Jamie Biesiada is on leave. This insight originally appeared in the Home-based Agent eNewsletter April 17, 2017.
Considering the number of host agencies in the travel industry today, agents can, and should, be picky when it comes to finding the right one for them.
By identifying exactly what they want in a host - whether they're looking for their first, or they're an experienced agent looking to make a change - and researching options, they'll find the right fit, said Stephanie Lee, founder of the website hostagencyreviews.com.
"The first thing for them to realize is that there's no perfect host agency," Lee said. Instead, they need to find a host that fits their needs.
It's easy for agents, especially new ones, to get caught up in little details, Lee said. For instance, she's seen agents get hung up on the number of online webinars two different hosts offer.
"In the grand scheme of things, is that going to make or break your travel agent career?" she said. "Probably not. So [it's important to] be able to step back and look at the big picture and not get stressed."
Lee acknowledged the process of finding a host does tend to be a time-consuming one, "but everybody goes through it, and you will get through it," she said.
For new agents, identifying what one wants from a host means planning out their business model and finding a host with the marketing tools that support it. It also means identifying a specialty and finding a host with the right preferred suppliers.
"They can always change it," Lee said of their specialty, "but if you're looking for a host and have no idea who you are as an agent, it's hard to be able to know if they're going to be a good fit."
Experienced agents have a different task in front of them in identifying why they want to make a change.
"They have enough experience and they have the clients," Lee said. "They're probably not going to be looking for trainings on marketing or anything along those lines, but what they're going to be looking for is whatever is missing from their current host, and why they're unhappy there. So pinpoint what those reasons are."
Experienced agents also need to understand how their existing commissions that have yet to be paid will be transferred to their new host, and how that process will work. Lee said the host agency of record - the host they are leaving - releases the commissions to their new host.
While it can be a "sensitive subject" based on why an agent is leaving a host agency, she said, "any reputable host agency is going to let the record go because it's the agent's booking; it's just about communicating with both parties."
Lee also suggested agents consider a host agency's location before they make their pick. If the agent and host are based in different time zones, support availability could differ from the agent's typical working hours.
Finally, Lee said, agents should think about what she called a more "intangible" thing when looking for the right host: "The personal connection you're feeling with the host agency and what their culture [is], how it fits with you.
"There's tons of host agencies out there, anywhere from mom and pops to larger corporate structures," she continued. "They all have their own culture, and for agents, they often don't weigh this in or think of it at first, but I think it's really important because it's going to be your business partner."
Lee has created a 40-minute webinar, dedicated to the topic of finding the right host. She has also created a free "Host Agency Search Cheat Sheet" to help agents organize information about each host they're interested in.