For most people and the casual tourists, working as a tour guide may look easy and seem effortless. They do not see the preparation and the amount of effort that every tour guide goes through prior to and at the end of each tour that he/she leads.
At the end of the day, each and every one of these tour guides will tell you, they love what they do and they enjoy sharing something special about the city or town to visitors and tourists alike. Yet as every job entails, there are challenges that, at some point in their working lives, all guides experience.
Here are the three main challenges that a private tour guide will eventually go through and will successfully overcome:
1. Creating a unique tour experience
Creating a unique tour experience for travelers is certainly one of the main challenges every private tour guide has when he/she tries to put together his/her tour offerings. Here are some thoughts as to go about developing a unique spin of your own.
Research, research, and more research – For many travelers, you’ll be the first impression they get whenever they will be visiting your city or town and are looking for you to be the expert of sorts, even an unofficial ambassador if you will. So rediscover your city or neighborhood and see it as if you’re visiting for the first time. Be on the lookout for trends, what’s hot and happening in your city/town, the up and coming locations.
Check out your competition – See what other tour guides are offering and even sign up for their tour or two. By scoping out your co-private tour guides, you get the benefit of seeing their individual styles, how they interact with their group, how the group reacts to them, are they telling a good story, what other tours they offer, etc. When you’re done, you are then able to see where you stand, and thereby make adjustments, whether to improve yourself as a guide and/or add/subtract your own tour offerings.
Know yourself – Once you know what the other private guides are doing and what’s trending in your city or town, now it’s your turn for introspection and reflection. By incorporating the elements that you are passionate about with the things that interest you into your tour offerings, travelers can’t help but notice not only your infectious energy and positive vibes but also be more receptive and interested in the information you’re providing through your storytelling.
Are you a foodie? Maybe create a tour that showcases your city’s best street foods that locals frequent or food trucks that make delicious treats like donuts or waffles with a twist? Are you an avid hiker? Perhaps create a hiking trail tour that is near your city and is a hidden gem – one with spectacular views of the city. Do the change of seasons inspire you? Perhaps consider a fall foliage hiking tour or a Halloween macabre tour. How about a rooftop city gardens tour in the spring and summer?
Listen and pay more attention – Do you often hear travelers say something like, “Oh, I wish we could do something like this or gotten this from that shop because it’s sooo good…” Well, part of creating a unique tour experience includes making small random acts or gestures that make your group appreciate you, which makes a huge impact on you and so helps make you stand out from everyone else.
Perhaps you notice that most people on your group like to have a bit of free time to explore, so why not make adjustments and accommodate them? Maybe your group needs a short break and while resting you offer sample treats that are a specialty in your city or town? Or at the conclusion of the tour, offer to send an email with names and addresses of shops or sights that the group had seen and some members want to go back and check it out on their own?
You may not get to do this all the time, but when you have the opportunity, these simple acts do not go unnoticed. In fact, they can help you get positive reviews from your customers who share them with others, thus building your customer base.
2. Getting your first 20 customers
For new private tour guides especially, getting your first twenty (20) customers may appear daunting, so here are a few suggestions that can ease your worries and become confident in your ability reach your customers:
Network, network, and more networking – In any business venture, building relationships is one of the cornerstones, and this is especially true in the travel industry. Meet and connect with as many people as possible because you never know who will bring you leads or who will send potential customers/travelers your way. This could be the local chapter of your tour guide association, your neighbor across the hall or down the street, the police officer that patrols the neighborhood, your local community representative, restaurant or food truck proprietors, small business owners, the staff at the tourist information office, your family, your friends, and your social media contacts and communities, and even your fellow private tour guides.
Create/update your tour guide profile – Not only are you building your networks through traditional means, but also supplementing that by building networks online. If you haven’t already, create your business, that is, your tour guide profile via social media outlets. Google+, Facebook, and Instagram are some of the most popular.
You may be wondering why use Google+? The answer is, since Google is one of the most used search engines ever, and Google naturally will include Google+ in its search criteria, thus having a better chance of getting found via its search results. That’s a separate topic we can expound in a separate article.
Make sure you complete your profile by filling all the fields such as contact info and a brief bio. Include a photo of yourself and, if possible, include short clips of videos together with the list of tours your offer so potential travelers can see what your tour is about, what your style is like, etc.
Include detailed descriptions of each offered tour, what the highlights are, how long it’s going to be, how strenuous it would be (i.e. does it involve a lot of walking with steep inclines and lots of steps) and accessories needed (water bottle, hat, and sunscreen if outdoors in the summer, coat/layering during cold months). Most importantly, you can add the positive traveler feedback and reviews you’ve received or will receive, which greatly increases your presence online and get you noticed.
When you are done, you can link your profile to other websites such companies you partner and associate with like travel companies, tour companies, traveler resources such as TAG Your Guide.
3. Budgeting / Handling Finances
Let’s face it, the reality for private tour guides is, when it comes to earnings, it will not come in a steady stream of income. That said, here are some ways to prepare for that inevitable rainy day:
Create separate accounts for specific purposes – This is extremely important especially when it comes to organizing your money and ensuring you are saving enough and setting aside for those expenses and necessary obligations.
For example, create an account just for paying taxes. Private tour guides are considered self-employed and thus it is up to you to set aside a portion of your earnings (roughly 30%) for income taxes. So come tax time, you pay Uncle Sam what you owe from this dedicated account.
You also create a separate account for expenses like rent/mortgage, utilities, groceries, car payments, and student loans. Finally, you also create separate accounts for retirement, like a Roth IRA, for insurance (disability and health coverage), and for your emergency fund (equivalent to about 3-6 months living expenses).
Automate Transfer – Set this up in such a way that every time you receive income, you allocate accordingly by transferring funds to your earmarked accounts. By doing so will help make you disciplined and organized financially despite not having a steady paycheck.
Hire/Consult professional tax professional – The IRS considers you a self-employed individual and if you are not sure how to properly file taxes, minimize your tax exposure, and if you are the type of person who shudders come tax time, lessen your burden by hiring a tax professional. Depending on your situation, you may have to pay your tax preparer more, but it’s worth it to have peace of mind and avoid getting audited.
To wrap up, working as a private tour guide is not easy and it has its own set of challenges. Just like with other professions that are entrepreneurial in nature, you are your own brand and a business at the same time. By recognizing what makes you tick, acknowledging what makes you unique, and setting yourself properly financially, will help you stand out in the long run. Succinctly, take care of yourself in all aspects and this will lead you to a successful career in our demanding and satisfying profession.
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