Group Travel Tips for Direct Groups: Part 2 – Planning Your Trip Timeline

Now that you have decided on the purpose of your group trip, where you want to travel and what time of the year, you will now be faced with the task of planning your group tour. There will be many questions to answer, lots of details to complete and numerous deadlines to meet. Knowing what to tackle first, what decisions to make and what support you will need throughout both the planning period and on the trip will help make the process run smoothly. The key is to plan far in advance.The planning all begins with a timeline. Following are some general guidelines for mapping out the period from when the seed is planted until the departure date. Note: This timeline may differ depending upon your type of group, what destination you have chosen and when you may be traveling.18 Months Prior to DepartureWho will be invited to participate?
Determine the approximate length and dates of the trip.
Begin researching your chosen destination to find out what attractions, museums, theme parks, outdoor adventures, water parks, etc. you would like to attend and the costs associated with each.
Begin researching transportation, hotels, vacation homes, dining and shopping (if applicable) and the costs associated with each.
If this is a school trip, talk with the school principal and/or administration to receive their approval.10 to 12 Months Prior to DepartureSet firm dates.
If flying, final pricing may not be available until 10 months prior to departure. Also, arrange transportation to and from the airport when you have secured your flights.
Motorcoach/minibus companies also work 10 months in advance. If traveling by motorcoach or minibus, you should begin the quoting/booking process now and choose a transportation company.
If you are traveling by van(s) from your hometown, then begin the quoting/booking process from van rental companies.
Begin the hotel/vacation home resort quoting/booking process. After receiving the quotes, choose a hotel/vacation home resort and book it!
If you have decided to include meals in the trip, begin the group-friendly restaurant, dinner show quoting/booking process. After receiving the quotes, choose which restaurants your group desires and book them!
If shopping is important to your group, this will be a good time to request a meet/greet to obtain discounts from the shopping center/retail store.
If you are a youth group, determine who your chaperones will be which may include parents, teachers, sponsors, etc.
Project the estimated/approximate cost per person.
Announce the tour including the cost per person and start promoting it by means of email, flyers, posters, website, social media, newsletters, etc.
Set up a deposit and payment schedule for each member in your group as they sign up.
If participating in a music/dance/theatre festival, fill out all paperwork and submit.
If you desire travel insurance, now is the time to research, fill out paperwork and submit.6 to 9 Months Prior to DepartureContinue promoting the trip via newsletters, social media, emails, meetings, etc., keeping interest alive in those who have signed up and possibly attracting a few more to sign up.
If you are a school group, scouting troop, youth group etc., begin fundraising activities if needed.
If your trip is an educational tour, create a list of reading materials or study exercises to prepare students for the trip
Distribute a copy of the itinerary to all members of your group (meetings, association, youth group, scouting, religious, reunion, etc.)
Participants should be signed up with deposits paid.
Confirm all reservations including hotel/vacation homes, transportation, attractions, dining, shopping, travel insurance and anything else.4 Months Prior to DepartureContinue promoting the trip via newsletters, social media, emails, meetings, etc., keeping interest alive in those who have signed up and possibly attracting a few more to sign up.
Contact anyone who has shown an interest but still has not committed.
Continue fundraising if needed.
Collect payments per your payment schedule.3 Months Prior to DepartureFinal payments are due from those who have paid deposits, made payments, etc.
Finalize lists of all participants and choose roommates for hotels (if applicable), seating arrangements on the motorcoach (if applicable), and/or seating arrangements on your flight if flying
Purchase all theme park, attraction, water park and dinner show tickets and begin making final payments to your chosen hotel/vacation homes, restaurants, transportation companies, etc.1 Month Prior to DepartureSchedule a final meeting to confirm the details of your trip including packing lists, travel tips and any last-minute information.
Make sure you obtain emergency contact, medical and allergy information from each traveler.
If you are a youth group, make sure parents have your emergency contact information.
Make sure all permission forms, travel insurance forms, etc. are completed for each traveler.As previously stated, the above timeline is a general guide and can differ depending upon your type of group, what destination you have chosen and when you may be traveling. Use this timeline as a guide to map out your trip from the start of planning to the departure date. By employing this step-by-step process, you will be able to successfully plan each stage of your group trip resulting in a smooth tour without any surprises.

Branding: A Brand Is More Than a Logo

What is Branding?

Let’s face it, brands are everywhere. A brand is how we identify products, services, people, places and religions. Everything can be “branded,” however, a brand is more than just a logo or identity; it represents a symbolic construct created within the minds of people that consists of all the information, expectations and personality associated with a company, product or service. It can symbolize confidence, passion, belonging, or a set of unique values. A brand is an experience.

Branding has been around for more than 5,000 years. Historically, branding was used as a way for farmers to stamp their livestock, a way of saying, “that’s mine.” By the 20th century, it had evolved into more than just a way for farmers to mark their property; the industrial revolution introduced mass-produced goods and the need for companies to sell their products to a wider market. By applying branding to packaged goods, the manufacturers could increase the consumer’s familiarity with their products in an effort to build trust and loyalty. Campbell Soup, Juicy Fruit Gum and Quaker Oats were among the first products to be ‘branded.’

In the 1900′s, companies adopted slogans, mascots and jingles that began to appear on radio and television. Marketers soon began to recognize the way in which consumers were developing relationships with brands in a social and psychological sense, and over time learned to develop their brand’s identity and personality traits; such as youthfulness, luxury or fun. Branding became more personal. This evolved into the practice we now know as “branding” today, where the consumers buy “the brand” instead of the product. This trend continued to the 1980s, and is often quantified in concepts such as brand value and brand equity.

In today’s modern digital age, the Internet and social media have had major impacts on branding in a very short time. Brands are now more connected to consumers than ever before across numerous “touch points”-websites, blogs, social media, videos, television, magazines, mobile phones, applications, games, events and even art installations are all common channels where brands are engaging consumers. Unlike 20th century practices where consumers were passive receivers of messages, today’s successful branding campaigns involve multidimensional, two-way communication where consumers participate, share, and interact with a brand. Branding has become a physical, social and psychological experience.

The “brand experience” is the concept that a company’s identity and design evoke certain sensations, feelings and cognitions for the consumer. Several dimensions can distinguish the brand experience: sensory, affective, intellectual, and behavioral. Such stimuli appear as part of a brand’s design and identity, packaging, communications, and environments. Prime examples of some of the most experiential brands are Victoria’s Secret, Apple and Starbucks. Not only is branding about the individual’s awareness of the brand, but the experience the brand brings to the individual; the prospect that the individual moves from awareness of the product to consideration, to loyalty, to advocate. Hewlett Packard CEO, Meg Whitman, says, “When people use your brand as a verb, that’s remarkable.” For example, “Google it,” “Skype date?” or “Photoshop that picture!”

A strong brand is a critical marketing asset, as important to your business as the product itself. In our rapidly changing and increasingly complex world, technology and human interaction are intersecting in new ways, creating an experience economy where trust, conversation and brand portability are crucial to remaining relevant. Big will no longer beat the small. It will be the fast beating the slow.

3 Time Management Tactics Every Real Estate Agent Should Know

In today’s world of breakthrough technology it’s easier than ever to stay connected. Laptops, Blackberries, and iPhone’s combined with social networks like Facebook, Linkedin, and Twitter provide business professionals (especially real estate agents) with powerful tools to not only establish many new relationships but also to stay up to date with those relationships on a consistent basis.Although these new methods of staying in touch may provide new opportunities for expanding our personal network, they also present many challenges when it comes to staying productive and focusing our energy into activities that really improve our business and our lives. For real estate agents, this is especially crucial because selling real estate is all about relationships.What can agents do to manage, not only their relationships, but also their time, energy, and health? In this article, we are going to look at three ways that you can begin to manage your time, energy, and relationships in a way that keeps you and your clients most productive.1. Focus on your biggest opportunities instead of getting caught up in busy work. It’s so easy to get caught up in the “doing-ness” of day to day activities that we lose sight of what’s really important in our life. All the little things that need to be done cry out for our immediate attention and before we know it the whole day is gone. Sometimes we are left asking ourselves, “where did all the time go?” or “what did I accomplish today?”The problem stems from a mistaken belief that if we are “doing” lots of stuff, that we are being “productive”. It turns out that how much we do is not necessarily important; it’s also what we do that counts. The specifics of this will be different for each agent, of course. You will have to figure this out based on your own approach to real estate sales, your expertise, and where you have the most success.For example, you could spend two hours working on fancy business cards and letterhead, or you could call up some prospects that you met at the last open house. Which activity is more productive in the long run? Which one will benefit your business the most? Usually our biggest opportunities lay in wait while we attend to menial day to day busy work. It’s not until we identify our biggest opportunities and make a focused effort to work on them, that we will make real progress in building our business. So ask yourself, “What are my biggest opportunities?” See if you can list 5 activities that will lead to real business results.2. Take care of yourself and your clients by setting clear boundaries If you close your eyes and imagine the ideal “successful” agent, you will probably find yourself imagining a person who is not only busy, but also on their phone constantly. A phone that rings often can be a wonderful thing for an agent (especially in this market). So it would make sense for an agent to make him or herself available as often as possible, right? Well, maybe.We want to be by the phone when that important call comes in, (such as a call from a referral or a call to close a deal), yet we don’t want to be waking up at 2 am to answer calls from wrong numbers or even freaked out buyers (so they can freak us out too). Where do we draw the line when it comes to taking business calls versus unplugging and getting some rest and relaxation?On the one hand, we want to be available to our clients and serve them as best we can, yet on the other hand we also have to take care of ourselves both physically and mentally. If we mistakenly believe that being a real estate agent means that we have to sacrifice everything (including our well-being) to serve our clients and get the listing, then our health will start to suffer. Then, consciously or unconsciously, we may begin to resent our clients, our work, or our life in general.If we don’t keep our energy tank full by maintaining health self-care, then we can become sick and tired and unhappy. Guess what that does to our business? Yea, it’s not so good. How can we expect to take care of our clients if we aren’t taking care of ourselves? The answer lies in finding the right balance of work and rest. This means setting clear boundaries when it comes to taking client calls and checking emails.I can hear the questions already, “but real estate agents must always be available, it’s part of the job, otherwise they may miss out on all the deals!” This type of reasoning is usually coming out of an anxious part of ourself, the one that acts out of scarcity and need.People like agents who are friendly, knowledgeable, and professional. If you set clear hours of when you are working and communicate them to your client, what you are communicating is your standards of integrity. They may not like it (especially if they go into an emotional frenzy and can’t get a hold of you) but at a deep level, they will respect you. And best of all, you will respect you.By setting clear times when you are taking calls and checking emails, you establish boundaries and focus your energy. Without clear boundaries, our mind (and energy) becomes scattered and we soon feel like we are being pulled in every direction. Some people call it A.D.D. but frankly it’s just a lack of ability to focus and set boundaries.Our body will usually tell us when we are done; we get very tired, can’t concentrate well, and become easily distracted. By becoming aware of when our body usually checks out of work, we can create a schedule of times of the day when we are available and when we are unavailable.Of course, when deals are closing and things get down to the wire, you can make adjustments. The key is to service your clients as best you can while still taking care of yourself. Ask yourself, “what boundaries do I need to set with my clients so that I can be healthy enough to best serve them?” Remember, you are the deal maker, and when you are in a vibrant state of mind with a ton of energy, good things happen!3. Build recovery into your work routine This one is related to the last tactic in that we have to stay conscious of our own energy level if we intend to perform with maximum effectiveness. They key with any real estate agent is to figure out “when am I going to stop working and recovery my energy?”For most regular jobs, a person works Monday through Friday then gets the weekend off. For real estate agents, the weekend is where all the action happens! Yet, during the week is when all the paperwork and follow up calls happen. So it becomes very easy for agents to work 7 days a week without set days for them to rest. Combine this with constant phone calls, emails, and inconsistent commissions; it’s no wonder many agents live under constant stress.If we are going full speed without any rest, then it’s only a matter of time before we burn out. This is why it’s crucial to set aside time to recover. This means to completely unplug from work and “do nothing” for a little while, at least. Now the amount can vary depending on your level of business and your preference. For some, this may mean taking a month off in another country at the end of each year, for others it could be taking a weekend getaway after a big deal closes, or for others it could simply be a 20 minute power nap midway through the day.They important thing is to build in this period of recover into our work schedule, one in which we completely disconnect from cell phones, email, and work altogether. We can read a book, meditate, do some yoga, whatever. The idea is that we have to recharge our battery. A good rule of thumb is to take 5 or 10 minutes rest for every hour of intensely focused work.When we go too long without full periods of recovery, then our capacity to do work slowly and consistently diminishes. So while a certain work-related activity may take us 20 minutes, if we are overworked and low on energy, that same activity could take 50 minutes. Compound this effect over years and you get the idea. By building in set periods of recovery, we return to our work with renewed vigor and clarity. We may have slightly less “work time”, but our capacity to work will be much greater and we will likely do even more work that we could have done otherwise.Professional athletes are very familiar with this concept. They train hard and then they recover. Then, the next time their capacity to perform is even greater. In the real estate business it’s the same. If you are worried about losing leads during your recovery period, see if you can direct calls to a fellow agent while you rest and do the same for them. Get creative, there is always a solution. It’s just a matter of making your energy and health a priority. So there you have it, three simple yet counter-intuitive secrets to becoming more productive in your real estate business.
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