A portrait of the home-based superstar
By Stanley C.
One of the more unexpected findings of a
study on home-based agents recently commissioned by Travel Weekly
was the surprisingly low annual revenue and net income of most
agents who work out of their homes.
Even the majority
of those who work full time at the profession take home a modest
salary from which they must pay all the costs associated with their
business, in addition to membership dues to various associations
and trade groups and, if they use a host agency, fees for those
However, the study
also showed that a select few home-based agents clearly have
developed highly successful business models and earn incomes well
above the average for U.S. households.
So what factors
differentiate the highly successful home-based agent from the vast
majority, who earn less or just a little more than minimum wage?
What models do they follow? How do they exceed the norm, in some
cases by wide margins?
As a follow-up to
Travel Weekly's previous two articles that reported on the results
of questions asked of home agents, suppliers and agent associations
to get a better understanding of the characteristics and value of
home-based agents, we decided to take a look at this elite group of
top-flight agents to find out what distinguished them from the rest
of the pack.
Tiny group of superstars
A total of 1,062
home-based agents participated in the primary study. For this
follow-up, those agents were divided into five categories based on
the income they reported having earned in the previous 12
The data make it
clear that the vast majority of home-based agents make a
substandard living operating out of their homes. In fact, 80% take
home less than $30,000 before business-related expenses. Of the
remainder, just 5% are superstars who earn more than
Stories abound in
the travel industry about some home-based agents with six-figure
incomes, but little is known about them or even about how many
there might be. Our research suggests it is reasonable to estimate
that there are only about 1,100 of these high performers scattered
around the U.S., or about 5% of the country's estimated 22,000
Taking care of business
statement that can be made, based on the data tabulated for this
report, is that the highest-income home-based agents, as a group,
are much more committed to detailed planning and are more focused,
systematic and businesslike in their approach to their daily
operations than agents who earn less, especially when compared with
the lowest-producing agents.
have decided to make travel a business, not a hobby in which to
dabble part time. Although, like most of those surveyed, the
superstars admit that they enjoy travel as a profession, they don't
allow personal interests to interfere with their desire to be
successful in their profession. Their focus, emphasis on planning
and level of motivation set them apart from their less-successful
The most dramatic
evidence for how this group differs can be summarized by annual
revenue and annual income. A few facts stand out in this
First, sales volume
increases consistently through all groups as income increases, as
would be expected.
significant is the standout performance of those in the
highest-income group. Income rises consistently, but it makes a
significant jump for those who place in the highest category. Those
agents take home an average of $130,000 annually before
Comparing the data
underscores the superb performance of the superstar group. Twenty
percent of the revenue they generate stays in their pockets vs.
only 5% for those earning under $5,000 a year, 7% for those in the
$5,000-to-$15,000 category, 8% for those in the $15,000-to-$30,000
range and 9% for those in the next-to-top category who earn $30,000
The top group
probably gets higher overrides and more incentives because of their
volume, but as we will see later, they also pursue more systematic
As would be
expected, the average number of clients served by each group rises
as income rises, in a straight-line correlation. The top agents
serve about 8.5 times more clients than those at the low end of the
scale. However, when comparing the data, we see that the top agents
earn 43 times more income than those at the low end, and even 2.8
times more than is earned by those in the $30,000-to-$75,000
bracket. Clearly, there is something truly different about this
Vive la difference!
A search for what
differentiates this group produces some surprises.
For example, they
measure at relatively average levels on a number of demographic and
professional characteristics. They have been travel agents for a
few more years than the overall average (17 vs. 14) but not as long
as the 19 years of experience for those in the income category just
However, they have
operated as home-based agents for the longest period of time: 10
They also follow
the norm in having worked previously as retail agents. Sixty
percent of the superstars fall into this category, though that is
significantly less than the 79% of those earning $30,000 to $75,000
who previously were retail agents.
Notably, they put
in the most hours at the job each week, 46 on average, but that is
still less than the 50-to-60-hour work weeks of many successful
persons in other professions. Thus it is not just how much time
they devote to work but the effectiveness of their daily efforts
that seems to matter.
The statistic that
stands out the most is that the top-earning group includes the
highest percentage of men: 44%, compared with just 19% to 25% in
the other groups.