Mark Twain’s words of wisdom help guide me in my business, says Sharon Fleming, director of Thompson Travel

“When you find yourself on the side of the majority, it’s time to pause and reflect,” said Mark Twain.

I loved reading Huckleberry Finn and I love the quotes of Mark Twain. He was a smart guy – a writer, lecturer and entrepreneur.

For the first 10 years of my travel career, I followed the ‘big boys’ in the industry, copying or undercutting them. It felt so much safer that way. It’s also a common misconception that those who have been in the industry the longest know better.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve learned a lot from my peers during my time. But why did I do that? Was it because I didn’t have any good ideas of my own? Or was I too afraid to fail?

To quote Mark Twain again: “There are basically two types of people: people who accomplish things, and people who claim to have accomplished things. The first group is less crowded”.

Forge your own path

Eventually I began to grasp the opportunities available to me in my own region and focus on what works best for me, not everyone else.

I now have four brands. One of them is Travelling Alone Together, which came about from something quite tragic – the death of my father aged 59. I had already been thinking about where some of my clients had gone – those who had been widowed – which led to an idea to run dedicated trips for people on their own. Three years on, and TAT, as it’s now known to my customers, has gone from strength to strength.

Last week I launched Cruise Counter, a loyalty scheme for my clients, which I hope will not only keep my customers coming back but also attract news ones and grow my business in the process.

Of course, sometimes we search for innovative ideas and lose track of our purpose. So while innovation is key to success, it must be realistic and relative.

Five tips for success

I read an article recently that stated 40% of small businesses make a profit, 30% break even and the remaining 30% lose money. That’s scary. Thankfully, I fall into the 40%, but where is your business at?

The article suggested five main reasons why small businesses failed:

1. Lack of leadership: If you don’t lead your team, the problems filter through your organisation.

2. Lack of uniqueness and value: You need to offer something that no one else is doing to attract attention and interest. That way you build your brand identity. What do customers know you for and how does it set you apart from the rest?

3. Customer needs: Stay in touch with what your customers want and get feedback. Are you selling what they want?

4. Unprofitable business model: Don’t overspend. Write down your plans, monitor them and keep an eye on your profit. Where is the money coming from and where is it going? Keep track to ensure your business succeeds.

5. Rapid growth and over-expansion: My dad was a great businessman and had a touch of Mark Twain about him. He always said: “The higher you jump, the harder you fall.” Take your time. Make sure what you’ve got already is stable before you add something new.

And finally, I leave you with this thought from Mr Twain: “The secret to getting ahead is getting started.”

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