Spreading the news

When creating a newsletter for your company, why stop at one?

Such is the logic of Daniel Minter, owner of Travel Pro in Weston, Wis., who distributes four customized newsletters to his four top special-interest markets.

Minter's 8-year-old firm specializes in educational tours as well as travel to Germany, Switzerland and Holland.

"I realized almost from the beginning that we would need a newsletter," said Minter, a former high school German teacher.

Daniel Minter.His original plan was to go after his former colleagues by attending first state, then regional and eventually national conferences for foreign language teachers.

Tired of lugging brochures to and from conferences, Minter realized a newsletter would offer condensed information in a format that teachers might be likely to save.

"I wanted something lightweight that they could stick in a file and would be different from standard materials," he said.

As to content, Minter started with an introduction to his firm, which he said was particularly important in the climate of the time.

"I [went] into the education market in 1993, right after a couple of big educational tour operators went out of business, leaving people stranded," he said.

Minter crafted an introductory piece that spelled out what he could do for teachers beyond what they could get from tour operators.

One strategy was to focus on study in Germany, he said, noting that this group was far less represented than, say, Spain or France.

Another was to offer his services to individuals and to groups smaller than tour operators normally are set up to handle.

In addition, Minter became a DER representative so that he could sell rail tickets to clients.

Once his first newsletter was under way, Minter decided to spin off several other versions for his other markets.

A graduate of certified specialist programs offered by the Switzerland, Holland, Austria and Scandinavia tourist offices -- with Great Britain soon to follow -- he simply adapted his original format to those markets.

Rather than focusing on destination information, Minter summarizes details of tours that might interest his target groups and includes this in the newsletter along with contact information.

Tips for creating custom newsletters

Dan Minter, owner of Weston, Wis.-based Travel Pro, offered some advice on creating a customized newsletter.

  • Get focused. "You have to be very specific to give people a reason to want to read it," Minter said.
  • Keep it simple. "Your newsletter does not have to be fancy, and it doesn't have to be four color," he said.
  • Daniel Minter's Web site at www.vacationcenter.com.

  • It's OK to be cheap. If you are planning a cruise night, for example, consider using the company's brochure as art for the newsletter. Minter acquires other graphics from clip art books and software programs.
  • Go desktop. "Computer publishing software is easy to use, and once you have a basic format, it is just a matter of tweaking and adjusting it," Minter said.
  • Think small. "I used to print 300 or 400 newsletters and keep them around for six months," Minter said. "Now I do 25 or 50 at a time, which means I can change them more frequently, and I don't have to store them."
  • Be a borrower. Minter worked hardest on his first newsletter, geared toward educational travel and simply adapted others to that template by replacing key passages as appropriate.
  • Target mailings. In addition to passing out newsletters at shows, Minter uses them to respond to referrals from tourist offices and to responses from ads he places in foreign-language magazines.
  • Go on line. Portions of Minter's newsletters are on his Web site at www.vacationcenter.com.

    To incorporate or not?

    Q: My attorney recommends becoming a corporation. What are the benefits?

    A: There are several benefits for a travel agency that is set up as a sole proprietor or a partnership becoming a corporation.

    The first is limited liability, which is probably why your attorney recommends it. This protects your personal assets in the event of a lawsuit.

    Dan McManus.For example, if you are found responsible for a person falling in your office, your insurance might not cover the entire claim.

    As a sole proprietor, your personal assets can be confiscated to help pay a claim; if you are incorporated, the corporation (not you) is held responsible.

    A second benefit to incorporating is that you have less risk of being audited.

    According to IRS audit records, a sole proprietor is four times as likely to be audited as an S corporation.

    You can become a C corporation or an S corporation. For most agencies, the S form (also called a sub-S) offers the best tax benefits.

    The drawbacks of incorporating are cost (usually $300 to $500 initially and the annual cost to file a corporate tax return) and the requirement to maintain additional records.

    But for most travel agencies, the benefits outweigh the costs.

    • • •

    Q: A friend bought a computer system on Dec. 31, 1999, and deducted it for that tax year. Is this legal?

    A: You can deduct up to $19,000 of the cost of equipment per year as long as you place the equipment in operation by the last day of the year.

    So, if the computer system was set up and running that day, then she had a valid deduction for 1999.

    The IRS code says that deductions on equipment must be made in the year usage began, not in the purchase year, so if the system wasn't used until Jan. 1, she would lose the deduction in 1999.

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

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