Penny Spencer's travel business is flying, writes Christopher Niesche.
Travel consultant Penny Spencer has a tip for any business dealing with Australia's patchy economy: make sure you have a range of customers from different business sectors.
"Where one industry might not be doing so well, you'll have another industry that is, so you definitely have to spread it across a broad range of customers," says Spencer, chief executive of Spencer Travel, which relies heavily on corporate bookings.
"We have quite a wide range of corporate customers. So we're not just in finance or just in IT. We're not putting all our eggs in one basket."
Spencer says some in the construction sector, such as architects, are booking a lot of travel, as there is a lot of work in China and the Middle East, as well as in Christchurch as a result of the earthquake.
Despite the soft economy, luxury goods companies are also doing well. "We have a high-profile luxury goods client that we have looked after for a long time and they're very busy, constantly travelling and doing conferences and training and expanding."
Spencer Travel, the business that Spencer started aged 34 in 1998, has grown from $1 million in bookings in its first year to $35 million.
Spencer, a one-time finalist in the Telstra Businesswomen's Awards, says she set out to differentiate her agency through its service, by making sure her clients got what they wanted. But she was on a steep learning curve.
"I'd always worked for someone. I was a travel consultant, not a business person, so you think, 'I can run a business, I'm sure it's not that hard,' and then you start realising there's so much more to it than just having a client and people to manage those clients," she says.
In particular, Spencer says that she had knowledge gaps in people management, marketing and finance. "I definitely knew how to service the clients, but there were all those other bits and pieces," she says.
Spencer discovered that while she can hire experts to perform some of the business duties, she also has to know a little bit about everything. "At the beginning I trusted a lot of people in areas I didn't know, such as accountants," she says.
In the first five years of the business she says she lost $100,000 to a shonky accountant.
"I need to have some understanding of a bit of everything," she says. "I now do, and if my accountant shows me something I question it."
Spencer found she could boost her travel consultants' productivity by 25 to 30 per cent simply by giving each one three computer screens on their desk - one for their email, another for the reservations and the third for a website or the agency's billing system.
"It's very simple and inexpensive, but it's a big deal," she says.
She and her managers spent a year streamlining and standardising the customer service process so that every client would receive the same standard of service.
"Our brand is all around our service and the knowledge that my consultants have and the creativity they can offer the client," Spencer says.
"If the client wants to go to London they don't just ... book them to London. They'll say, 'When you get there you're going to be exhausted, and you've got a meeting at 1pm, so let's get you a limo and I'll pre-check you into the hotel so you can have a shower.'"
Penny Spencer's tips
Be open to all opportunities that come your way.
Don't be afraid of growth but ensure that your house is in order before you grow.
Have the right people in the right places.
Wow your clients so they grow the business for you.
Communicate your vision to everyone.