College News

Travel professional benefits from CCCC Small Business Center

Click to enlarge,  Travel professional Malynda Mize (pictured here) credits much of her success to assistance she received free of charge from Terri Brown, coordinator of the Lee County Small Business Center at Central Carolina Community College.

click image to enlarge ⊗

Travel professional Malynda Mize (pictured here) credits much of her success to assistance she received ... (more)

Click to enlarge,  Travel professional Malynda Mize (pictured here) credits much of her success to assistance she received free of charge from Terri Brown, coordinator of the Lee County Small Business Center at Central Carolina Community College.

click image to enlarge ⊗

Travel professional Malynda Mize (pictured here) credits much of her success to assistance she received ... (more)

03.13.2019College & CommunityCollege General

SANFORD - Travel is a tough business. With the internet making it pretty simple to book air and hotel reservations, many consumers have turned away from travel agents, who used to be the first stop for anyone planning a trip.

Travel professionals still provide valuable services, but the challenge is how to help travelers understand what advantages they offer -- and how to turn that expertise into a viable business model.

Malynda Mize has made it work. And she credits much of her success to assistance she received free of charge from Terri Brown, coordinator of the Lee County Small Business Center at Central Carolina Community College.

"My sales since 2017 have actually increased 57 percent," Mize explained during a phone interview on one of her busy, but fairly typical, weekday afternoons. "Where the small business center came in was helping me with the business plan. Terri put me in the right direction on forming the business and knowing all of the pitfalls and challenges I would face.

"She was there all the time. If I had a question, she'd be there."

Mize has been organizing individual and group travel for well over a decade. When she launched Cruise Like a VIP, her new business specialized in river cruises. But a few years ago, she expanded the Sanford-based operation into a full-service agency and now describes her home-based business as a "concierge service," where she takes care of everything from providing personalized advice on where to travel and what to see, to booking reservations and handling the kinds of problems that can come up during any trip.

"All you have to do is pay for it and show up at the airport," is how she puts it. "I'll take care of the rest."

Even though Mize is an experienced travel professional and "a natural organizer," making any small business work brings a whole lot of challenges. Some are fairly easy to anticipate; others, not so much.

One secret to her success was finding the right market niche in an extremely competitive industry. Mize understands as well as anyone how easy it is to visit a site like Expedia or Travelocity, find a trip and book it online with a few clicks -- and most of the time there's no problem. But it seems like problem-free travel is increasingly rare and when customers work through her company, Mize says, it costs nothing more and they receive her personal help navigating any issues that arise before, during and after the trip. Focusing on savvy travelers who understand how important that service can be has helped her find the right clientele.

Another secret was structuring her business so she could make it work. Mize says having the right knowledge is key and, for her, much of that knowledge came from webinars and one-on-one counseling from the CCCC Small Business Center. That included knowledge like understanding the broader market, defining her customers and services to make the business profitable and anticipating and navigating common business pitfalls.

And, most of all, structuring the business so it can survive the difficult first few years and then be ready to take off. "That business plan was a big thing for me, because I had no clue," Mize said. "I have an accounting background, but really had no idea how to start my own business. Or if I needed a small business loan. Or how to set up the structure of it all.

"If I had not had the help from the small business center, my business wouldn't have started off properly. It wouldn't have been as successful and focused."

Every small business is different depending on its industry, size and focus. Still, Brown says there are lessons anyone can learn from Mize's success. One is that finding the path to success, especially in a competitive world, may not be as intuitive as it seems.

In the case of Cruise Like a VIP, it was finding customers who would get the most value from what the business had to offer. "Over the last year, I've talked to many business owners who come in and they're starting from a position that they will just be cheaper than their competitors," Brown said. "That's not always a good idea. Malynda's been able to grow her business because she 'up-levels' the work and she values herself and what she offers. The biggest thing is to think bigger about what you do."

That's where the small business center can help. Brown says it can be invaluable to have someone who understands the small business world take a look at a business concept from a different perspective -- and then provide the kind of expert information and advice that's needed to help the enterprise launch in the right direction.

With those early days are behind her, Cruise Like a VIP is sailing along and even poised to expand. Mize, who is upbeat any time she's talking about travel, gets even more animated as she ticks off some upcoming plans -- everything from rebuilding her website and increasing online advertising to adding more substantial services, like offering a series of travel seminars.

As she describes what she has in mind for those travel seminars, Mize pauses. "You know," she says, "the small business center can probably help me with that."

So, all things considered, would she encourage other small business owners to consider making contact with the small business center? "Absolutely and definitely," she said. "That would be my very first stop. That way, you have a firm foundation for success."

To learn more about Cruise Like a VIP, visit www.cruiselikeavip.com.

For more information on the Central Carolina Community College Small Business Centers, visit www.cccc.edu/sbc.