Are you still trying to figure out how to charge fees for your expert services? If so, read this.
So there’s this man…Ok, actually, there is this kid named Tom Taylor. He also goes by “Tsquared” and is apparently one of the best video game players in the world. Yes, video games. He’s a professional video game player (being a professional, like in any other sport, means you get paid, have sponsors, etc.). He belongs to a professional video game playing league. These video gamers are fanatics as you know; they play video games for hours and hours, day after day. They go to hotels and convention centers to play in tournaments. Video games are big. One thing all gamers have in common is they all want to get better. They want to be the best and they want to win. They’re looking for the ultimate video game experience.
Back to Tom, I mean “Tsquared”. As it turns out, this guy is good (he makes $100,000 a year playing a game called “Halo 3” on the Major League Gaming circuit) and a few friends started asking him for tips. Tips turned into lessons which morphed into one-on-one tutoring sessions where he gives advice and teaches. At first, he was giving advice for free, but not any longer. “What’s his going rate now?” you ask. According to Entrepreneur Magazine, he charges $115 an hour. Now get this, he is so busy, he started a company called Gaming Lessons and recruited some of his expert students to be instructors to pick up his overflow of consulting clients. Their rates, by the way, start at $45 an hour. He now has sixteen instructors to help him with all the customers.
So, where am I going with this? Just last week I was on a call with a few travel agents, some of whom were Tripologists. Some of the agents were asking one of the successful Tripologists how she charges fees. Really, I was amazed. It’s 2009 and some folks are still nervous about charging service fees.
After I sold Zeus Tours and Yacht Cruises and my employment contract was up, I spent two years consulting. I know how hard it is to charge fees. I remember when I first started, I had so many questions. How much should I charge? For which services should I charge fees and which services should I offer complimentary? Trust me, I know it can be hard. Here are a few concepts that helped me plus a few other pointers.
1) Be an expert at something, be it a trip type or a destination. (I can hear some of you now going “Here he goes again…”) Well yes, here I go again. Look at Tsquared (hey, he gets $115 an hour; I should likely call him Mr. Tsquared). He is an expert, a real professional. He plays video games for “eight to fourteen hours a day to keep his skills sharp” according to Entrepreneur Magazine. When you know something cold, like the back of your hand, forget charging fees, you can COMMAND fees. People want advice, but not from people that do a little research and regurgitate information. They want advice from experts. They want advice from people with first-hand knowledge and experience. Do you go to Italy every year? Have you seen and stayed at dozens of hotels there? Have you eaten at many different restaurants there? Can you recommend a great local Chianti? Yes? Yes. Yes! Cha-ching…People will pay for that kind of insight.
2) If you want prospective client to regard you as an expert, you need to look and act like one. What does your website look like? Does it scream about your specialty or is it an off-the-shelf website template? If you’re an Italy expert, to continue the example above, does it have pictures of Italy? Videos of Italy? Recipes of your favorite Italian dish? Helpful Italian phrases you might need while traveling in Italy? Or, does it say “Disney, Cruises and Tours, we do it all”? Does it have a blog section, where you (at least once a week) write about all things Italy? Are you getting the picture?
3) Do you speak the language? All things being equal, if there are two Italy specialists and one says they speak Italian and the other doesn’t, whom do you think a consumer will trust more? Corrigere, la persona chi parla italiano (correct, the person that speaks Italian). If you haven’t seen or heard about Rosetta Stone, look them up online. Their language classes on DVD and CD are apparently very easy to use and they’re very reasonably priced. With some time and a few hundred bucks, you’ll be speaking another language in no time. There is no doubt in my mind this investment would pay for itself fairly quickly, not to mention that you can impress your friends and family.
4) If your specialty is a “what” and not a “where”, say golf, then you better “speak” golf and be up on the latest information. I don’t mean you should know the difference between Callaway and Ping, that’s a given, but you better know the key courses in your favorite destinations and it would be a big benefit if you knew the starters (like a course manager) at those courses too.
5) If you are indeed an expert but still, for some reason, nervous about charging fees, start small; a $10 per reservation or per hour fee for “handling”. But, charge something; it will get you over your fear. Then, after a few of these, double it. Then, double it again. Really, if you’re truly an expert at something, I’m telling you people will pay for your expert advice. Again, what they won’t pay for is some information that can be found easily online.
6) Do you find yourself not really being an expert at a destination? Well, hop on plane, fast. Travel is affordable and fams are even less expensive. I don’t care if it’s Athens, Greece or Athens, Georgia or Disney. If you want to be an expert in that destination, you need to go there…often. If you live in a popular vacation spot – like Miami’s South Beach – then you can even start there. Get to know all of the attractions, become involved in the local CVB and Hotels Association, familiarize yourself with the restaurants, night scene, family fun, etc. that makes your destination thrive as a draw for tourists. You need to have friends that work at the hotel you recommend. You need to know the restaurants in the area. You need to know the “ins and outs” of everything involved with getting there, staying there and enjoying the destination. Find out-of-the-way hidden gems, like a quaint place to eat or a little-known antique store; something that shows you know really know the place.
I mention all of this because it is so much easier to charge a service fee when you appropriately present yourself as a real expert; your website shows it, your knowledge of the destination demonstrates it, you know the ins and outs, and you speak the language. Expertise is priceless. When in doubt, remember Tsquared; he’s making $115 an hour giving advice and you should be as well.