Travel Agency – Going places

In recent years, travelling for work and for pleasure has become an integral part of our lifestyle. Unlike till a couple of decades ago, when travel would be mainly for religious purposes, today, people travel within and outside the country for business and to simply take  a break from routine.

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Image Courtesy- Google Images

A lot of nitty-gritty is involved in travelling including booking tickets for travel, arranging for stay, food and for local transport. There is a sizeable expense involved as well as uncertainty. If travel is not planned well, it could result in waste of money and inconvenience. The point is, there needs to be somebody with thorough knowledge and access to information to help the traveler in planning the travel.  This is where the business of travel agency emerges as a very useful resource.

You could think of starting a small set up with minimum capital, staff and space. Look for a space of about 200 sq. ft in an area convenient for customers. The approximate deposit may be Rs. 50000/- and a monthly rent of Rs. 10000/-.  A computer, printer and a laptop may be estimated at Rs. 80000/- and furniture at Rs. 30000/-. You will need to spend about Rs. 2000/- on registrations and licenses, plus Rs. 10000/- to print marketing material like brochures and leaflets. Taking into account salary to one employee, repairs and maintenance, phone and electricity, depreciation, EMI etc, broadly you can make a net income of about Rs. 35000/- per month.

It is necessary to be a member of the Enterprising Travel Agents Association. You may also register as an approved travel agent with the India Government through the Ministry of Tourism. Refer to this link to do so – http://blog.indiafidings.com/wpcontent/uploads/2014/04/guidelines. It is also beneficial to be a member of the International Air Travel Association. Look up http://blog.indiafidings.com/wpcontent/uploads/2014/04/guidelines for the same.

Travel agency is a highly customer centric service. Customer satisfaction is critical. You need to be very thorough while planning the itinerary for your client as the smallest mistake can cause very big inconvenience. For instance, you need to know the check in and check out time of hotels so that you client does not end up paying more unnecessarily. Consider the lay over time between two flights and make sure it is enough to go from one terminal to the other to change planes. Several such details and information must be at your finger tip to be able to give excellent service.

Competition is tough in this sector. Try offering your own specialized services like package

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Image Courtesy – Google Images

tours and customized tours. Design special packages for senior citizens, newly married couples etc. Offer group discounts and early bird discounts. You will have to invest some amount for advertising and publicity. Print brochures and leaflets and also use social media.

Always keep in touch with your old clients since they not only patronize you regularly but if they are happy with your service they become your human advertisement.

All in all travel agency business is highly dynamic, exciting and has limitless scope to grow. With DeAsra’s support you can go places with this enterprise. You can get in touch with deAsra team and your Udyogmitra on 020-65365300/11 or access our free of cost business guide on the website. Board the flight to prosperity!

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Notices and Signages – More than meets the eye

A beautiful name board with logo on the façade of a store, a restaurant or even an office is the first to catch an eye and make an impression. The décor, the smiling staff comes next. They all go on to imprint a certain image about the business in one’s mind. But another rather undermined communication that does its bit not just in imparting information but in building the image of a quality conscious and customer-centric business is – Notices and Signages.

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Image Courtesy- Google Images

These are simple boards with directions, instructions and useful information. More often than not, we don’t take much note of these unassuming boards. However, if one were to give it a second thought one would realize that their presence actually makes a lot of things easier and convenient.

 

Think about the time when we want to find an address in the city. We end up asking the paanwala, rickshawwala, sometimes even the traffic police. Now albeit with the use of internet applications it is much easier to find places, our streets and chowks do not have sufficient direction boards to guide a tourist. But in developed countries every road, highway, airports and public places have prominently placed direction boards with clear symbols and words that makes it delightfully easy for a stranger to find the way!

Similarly, instructions in the business place makes life easy for a consumer/ visitor.

Such communication also takes the form of product manuals, Specials’ Board in restaurants or even the menu card! While designing any of these communications, one must keep in mind that it must be simple, polite and clear to understand by a lay person. A very common but effective example is that of “No Smoking”. We often find such notice – “Thank You For Not Smoking”, which makes it sound much more polite and compelling at the same time. Humour is often an effective way to convey short instructions as humour prevents it from sounding stern.

blog-1-pic-decThe handbook or Manual that comes with products, especially electronic or gadgets, is an important communication that helps the customer use and maintain the product effectively. Unfortunately, we usually ignore it and end up without using majority of the features.

Instructional and informational communication answers questions before they even arise in the customer’s mind and thus creates a positive impression in their mind.

It helps the consumer to use the product to its fullest and also take care of it. It also brings in complete transparency which goes on to reflect the integrity of business. All in all, notices, signages, manuals, menu cards and such communication serves a much wider purpose than just passing on information. It speaks a lot about your business and a wise, creative use of it augurs well for its sustained growth.

Quality – Maintenance leads to sustenance

It is clear that consistency in quality is essential for sustainability in business. As competition becomes fierce, every enterprise has to roll up their sleeves and strive to stay in the fray. Good quality, customer focus and adaptability are the important factors that help a business for a long haul. To achieve this, it is important to keep all the resources running effectively and efficiently. Regular maintenance, mundane as it may sound, is an indispensable part of doing this.

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Image Courtesy: Google Images

A consultant had to travel to Belgaum on business. He hired a car and driver and informed him about the day and time of travel. The car picked him up as scheduled. However, as they proceeded, the passenger realized that the seatbelt would not clasp and there was a lot of disturbance in the CD player. As the car traversed a mucky road in the rain, the driver had to drive very slowly because the tyres were worn down. He admitted that they had not been changed for a long time.  The customer was very dissatisfied with the whole experience. He conveyed it to the owner of the rental service but he did not take it seriously. A few months later when they casually met the latter was complaining about the business not running too well and the customer knew all too well why!

This is but one example. We all get these experiences several times. Think about the stained tablecloths in restaurants, broken faucets in hotel washrooms, broken down lifts in office complexes, out of order traffic signals and stores that have run out of products that they have advertised! Lack of regular stocking, maintenance, repair, cleaning, refilling, checking, all lead to a very disappointing product or service experience. Such lapses can be the cause of complete failure of businesses unless mended in time. There are also enterprises, who take efforts to rectify these lacunae and lay a lot of emphasis on maintenance and are able to bring back business on even keel.

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Image Courtesy: Google Images

The interesting thing is that often an outwardly attractive thing ends up proving to be dysfunctional and sometimes an overtly dull and unassuming thing may actually surprise with quality deliverance.

Both inward and outward readiness matter in business. There must be congruence in ‘What Seems’ and ‘What Is’. The outward appearance is a promise that attracts customers. The actual experience is what gratifies the customer and keeps him bonded with the enterprise.

In short, quality is not a one-time thing. It is a constant and consistent process for which maintenance is the key. Maintenance of resources leads to sustenance in business.

Author: S.R. Joshi

The author is the Director at deAsra Foundation. deAsra Foundation is a Section 25 company, a not for profit association formed to contribute to social welfare by enabling entrepreneurship, which will create employment opportunities.

This article was originally written in the Marathi Magazine- Yashaswi Udyojak (August 2016). This post is the translated abridged version of the same article.

 

Treading from Customer Satisfaction to Customer Delight!

We have always been hearing the phrase ‘Consumer is King’, but have started experiencing it only in recent years. Before liberalization in 1991, the consumer was at the mercy of the producer and supplier and had to be satisfied with whatever was available on offer.

However, 1991 onwards, as the Indian markets were thrown open to global players, competition turned fierce. Now manufacturers and suppliers had to woo customers to capture bigger market share. They realized they had to walk that extra mile to please the consumer by understanding their needs and fulfilling them to the T.

In the last 25 years of liberalization, we have seen a significant change in the scenario. More professionalism, better service and distinct consumer orientation are a part of the trend that has started taking roots.

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Image Courtesy: Google Images

Manufacturers and service providers have now started taking proactive steps to understand customers’ expectations and their preferences. The objective has now gone beyond customer satisfaction to customer delight which meant giving them an experience that would make them come back to the manufacturer/ service provider again and again. Let us take some examples.

A family booked a room in a hotel. The hotel asked them about their arrival, further itinerary and their food preferences. Incidentally, the family was fasting on one of the days during their stay. To acknowledge this, the hotel management enquired if they would like a ‘fasting’ menu. The entire staff was courteous and warm. On the day of their departure, the manager himself asked if their stay had been comfortable and if they had any suggestions to help them give better service. Overall, the guests got a very pleasant experience, were made to feel very special and they felt an immediate bonding towards the hotel. Professional enterprises believe in creating better customer relationships, more than the increase in the number of customers.

A friend booked a cab to go from Pune to Thane. The owner of the cab service asked for all the details of the customer’s destination and timings. He texted the driver’s name, contact number and car number well in advance to the customer. The next day the driver called a few minutes before the scheduled time. The car was clean, filled with enough petrol and ready on time. The driver helped the passenger load the bags into the boot. He asked him the exact destination and entered the details into the GPS system. He was wearing clean clothes, refrained from picking up his mobile while driving and was very polite in his mannerisms. The owner of the cab service also called to ask if everything was going as per schedule. The whole experience of the trip was very safe, comfortable and enjoyable. So much so that the customer later contacted the owner to give him a very positive feedback!

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Image Courtesy: Google Images

The long and short of it is, that modern business must go that extra mile to make the customer happy. We must admit that a lot of our systems have improved significantly. We can order a gas cylinder on phone and it is delivered in time. Railways are improving their hygiene and safety standards. Things are getting better and will continue to do so in the future because the customer is now the centre of the market universe!

Author: S.R. Joshi

The author is the Director at deAsra Foundation. deAsra Foundation is a Section 25 company, a not for profit association formed to contribute to social welfare by enabling entrepreneurship, which will create employment opportunities.

This article was originally written in the Marathi Magazine- Yashaswi Udyojak (February 2016). This post is the translated abridged version of the same article.

 

The best service at the right price!

Consistent success relies on consistency in the quality of service. It’s not desirous but rather essential for a long haul in business. As mentioned earlier, it is to do with integrity and common sense which applies in personal life and extends to professional life. Just as one would expect another person to keep their word and be sincere in their actions, so would the customer expect a business to give good quality service and be courteous and thoughtful about the customer’s needs. Once this is understood perfectly, it becomes the ethos of business and stands in good stead forever through its future journey.

Quality is important not in one or some of the business practices but in every product, service and interaction with the customer. A shortfall or lacuna in even one could prove detrimental to the image of the business. Just as a school student’s exam score comes down because of bad performance in even one subject, so can a company’s business get affected because of negligence on any front.

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Image Courtesy: Google Images

Remember, past glory never helps in erasing the flaw that shows at any given point in time. Even if a student scores well in 5th, 6th and 7th grade, if she fails in the 8th, her past years’ performance does not help her. Another example is that of a driver. Even if you are a very cautious and skilled driver, one single mistake can cause an accident and cost you heavily. Your previous record cannot negate the damage done.

Very often consumers do not mind spending a little more just because they are getting superior service. Nowadays people don’t just look at the product they buy but also the demeanor of the salesman, the welcome they get at the door, how quickly their billing gets done, how the item is packed and many other things. It is the overall experience that lingers long in the mind of the customer.

In today’s cut throat competition, the customer has several options to choose from which is why businesses vie to give them the best service. Companies who procure products from suppliers base their decisions on timely delivery, quality of the product, after sales maintenance, turnaround time if changes are asked for and many other factors.

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Image Courtesy: Google Images

Customers don’t just look at the product they buy at the mall but even the delay in billing as they stand in a long queue can make them stop patronizing the mall and go to another shop instead!

Quality in service builds with time as customers experience the service. A new business must therefore enter the market with ‘lower than competitor’s’ prices. This will first attract customers. Later as they also experience the interaction, courtesy and quality of service, the brand gets a well-deserved lift. Reasonable prices and the best service therefore become a sure shot gateway to successful business.

Author: S.R. Joshi

The author is the Director at deAsra Foundation. deAsra Foundation is a Section 25 company, a not for profit association formed to contribute to social welfare by enabling entrepreneurship, which will create employment opportunities.

This article was originally written in the Marathi Magazine- Yashaswi Udyojak (January 2016). This post is the translated abridged version of the same article

 

Cooking up a small food business? Read these tips to get a head start.

According to statistics, 9 out of 10 start-ups fall by the wayside. This figure may paint a grim picture, but rather than getting discouraged, budding entrepreneurs should take heart, because 1 start-up out of every 10 does manage to tick all the right boxes, and that start-up can be you. In this article, the business mentors at deAsra have put together a few challenges commonly faced by small-scale food businesses, along with tips to help you sail over these speed bumps smoothly.

But first, what qualifies as a micro/small-scale business?

A mess service, a home-made ladoo business, or even a food packaging and reselling outlet can fall under the category of a small business, as long as the capital investment in machinery does not exceed 5 crores, (for businesses in the manufacturing sector) and is up to 2 crores (for businesses in the service industry) If your investment in machinery is up to 25 lakhs (manufacturing sector) and up to 10 lakhs (service sector), your business will be classified as a micro enterprise. In this case, revenue generated does not bear much weight – For example, a vada-pav vendor could be selling 1000+ vada pavs a day from his cart, yet, his business is still classified as a small business.

Partnership, Proprietorship, or Private Limited? Depends on the need.
Another question often raised deals with registrations – what kind of company registration should start-up founders and co-founders opt for? According to deAsra mentors, it depends on the need. For example, when you’re at the cusp of transforming your chakli-making hobby into a full-fledged business, you may start off with a proprietorship registration, and later, as the business scales, convert it into a private limited, in order to run it in more professional way.as well as to take advantage of tax benefits.

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Source: Google Images

Get your licenses right before anything else.

Before you get your business in place, it is essential to get your licenses in order. Miss this step, and fines or penalties could be staring you in the face.

For any business, however small, FSSAI registration and the Shop Act registration are compulsory. Manufacturers, distributors, retail traders and stockists also need to get licenses if their business turnover exceeds 12 lakhs.
A variety of legal formalities too are applicable on the different kinds of company registration. For example, partnership businesses call for partnership deeds and registration thereof, and private limited companies need to get registered at the Registrar of Companies (ROC).

Funding is more accessible than most people think.

Since Pune (and the surrounding region up to a radius of 40 kms) is classified as a developed zone, certain government subsidies do not apply to businesses here. However, to give women entrepreneurs a leg-up, the government has launched many organisations, like the Mahila Arthik Vikas Mahamandal, which offers loans at beneficial interest rates.

The big F word in the start-up scene – funding – is not out of reach anymore – especially if your business is commercially viable, enjoys a continuous stream of revenue and you can raise up to 25% of the margin demand by the bank. And even if that margin is beyond your scope, organisations like deAsra connect you to banks and financial institutions who can give your business some amount of runway.

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Image Courtesy: Quora

Research before you figure out your pricing sweet spot.

“How should I price my products/services?” is one of the foremost challenges every entrepreneur faces. Low prices can undercut competition, but can also make your business unviable, while high prices will put you out of the running completely.

 

To tackle pricing, deAsra mentors help the business owners undertake a thorough audit where they assess the financial viability of a business, and estimate various fixed and variable costs, including raw materials, equipments, electricity, packing material, etc.
They also encourage entrepreneurs to carry out extensive competitor studies, observe the rates in the surrounding localities for the same product/service, and then work on the pricing model.
The USP of your business and its competitive edge can also affect pricing.

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Source: Google Images

Marketing matters.

A preference for a brand can only be born when there is awareness of that brand’s existence. To get customers beating a path to your shop, deAsra mentors recommend converting your current brand champions into marketers for your business, since referrals, according to them, work the best. Roping in relatives and friends who swear by your delicacies and spreading the news through them is a good way to get one foot in the door.
A few other marketing tactics which can get you off to a good start include distributing food samples and leaflets in your area of operation, distributing products through retail outlets and offering incentives/discounts, especially to referred customers.
Keeping in touch with customers through Whatsapp and email marketing channels; and closely monitoring people’s preferences is also crucial. For example, people are becoming increasingly health-conscious, so incorporating that aspect into your product (think ‘diet chiwda’) could help boost sales.
For a vada pav seller, a simple change in the presentation of his product – and a switch from a wooden cart to a swanky mobile van – did wonders for his business.

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Source: Google Images

Watch out for these hurdles.

As an entrepreneur, it’s ok to make mistakes; in fact mistakes are the stepping stones to success. But learning from those mistakes, and more importantly, learning from other people’s mistakes, can take you a long way ahead in the entrepreneurial journey.

For example, many food businesses end up buying wholesale quantities and building unwanted inventory, which leads to revenue drain. Also, home-grown businesses borrow money from chit funds or micro-finance institutions, which lands them with higher rates of interest. Instead, opt for banks and reputed financial institutions, suggest deAsra mentors. For food businesses, maintaining consistency in quality and taste is also a major problem area. This can be solved by strictly adhering to Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). Raw materials need to be tested too, which is not widely practised in India. For example, there are more than 20 kinds of potatoes produced in our country, so a vada pav seller has to test all varieties and find out which works best for his vadas.
Keeping tabs on the shelf life of products is equally crucial; maintaining a batch-wise record of products can prove to be helpful in this case. Apart from this, maintaining a proper book of records is essential and comes in handy when you need to recover pending payment dues.

The food business is beset with labour problems – how does one handle that?

According to deAsra mentors, most business owners forget that their labourers too, at the end of the day, are customers, and should be treated with dignity and respect. At deAsra, business owners are introduced to HR management techniques, which help bridge the gap of discord between labourers and owners, while building loyalty and reducing attrition.

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Source: Google Images

Finally, don’t give up too soon, and don’t pass up expert help.

Any food business generally takes a year to pick up pace, and that’s if the quality is top-notch and the right marketing strategies and SOPs are followed to a T. What’s the advice of deAsra mentors to budding entrepreneurs? ‘Don’t give up on your business too soon, but more importantly, don’t hesitate to ask for expert help. Help can move you forward, fast.’

deAsra partners with mentors, business experts and other complementary organisations and financial institutions to help entrepreneurs build a successful food business from the ground-up. Need help with your food business? Give us a call at +91 20 65365300 / 11.

To know how we helped other food businesses take off, read our impact stories here.

 

25 tips for budding entrepreneurs from our Special 25!

deAsra has successfully completed one year. And as part of our celebrations, we spent some time on introspecting the year gone by. What stood out from that introspection session are some solid tips from our very own Special 25 entrepreneurs (This has nothing to do with the movie- Special 26, please note! J ); these are entrepreneurs whom deAsra has helped in launching their dreams in the real world.

We are sharing those special 25 tips with you. Test these, practise these and do not forget to share with us your experiences.

Here’s to the Special 25!

  1. Money is not everything. In the beginning, also enjoy the feeling, the action and small successes, the journey.
  1. Get all the help you can. Support systems are called so for a reason. Get all the help – from family, friends, well-wishers, neighbours, maids, friends’ friends, neighbours’ neighbour, cousins, friends of cousin.
  1. Even if you have a small team, delegate work. Together, you can achieve a great deal. Individually, you may not.
  1. Set small achievable goals. Daily goals, weekly goals. Monitor them. Work to achieve these goals. Develop your own goal app, in your diary.
  1. Go back to school. Learn something new every day. It may be in your field of business, it may not. But learn something new every day.
  1. Meet new people at every given opportunity. You never know who might come in handy.
  1. Work on building good relationships. They will last you a lifetime.
  1. Invest in your health. Exercise often. Follow a good diet. Health is wealth. Especially, when you have miles to go, good health is good to have.
  1. Think of your achievements like a marathoner. You have to better your own performance. Once you do that, you will have something better than your competition too.
  1. Don’t expect magic in two minutes. Entrepreneurship is not Maggi.

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    Few deAsra enabled candidates
  1. Keep your eyes and ears open. Many businessmen say “We have no competition.” If you don’t my friend, then you don’t have a market, probably.
  1. Even small savings matter when you are starting up. Save, don’t squander.
  1. You may not afford to wear expensive clothes for your meetings, but you can dress up your confidence.
  1. Entrepreneurship is truly like a ship that is setting sail. Don’t abandon ship, when you think it is sinking (and you may feel like this often); remember you are the Captain of this Ship.
  1. You need to be a multi-tasker. But you cannot afford to ignore your core area of expertise. Try and improve what you do best. Example, if you are a good cook and have opened a café, try and spend more time in the kitchen than you would spend elsewhere.
  1. Tie-ups are in. People are willing to collaborate today more than they were yesterday. Collaborations help both parties grow more, faster.
  1. Don’t be afraid of failure. You may fail a hundred times. But get up stronger each time. You can do it!
  1. Listen to your gut, your heart. When you are faced with a major decision, always ensure that while you think from your head, you also double check with your heart and gut. Such decisions rarely go wrong.
  1. Learn from other success stories. But also learn from others’ failures. Learn what not to do, when you are in business
  1. Don’t hesitate to ask. You cannot know everything – even about the business you are in. Just ask for help. That will make you more credible and more likable.

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    Few deAsra enabled candidates
  1. Be sure to spread word about your business. Simply telling what you are into, does not amount to trumpeting.
  1. Wake up with a smile. It changes your outlook, your response to everything. And miracles start happening. Try it for a week and see how things change.
  1. Be like Gandhiji’s 3 wise monkeys –tweaking it slightly: Speak no ill, see no ill, hear no ill. And think no ill. Have those monkeys parked on the shelf in your office, opposite your chair.
  1. Write a cheque addressed to yourself with the amount you wish to earn in one year from the day of starting up. Keep that cheque in a box and see it lovingly every day, thrice. At the end of the year, you would have probably earned the amount through your business. Jim Carrey, Hollywood’s popular actor did it. He wrote himself a cheque of a million dollars when he was a struggling actor in Hollywood. And he got a million-dollar contract soon followed by unprecedented fame and success.
  1. Last but not the least, before you sleep every day and once you wake up, say your Thank You to the Almighty for all the good he has done you. Gratitude is a friend of fortune.

These are real tips from real entrepreneurs who have just set sail on their long journey. They are following these tips. We are sure you would love to try them out too.

Best wishes from our Special 25!

Bon Voyage for your journey on your ship – Entrepreneurship!