In mid-2010 – pretty much three years to the day since I started my tour business, I was in the gym and I remember thinking to myself:
“Wow! I’ve built a serious business…
…like… a real business that makes decent money, has staff and an office, big plans for the future, people that love our tours, repeat customers, systems in place…and we’ve weathered those turbulent early years that kill so many small businesses (in the middle of a Global Financial Crisis I might add) and…we’re going to make it!”
It was a damn good feeling!
But I wanted more than that, I wanted to keep going.
I wanted to build a 7-figure tour business.
More importantly, I wanted to build a 7-figure tour business that gave me an amazing lifestyle and didn’t rely on me all the time.
I wanted a business that I could leave during peak season, take my family, hit the road and go travelling for months at a time, where I would be working remotely a few hours a day and be 100% confident that my team could handle everything AND my business would continue to grow.
As you can see here – this is what the evolution of our tour business looked like from a revenue perspective:
So, here are some of the critical steps that I took between 2010 and 2014 to transform a “pretty good tour business” into a “multi 7-figure revenue generating machine” with an awesome team that ran the business in its entirety and to whom I offered weekly scheduled support from wherever I happened to be at the time.
We listened, we looked for opportunities, we asked questions and we innovated. We did a level of research that was in line with the time and resources we had at our disposal, then we took a chance and had a go.
Here are a few examples to illustrate the multiple revenue streams we put in place to complement our core range of private day tours:
First of all, we noticed that we were receiving plenty of tour enquiries from Melbourne based executive assistants, personal assistants, sales managers, HR managers, and the like saying something along the lines of “we love the look of tour x, y or z – could you tailor this tour for my team or my clients?”.
MPT Corporate Events was born soon after, offering client engagement events, team building, reward and incentive days, company Christmas parties, EOFY events and more.
Next came MPT Worldwide Journeys – offering once in a lifetime celebrity chef-led culinary journeys to Spain and southern African safari experiences to the very same customers that were taking our luxury private tours in Melbourne and surrounds.
To complement our private tours, we also created a number of small group scheduled culinary journeys throughout Australia – targeting the high-end domestic market – with the aim of running these right through the slower winter months.
We also launched a range of snow tours for the winter-loving Singaporean market.
All of these complimented the core Melbourne Private Tours product offering beautifully and kept us busy outside of the peak travel season.
You need to think outside the square.
To illustrate – as I write, I’ve just finished reading an article on the massive worldwide growth in the Accessible Tourism market – travellers with a disability. Not many are doing it right and there is a huge opportunity for tour and activity operators to step into this space.
Get systems in place right across your business
You need to take a few steps backward to take a massive leap forward.
Now is the time to invest in that reservation system. Shop around. Talk to other operators. What works for many may not work for you. If your business is unique by nature then you need to find something that really speaks to you.
Our business was heavy on “touch and feel” with plenty of changes and detailed and tailored travel itineraries. It was therefore very hard to find the right system. We had a few false starts that cost us a lot of time and productivity.
Once you settle on the right choice for your business, make sure that you take some time to test it before committing fully.
Don’t nickel-and-dime with the systems and software that will be the lifeblood of your business as it grows. Pay for the right service and move on. A few sales a month, or avoiding a few costly refunds due to system or operations errors will more than pay for these relatively minor costs.
When all that hard work starts paying off and those booking requests start flying… you better be prepared.
“No” was a dirty word in our business.
We got our capacity to a point where in the middle of our peak travel season we had the resources to send out 20-25 individual private day tours daily – that’s 20-25 drivers and 20-25 vehicles.
At an average retail price of a little over $1,000 per tour those numbers started adding up fast and you’ll do anything to avoid leaving any of those $$ on the table (keep in mind that 5 years earlier I had literally been a man with a second hand van).
After the tough times we had in the early years, I always drilled it into our operations and reservations team – grab every opportunity and never say no – we’ll make it work.
We had a motto: “Bite off more than you can chew, and then chew like crazy”.
By 2016 we were making 450k in sales in 2 just months, December and January.
That’s where the difference is going to come from – make hay when the sun shines.
Why were we working so hard to win customers if we were going to start declining their business when things got busy?
When we were pushing hard for that extra 10k in sales in August, we were always thankful for the extra 50k in sales we were able to make in the peak season by pushing the boundaries with regards to our capacity.
Whoever you bring in to help your business through those peak times in order to increase capacity, they MUST understand your products, your processes, the way YOUR business operates.
They must understand and “buy in” to your company culture, you need to make sure they are being educated on this. It doesn’t matter how experienced they are, how they have done things before. It is critical that they embrace and respect the way you do things in your business.
This needs to be done by way of a written training manual that outlines your company brand promises and core values, plus all operational procedures and processes that are critical in the delivery of a successful tour.
Strive for an even 12-month effort
There was no such thing as a slow season – as our peak season approached, we were already planning ahead for the Australian winter (traditionally our low season) – and for a better peak season the following year.
We adopted the mindset that there was no slow season. We wanted the output of your team to be as even as possible throughout the year.
That meant better preparation, better improvements, processes and systems to ensure that the peak season was easier, less stressful, less exhausting and time consuming – even as the business grew.
This allowed our staff the time throughout peak season to maintain momentum and ensure they were working concurrently on projects designed to boost business outside of that traditional peak season PLUS making improvements that would help us in the following peak season 12 months from now.
Assemble an A-grade team
Make sure there is absolute clarity surrounding their roles and that they are highly incentivised to succeed.
As I have written before on the subject of hiring, when you feel like you are stretching at the seams, when it feels like progress is stalling, when the improved systems that you are creating are still not freeing up time across your business and you feel certain that your team needs to grow, then you need to approach a solution systematically.
The first thing you need to do is get down on paper every single task in your business that gets done over a two-week period and exactly how long your team are spending on those tasks and how much time they think they should be spending to get the job done.
You’ll need help here.
There will be grumbles – along the lines of “we don’t have time to record our time”. You’ll need to assure everybody that the benefits are huge. By doing so, you’ll soon know exactly where you need help.
From there it’s all about creating the right position description, based on the exercise above, you’ll be able to drill right down into the expected roles and responsibilities and exactly how much time you think each of these roles and responsibilities will take.
Then you’ve gotta find the right fit.
I’m a huge believer in prioritising things like: chemistry you have with a candidate, a ‘can do’ attitude, empathy, kindness and calmness, positivity, a ferocious work ethic, consideration, understanding or your core values.
These are the kind of attributes that will shine through in an interview if you ask the right questions.
They may not stack up on paper, they may not have the most relevant skill set, or recent experience. But – you can teach this kind of person skills – and fast with the right business systems and processes. It’s harder to teach them attitude. These are the people you want in your business.
From here, you’ll need to make sure everyone knows where they fit in. You’ll therefore need a company organisational chart. It doesn’t matter if you have four staff or twenty-four. It’s critical that everyone knows their place.
Ours looked like this:
The next step – create a Roles and Responsibilities document.
This is where you write down every task that every staff member performs in your business. We used the following categories:
It takes some time BUT it is awesome for your business.
Everybody knows exactly what they are responsible for and exactly what everyone else in the business is responsible for.
When there is any doubt or confusion, it is there in writing, clear as day for you to look back and refer to. When two or more people share responsibility for a task, we simply asterix (*) the owner of the task who shoulders ultimate responsibility.
Aim for an even revenue spread
…and avoid any unhealthy reliance.
By the time we were making $2 million in revenue per year, we felt we had a really comfortable revenue spread.
Other divisions of the business (MPT Corporate Events / MPT Worldwide Journeys)
Each of these had potential for growth and it meant we slept well at night knowing that if something happened and revenue dried up or even disappeared from any of the above, our business would be fine.
So, right now if you’re at a place in your business where you’ve turned the corner, you’re established and ambitious, and now you feel ready to ‘step it up’ and aim big… make sure you’re paying close attention to these fundamentals I’ve laid out.
By doing so, you’re absolutely going to be setting yourself up for success.
If you enjoyed this article and found it really helpful, please take a moment to download the ’15 Steps to a 7 Figure Tour Business’. It’s a look ‘behind the curtain’ at the step by step process we took to turn a vague idea into a multi 7 figure tour company.