Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hey! My name is Marissa Daniels, and I am a millennial travel agent! I began Spread Your Wings Travel in February of 2019. Prior to 2019, I wanted an extra source of income just to have an extra cushion. I did mystery shopping, took surveys online, drove for Postmates and DoorDash, worked at a grocery store, anything I could find for extra money. I also did, and still do Brand Ambassador events as well- but those things didn’t fulfill me. I was doing them to get extra money, but it didn’t have a purpose and it wasn’t paying me as much as I wanted, so I stopped it all and just gave it to God. I let Him handle it.
One day, as I was scrolling on Facebook, I came across a post of my sponsor (the woman who introduced me to the business) advertising for travel agents. She had amazing vacation deals on her page that I was looking forward to taking and I thought to myself, “This is all she does? Let me get more information on this.” Plus, I thought to myself, “I travel a lot anyway, so why not get paid for something I already do?” I inboxed her, and the rest is history.
I’m not really sure where “Spread Your Wings” came from, to be honest. I was brainstorming different names I could use for my travel agency, and ‘Spread Your Wings’ came to mind. I thought of how people should ‘spread their wings’ and travel, in a sense. I’m an adventurous person, and I love to travel (when I can) and do different things so this travel agency was literally sent from heaven.
I’ve honestly never thought of becoming a travel agent, let alone getting paid to travel! In December of 2019, I hit $100,000 in travel sales for this year and I am so happy that I was able to accomplish this goal in one year. It took a lot of work, promotion, marketing, etc. to achieve that major goal, but I did it! I won’t stop there though, I’m looking to get to $200,000 before the year is over and I’m about 50% there.
Spread Your Wings Travel offers all-inclusive vacations (most under $1000 per person), cruises, luxury villas, cabins, domestic travel and more! The main thing that people like about my business is that I have a payment plan option. I like to have that option for them because not everyone is able to pay for a vacation upfront.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I was blessed to grow up in a two-parent household with a loving and caring set of parents. My father was in the military and because of that, I was born in California in ‘94. I’m a Georgia Peach all the way, but I was born in California. Unfortunately, in September of 2018, my life shifted when my father passed from cancer. It was pretty quick. In July, he was diagnosed and in September, he took his last breath. I was a Daddy’s girl to the FULLEST, so you can imagine the pain I went through - and still going through.
Do research before starting. If you want to start a business - research before you pay anything.
Fortunately, he was there to see me graduate from Valdosta State University in 2016. I majored in Mass Media with a Speech Communication Minor. Growing up, I loved to be in front of the camera (my father was a photographer) and I would record the video announcements at my church, as young as 11 years old. I also recorded the announcements in elementary school. I just knew Broadcast Journalism was something I was interested in.
During college, I got into radio and I had my own entertainment segment on a hip hop/r&b radio station,107.9, in Valdosta, GA. I loved it, but I came to realize that there was no money in it, starting out. As graduation came near, I didn’t know what I was going to do post-college. From there, I got an opportunity to work with the Centers For Disease Control (CDC), as a Public Health Associate (PHAP) in New Orleans working in Emergency Preparedness. This was a highly competitive two-year recent graduate program, and I was one of 200 chosen out of 2500 people who applied. I’ve been with CDC for almost 4 years now as a Public Health Advisor, and I love it. This is my full-time job and my travel business is my part-time job (although it feels like a full-time job, sometimes).
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
As a graduate student studying Marketing & Communications, I knew that I had to market myself as a travel agent. No one will know that you’re a travel agent unless you market yourself. Primarily, I began promoting my vacation deals on Facebook to my friends and family and it was slow in the beginning. My advertising wasn’t too appealing, as I thought it was.
As you see, I have the destination, a few pictures and I would write a caption that included everything the deal came with. Over time, I thought to myself that I needed a re-do. Therefore, I made an official “Spread Your Wings Travel” Instagram page. One, I knew that people my age are more active on Instagram than Facebook, and two, I needed to expand my business to other platforms. I still kept posting my deals, but I figured that it would be better for clients to initially see how much the price was for the trips, so I changed my posts.
As you're scrolling, this would catch your eye IMMEDIATELY! I mean, who wouldn’t want to go to Paris for under $1000? I kept this same layout of my posts for a while and this is when the traffic on my page began increasing. I thought to myself, I’ve found the answer! However, about a month ago, I wanted to change it up (I’m a Libra, so I’m pretty indecisive, at times). I thought the post lacked color, and plus, I’ve been seeing other travel agents using my layout for their businesses. About a month ago, I began creating these posts.
These are more attractive, the fonts are catchy, the colors jump out at you, and I fell in love!
Describe the process of launching the business.
For my launch on Instagram, I knew that I had to hold some type of giveaway or do something to get them to follow me. I held a giveaway and I gave away 4 free trips! They had to follow my business page, tag three friends, and comment on their favorite destination and I randomly chose 4 people. After I did this, my messages began flooding with customers! The tagging three friends requirement REALLY helped because each person who entered essentially gave my page free promotion.
I didn’t start out with a website, I focused on building my clientele on social media. It wasn’t until about 4 months ago that I made my website on SquareSpace so that those who don’t have social media can find and contact me.
To start my business, I paid less than $200. That’s it. I’ve received my investment back in commission way more times than I can count! It’s been a blessing. I’ve also paid for promotion on Instagram pages. When I saw posts by influencers looking to give small businesses exposure for a small fee, I didn’t hesitate to send my money in for the opportunity. That’s the thing, you can’t be scared to promote yourself as a business owner. It doesn’t matter if people get tired of seeing you, or that you post a lot. This is YOUR business.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
As a travel agent, one of the main things that will attract clients is word of mouth. I can’t tell you the number of people that have contacted me from referrals of other clients! Another thing that has helped us to stay active and consistent on social media. You want to stay consistent because if someone is looking to go on a vacation and your posts keep popping up on their feed, they will be more inclined to book with you. I’ve paid for Instagram ads and Facebook ads, just so that I can stay on my followers’ timelines. My clients love that I’m very responsive and I have great customer service.
Additionally, I post reviews that I receive from clients. Posting reviews is another key to ANY business. People want to see others using your product/service.
I recently hit my one year anniversary, and I did a giveaway for my followers. Through that, I gained about 250 followers, bringing me to about 2300 followers on my Instagram.
I would love to get into email marketing and begin sending newsletters. I know social media won’t be around forever, so I want to start focusing on building my email list. If you know of someone that is proficient in this, please contact me!
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
My business is doing great! I’m receiving about four checks each month, just from this business! I’m always busy whether I’m researching trips, applying for payments, talking with clients - it really is a full-time job, sometimes. I have 20 wonderful travel agent mentees who now have their own travel agencies! I love being a mentor to them and helping them with their business. If I can help put money in someone else’s pockets by doing something they already do, I’m good to go.
In the future, I would like to sit on panels and speak as a Black Millennial in the Travel Agent Industry. I don’t see many of us highlighted, so I would love to change that stigma. I would also love to help at least 100 families supplement their income through this business! It’s been amazing for me, so I know it will be amazing for you. Plus, you can work from home and make your own hours!
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Whew! Be. Patient. You HAVE to be patient in this business. Some clients would think that you’re a magician and can make the impossible possible! Sometimes we can, BUT I can’t get you a trip to Bora Bora for less than $1000, I’m sorry.
In the beginning, I had a challenge with people thinking that my trips were scams because the prices were too good. I would get screenshots from my friends who reposted my posts, and the screenshots would be someone asking if my posts were legit. It bothered me so much, so that’s why I’ve started making videos, and posting more of myself on my page so that they can put a face to a name and this page isn’t run by some bot.
Another challenge is, of course, the Coronavirus. This virus has caused 3 clients to cancel their trips. Of course, I lost out on money, but I was more than happy to cancel their trips because I would feel so hurt if they were to travel and they caught the virus or were quarantined at their destination for a certain amount of time. This is what comes with being a travel advisor. During times like this, the only thing you can do is educate your clients, book trips that are further out in the year, and continue to do what you do.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
I currently use Instagram, more than I use Facebook. I’ve gained the majority of my clients there. To make my posts, I use PhotoGrid.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I don’t have any particular resources, but I am in a few travel agent Facebook groups that have been very helpful!
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Starting a business is a great idea! It’s not for everyone though. I definitely didn’t think I would be a business owner, to be honest. I just never saw it in my future, but God saw me fit to have one and I will do my best to make Him proud.
There are a few things I learned this past year. Number one, you have to have great customer service. Being a black business owner, people already have their perceptions and opinions. It will get tough though, at times. Secondly, you have to make sure you are running your business in decency and in order. You can’t run a business any kind of way. You have to make sure you have set guidelines on how people can purchase, book, whatever the case may be. Lastly, do research before starting. If you want to start a hair business, lashes business, become a travel agent - research before you pay anything.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
I’m looking for more travel agents to mentor! If you love to travel or are the person your friends or family-run to when looking to go on vacation, and you’re coachable, I would love to have you!
Don’t continue to be an “unofficial” travel agent, become one and start making money on vacations!
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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