Bradley Schnickel is a travel adviser with years of experience providing high-quality travel advice. He loves exploring new places, experiencing fascinating new areas, and providing help for his many clients. Over the years, he has worked his business up from a small one-person startup to a significant enterprise.
He loves spending time with his family, walking his beautiful huskies, playing racketball, and recording blues songs with his brother. He recently sat down to discuss his experiences to provide people in a similar position with the help needed to push forward and succeed at a higher level.
How did you get started in this business?
Just out of college, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with myself. I had my business degree and knew I wanted to start up a service focused on travel. I just wasn’t sure what yet! So my first job was as a travel agent, just something to pay the bills. I set up people on trips.
Working for travel agencies was fun but tiring. I was putting in all the hard work and seeing none of the profit. So I figured: why not do this myself? I already knew the business model inside and out and felt like I could do a better job with it than my current employer.
So I saved up some money, quit, got a little capital from some investors, and started the arduous journey to the top. I can’t say that it was always easy or fun. The challenge sometimes overwhelmed me. But it was so worth the difficulty. I’m happier now than I have ever been!
How do you make money?
My business model focuses on providing advice and booking help for people looking to travel. As an adviser, I teach people things like preparing their passports, planning a trip throughout their destination, cutting back on expenses, and much more. They pay me directly for this service.
However, I also get funds from various organizations throughout my travel areas. They pay me to promote their companies and their unique operations. I carefully choose the companies I work with, only focusing on those businesses I truly believe are worth the support.
And I’m transparent about this connection with my customers. So they know about these services and can choose my preferred teams or go with their schedule. My goal is to satisfy my customers and give them the engaging travel experience they want and deserve for their needs.
How long did it take for you to become profitable?
A lot longer than I’d hoped! The fact that I kept my business so small for the first few years helped out. Working for yourself is nice that way. I only had to pay myself for many years, meaning that my overhead was low. I’d say it probably took me about five years to start turning a real profit finally.
During that time, I could turn that profit back into the business and expand. So, for example, I started hiring other travel advisers with different experiences, people who better understand booking platforms, and individuals with excellent personal skills who could work with challenging clients.
When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted it would work? If so, how did you handle that?
Until the day I started making regular profits, I continually doubted it would work! I never doubted myself or my ability to bounce back from these problems, mind you. However, it just seemed like the hours of work I put in were just not going anywhere for me.
The only way I handled it was by sticking to it and never giving up hope. I’ve seen so many of my compatriots in this business just give up and let their dreams die. I couldn’t go back to a 9-5 job making money for somebody else. I was honestly happier working hard and struggling for myself.
Naturally, there were days when I wanted to quit. Just throw in the towel and go back to everyday life. But I’m so glad that I didn’t! My most considerable help was my family. They constantly supported me and gave me the help that I needed to stay focused. I’d probably not be where I am without them.
How did you get your first customer?
That’s a funny story, actually. I had just set up my domain name and website and was primarily working out of my bedroom. My wife works full-time, so I had a lot of time and energy to devote to my business. Well, it was about the second or third day when I got a call.
“Hello,” they said, “I’d like to book a trip with (my old employer).” It was someone I knew from past booking experiences, an individual I’d built up a good relationship with as a person. But, unfortunately, I had to tell them that I no longer worked with them, and they expressed dismay.
“You’re the only reason I ever booked with them,” he said. Well, seeing my opportunity, I mentioned my new business. He was more than ready to work with me, and I set up his trip that day! Here’s the cool thing: I still get business from him even now.
What is one marketing strategy (other than referrals) that you’re using that works really well to generate new business?
SEO marketing transformed my business faster than I would have believed. I’d honestly mostly ignored the possibilities of keyword placement and content and just started writing blogs for my site as something fun to do. My traffic increased almost exponentially after I started.
You don’t need to hire a team to handle this skill for you at first. For the first few years, I used Google Analytics and other tools to write the content myself. This is because I enjoy writing and mostly did okay. Once you can afford it, though, get a team that can boost your SEO scores as much as possible.
What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?
I had to fire one of my long-time travel advisers for some questionable behavior. They were unethically getting kickbacks from non-associated businesses and suggesting them to our customers. This person had been with me since I expanded and was a big part of our success.
But you can’t start breaking ethical rules and guidelines like that without punishment. Consistency is essential, as is transparency and honesty. They tried to sue me over this decision, but the case died before it came to trial. I lost a great friend, but these decisions must be made in the business world.
What do you think it is that makes you successful?
I know I’ve said this a few times already, but I honestly believe transparency and honesty with your customers are critical for success. They are particularly crucial for this business. Customers who end up with a travel package that doesn’t meet their needs will be miserable.
I am willing to tell my customers about uncomfortable truths about where they want to travel and won’t book a trip unless I feel each customer is safe. As a result, I get a lot of repeat business, people who come to me time and time again to get the help necessary for each of their trips.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
The day I moved out of my house and set up an office was the most thrilling, satisfying, and frightening thing I’ve ever done. The office wasn’t cheap, but it gave my company legitimacy it had lacked before. Seeing my business name on a sign just gave me chills.
Even now, after we’ve left that office and expanded to bigger and better things, I still drive by that business front and feel the same emotions. So it’s impressive that, even after all the money we’ve made and the growth we’ve experienced, this office still inspires me in that way.
Second to that moment was the day that I could tell my wife she no longer needed to work: the business was successful enough for her to focus on her writing and art. She’s always been a creative who needed a lot of time to work in this way and giving her that freedom made me incredibly happy.
What does the future hold for your business? What are you most excited about?
I’m genuinely thrilled that we’re expanding into international operation in the future! We’re going to open up offices in Canada and Mexico and look to European centers in the future. These will be small satellite offices, but I think the growth potential is almost unlimited in these areas.
I’m also excited to tap into some relatively underutilized areas of the world. For example, did you know Greenland gets very little tourism every year? I think we can change that. Look at Iceland’s explosion in the tourist trade in recent years. Greenland is a harder sell, but there are some fascinating elements there.
Honestly, every day that I get to wake up and do this job is exciting for me. It has exceeded my wildest expectations and given me the kind of joy I always hoped I’d get. The future looks limitless as long as we continue our current business model and adapt to trends and changes in the market.
What business books have inspired you?
One of the best books I ever read was “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t.” James Collins had some fantastic insight into what separates a good and successful company from a genuinely thriving one. I’ve never read a more insightful book on that topic.
David Allen also wrote an exciting book “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. That book changed my whole approach to work. It was advantageous when I started to expand, as I learned to give tasks to other people besides myself.
I particularly enjoyed “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” for my negotiating skills” by Robert Cialdini. This book outlined different ways you can encourage your clients and persuade them to do what you want. The skills here are almost devious and helped me enhance my business.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
R-E-L-A-X! You can’t imagine how over-the-top and energetic I was in my first few years of business. I worked long hours and probably made more trouble for myself than necessary by taking on too much work for myself. I didn’t trust anybody else to handle my business with the same passion.
That’s one reason why I didn’t expand much for five years beyond profit margin issues. If I could go back and give myself any advice, I would relax and trust other people. Everybody has unique skills that they can bring to a business. Opening up helps to make that experience more enjoyable.
I would also tell myself to push a little more for clients and work harder to create recurring client bases. At first, I mainly focused on getting as many clients as possible and got overwhelmed. And while I still have many first-time customers, I still earn the most business from repeat travelers.
Are you willing to be a mentor? If so, how should someone contact you?
I love being a mentor and enjoy working with young people like me trying to succeed. The best way to reach me is through my personal website. Drop a line here and put the phrase “I Need a Mentor” in the subject heading.
I will filter for this phrase and answer all of these emails directly. Unfortunately, I cannot mentor everybody who may want help, but I will do what I can, to be honest, and direct with everyone interested in getting mentorship with me. I find it incredibly rewarding beyond my overall success.