In today's print edition of Travel Weekly, researcher Stan Plog looks at the characteristics of high-producing home-based agents and comes to a conclusion that seems almost axiomatic: Those home-based agents who are businesslike in their approach, plan carefully and are highly motivated do much, much better than unfocused dabblers.

This may sound logical and predictable, but what had sent us back for a second look at our data to define the secrets of the successful home agent were some very surprising data points.

The first was related to what sent agents home in the first place. We, and much of the rest of the world, had assumed that changes in the business climate over the past decade -- airline commission cuts, competition from the Internet, the rounds of consolidation that followed 9/11 -- forced agents to go home as a means to slash overhead.

What we discovered, however, was that the decision to work out of a home office was largely a lifestyle choice rather than an economically based decision. For the most part, home-based agents chose to be home-based agents because they felt that doing so would give them more control over their own time and help them avoid the stresses they associated with working in an office environment.

The second surprise to us was to discover how low production, and pay, was for more than 50% of home-based agents. More than half of full-time, home-based agents didn't really book all that much travel, and they appeared to toil for a salary that hovered near minimum wage.

I wondered whether a second look at the data would show that the lifestyle issue was at the core of the problem. Were the 5% of home-based agents who netted an average income of $130,000 simply the subset whose motivation was primarily economics rather than lifestyle?

The answer, it turns out, is yes and no. Seventy percent of this superstar group, vs. 73% of the sample as a whole, said that the desire to control their work hours was an impetus to leave the office. That difference falls within the survey's margin of error. The motivation of both the successful and unsuccessful home agent was, in this regard, nearly identical.

But a different aspect of the lifestyle issue did reveal a gap: Weak players were three times as likely to say they desired a slower-paced life and sought to avoid the pressures of an office environment. And the least productive also were more likely to say they became home-based agents because they loved to travel and felt that becoming a home agent was a low-risk business to start.

That home-based travel agents can both succeed in business and improve their quality of life by taking control of their hours is a cause for celebration. Successful home-based agents have managed to do both. It would have been depressing if the data had shown that it's impossible to try to master this aspect of life and still prosper.

But when one chooses to work appears to be less important than how one chooses to work. If a person believes that becoming a home-based agent will free them from the pressures of running a business -- planning, investigating and deploying technology and making tough choices about business mix -- then the decision to become a home-based agent is fraught with economic danger.

This week's cover story is not necessarily a recipe for prosperity for all home-based agents, and we make no claim that it defines the only model for success. But we do hope that this template of characteristics associated with success is useful not only to existing home-based agents but to any agents considering joining their ranks.

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