Building a Brand on a Budget: Industry Trade Shows

After a couple of days in Orlando, Florida at the Florida Vacation Rental Management Association’s annual conference, I’ve realized that it can be difficult for start-up companies with tight budgets to exhibit at trade shows and conferences. There’s just so much that you can mess up!

When our company first started going to conferences we made some rookie mistakes and learned some important lessons that I’d like to pass along to other start-up companies. Our tips and tricks may not be applicable across all industries, but they will help you build a brand on a budget.

Why Do Trade Shows?

Start-ups often attend trade shows, and in the process give away valuable development time and money that they could use improving their product, creating new products or adding value to their company in a multitude of other ways. So why even attend trade shows and conferences?

First of all, exhibiting at trade shows gives you the best possible opportunity to get in front of many of your potential customers in just a few hours, which is in incredibly valuable for your sales person or team. Additionally, it gives you access to many vendors who attend the show and could provide value to your company as a supplier or partner.

Outside of the personal connections made at these events, we have found it particularly beneficial when it comes to keeping an eye on industry trends and problems that our customers face.

Design it Like Martha Stewart

The exhibition booth is your most valuable investment as an exhibitor and the easiest to get wrong. Like any other investment you’ll want to spend some time planning what your exhibition booth will look like, what materials you’ll need, how people will interact with your representatives and how your materials will get to the trade show.

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There are a couple of guidelines to follow when designing your booth’s layout. First of all, you’ll want to think of a draw, something that will engage the conference attendees and bring them to your booth. Let me be clear: free promotional TRASH is NOT a draw. Your draw will want to be something unique that any attendee can do or participate in, there’s a chance to win something, allows people to have some fun and keeps them in one spot long enough for you to talk to them about your company or even better show them your product. Once you’ve figured out the draw you’ll then want to make sure that you pull your chairs off to the side (it looks bad if you sit and takes up a lot of room) and create enough room to stand with multiple attendees in your booth.

Now that you’ve come up with your draw you’ll want to begin gathering the materials you need. If you plan on doing more than one conference, then avoid renting anything from the conference provider. It is the biggest rip off! Last year we rented a few high-top tables from the conference provider for about $500, and to avoid that cost this year, we bought plastic stands to go on top of the table they provide all exhibitors for $50.

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Finally, you’ll want to figure out how your materials are going to make it to the conference. Your best options are to either ship it through FedEx to another FedEx store nearby your destination, which is relatively cheap and allows you to avoid the outrageous handling costs the trade show will charge you, or to pack it all up and bring it in checked baggage on your plane. From personal experience I can say that checked baggage is cheaper for heavier materials, but for lighter packages it’s often easier and cheaper just to ship everything.

Attacking Attendees

As an exhibitor you only have a few minutes of the attendees time to convey what you do and how you’re going to provide value to their business. Besides having a well-crafted elevator pitch that works within the flow of your booth you’ll want to have an attack strategy for each attendee.

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For those attendees that are a great fit for your product and would be worth your time you’ll want to walk them through your draw, continue the conversation, show them how you can create value and leave with some sort of commitment from them (e.g. “I would be interested in doing this”, “You can follow up with me next week”, “I will share this with our partners”). For those that don’t fit what you want in a customer you’ll want to share your pitch and move on, they are not worth your time if there is no potential partnership or opportunity to work together.

When your conversations go well with potential customers be sure to make some notes about their company and what you spoke about so you can properly follow up with them soon. A successful show means that you’ll have a list of potential customers divided into warm leads and hot leads that you’ll be able to follow up with in the next two weeks after the conference. Anything later is impossible to convert!

Eyes on the Prize

When done strategically and with effort an industry trade show or conference can be very fruitful for startups that are trying to get in front of as many potential customers as possible. These tips are just the starting point for those who are interested in doing trade shows correctly. If you have any additional questions or simply would like to learn from our experience please reach out and let us know how we can provide advice!

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Why I Refuse to Offer Travel Insurance

Finish this sentence: “Travel Insurance is …”

When we pose this question with new business partners we hear “a hassle”, “rigged”, “complicated”, “out of reach”, “costly”, “too regulated”, “bad for my brand” and more. We certainly understand the reluctance of property managers and vacation rental companies to offering travel insurance to their guests, and we’ve specifically designed our travel insurance technology to avoid many of the problems that property managers face.

LICENSING

The first hesitation many property mangers have to offering travel insurance is the licensing process; after all they want to help people have great vacations, not worry about offering them insurance. Most travel insurance providers require property managers to obtain licensing in their home state, which takes time and money, just to provide guests with an in-path insurance offering.

At Pablow we’ve completed the licensing requirements to offer travel insurance (all the way up until 24 hours before a guest leaves for a trip) in Australia, the entire United States, and soon in Europe. By partnering with our company, you’ll be able to avoid licensing and immediately direct guests to your white label travel insurance website. It takes just two minutes to create!

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An example of our customizable white label website. You can personalize the subdomain, logo, background, and text heading.

TECHNOLOGY

Other travel insurance providers in the United States market ask that you integrate their travel insurance into your booking path and don’t offer many other technology solutions.

Pablow does not design technology FOR property managers; we design it WITH property managers! We’ve explored many different ways to integrate insurance with our partners’ booking processes including a post-sale widget, advertisements, email messaging, and icons and tabs on their current website directing to their travel insurance white label. If you need something different for your company, just let us know and we’ll see what we can do.

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An example of what our dynamic post-sale widget looks like on one partner’s website.

RESPONSIBILITY

Even after licensing and technology are taken care of, much of the responsibility and work still lies with the property manager. Other providers expect property managers, as the merchant of record, to create a spreadsheet of your insurance sales every month and send in a check for the cost of their policies.

Why focus more of your time to something that isn’t managing your properties? Pablow allows property managers to simply direct their guests to a white label insurance website, and we handle the rest, automatically depositing your monthly affiliate fee in your bank account.

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Why worry about travel insurance? Let Pablow worry about offering travel insurance so you can focus on managing your properties.

RECAP

While this short blog did not respond to all of the reasons why property managers and vacation rental professionals avoid travel insurance, we hope it gave you some compelling reasons to consider a partnership with Pablow. If you have any additional questions or hesitations not mentioned, but are interested in learning more about travel insurance please reach out to our team.

The Six Best Productivity Tools for International Entrepreneurs

INTRODUCTION

Pablow has always been an international company and for more than 20 years I’ve been a well-traveled global citizen. That’s really long for a guy like myself who looks 30 years old, am I right?  With our company’s key personnel scattered across the globe, I’ve found a couple of resources and tools that help keep our business running as smoothly as possible.

THE TOOLS

  1. Google Calendar: It shouldn’t be a surprise that the ultimate productivity company, Google, made the list, but I’ve found that many people have yet to discover the true possibilities of their Calendar application.  Personally, I use the calendar app to keep my meetings and events in order, remind me of tasks that need to be completed throughout the day, and to determine the best times in my schedule for a break … which usually doesn’t ever happen!
  2. Calendly: I know, I know, I just suggested a calendar application for the first productivity tool on the list, but I use Calendly for something entirely different.  I’ve been using Calendly as a simple and easy way to schedule meetings with clients, prospects, contractors, and external business partners.  The application is simple to use with a sleek external and internal-facing design.  When using the tool all I have to do is select a pre-determined type of meeting and dates that I’m available and the tool will email the other party to set up the meeting for me.  On their end, customers and prospects only see the time slots that I am available for the specified dates.  Once a meeting time is selected then we both will receive a confirmation email from the app.
  3. Google Analytics: As a retargeting company pursuing customers via online ad buying, we use Google Analytics in combination with Google AdWords in an attempt to maximize our ROI.  While a lot of what we do using Google Analytics is confidential to the company, I can say that my favorite capability of the application is being able to discover and experiment with what words are driving traffic to our websites and white label websites.
  4. Crowdfire: In order to manage our social media I used Crowdfire for a while, and Pablow’s marketing intern has continued to use the application for monitoring our Twitter account.  The application comes in handy when it comes to following/unfollowing accounts with the idea that we want to provide and receive value to our community on social media.  It also is helpful for sending automatic direct messages to followers almost immediately after they follow, which our company receives a lot of through Twitter, but we are unsure how professionals feel about these messages.  Runner up in the social media category is Hootsuite for scheduled posting to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!
  5. Upwork: As we spoke about in our previous blog “The People Power of Pablow” our needs as a growing company are too large to cover with internal talent, but seemingly too small to warrant hiring another employee.  To solve our problem we use many online independent contractors, each with their own area of specialty that provides Pablow with the best quality of skills.  Upwork does a great job at helping you hire talent even if you have never done so before, and when it comes to selecting a contractor the website even recommends contractors that are within your price range and have the experience to complete your project successfully.
  6. GitHub: This application allows our programming team to work on our technology improvements and fixes simultaneously.  Teams could use the online program in a variety of ways, but generally our team uses it to post fixes or new projects, creates steps to achieve our end-goal, assigns responsibility for each step to a team member, and marks the step as done so the rest of the team can see their progress.  A huge benefit of this program is the transparency and ability to hold others on your team accountable for achieving their goals and adding to the technology.

DISCUSSION – Please Share Your Opinion in the Comments Section Below

What do you think of the accounts that send automated “Thank you for following me” messages to all of their followers?  Is it professional or unprofessional to do so?  If we were to have an effective message to followers, what should it say?

What productivity tools do you use to enhance your chances of success as an entrepreneur?

Startup Life: Reflections Of An Intern

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Introduction

 ‘If you find something you love doing, you’ll never have to work a day in your life.’ Allow me to introduce myself in a few words. I’m a young woman studying business with big dreams. Chinese by descent, Zimbabwean born and raised, a minority among minorities, culturally complex, detail oriented, highly analytical, adaptable and trying to find my niche in a fast paced, constantly evolving business world. 

This summer I took on an opportunity that I’d never had before and I had no realistic idea exactly to expect. I knew it was a startup – an entrepreneurial venture typically described as a newly emerging and fast-growing business, but I wasn’t really sure what that would mean for my day to day tasks as an intern.

Every startup environment is different, but they all seek to solve a current problem with an innovative solution. I’ve chosen a few aspects of my internship at Pablow that really stuck out to me, taught me a lot and are what I believe made my summer at Pablow a unique experience.

Passion, Drive and Self Motivation

Compared to the life of intern at a big corporate firm – the structure of mine was, speaking colloquially, relatively ‘chilled.’ I was given the responsibility of choosing my clocking in and out time, as long as my total hours weekly fell within a given range. The duration and timing of my lunch break was also up to me. I was also given the choice of working remotely (from home, library or cafe – whatever works). For someone who is most comfortable with routine and structure this was definitely a change. I learned that while this kind of flexibility comes with a lot of freedom, it requires lot of responsibility and discipline. I was fortunate to be in an working environment of driven and motivated individuals that taught me something – that if you find something you really love doing, then you’ll never have to work a day in your life.

Use of Innovative Technology

For a company with only a handful of employees, the ball is rolling at an impressive velocity at Pablow. Steve Sherlock – my boss and seasoned entrepreneur is currently working in an Insuretech meets Traveltech startup (notice all the tech’s here). He’s a huge internet enthusiast and has the habits of a millennial when it comes to his knowledge and efficient use of all online services (i.e. it’s always Uber and Airbnb). In the beginning of this internship I felt like I had been living under a rock before and I was just starting to see the light on everything that is available in the travel industry. From the get go I learned to delegate certain tasks and work to freelancers all around the world. I watched and learned about loads of innovative online services within the travel industry and beyond, from digital guest book creators (Touchstay) to website testers and online accountants. There’s no limit to what is being created in this age of digital adaptation and Pablow is no stranger to this.

Learning by Trial And Error

On my first day, Steve sat me down where he presented Pablow’s business model, vision and products. Then I was given my role, along with a list of projects to work on, and Steve told me – there’s probably many ways out there to get this done, but how exactly I would get this done was up to me. At a startup, there’s not always a file of tried and tested programs or procedures to getting something done, and most of the time it’s never been done before – so it’s really a process of trial and error. I had never created a full survey, infographic or a demonstration video or had the concise knowledge of any programs in particular that might do the job, but the time had come to learn. I embarked on an exciting self taught journey with Survey Monkey, Tanida Demo Builder, info graphic makers including Piktochart, Canva, Venngage, Vis.me and Animaker. I was, for the most part, single handedly in charge of a list of projects and tasks, which initially didn’t seem so extensive given the eight weeks I had, but soon I learned it’s more about the quality than quantity. Additionally I learned that most marketing projects are an ongoing process that constantly change based on a number of factors, which makes checking off items on a long to-do list difficult. I had to take my meticulous work to another level and be concise in all I did. I also learned to make use of Facebook Insights and Twitter Analytics. This kind of practical, immediately applicable, hands on learning by simply being thrown right into the deep end, is probably the best and fastest way to learn.

Conclusion

Working under Steve and learning from him was also truly valuable – he is wise, calm, driven and his approach of describing the destination and allowing me to work out the path to get there was a liberating experience. Every startup culture is unique and a little different but mine has been an unforgettable and vital learning experience. The autonomy I was given forced me to find my feet and then jump high. Experimenting on unfamiliar ground – such as publishing a blog post for the first time is a little daunting at first, but it’s an unforgettable and empowering experience that I wouldn’t trade for another summer internship.

Global Travel Trends That Are Catching On

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Thanks to the internet, there’s more accessible information available on travel, both international and domestic than ever before. And in the travel industry, service providers are having to cater for a more diverse group of travelers of all ages, origins and reasons for travel; some for leisure and relaxation, others for business, the adventurers and thrill seekers. Let’s take a look at 3 global markets that are thriving and find out why they are, and how these trends are going global.

 

1.European Style Hotel Meets Hostels

Backpacking across the stunning European terrain has long been immensely popular for travelers of all ages of origins. Affordable and convenient transportation – both by air, rail and road between European countries may be one reason for the popularity of hiking across the Western region of this continent, but the traditionally simplistically frugal hostel type housing that originally catered for backpackers and students is becoming more popular. Providing basic, practical and useful facilities and amenities with a casual social atmosphere at a low cost is becoming increasingly popular and this trend is spreading across bigger cities in Asia and the US alike such as Singapore, Tokyo, Los Angeles, New York and Miami.[1] This provides much sought after  alternative housing options in  traditionally pricier and mainstream chain hotel type lodging  and attracting millennials who are more cost conscious and make up an increasing segment of the travel industry.

 

  1. Latin America’s Homegrown Brands

Latin America is so diverse – culturally, economically, politically and geographically and the travel and hospitality industry is fragmented as a result of this. While this presents a set of challenges, a lot of opportunity is also created.[2]One of South America’s strengths lies in intimately knowing the local terrain and local consumer preferences – this is how small and medium businesses have an advantage over larger multinational companies. Partnering with local institutions from banks to restaurants and attractions rather than seeing them as competition is important and creates a win-win situation for the community. Smaller boutique type hotels have been gaining popularity as are smaller businesses and unique vacation rental and a lot of small businesses thriving simply by maximizing what is unique to them. Young travelers are looking for unique, undiscovered gems to create unforgettable memories and they don’t have to be 1000 miles away – ‘Staycations’, or staying closer to home are becoming increasingly popular. Latin America’s homegrown brands are an example of how smaller, independent businesses can flourish simply because they know the area better than anyone else.

 

  1. China’s technology and infrastructure advancement

In 2012, Chinese tourists overtook the Germans and American tourists by spending $102 billion on tourism[3] – it’s no wonder that Chinese tourists are much sought after, and such  growth  was a major  talking point of the US Travel show this year. While the habits of the Chinese tourists – good, bad, ugly or stereotypical is a whole topic for another day, let’s focus on how the Chinese get to travel at this rate. The limelight is on the technology and infrastructure present in China. China’s travel market today is based on rock solid foundations of airports, airlines, and traditional distribution methods with well established relationships all across the market. And the Chinese get all the information they need even without websites and apps, for which some of us can barely go a day without using – such as Google (Drive, Maps, Docs- all of it), Facebook, Instagram, Twitter.  But China’s startup and tech industry is exploding and they’ve got their own platforms, and many travel websites such as TripAdvisor have launched their Chinese .cn versions. WeChat, for example is immensely popular and has over 500 million users who discuss and share everything – travel experiences included. China does have the world’s largest smartphone market after all.[4] So if you aren’t already on board and making use of all the innovative technologies for maximizing bookings to providing ancillary services- we suggest you jump on the bandwagon. 

 

What are your thoughts? What are some other global trends we may have missed ? We want to know what you think!

 

[1] Roth, Howard and Fishbin, Michael., pg. 14 EY Global hospitality insights Top thoughts for 2015

[2]  Luke Bujarski, and Hoffman, Colie., pg. 8 Mexico Online Travel Overview Second Edition (January 2015)

[3]  Cripps, Cripps., Chinese tourism: The good, the bad and the backlash (February 2013) http://www.cnn.com/2013/04/09/travel/chinese-tourism-impact/

[4] https://www.tnooz.com/article/heads-up-learn-from-chinese-travel-market/

Nitty-Gritties of Vacation Rental Insurance

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You have decided to treat yourself to a well deserved two week vacation. Some of your closest buddies are coming along too.  You’ve saved up 3 months for this trip , and you are just about to proceed to make the payment for your vacation rental that makes your bank account cry a little- then there’s a pop-up suggesting you pay X amount for insurance to cover your trip . Are you going to take it ?

As a startup providing next generation travel insurance – you would think that the first thing we do want to do is to convince you with a bunch of compelling  reasons why you should purchase travel insurance. But what we really want to tell you about are some flaws of the system, hurdles when it comes to providing and purchasing vacation rental travel insurance and why, in general, travel insurance tends to get a bad rep and how this can be simplified.

 

Travel Insurance…? Nah, I think I’ll pass

While some people won’t leave for a trip unless they’re covered, there’s a bigger group who see travel insurance as an unnecessary expense. Effectively more travelers intend to buy travel insurance than actually do. This was evidenced in recent UK research, where fewer than one in three adults said that they had bought travel insurance in the past 12 months, whereas “almost seven in ten adults (68.9%) said that they would not go abroad without travel insurance.” ~Goodman Fox.
Chances are you are on one of  either end of this spectrum. If you are in the latter, the thought of insurance companies, claims, underwriters are all rather incomprehensible, and daunting to you. You want nothing to do with them, because you are only going away for a couple of  weeks anyway. Furthermore you don’t understand their jargon, let alone their policy’s fine print about what’s covered and what’s not covered. The policy booklet you found online is 20 pages long,  with many policy features that are not relevant you your trip. It’s like they are offering you a one size fits all policy but one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to insurance. So you decide to ignore that pop up ad and go on without insurance on your vacation rental.

 

The Problem

A month or so down the line,  you’ve made additional purchases to your trip – finally booked your flight tickets and a car rental. You are realising you’ve got more money at stake now. Your vacation city is prone to hurricanes, what if one hits and your trip is cancelled ? And will everyone really be alright doing all those extreme water sports you have planned out ? You find yourself thinking about that pop up for travel insurance , and how you’d really rather be safe than sorry. So you go back and try to find out where that ad for travel insurance came from. No luck. So you go on the look up the major insurance companies. Only to find out that they do not sell vacation rental related travel insurance after the final trip payment was made. This, it turns out, is one of the most discouraging hurdles to consumers when it comes to purchasing specialized vacation rental travel insurance.

 

Most major insurance companies will not let you purchase insurance after you have made your initial reservation. For them, it’s too much of a risk- especially  if people are only purchasing travel insurance after they’ve their reservations in response to a hurricane or natural disaster warning or something of this sort. Which makes sense, from their perspective. But this problem in travel insurance leaves many travelers worried, with some unease and potentially uncovered. They may not even be aware of this problem but it’s this  kind of situation leaves both the traveler and the vacation rental manager in an uncomfortable,  what-if situation.

 

The Solution

With our mission to rid the world of suffering in terms of travel insurance – we are working on the solution to this problem. It involved having to get licensed to sell insurance in 50 states in the US – a lengthy and and costly process. And as a B2B2C company, our services cater  to businesses all across the vacation rental industry i.e.property managers, software providers, individual owners, channel managers and more, and effectively offer their clients or guests specialized vacation rental trip insurance via a stand alone insurance website. What makes this insurance different is that  it can be sold all the way from when the original vacation rental payment is made, right up to 24 hours before check in. Thus we are closing the gap and making vacation rental travel insurance more readily available right up till 24 hours before check in.

 

Were you aware of this problem ? What other hurdles are both providers and consumers of travel facing ? We want to hear your thoughts !