Here’s How This Stay-at-Home Mom Launched Her Travel Business From Scratch
Virge and Cheryl Cavalli were at a crossroads.
After 12 years of raising two daughters as a stay-at-home mom, Cheryl wanted to go back to work. But she needed the flexibility to be available for her children as they became busy teenagers.
She found the ideal opportunity: She’d launch a business as a home-based travel agent who provides personalized service to her clients. It was the perfect fit for Cheryl, a veteran traveler who had always loved planning out her family’s vacations.
And after suffering for years, the travel agent industry has been rebounding as more travelers are finding value in their services. Travel agents can save their clients time, money and hassles, as well as make sense of the glut of information available online, and find the best promotions and deals.
Now, while Virge continued commuting to his office for his business development job, Cheryl would work from home, planning her customers’ trips from door to door — cruises, resorts, trips to Disney or Universal theme parks, transfers, tickets, excursions, events, the works.
She would also have the flexibility to take off in the middle of the day if one of their 10- or 12-year-old daughters got sick or needed to be dropped off at team practices after school.
First, though, the couple would need to figure out the challenges that come with starting your own business.
Some Big Decisions Right Off the Bat
Before they could officially launch the business, Virge and Cheryl had some research to do.
They didn’t have to start a corporation. But under the state laws of New Jersey, Cheryl had to register as a sole proprietor — basically a one-person business. That was pretty simple. So was registering online for a state business certificate and a business tax number.
Cheryl opened a business bank account. She also learned she’d need errors and omissions insurance, a form of professional liability insurance.
For newbies thinking about starting a business, the U.S. Small Business Administration has this useful checklist of 10 steps you should take. They include figuring out your business structure, filing to pay taxes, and acquiring a business license.
Cheryl had previously used Facebook mostly to post cute photos of her children. She had a lot to learn about how to use various social media platforms to promote her business and educate people about travel. “I’m asking my kids, ‘How does Snapchat work?’”
Savvy entrepreneurs follow a few best practices for social media. Whatever social media platform you’re using, you have to strike a balance between engaging your audience and too much self-promotion.
Most of your posts should be sharing useful or interesting content.
With a home-based business like Cheryl’s, you don’t have a brick-and-mortar office location for the public to see, so it’s crucially important to trumpet the fact that your business exists.
Cheryl spent her first year in her new career learning what kind of marketing works for her and what doesn’t — which business networking group to join, which community fairs she should rent a table at.
Marketing your own small business is a challenge. It’s important to attend networking events and to not be shy. Get your name out there!
Look into whether email marketing could work for you. Have a short and interesting “elevator pitch” about what you do.
Her new business would need a website, obviously. She chose the name PipeDreamVacations.com because it spells out what her business is all about.
A good website is crucial. Here’s a story about a woman who built her own business and its website in 30 days on the cheap.
The Cavalli’s figured they’d need $20,000 to get her new business off the ground.
That would cover start-up costs, like marketing, business cards, trade show fees, launching the website, and a keeping a cash cushion while she was building up her clientele. It would also enable her to become a travel agent with Cruise Planners, the nation’s largest home-based travel agent franchise network.
Entrepreneurs use different ways to pull together their startup money. Some use crowdfunding, like this young inventor who started a business while he was still in college. Others look for investors.
Virge and Cheryl decided to borrow the money. One problem: They dreaded the prospect of filling out piles of paperwork for a home equity loan, and the endless hassle of shopping around for the best interest rates and loan terms.
“We weren’t looking forward to jumping through all those hoops,” Virge recalls.
That’s when they found Fiona. Virge went to the website, typed in the couple’s information, and it produced a series of personalized loan offers.
“All of the major loan providers were presented in a very simple table — what their rates were, what the terms were,” he said. They got a $20,000, three-year loan with a 5.9% interest rate from SoFi, an online personal finance company.
‘Building Something of My Own’
Have you ever thought about starting your own work-at-home business? Creating your own flexible schedule? Working in your pajamas?
Here are three other people who started theirs from scratch, with the help of online courses. One started taking courses from Transcribe Anywhere. Another started taking a course called Learn to be a Bookkeeper, and a third took online courses from Proofread Anywhere. Each makes at least $1,200 per month.
As for Cheryl, she launched her business a year ago. Since then, she has taken to her new career like a duck to water.
She’s been steadily building a base of clients. She has also mastered the art of being a long-distance Mrs. Fix-It if one of her traveling clients runs into a jam while on vacation.
“I love it. It’s a 24/7 job, and dinner has been late a few times,” she says, laughing. “But I can arrange most of my day around my kids’ schedule, and participate in their school and sport activities.”
“I get to do something I’m passionate about, and I’m building something of my own.”
Mike Brassfield ([email protected]) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. He needs to start traveling again.