Small Business Showcase: Alex Atkinson!

Alex, one of the founders of Holiday Finder Online, responded to my request for small business owners to showcase themselves and their businesses on my blog to provide insight, advice and inspiration for others who are starting up/thinking of starting up their own small businesses – including me!
The idea originally formed because I was fascinated by people’s stories and reasons for setting up their own businesses and I wanted to learn as much as I could in order to educate myself for the benefit of my own business.
I wanted to find a way to ask the questions I wanted the answers to but I realised that if I was interested surely others were interested in the answers too! In addition, I wanted the businesses willing to share their stories to get something in return so I devised the ‘Small Business Showcase’ blog series which will give each small business featured promotion across social media. Win-win for everyone!
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The same 10 questions were posed to all small businesses via questionnaire – here are Alex’s replies:
1) How would you summarise the service(s)/product(s) your business offers?
Christian Smith and I are a travel agents with a twist! Holiday Finder Online offers excellent holidays, breaks, activities and transport options. We aim to be the cheapest travel agent in the UK. Many travel agents are actually part of a franchise which limits their flexibility when it comes to pricing. We are a fully independent travel agent and have agreed excellent rates with suppliers across the world, meaning cheaper holidays for our customers.
Alongside this, we have a business offer. We work with businesses through our corporate membership scheme, which gives that business discounted business travel and offers their staff an employee benefit of discounted holidays.
Our corporate membership has four options and the first option is actually free! This means that any business can offer employee benefits.
Here is some information on our four options:
  • Bronze – 3% discounted travel – Free
  • Silver – 5% discounted travel – £500 per year
  • Gold – 10% discounted travel and a £500 travel voucher – £1250 per year
  • Platinum – 10% discounted travel and a £1000 travel voucher – £2500 per year
The travel vouchers can be used in many ways; we offer complete flexibility. For example, some companies like to give away the voucher in full the highest performing staff member where as others like to spilt the voucher across the team and give it as a Christmas bonus.
2) How long have you been a small business owner?
I have been a small business owner for the past 2 and a half years.
3) What inspired you to set up your business?
There are two main reasons why I started a travel agency. The first reason was that I actually had a bad experience at a local travel agency – their staff were very rude and actually messed up our travel arrangements. After that I looked at others and found endless complaints online filed with ATOL, even with the big travel agents like TUI and Thomas Cook.
At this point I thought there was an opportunity; if a travel agent really cared and focused on its customers it could be very successful.
The second reason is a bit of a selfish one. I love the idea of not working 9-5 (which I’ve achieved as I work 7-10, that’s am to pm!) but also working from anywhere. I could work on a beach, work at home or in the office. Currently, it is more office than beach but I’m trying!
4) What platforms/strategies do you use to promote your business?
We use Facebook a lot to reach general members of the public and LinkedIn to reach out to businesses to promote our corporate membership.
We are also a little old school – we still print and distribute leaflets locally!
5) What do you consider your greatest business achievement so far?
I think our biggest achievement so far is working globally and getting some amazing commercial terms from our suppliers. The other morning my first job was a conference call at 6am with a hotel chain in Dubai.
high-res6) What do you consider your greatest business challenges?
I think this is the same answer as a lot of people will give and that is our competition.
In the travel industry I think there are two types of people – there are those who like to book everything themselves and will use your typical travel agents like TUI, Thomas Cook etc. The other type of people are those who hate booking everything, dislike researching or don’t have the time to find the best holiday. These people will use more local travel agents as they want the service that comes with it.
I think within the travel industry there is a lot of customer loyalty; those who use a travel agent probably use the same one every year. With this in mind our biggest business challenge is growing our customer base. Our three USPs are lowest prices around, corporate membership and public services discounted travel. I am hoping that our three main USPs will get more people enquiring with us and then our amazing customer service will keep them coming back.
7) What resources/training have been most beneficial to your business so far?
I am always looking to learn and improve. The course which I think has benefited me the most is probably my level 5 in leadership and management as this has helped with various aspects of running a business as it covers financial aspects, HR aspects and general good practice.
8) What advice would you give to anyone thinking of starting their own business?
Take your time planning, researching, getting advice and shaping your idea into a product/service. Once you’ve got this start networking as other people’s views are so important. They will think of things you haven’t and you can start shaping your product/service more.
Treat everyone like they are your only customer. That level of service will keep people coming back to you and more importantly passing your name on. I could have 1 person spend £10k on a holiday and another spend £500 but both would be treated the same and get the same level of service. I think that goes a long way.
My final bit of advice is quite basic but it’s one of the most important: work hard. It might mean 14 hour days or working all weekend but, if you do it, it won’t be forever. If you don’t work hard enough at the start it will never work.
9) What are your future plans for your business?
The emergency services and armed forces are very important to us. The people that work in these jobs are strong, unselfish people and we would love to do more to support them. We currently give a 5% discount to any who works or has worked in the services or armed forces, but we want to do more.
We would love it if we could get to the point where we were supporting more charities and providing free holidays/breaks to these amazing people.
10) Are there any other small businesses you would like to give a shout out to who have been an inspiration/support to you?
We would like to give a shout out to PTS who are the company that manage our trust account. Within the travel industry every travel agent must ensure that all customer payments are held in an third party account to ensure that a customer’s money can only be used for their holiday and not absorbed as part of general business functions. PTS support us greatly by ensuring all customer money is safe and secure and they also give us excellent advice and support whenever a random situation happens.
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My ‘Small Business Showcase’ blog series will be published every Monday, Wednesday and Friday – previous showcases can be read herehere,  hereherehere and here and here.
If you would like to feature your small business too, please email me at penningandplanning@gmail.com.
Claire
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