in the business over the first few years. She is definitely the unsung hero of the operation. The parts I find stressful is what she’s so good at, getting the accounts done, paying bills, payroll, HR, BAS, our annual audit for the travel compensation fund…the list goes on. Whereas for Amy she doesn’t really like dealing with “Joe Public”, it can be pretty hard work selling travel to people with varying expectations yet that’s a challenge I really feed off. I like the feeling of successfully convincing someone, I’m someone who always thinks I’m right so it’s a bit of a game for me. You have to find something like that to drive you and that takes a lot of the stress out. I always like to have my next holiday booked so I know where I’m going and why I’m working so hard, I put a photo on my 2nd monitor so I’m looking at it every day. Just like my clients need to know “why” I’m recommending certain options, I need to know “why” I’m doing this.
9. What advice do you have for someone trying to tap in to an industry that already has a lot of competition online?
Find at least 3 points of difference for your company, they need to be tangible benefits. You need to be able to sell yourself clearly and succinctly. I often get put on the spot travelling around the world when I tell someone I own an online travel company. They often ask me something like “I don’t mean to be rude but why would I book with you and not XYZ company”. I can answer that question with conviction, they should be wanting your contact details by the time you’re done selling yourself.
10. Where should we all go on our next holiday?
I think there is a difference between going on holiday and travelling. But that’s another debate. I love New York, Paris, Lake Como, the Maldives, Las Vegas, Venice, Tuscany, Switzerland, Colorado and Wanaka, New Zealand. The perennial Australian favourites of Bali and Phuket are still great for a getaway but for something different try the Cook Islands, highly underrated.
What do you think?
I’d love to hear what you think about this new idea as I’ve got quite a few other exciting Tyrades lined up for you. Oh, and big thanks to Marshall for coming up with the name Tyrades in today’s Facebook ideas-jam.
Lastly, feel free to ask Mark any questions you might have about starting a business or scaling it up or anything else you’re interested in. I’ll see if he can drop in and answer some comments. Feel free to go on your usual 100+ comment quests!
69 CommentsJoin in. The comments are closed after 30 days.
Excellent first Tyrade and interview, very inspirational and a great idea to interview people from other aspects of online business. Sometimes we get bogged down thinking that blogging is the only way.
An incredible story of fast growth and finding an untapped potential niche. Congrats to Mark and Amy for their success and may it continue.
Thanks for stopping by Andi. Nice to see you over here as always.
Kick ass interview! I’m a complete sucker when it comes to happy endings + people who, against all the resistance that is everywhere, found a way to beat the game + come out triumphant.
I need to go share this with the world, specially my 26 year old brother, who’s a World Craft GENIUS, 1# in Latin America + I keep telling him, “You can totally turn that into a money making empire”. Hope this Tyrade shakes him up!
There are WoW websites made by individuals that make $10,000+ a month. At least they used to.
Nice, like the interview! I do a similar thing on my website, where I interview online marketers & entrepreneurs, http://www.slagtermedia.nl/category/interviews/. Beware, it’s in Dutch :D.
The travel business is big, even in the Netherlands. @Mark do you think that cruises will grow in the next years?
Finally thumbs up for you Ramsay, keep up the good work!
Thanks for commenting.
Hi Christian, I definitely think cruises [and European river cruises] will continue to grow. People are attracted to the value and it’s great for families. I think cruises are a good holiday, I’m not sure the majority of them are great for “travelling” and actually seeing the world although there are exceptions with certain cruise lines. MT
Thanx for the quick response Ramsay & Mark. I will research it when I have a spare moment ;).
Hey Ramsey, This is a great interview with that guy. I love his answers, As he said that we should not waste time on social media sites.
I have seen a lot of bloggers spending most of their time on sites like Facebook or Twitter, If they spend that time treating their own blog like social networking blog and connect with their readers on their own blog like you’re doing here on Blog Tyrant would be great.
BTW, Thanks for sharing it to me as a newsletter 🙂
Glad you enjoyed it Ehsan.
Really like the focus and pace of this interview. Good questions and very clear and practical answers.
I’m sending this interview over to my brother Marc and asking pointing out the success of adwords.
Totally agree about Twitter and Facebook relative pros and cons.
I was fascinated by his online business model and I liked the way he recognised the importance of Big Picture and Grains of Sand activities and valueing the work his partner.
Great start Ramsay – and liking the new font for your title and the Join The Tyrant Troops box. Nice fine tuning.
Thanks Liz. Appreciate the feedback.
How’s your product going?
I completely agree when Mark talked about the phone. Basically it requires you to understand the start of the conversation when your convincing someone. What he/she expects? That’s the main question. I also do some selling online and this is the way I completely change the conversation according to the expectation of the customer.
Anyway, got to say that the first Tyrade post was really awesome and I got very nice tips for increasing my sales also (not to mention).
Thank you very much for sharing this interview. My husband and I started our e-business a year ago and it is always reassuring ti hear or read other successful testimonies. A good idea, clear differences with your competitors, tangible benefits for your customers, communication : I agree with all that and make sure to apply it since the beginning 🙂 anything is possible and should be tried. It works well so far 🙂
I hope you will share other tyrades soon.
Thanks for all,
PS : sorry for my english, I’m French 😉
Je ne parle pas français très bien.
So you know how I feel 😀
An amazing interview. So much useful information provided in it. This is just another way of how people can success fast. Thanks for sharing this with us.
Thanks for commenting. Glad it helped.
Thanks for the insight!
Nice read. It helps me a lot to bash to limiting voices in my mind
OK, I couldn’t finish reading the article in one setting because I kept jumping up and running to tell one or another of my partners what I was learning and what I thought we could take away from this interview.
Well done, Ramsay, well done!
And, yes the Tyrade idea rocks.
My question to Mark. Do you have trouble finding employees willing to “sell your way?”
Good question too.
Hi Yvonne, excellent question. When we interview one of the main questions we discuss is how flexible they are to change and whether they’ll be OK for me to completely change how they sell. The initial body language reaction is usually more important to “what” is said as a response.
We spend a lot of time training staff in the psychology of how we sell and covering off on “why” I’m getting them to change their sales approach. Just like a client needs to know features and benefits of what they are purchasing the staff have needed to know that about our sales method.
I would be lying if I said it has been easy, these are habits people have established over a long period of time and sometimes it’s part of their personality that I am changing. Also, I often see a quick change in the first few months and then they will often drop back for a few months and will need more coaching. But generally after 7-10 months you see it click and they start to get some fantastic results and the changes become permanent.
Thanks for the answer, Mark. We talk a great deal, around here, about how to hire the “right” people. I appreciate your response.
Love the post, and love the Tyrades idea.
Glad that you will be focusing on people making money outside of blogging.
Ramsay, I just discovered blogtyrant last week and I love it!
Thank you for sharing this interview with us, totally fascinating and I especially enjoyed that he’s not in the blogging business, just something different. Keep up the good work and looking forward to more Tyrade posts! Cheers!
Glad you’re enjoying it Liz. Thanks!
Nice one Rams, fresh spin on things and great to hear from another successful south Aussie! Really liked some of the tactics that Mark has used, they could be applied in so many other settings.
Make sure you ring him next time you head OS.
Very interesting! Although I love blogging and learning about it, I’m glad that you’re trying to find people working on different types of businesses as well. Opens my mind to many different ideas and gets my thoughts flowing – love it!
Thanks Thomas. Appreciate the comment.
Great timing as usual Rams, as you know i fired that big client of mine and now I need to add more clients.
I know that Adwords is the key to doing well, but I can’t seem to figure out my landing page because it’s not converting and ads.
Any advice about adwords & conversions?
HEAPS of advice about this. Are you asking me or Mark though?
I’m not fussy I’d be delighted to take advice from anyone that’s not not me.
I’m confused…to take just one example let’s pick click through rate. It’s a dismal at .09. But is it really? I have no idea maybe my competitors have a lower rate than that.
Not sure what product you’re selling but my landing page is focussed on getting people to quickly associate our brand with specific points of difference so that it holds their attention as long as possible – as they’re likely to have no previous knowledge of our brand because we don’t spend/waste any money on brand advertising. Having an engaging picture [in my case a globe with a whole bunch of arrows on it indicating ‘around the world travel’] with adequate white space on the page was key so that the eye quickly processes what we’re all about to hold their interest.
As they scroll down it covers off on a quick summary on specific travel deals tailored to the ad that they clicked on so that they can go to those specific pages and find out more info. I found it was good to have enough info on each deal to entice them but not too much so that they bounce, there needed to be another deal visible on the same page so that they’d scroll down if they don’t like the one they are reading. The copy and font is key.
Our landing page has a bounce rate of around 36%, not sure if that’s good or bad, and their average visit on our site from that page is 3mins 43 seconds. I don’t have much to compare that to but it seems to deliver pretty consistent results in terms of how much input we have to generate to get a set output of qualified inquiries and then eventually bookings.
I guess CTR is determined by your competitors and how good your/their copy is and how strong their brands are [we go up against some major brands]. Our CTR is 3.85% excluding display network [0.64% with display network]. I too have no idea how good that is, but the results are good.
See your CTR is 10 times what mine is but… according to the ad word gurus on google video your ad position is very important. For instance if you’re right at the top then you’ll get a lot more clicks and a better rate. I have a position of 3.4 which mean I think that I’m going to be on the right hand side right near the toilet paper.
I’ve just tried a new one ad… I’m not sure it can be worse.
The other thing that makes it hard for me is because I’m local to this area, the volume of relevant search traffic is very low. The top day I got 9 clicks. I got 101 clicks total and I got 0 telephone calls. I funded the account with $100 and it took 16 days for my budget to be exhausted. It takes a long time to do split testing.
I’ll definitely be implementing your suggestion for pictures, a long time ago I was going to improve my “social proof” because of one of Rams’ posts but I never got that to work.
It’s really frustrating to me that despite learning my entire life I still know just about nothing in relation to the entire amount of knowledge I would like to know. I’m a work in progress, what can I say?
I rent property on behalf of landlords and manage properties.
Nice interview, Ramsay. Was Cino with you? Did he help with the questions?
I like the idea of these interviews because I think that many of the ideas that Mark mentions can be applied across the board.
One of the things that has been most difficult for me when hiring people to work with me is that they do not think like an entrepreneur…getting them to be motivated for more than the paycheck and to see beyond what is required of them, so that it can provide more opportunities for my company.
I also enjoyed learning about his approach to Adwords, Facebook ads and then social media avenues and how he found which worked for his company and why. Many of the clients that we write for have to figure out the magic formula.
I would be interested in interviews with people that took a little bit longer to grow and also how they got the word out about their business.
Ummm…. Cino is a cat Jenny. 😉
I guess it depends on who you are hiring right? Like you don’t need the guy who does the books to think like you.
Um, yes, I know Cino is a cat…and certainly he can inspire questions, no? Or have you lost your imagination?
Yes, depends on WHAT job you are hiring them for.
I can’t believe you’re such a speciesist Rams. Of course Cino has questions. Here’s a few…
! – Can I eat that?
2 – When am I going to get my belly patted?
Important questions about real problems 🙂
Rachelle, holla! Woot Woot!
Ha ha. Cino mostly inspires fur to get stuck in my computer fan. 🙂
You could always shave her and make her one of those Persian types 🙂
Inspriring story, It is the power of difference
Thanks for this inspirational article, I found it has useful advice and have posted a summary in my blog (translated into Spanish)
This kind of entrepeneur spirit is very motivational for the Spanish online industry.
Thanks very much!
Great Interview Ramsay, and a great idea for the future. Bloggers really posses that entrepreneurial spirit, so encouraging it with such interviews and essentially ideas is quite a great thought.
As for Mark, first of all congrats to all the success so far. I hope you see even more as time goes by.
There were couple of things that are sure to catch the eye in this interview. First off all the importance put in User experience and customer service. Albeit connected with the offline world, these things rapidly gained importance online too.
And focusing on the right traffic and after all audience sure makes sense in the lines of less unnecessary clutter and even better user experience being offered. After all, I suspect that the idea of promoting your brand to the people that are likely to be interested leaves you more time to focus on the offer itself.
And here you have also answered the question that many bloggers and webmasters have: “How far should my presence in social media stretch?”
Only as far as getting leads and being likely to reach the right audience. Some mediums don’t work the same for different types of businesses.
Thanks Slavko. Great summary. Good to see you here.
Hi Ramsay, great first Tyrade and a great concept. Nice to see you focusing on other online businesses and not just blogging.
The story of Mark and Amy is an excellent one and very inspiring, they sat drawing up ideas for the website instead of just jumping in like many would. They had good plans from the start and focused on User experience as Slavko said above, that is a serious winner.
Congrats to Mark and Amy for their success in what is a troubling time with many holiday companies going bust, especially here in the UK, not sure how bad things are for you guys down in sunnier climes.
I loved this and I look forward to reading more.
Excellent first Tyrade, Ramsay – your guest was engaging to read and his business acumen leaves a lot to chew on. Obviously going with your strengths and “making a place” in a crowded niche is a fine art that a few are capable of (not everyone can find that sort of success). It’s clear that Mark’s success is a product of passion, intelligence and creativity, it’s always invigorating to read from his ilk.
My only suggestion: break the copy into paragraphs, the italic blocks of long comments isn’t easy on the eyes. Otherwise, this is a fantastic interview.
I thought about that a bit and decided to leave it how Mark had written it because it’s a little insight into how he works/is. But you’re right. Bit too much.
Hey, Ramsay, what optin plugin do you use? Do you design them yourself?
Sidebar and pop up are Aweber and the one at the bottom of the post is OptinSkin.
What’s the difference between Aweber’s pop up and popup domination? I thought you used popup domination from a blog post I read?
How’s Cino doing today?
I was using Pop Up Domination but my blog’s theme had some problems with one of their updates.
There’s no real difference other than the ability to use their designs.
He’s not very happy – it’s hot here today.
OK – is there any reason you used popup domination when Aweber already had something to offer? Just curious.
One difference between the two for me – I already had Aweber and popup domination would have cost me an additional $75, so I think you can save money if you already have Aweber.
That’s awesome amount he has earned, even i have some great concepts but haven’t tried them, after reading these interview I must try them. May be people will talk about me as same way
That’s the spirit!
Wow, what a great story!
I love finding inspiration that I can share with my community and this is perfect for that!
I like how this interview / tyrade has played out, then questions are current and relevant. It’s great to see ‘regular’ people with skills like this making BIG success by moving their business online.
Looking forward to more of these Tyrades!
Thanks Clair! Nice to see you here.
What a great article about what you can do if you put your mind to it, and really consider each and every decision you make. Sometimes, your idea DOESN’T fit some silly equation to success that you have been taught in your life. Sometimes, you have to not only think but LIVE OUTSIDE THE BOX!
Very inspiring but also slightly jealous at the massive success achieved here in such a small span of time. Look forward to more interviews like this.
Mark is a very hard worker. I reckon he sometimes works from 8am to well past midnight.
Inspirational interview, although it’s 8 years ago. Is it still thriving?