Good business sense

If the grass looks greener in the meetings, incentives and corporate groups market, it's not your imagination, according to Bruce Tepper, vice president of Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Joselyn Tepper & Associates.

In fact, travel agents can add significantly to their bottom line by arranging even a few such events a year, said Tepper, who runs a boot camp training course on the subject every year.

"For agents frustrated by trends like commission caps and competition from the Internet, this is a segment that is nowhere near [its] saturation point," Tepper said.

Bruce Tepper."The analogy we use is that if you win a corporate account, it will be at someone else's expense, whereas with the corporate group market, you are not competing with anybody," he said.

Another advantage to the market is that pricing has traditionally been net with a markup rather than commissions, which means the agent can control his or her margins.

"Basically, you are creating a unique event every time, which means the price is not being compared to something in the Sunday paper or a brochure," he said.

The challenge, on the other hand, is to convince the consumer that he or she needs the service in the first place.

Tepper offered the following tips for getting started:

  • Identify prospects and analyze their needs and how to sell them. "Don't try to sell a trip to a company that can't afford it, for example," he said.
  • Learn a variety of products and services beyond group travel. "At the first level, there can be name tags for corporate meetings and room gifts, amenities and luggage tags for incentives," he said.
  • If you can't do it yourself, outsource. "There's no reason a one-person agency can't compete with everyone out there, since it can subcontract out practically everything," he said, adding that a number of firms offer prepackaged meetings services that agencies can sell under their own name.
  • Consider selling catalog merchandise, gift certificate programs and debit card programs. "The margins on catalog merchandise can go up to 25%, and the catalog companies do all the work except the marketing."
  • Bone up on on-line registration services. "They have become very sophisticated and much more affordable than even a few years ago," he said.
  • Attitude readjustment

    If there is one message Bruce Tepper of Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Joselyn Tepper & Associates seeks to get across in his firm's Boot Camp program, it is that agents need a new attitude when selling meetings, incentives and corporate events.

    "Agents need a different mind-set here, because the customer is buying a business product, not a travel product," Tepper said. "The drive is more than getting the client on the right plane and hotel; you want to make sure they run a productive meeting."

    www.joselyntepper.com.Tepper said that the more facets of the event an agent becomes involved in -- such as organizing breakout sessions and procuring speakers -- the more lucrative the venture, and the more likely the client is to return.

    "In our experience, price is not a determining issue," he said. "Help them meet their meeting objective, and they will shop you every year."

    Incentive programs are not just for employees, Tepper said, and can work equally well for distributors. "In the case of incentives, the company is buying performance improvement," he said. He suggested offering to set up a reward program for a corporate account's distributors, using airline frequent flyer programs as a model.

    In short, Tepper said, you want to be able to convince the client that the increased revenue spurred by your program will more than pay for your services.

    For more information, contact Joselyn Tepper & Associates at (480) 443-0098; fax to (480) 443-1760, or visit the Web site at www.joselyntepper.com.

    Taxing questions

    Q:Am I liable for penalties if my payroll processor failed to make deposits on time?

    A: Unfortunately, yes. If the person you contracted to submit payroll tax reports and make required employment tax deposits fell down on the job, you're still the one responsible as far as the IRS is concerned.

    The delegation of these duties to someone else doesn't relieve you of ultimate responsibility.

    Keep an eye on your processor to make sure your business is being conducted in a timely fashion, as late penalties and interest can be costly.

    Dan McManus.Q:Do I have to offer part-timers the same benefits as my full-timers?

    A: No. Full-time employee benefits are rarely extended to part-timers.

    Partial benefits are provided at some agencies to those working 30 hours or less per week, and still other agencies offer none at all.

    However, within insurance carrier and legal guidelines, you have the right to establish your own policies and change them whenever you see fit.

    Write a clear, comprehensive policy that spells out what the benefits are for part-time and full-time employees.

    If you don't know how to start, contact your insurance agent, local chamber of commerce or the Small Business Administration.

    Q:Can I still set up an IRA for a deduction on my previous year's tax return?

    A: No. You could have set up and made deposits into an IRA account up until April 15, 2000, in order to receive the deduction for your 1999 tax return.

    These retirement funds are simple to arrange through many common financial institutions, including banks, credit unions and insurance firms.

    If you don't have an IRA set up, plan on opening one by next April. It is one asset that every small business owner should have.

    Former agency owner Dan McManus is the publisher of the newsletter the Successful Worldspan Agent. Contact him at [email protected].

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