Not everyone is listening to podcasts, so we have transcribed our interview with Alice and Torin from The Flying Bike for you. Of course we think the podcast interview is far more powerful and inspiring. If you are not sure how podcasts work, check out our How to Listen to Podcasts page or feel free to contact us. In the meantime enjoy the transcription of episode one of the Tourpreneur podcast below. (Please excuse any typos.)
Speaker 1: 00:00 Welcome to the Tourpreneur podcast. Travel industry veteran Shane Whaley will take you on a journey with fellow tourpreneurs, sharing their tips, ideas, insights and success stories, to inspire you to make your tour business the best it can be. Now, please welcome your host Shane.
Shane: 00:21 Welcome to Tourpreneur. Alice and Torin, how are you?
Alice: 00:26 Thank you. We’re great. Thanks so much for having us.
Torin: 00:27 Excellent.
Shane: 00:28 I am really excited to talk to you. First of all, I want to pay you both, well, two really big compliments. The first one is, your trip advisor reviews for Flying Bike Tours are outstanding. I was doing some research yesterday, and I know I texted you Alice, I was like, “Wow, they’re phenomenal.” We’re going to get a bit more into that later on in the show, but it was really cool to see your glowing references and reviews on trip advisor.
Alice: 00:50 Thank you.
Shane: 00:53 Secondly, you’re taking a big leap with me here. This is the first interview that we’re doing on Tourpreneur. I want to thank you for taking a deep dive with us into your journey into the tour sector.
Alice: 01:03 Happy to. I’m excited for you and what you’re doing. I think it’s going to be really helpful for a lot of people.
Shane: 01:08 Thank you. We spoke in the summer when I had this idea. The idea came around because I’d worked on the OTA side, for Get Your Guide, for two years. The best bit about my job there was speaking to companies like yourselves. What I used to really love and I’m sure you did this at Arrival, is when you really get time to understand someone’s journey and story, and how they got to be in business. There were so many of us in the sector that, we didn’t go to tourism school or hospitality colleges and so forth.
Shane: 01:36 Many of us have different backgrounds and we’re in the tour space. The one thing that I really learned coming from … I’d spent a majority of my time in travel working for hotels, at booking.com. The thing I noticed right away when I joined Tour and Activities Sector was how friendly everybody was, how everybody was like a family, and everybody wanted to give a lending hand, even to competitors, because everyone wants each other to succeed.
Shane: 02:01 That’s what we’re trying to achieve with this podcast, is people who may have an idea and they’re a bit scared to take that leap of creating the tour or activity, or people out there that might be feeling a bit lonely and isolated because other than the the folks at Arrival, there’s not that many networks for tour and activity companies. That’s the genesis of why I wanted to start the Tourpreneur podcast. Before we dig into some of that, can you tell our listeners a little bit more about your tour?
Torin: 02:28 Yeah. Also, I will just say that you really nailed it. We definitely didn’t go to tourism university. You do meet some really amazing people. We had the great fortune to go to Arrival this year. It was amazing. Just really life-changing for our business and for us. The people we met were so helpful. It was exciting to hear their stories. As Alice said, we’re really happy that you’re doing this and really happy to participate and share our story.
Torin: 02:57 To answer your question about our tour, it’s an electric bike tour of Asheville first of all, which we believe is just the best way to connect with Asheville. Connection is one of our core values. It gets you outside. It gets you connecting with the beauty of Asheville, which is really one of the best aspects of this town. Then we make sure that you’re connecting with your guides and the other people on your tour. We go to some amazing, historical sights. We get a big, panoramic view and just learn a lot of really interesting stories and facts about Asheville along the way and then give a lot of recommendations for all the wonderful food and beer that there is in Asheville as well.
Shane: 03:39 Fantastic. In terms of visitors to Asheville, is it mainly US domestic, or is it a nice mix of international and US? How does that look for Asheville?
Torin: 03:49 We’ve had very few international tourists, but I know that the Biltmore estate is a huge international destination. We’re in the process of learning all the time. I think we’re trying to figure out how we can attract some of those folks to us. We’ve actually lived abroad together, so that’s a market that we’d love to tap into. It’s something that’s on our list for sure.
Shane: 04:10 Can I ask you where the idea came from for the tour?
Torin: 04:14 Yeah. We’d actually bought this tour last spring, so in the spring of 2017. It was a complete accident really that we found it. I had been an electric bike rider commuting to work with my electric bike, and absolutely loved riding my electric bike. Then one day, I was just really having a great day off, and I went to my favorite ice cream place. It was just really relaxing and enjoying myself. On my ride home, the battery of the bike died. It was like a 75 pound bike. It was extremely heavy. We’ve got so many hills here that I had to hike this bike up the hills.
Torin: 04:54 It totally ruined my buzz on that day. I went on Craig’s List looking for a new electric bike battery. The search brought up this electric bike business for sale. I was completely taken aback. I thought it was a great deal. I got really excited. I was in between some career changes. I actually just left the browser open on the computer and Alice saw it the next day. I hadn’t brought it up to her at all. She said, “Honey, what’s this?” I’ll let you chime in about how you were feeling about that.
Alice: 05:24 Yeah. He was like, “Oh, she’s offering to just take us for a ride. We should go check it out. At least just be a nice little bike ride through the city.” Like he said, Torin is absolutely an entrepreneur at heart and had a lot of different business and non-profit experience, and was trying to avoid getting back into a nine to five job. I’m the one who’s always a little more on the practical, less lofty side. I said, “Okay, let’s do it. Let’s try it.” Actually, you did a little research on Trip Advisor.
Alice: 05:59 My hesitation, there was this Australian woman and she sounded amazing and had these amazing reviews. I was like, “I don’t know if this is us. Would we be able to do this? What if she’s just this amazing Australian guide that has this experience?” We went on the tour. We saw not only that the tour had, but also what we could do with it. We just saw so much potential and so much left on the table of what wasn’t being done. We walked away and within 30 minutes made an offer to the business owner. We ran the business as it was that first season. Last summer, we just kept everything as it was. We didn’t do any kind of brand or name changes. Then when the season slowed down end of November, we really started working hard on a whole brand name change and marketing change.
Shane: 06:55 We were talking about this yesterday because I shared with you the logo for Tourpreneur, and I spent months of agony over what we were going to call the podcast, what the logo should be, because I wanted to be really careful that if people saw the artwork, they didn’t think, “Oh, this is a podcast about going on a tour.” Can you talk us through, specifically for other tourpreneurs that might be wanting to either change their brand main or they’re thinking of their brand name, that process for you going from the past name to Flying Bike?
Alice: 07:21 Yeah, that was a huge process that was a lot more complicated than I was expecting. We initially went on to one of those websites where you get crowdsourcing for ideas. We got some ideas, and we were just throwing things around, but nothing really seemed to be very inspired passed just sounding catchy. We put it on hold for the rest of the seasons, and then started working with a business mentor. Then eventually someone who specialized more in getting a little more creative and digging deeper into your core values. That was definitely a new experience for me. I’d had no experience in business and didn’t really understand core values and a mission and a vision.
Alice: 08:11 It was a lot of months of work really, to really figure out what we were trying to do, what our mission was, and how we wanted the name to reflect that. It was a lot of working with people that really understood you and inspired you to dig deeper. After that, we got some ideas, and then a brainstorming session over the weekend, and came out with the Flying Bike. I guess there were also some other potential names that were too copyright complicated. We’re lucky to have a friend who does copyright law. She was able to help us figure out a name that wouldn’t conflict with anything legally
Shane: 08:54 It’s good you did that, because originally with Tourpreneur, I was going to call it the Travel Pro Show, and I bought the URL and I was really happy to get the URL for nine bucks or whatever. There’s a luggage company called Travel Pro.
Alice: 09:08 Oh man.
Shane: 09:08 I don’t want to get involved in that.
Alice: 09:10 It’s painful. It was something we knew we had to do, but yeah, once we got that name, it was just holding back so many other things, like the website and everything. It was a huge relief. Yeah, and I think you picked a great name, so congratulations on that.
Shane: 09:24 I love your logo.
Alice: 09:25 Thank you.
Shane: 09:26 I urge our listeners to go to flyingbiketours.com and check it out. Was that something that you guys designed yourselves or did you hire an expert in? How did the logo come about?
Torin: 09:35 The logo was actually from another crowdsourcing website. After getting the name, we had the vision for what we wanted. We definitely came up with a lot of really good ones, with a pretty inexpensive process for the logo. There were some that were hard to not choose, but this one just really kept coming up. We went back to some of our mentors and other people, and just asked of the options, which they liked. Then Alice did a lot of hard work to work with the artist to tweak it just to where it felt really perfect for us.
Shane: 10:09 I love it. It’s great. The URL flyingbiketours.com, was that available when you searched, or did you painfully have to hand over a lot of cash to get it?
Alice: 10:17 That was available. Theflyingbike.com wasn’t. It was something internationally. It might be in England maybe. Actually, I think The Flying Bike was taken but we couldn’t find out who it was taken by, something like that. Flying Bike Tours ended up working out really well, because it gives a little more information on all of our different handles.
Shane: 10:38 If I could call up Dr. Who and borrow his Tardis, her Tardis now, because I think it’s a female Dr. Who, and we could go back in time to where you started the business, is there anything you would do differently in terms of the set up?
Torin: 10:49 Well first of all, I would say that buying a preexisting business saves you so much pain and early, slow going effort. I feel really fortunate that that came our way. I know that’s got to be very different for a lot of the other aspiring entrepreneurship out there who really have to just take an even bigger leap. We had the advantage of knowing that there was some business coming in already. As far as anything that we would do differently, on of our biggest attractions on our ride is the Omni Grove Park Inn.
Torin: 11:24 It’s this beautiful, very historic hotel, where we get this big view. I assumed that there was an agreement in place because I had been training with the pervious owner and we’d been going there, and the tour had been running for five years. You know what happens when you assume. About three weeks into us owning the tours and me doing them, the security came up to me one day, with a tour group. He had the whole ear-piece in and fancy suit. Was very much getting ready to bounce me out of there.
Torin: 11:59 Came up to me and said, “Sir, have you been giving tours in here for the last month?” I just answered honestly. I said yes. I bought this business and they had been doing them. They were pretty gentle from there. I didn’t get roughed up or anything. My guests told them on the way out that like, “Hey, this guy just got you five new customers.” It started a process though that took several weeks of just backing up and proving to them that we were legit, and finding out that there was no explicit contract on paper. We created that, and it all worked out in the end.
Torin: 12:34 Now their concierges are referring people to us. We’re following all the rules. They definitely had some changes that they made to how we interacted with their space, but we’re just super appreciative of them. We have a good relationship now, and a contract. That’s worked out for the better, but it was a learning lesson for sure that you should make sure that everything is in place before you start touring in people’s properties.
Shane: 12:59 Absolutely. Did you have to get licensing in any way from your local council or from local government in Asheville?
Torin: 13:05 Yeah. We got a license with the county. That was actually a really smooth process. There’s not much to say about that. It was not a problem at all.
Alice: 13:13 Some places, they have to have licensed guides and that kind of thing. We don’t have anything like that at this time. That was a pretty smooth transition.
Shane: 13:22 Yes, absolutely. I know some of the tourpreneurs I’ve been speaking to, that was quite a big headache at the start, to navigate the whole licensing thing. Glad you didn’t have to deal with that in Asheville. I wanted to talk a little bit more about once you got up and running. I think Torin, maybe to you, can you tell us about the first tour that you led? You own the business, and it’s your first tour. How did it feel?
Torin: 13:43 Oh yeah, I was so nervous. Like Alice said, we had this idea from the reviews that this other woman, the super star guide. Honestly, I had done a lot of public speaking but I had never done anything like leading a tour. I’ve been a teacher and certainly been in positions to talk to large groups, but I had to brush up on all of the history. I knew there were going to be questions that were coming my way that I just couldn’t answer. I was super nervous.
Torin: 14:09 The first one I did though, I actually did with the previous owner as a backup. She was gracious enough to stick around and help us out. That went pretty well. She certainly filled in some blanks for me and the next one I did on my own, it was nerve wracking, but it took I would say about four or five times before I felt like, “Okay, I got this. I’m getting reviews.” That was a huge surprise to me too, when those first positive reviews came in. It was just like, “Wow, they like me. I’m doing something right.”
Torin: 14:42 I definitely gave some misinformation about some historical facts along the way in the first, probably, couple weeks. I just had to constantly go back and make sure I was sharp and brushing up. To this day, it’s been two seasons now. I’m constantly learning and trying to really refine my knowledge and the stories that we tell. Yeah, there was one building that I think I said was built in the 40s or something. It was built in the 80s. I just went with it. I played it cool for the minute. Then I went back and was like, “Whoops, I missed that one.” Obviously, if somebody had Googled it right then, I would have looked foolish, but I’m doing a lot better now.
Speaker 1: 15:27 Did you know every weekday, Shane curates the most interesting news articles in tours and activities, and sends them out in a snappy, daily digest. Grab your copy of the Tourpreneur Daily Briefing at www.tourpreneur.com.
Shane: 15:44 Could you share any advice with someone who maybe out there right now who has got a walking tour or a bike tour and they’re really nervous about leading their first tour. What would you say to that person Torin?
Torin: 15:54 You know, I’ve gotten into hiring guides. We hired some guides this year, so I’ve had to give them that advice. I think one of the things I say is that it’s so much more important to really be kind and attentive and just a good person to be around while you’re the guide and while you’re on the tour, than it is to dial in those dates and every last little fact. We want our people to know everything that the tour encompasses and then some. They really need to be experts in Asheville. As long as you’re taking really good care of people and being honest, if you don’t know, you should say so.
Torin: 16:31 I genuinely thought that the building was built in the 40s, for example. If I come up against something that someone asks now, it’s totally okay just to say, “You know what? I don’t know. I can find that out for you and you can wait until the end of the tour,” or if you have a break and your guests are somewhere, you can look it up on your phone or whatever. I’ve definitely done that too, and found out some really interesting things in the process. Those questions don’t have to be something that makes you nervous or scared. They can actually just be extremely valuable teaching tools.
Torin: 17:02 Chances are, someone’s going to bring that up again in the future. It might just lead you somewhere that opens up a whole new pathway for your tour to talk about some really interesting facts or stories. Knowing your material and your information as well as you can, but then just really focusing on being enjoyable to be around and giving people a great experience while you’re there.
Shane: 17:26 Yeah. I think a lot of us suffer with the imposter syndrome when we’re starting out on things. There was a really good podcast by a friend of mine who runs a school of podcasting, all about imposter syndrome. He was listing all these top-level celebrities who admitted before they got on the stage, they would throw up, and some big names I was really surprised. I will add the link to that podcast episode in the show notes, which everyone can find at tourpreneur.com/2 to go listen to that. We haven’t gotten into your background yet, Torin, coming from the non-tourism side of things to go into tourism and lead a tour. You must have been wracked with that the morning of.
Torin: 18:04 Yeah, absolutely. You just don’t know if you’re going to do it well until you do it, but even if you make some mistakes, it’s not the end of the world, I guess that’s what I’ve learned.
Shane: 18:13 You mentioned that you hire tour guides. I always feel that hiring/recruiting is one of the toughest jobs for any entrepreneur, because you know the person you want, and they’re quite hard to find. How did you go about recruiting the right people for your business?
Alice: 18:28 The first season we really relied on Torin. He did almost all of the tours. We just had a couple friends that we trained and hired to help a little bit part time. The current season, we were trying to be a little more intentional about hiring. We found a book called why employees are always a bad idea. It kind of goes along with some of what our core values are, and trying to get people who really have a stake in what you’re doing. It’s more than just a J-O-B to them, that are invested in what your mission and vision is for the company.
Alice: 19:09 We use their process, which was really interesting. They’re kind of an anti-resume process, where you have a list of questions and get people to answer these questions. We posted the job application. I think we did Facebook and Craig’s List and indeed. We got the best response just from Craig’s List posting, although this next hiring season, I went to Kelsey Tonner’s recruiting class at Arrival, and got a lot more ideas for where we’re going to post for this coming season.
Alice: 19:46 The answers we got back from these questions, which were a part from what they had suggested we ask, and kind of what we decided was important to us. It’s just a better way to get a feel for people and where they’re coming from. From that, we actually had them record a mock tour stop. The first process was the questions and then the second step was doing this little recording. We got to see their personality a little bit.
Shane: 20:17 That’s a really good idea.
Torin: 20:18 One thing that I really liked about the process that they suggested was to make a really long first post for your job, and to put somewhere towards the bottom of it, “Please do not send your resume.” That alone, that one step, eliminated so many people that didn’t read through the post, because people would just send resumes because they were just again, looking for just a job, and not really to be a part of something. I feel like we weeded through the majority of our first applicants.
Torin: 20:52 It’s possible we left some good ones out there, but the folks that we got have been really incredible and they’re bought in. In fact, one of them, he specifically said, “I wasn’t going to apply for this job, but when I saw you put your core values out there, I realized how much they aligned with mine,” and with, actually, the other work that he’s doing in Asheville. He applied on that basis, and is just so invested in what we’re doing, and I’m sure will be for the long haul. That was a really powerful process for us.
Shane: 21:24 Those people are really hard to find. I love your approach with the resume. It reminds me of way back when, at high school, we had an exercise of 100 questions of some class. The first thing it said, “Please read all 100 questions before you answer.” Of course, I didn’t, and I raced through the 100 questions. Number 100 was, “Please do not answer any of the above questions.”
Alice: 21:48 That’s funny. I’ve heard horror stories about people saying they just have a slew of 500 resumes and half of them, you can tell it’s not anything that would be a meaningful career for them or work for them. I feel like after seeing so many resumes, they can just look the same, whereas the questions they really, I just felt like you could get a feeling for what that person was like. Yeah, we got a lot of great people, a lot of great candidates. I feel like next year, I think we’re going to do even better as far as bringing in some of the other qualities that we’re looking for.
Shane: 22:28 Yeah, one of the things that we did, or I did in my last role in particular, I’ve interview thousands of sales candidates. The thing about interviewing sales people is they sell. They’re always very good at interviews. One of my core values as a sales director was I wanted people that were open to being coached, because that’s so important. Everyone goes, “Yeah, I’m up for coaching, whatever else.” What we used to do is do a sales role play. Then at the end of the role play, say, “Okay, would you like some feedback?”
Shane: 22:53 Of course, if they said no, it was [inaudible 00:22:56] the feedback and say, “Hey, how would you feel about doing it again?” Then you would listen for how many of your points they implemented in the second role play. That, for me, was the most important part of the interview, irrespective of experience and skills. It was like then you really get to see a high pressure situation, how coachable someone is.
Torin: 23:14 That’s a great tip.
Shane: 23:15 Moving on from recruitment of staff, how do you guys go about soliciting customer feedback? I know you live or die by trip advisor reviews. How’d you go about soliciting that from people who’ve taken the Flying Bike Tour?
Torin: 23:27 A lot of that right now is a process that we’re actually working on. One thing is that we do have the Trip Advisor reviews, but of course, you get more of the positive feedback that way. I think people thankfully, are a little bit hesitant to post negative stuff unless they really, really had a terrible experience. Some of the ways that I’ve gone about it in the meantime have been to just really talk to people as I ride with them. It’s nice to be the owner and the tour guide, and be able to have a two and a half hour ride with people, where I can solicit feedback from them as we go.
Torin: 24:04 For instance, we have a kind of electric bike that has a throttle on it, which you twist to give you power. I was wondering if that was really effective or was more confusing and frustrating. My last ride, I was talking to this woman who was with me, who was an older woman who claimed to have balance issues, although she did great on the ride. She just told me, “I love it. I think it’s really helping me actually balance better.” It’s really nice to be able to be in an industry where you can actually get that feedback in a very organic and friendly way, just natural way while you’re conversing with people.
Torin: 24:43 There’s actually some other steps we’re taking to start doing post ride surveys. We have an app that we’re working with, it’s called Werewolf. It’s actually set up to be a waiver. It’s a really interesting process for getting a lot more information from people, both pre and post ride. Something that we learned at this Arrival conference, where if you only collect the email, for example, of the person that books your tour, which is typical. Let’s say they book for four people.
Torin: 25:17 You’re only getting 25% of the potential to communicate with those folks, and get their reviews and their feedback ultimately. By having everybody input an email into an online waiver process, and then some other demographic information, it’s going to allow us to reach a lot further. As we get that built, the plan is to have an automatic survey go out to everybody that comes on our tour.
Alice: 25:42 Do you say anything at the end of the tour asking for reviews? I don’t actually know what you say.
Torin: 25:47 I ask every time. I just say, “I would humbly ask that if you had a good time today, please go on Trip Advisor, or any other platform, and leave us a review. If there’s anything else you’d like to share, just let me know.
Shane: 26:04 One of my questions to you is going to be if you reached out to any customers who’d left bad feedback for you, but I couldn’t find any. It’s all great feedback for you guys.
Alice: 26:12 Well we did inherit one bad review. We were trying to figure out, with buying the business, inheriting all the stuff that we got with it, I think we started with 76 trip advisor reviews. We had one bad review, and it wasn’t actually even about the tour. It was about a tour that got canceled, and they weren’t communicated with. We’ve been waiting, we actually need to go back and respond to everybody that has left a review previously, just so they know about our business now. I’m curious if they meant to respond to us in any way. We have yet to receive a bad review about our actual tour.
Torin: 26:55 We haven’t really had any major complaints, but the minor stuff is, I think, always going to be there. Again, it goes back to being really open and attentive when you’re on a tour. This is something I talk to our guides about as well, but for me, if somebody does start to give you some feedback, not to shut them down and to make sure that you’re listening really well with your best listening skills, and even repeating it back to them so that they know that you’re hearing, and they can correct you if you’re not hearing things right.
Torin: 27:30 I’ve had feedback on a lot of different things. People wish that we had, for example, headsets so that when we’re riding, they could hear the guide at all times. We haven’t done that for a couple reasons. Initially, it was the expense, but now it’s also a bit about the distraction factor, where people are just not always as tuned in as you want, and I worry if I’m talking in someone’s ear, that they’re not going to see a turning car or something like that. I’ve taken that feedback and was careful to really listen to what aspects of it that people wanted, and why they were asking for it.
Torin: 28:05 Now I say at the outset, “Hey, I don’t give the tour while we’re riding. I’ll talk to the two people that are next to me and learn about you and find out if there’s any suggestions I can give you for places to eat and things to do. I’ll only be giving the tour when we get to the stop and I have everybody’s attention and can talk to everybody at once.” That just heads that type of thing off. I had another ride where we got rained on, and these poor young folks that come out had been rained on four times on their vacation. We went for two and a half hours, two hours and 25 minutes out of our tour, we were dry and it was sunny.
Torin: 28:40 The last five minutes, the sky just opened up and poured on us. These poor guys got soaked. They were really appreciative of the whole tour. I think I had done a good job of connecting with them. They sent me an email afterwards, instead of putting it on Trip Advisor, and they said, “Hey, you know what, we loved the tour. You did a great job. It would be really helpful if you could have ponchos.” I was like, “Wow, that’s a great idea.” It improved our business. Now, even on a sunny day, I won’t go out unless every bike bag has a poncho in it. It’s just taking that feedback and taking it to heart, making sure that the customer experience is improved.
Alice: 29:16 To go back to your early question about making sure we get reviews beyond the customer experience and trying to do our best with that is, we did sign up for a Trip Advisor’s Review Express, pretty soon after taking over the business. That definitely increased reviews exponentially. Hopefully with this new platform we’re going to be doing, I think it has a similar idea whereas we’re reaching out to people pretty soon after asking for their feedback.
Torin: 29:47 Another piece of that that I really love too is there’s a way to ask for people to ask them if they want to give you a positive five star review, and that if they have any other feedback, you give them a link to your email. You give them a link to the review if they want to say something shining, and then you give them a link to you to address it further. How you word that is obviously, really important. That way, you can just take that negative feedback internally, and really connect with those people, make sure that you’re giving them great customer service, and then the people that are already super thrilled can go directly to the review sites.
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Shane: 30:33 I want to change track a little bit and talk about marketing and sales. This is obviously, one of the biggest challenges for anyone that’s launching a tour. How did you first get the word out about Flying Bike?
Alice: 30:46 The previous name was Electric Bike Tours. I think all we did the first season was just rack cards and then connecting with people that we knew in the area. We’ve been in Asheville for almost 13 years now, so we have a lot of connections in the city. The second year, we definitely made much more of a push to reach out. We, again, did rack cards. We really tried to reach out to the tourism bureau, going to their events, networking, attending any event that was really related to tourism in Asheville. We continuously do that. I think Torin, that’s one of his strengths is networking and getting connected with other community members and like-minded folks.
Alice: 31:35 We did that and we also are now expanding into digital marketing. I’m taking a digital marketing class through JB Media. It’s a digital marketing agency here in Asheville. That’s been just really great information. There is so much that I’ve been learning. It’s almost a little overwhelming. We looked at trying to hire an agency to handle all of our marketing, but we just, budget-wise, aren’t able to do that yet. We so far have been doing a lot with trying to fix our SEO and optimize our website.
Alice: 32:15 We have a great website that’s already performing really well. It’s interesting to see when you look in our Google Analytics, you can see where we launched the new website in Google Analytics traffic just explodes. That was probably one of the biggest things is just making sure that digitally, we have a well-working website that’s attractive, that’s easy to book. We use FareHarbor for our booking platform, which is then excellent. We’re super mobile friendly. Now we’re just trying to go back and refine a lot of that.
Torin: 32:51 Yeah. One of the things that we’re not doing, and this is with those folks again that are starting up, that might be a little intimidated. We still don’t have a huge sign on our door. This whole year, we didn’t keep somebody in our shop. We’re working towards that, but our lives this past year conflicted. We have two small children and they were home with us for most of this year, and we take care of them.
Torin: 33:14 There’s a marketing plan that we’re still working towards. Not all those things are in place. I’m sure we missed a few people that walked up and were hoping just to walk in and join a tour and probably missed a bunch more that would have walked up if we had a big sign out. We do have signs on the bikes and we keep working at adding all these pieces so that people can find us.
Shane: 33:33 You two have a beautiful website. I was very impressed when I was looking at it when we first got talking. How did you go about building that?
Alice: 33:40 We initially just trying to figure out how do we run a tour agency? How do we become guides? How does this work? We came across Kelsey Tonner’s Be a Better Guide series and workshop. We started taking some of his advice and through him, we found Tourism Tiger. They build websites. I know now they’re partnering with Tourism Marketing Agency. They build really beautiful websites that are specific to tour agencies. They know how to portrait things, how to help the flow of your site. They also help you with all of the copy. It was definitely a process and took a lot of work, but we really enjoyed working with them and we’re really happy with the results.
Torin: 34:31 Locally, we hired amplified media for photo and video. Actually, that’s another thing. Is we have a beautiful video that’s in the works that we’re going to add to our website, but we’re putting the fine tuning on that.
Shane: 34:43 I think what I really love about the website, as someone who looks at a lot of these kinds of websites as a traveler and professionally, is you’ve got that button. First of all, you’ve got a great picture. I can see it’s electric bikes, so I don’t have to be worried about being super fit. Then I see the button, “See what we offer.” I think that’s what’s so important, that people can click that and get right to, “What is it about this company, what do they offer in the area?” I love that that button is so prominent on the home page.
Alice: 35:08 You know, they call it the call to action. Wherever you are on the page, it should always be very clear what you want them to do. Yeah, that’s part of their finessing. I can’t take much credit for the website. It was all of their design. Amplified media, locally, took beautiful pictures. Hopefully we can get the video up soon.
Shane: 35:28 The credit though is that you invested what I can image was quite a fair bit of cash with Tourism Tiger to get your website up and running. Your front window to the world if it were. A lot of entrepreneurs would be tempted to build something of themselves on Word Press to get up and running, but using your resources and pulling that into the website is a very smart move.
Alice: 35:47 That’s one thing we didn’t mention I suppose. Obviously, with a lot of the changes to the business, we actually took out a loan with our local business start up non-profit. That allowed us to do a lot of the marketing that we did for this year. It helped us with name changes, getting that website done. We invested in new bikes, and just really creating a brand image.
Shane: 36:17 Yeah. Yeah, and that very definitely comes across very strongly on the home page.
Alice: 36:17 You have to say, Tourism Tiger, they do have a template option. Our website, I think it looks pretty custom, but it’s actually a template. I think even their templated options, which are much more affordable, still more than what you need.
Shane: 36:33 Well Tourism Tiger would love to come on the show at some point in the future and we can talk through some of those options, because one of the things we want to do with Tourpreneur is when someone like you guys are really recommending a company, then I would love them to come on and talk about how they can help other tourpreneurs.
Alice: 36:47 They’re great over there.
Shane: 36:49 That leads me to my next question. You mentioned FareHarbor. How important is FareHarbor to your business?
Torin: 36:54 It’s so important. They have been just amazing. We got to meet a lot of the people behind the scenes at Arrival. I think I told every single one of them how grateful I was for their customer service. There’s actually a funny story about that. They, like anyone, have a call center. A lot of times, you do have a short wait to get on for any problems that might be having to talk to somebody. They have this pretty simple little music that they play in the background while you’re on hold. It’s not my favorite song or anything like that, but it’s become this positive Pavlovian response.
Torin: 37:28 When I’m listening to that, I know that I’m about to get this great customer service in just a minute. It’s really this powerful thing. I get so happy that I know that I’m going to call them and they’re going to take care of stuff, whereas as an entrepreneur, you know I’m making 10 of those calls in a day. I’d be lucky if seven of them came to any satisfying conclusion. With FareHarbor, it’s almost always, they help you either right there on the phone if it’s something that’s going to take 30 minutes. They’ll sit with you and walk you through it.
Torin: 38:01 Then they also are very empowering. They give you the links and stuff to go do it on your own if it’s something that you agree that you could do quickly by yourself. As a platform, I think it’s worked really well for our guests too. They have given us a lot of good feedback about how easy it’s been to book online. It meshes well with our website and integrates with Trip Advisor and some of the other OTAs that we’re looking into connecting with. I love this platform, and I think we’ll keep working with them for a long time.
Alice: 38:31 That’s a huge piece I would say. I went on a bike tour down in Key West. The guy had a successful business and been doing it for years. I talked to him a little bit about digitalizing the booking process. He was like, “Oh no. I like my emails and my phone calls coming in.” I can’t imagine trying to grow a business and keep up … We still get phone calls for bookings. Sometimes it feels like Torin’s on the phone all day, and I know that’s just a fraction of the people that are booking. If you don’t have a digital booking platform, I would definitely make that step number one, because that’s been so helpful, and just really helped us to also see the numbers. It’s just an easy way to get reports on how you’re doing.
Shane: 39:19 When you looked into the different providers out there, did you jump straight on with FareHarbor or did you shop around?
Torin: 39:25 The previous owner had actually just signed up for it, which was amazing. We didn’t have to do some of the legwork for that. Then there were already a couple future bookings that we got included with the price of the business. We didn’t really have a ton of this set up process, but it did take some work when we rebranded.
Shane: 39:45 Yeah, I can imagine. Are you connect through them to the various OTAs around the world, are you just using that locally with your own business?
Alice: 39:54 We just started that process of looking into OTAs. We are now on Vitour [inaudible 00:40:02] experiences as our first step with that. We definitely are planning on expanding that into the OTA market.
Shane: 40:10 I wanted to talk a little bit about productivity. I’m always amazed, Torin, you just mentioned that you’ve got two young kids. I’m always very amazed how people are able to get a good work life balance, etc. We talked about FareHarbor and the Werewolf app. Are there any other tools or apps that you’re currently using that are indispensable to you?
Torin: 40:31 We used one for our guides called On The Clock. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s just a way for them to keep track of their hours. That’s been really nice. Outside of that, it’s pretty basic. We use QuickBooks and pretty normal tools. FareHarbor does a whole calendar. That’s key for us. That’s probably the thing I check and interact with the most is the calendar and the various booking buttons on FareHarbor, but not really outside of that.
Alice: 40:59 Then we use a lot of Google software. The Google Calendar, Google Documents. We running the business together, he handles the operations and I handle marketing. We also do the Gmail suite. That just keeps communication between us flowing and being able to keep on top of emails and everything together.
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Shane: 41:29 You mentioned earlier on the book why employees are a bad idea. Are there any other books that you recommend to fellow tourpreneurs that have been very useful for you guys?
Torin: 41:38 Yeah. One of them is traction, which is not specific to our operators, but is a really great process for setting your goals and setting your systems up to help you meet those goals. I can’t say we’ve implemented all of it yet, but it’s gotten us through the first steps. That’s an ongoing process. Then Sell More Tours by Matt Newton has another one that just has tons and tons of great information. Alice has mentioned a couple times the Be a Better Guide series by Kelsey Tonner, that has been indespinsible honestly. The information that he shares in that, it’s all online modules that you can just tune into whenever you want at your own pace and …
Alice: 42:24 He’s got podcasts and different information for free, but we actually are enrolled in his academy. We are still working through that actually. We’ve been so busy trying to keep up with tours and the business side of things, that now we’re going back. Now that this season is winding down, we’re going back and trying to really up our game as far as the tour experience as well as expand and create some other tours.
Torin: 42:52 I just want to say to your point about balance and come back to the fact that yeah, we have these little kids. I would hate for anybody to think that we’ve got it all together and they should too. It’s just constantly working at it. One thing or another, you get out of balance and then you get back to it. It’s a constant effort for both of us, and Alice has a part-time job as a nurse, and that’s very demanding. There’s a lot going on that it takes just to keep the positive experience for our guests consistent. We just work at it hard and work at it as a couple, and try to lift each other up and be good listeners to each other. It’s a day to day thing always really.
Alice: 43:36 Our house is a mess. We ignore our house and work on the business.
Torin: 43:43 That’s true.
Shane: 43:44 I wanted to, before we wrap up, touch a little bit on the Arrival event. I know when we spoke initially in the summer, or actually a few months ago, I think you just got back from Arrival. Yeah, maybe you can share with our listeners, especially those tourpreneurs out there that follow arrival online, they know a bit about it, they may have watched some videos. That’s $1000 to go there and food and hotels and flights and everything else. What would your advice be to a tourpreneur that’s thinking that right now about Arrival?
Torin: 44:10 Man, it is so, so worth it. I’ve been to conferences coming from other industries were stale and just painfully expensive and short on practical, useful information. This was everything but. It was so fun. It was so well organized.
Alice: 44:30 Inspiring speakers and information that was so relevant and timely. The connections that we made, just for example, we were looking into a different type of bike for the next round. Our model is to sell used bikes and then buy them to keep the fleet nice and new and good for our guests. We were having a hard time connecting with this one brand of bike. They were trying to give us a retail price. One of the connections that we came out from Arrival, within a couple days, I’m now connected and we’re going to get set up with a whole sale account with the same brand of bike that we were having trouble with before. It’s just fun. There’s lots of parties. Definitely unlike any kind of conference I’d ever been to in the past.
Shane: 45:24 I think it’s incredible that it’s only their second one. I wasn’t able to go this year, heard great things about it. I went to the first year and Alex, Douglas and Bruce, they worked so hard behind the scenes to make it a success. Something I’ll share with you is my CEO, then I was working for Get Your Guide was supposed to speak. He couldn’t make it, something happened in Europe. I had to go and speak.
Shane: 45:46 Douglas, he grilled me for an hour on the phone to make sure that I knew what I was talking about because he didn’t want people spending good money to come and hear a lot of talking heads that weren’t offering value. I always respected Douglas for that, even though it was a tough hour, because he didn’t know me and I didn’t know him. That’s how much effort they put into making sure it’s a success for everyone, because they respect that for tourpreneurs, every dollar counts, to spend that to come to Arrival, they want to make it the best it can be.
Torin: 46:13 Yeah. That really came through. Douglas, specifically was incredible. The people that they brought in to talk to us, first of all, were really high up and these incredibly huge players, Trip Advisor, Google, and a lot of OTAs that we hadn’t heard of. From the start, they were grilling people. They were just like, “Hey look, when Trip Advisor bought [Boken 00:46:35], did that mean that they were going to force people to sign up with Boken or they were going to devalue your listing? They got answers to those questions on a stage in front of 1000 people, tour operators that were hanging on every word.
Torin: 46:50 There’s been some back tracking, so not all that information has remained quite the way that it was presented at the time, but it tuned us into it. I think that was a huge part, was that we feel so much more aware of the landscape of our industry, than we did before we went. There were only a couple or a few of us from our area that went. I come back feeling like we know so much more than a lot of people. [inaudible 00:47:19], I’ve had conversations with other tour operators here, and they have been extremely appreciative of the information that I’ve shared. Yeah, I feel like it’s the best kept secret out there is this conference is just going to continue to improve.
Alice: 47:33 I want to say it was really helpful I think in two different ways. It’s got the practical side where you’re getting all of this information. From that, we learned so much about OTAs and are now expanding into that with a lot of knowledge and awareness about it instead of going in not knowing what we were getting into. Then the other side of it is just getting so inspired. The speakers were super inspiring and had similar values and motivations behind what’s driving them to do in their business. It really gave us a lot of information, but also a lot of inspiration.
Shane: 48:11 I really got the feeling with Arrival that they genuinely care about tourpreneurs. Arrival to me, yes, of course, Douglas and his team need to turn a profit, but there is so much more to what they’re trying to achieve rather than just, “Hey, let’s set up a conference and make a boat load of cash.”
Torin: 48:26 Yeah, and so far so good from our perspective.
Alice: 48:29 Definitely a must do on our calendar for next fall.
Shane: 48:32 Well I would love to buy you both a drink when I’m there, because I’m hoping to make it myself.
Alice: 48:36 Awesome, that sounds great.
Shane: 48:38 Who would you like to hear us interview next on Tourpreneur?
Torin: 48:41 One of the people at Arrival that made just such a huge impression on me was Akeelah McConnell from Atlanta Food Walks. She just, I think, had just about every mouth in that big stage room dropping when she told her stories. We were really fortunate, again, shout out to Arrival for making that possible, but we got to sit down and have lunch with her and connect with her. She’s somebody that I think is very inspiring and is doing more than just running a tour business. She’s telling stories that don’t always get told, which is one of the values that we have, and doing it in a way that’s bold and powerful and effective. Yeah, I think she’d be an amazing guest to hear more about what’s going on behind the scenes with her business.
Alice: 49:26 How about Dwayne?
Torin: 49:27 Yeah, we have a good friend who’s, I guess, in that same vein. His name’s Dwayne Barton. He runs Hood Tours here in Asheville. I’m sure you’ll be getting people from outside of Asheville as well, but Dwayne is a spoken word poet. His hood tours are like African American history. He infuses his poetry and his art sculptures and all of it into what he does. Just again, probably one of the very few most inspiring people I’ve ever met. He’d be a good person to talk to for sure.
Shane: 49:59 Brilliant. I will drop them a note and invite them onto the show. Actually, I know this is a bit of a love fest for Arrival, but I do need to share this. I was lucky enough to see Akeelah’s talk, because unlike a lot of other conferences, they shared a ton of those videos for free online. I’ve seen a lot of conferences that will charge you to watch those videos if you weren’t able to make. I want to put a big thumbs up to Arrival for sharing a lot of the talks and presentations.
Torin: 50:23 Being there in person, like I said, people’s mouths literally dropped open all at the same time. Her delivery was so on point and so powerful. It was amazing.
Alice: 50:32 Yeah, her talk gave me goosebumps. On our calendar is a trip down to Atlanta. We have family down there, but we’re going to hit up her tour and a couple others just for inspiration.
Torin: 50:45 If I can just throw this out there too, that’s one of my favorite things about this industry, is that every time we travel, and even within our own city, we get to count those tours as research and development. Then connecting with those tour operators and owners, it’s just really fun. It’s a really amazing, inspiring group of people. Going to other cities has this entirely new flavor for me, because not only do I intend to do these tours, but I’ll be looking behind the scenes and just learning so much more.
Shane: 51:14 Brilliant. I hope you’ll stay tuned to Tourpreneur, because we’re hoping to dig into a lot of these lessons in the same way that you’ve just shared some fantastic tips for the community as well going forward. I know you guys are really busy and I want to thank you so much for coming on Tourpreneur.
Alice: 51:29 Absolutely. Thank you so much for having us.
Torin: 51:31 Yeah, thank you, this has been awesome.
Speaker 1: 51:33 Thanks for listening to the Tourpreneur podcast. Be sure to visit tourpreneur.com to join the conversation and access the show notes, including links to the resources mentioned on today episode. This is Tourpreneur.