Business Dream Leads to Wild Reality for Entrepreneur Jody Cole
Have you ever been to a conference and met someone who has done something really interesting with their life? Well, recently I sat down to lunch with complete strangers, and the lady sitting next to me decided to start her own business.
But she didn’t start just any business. She started Wild Rainbow African Safaris and takes people on safaris to see wild animals! How cool is that? I had to find out more, so here’s what Jody Cole had to say…
Tell us about your business and how you started Wild Rainbow African Safaris.
Wild Rainbow African Safaris is a boutique adventure travel company specializing in bespoke safaris to sub-Saharan Africa. Our mission is to provide our guests with a safe and comfortable safari while indulging them with customized service, exceptional lodgings, and of course, amazingly close contact with the wildlife, culture and spirit that is Africa.
Wild Rainbow began as a dream between my travel partner, Alison Hawthorne, and I when together, we brought twenty amazing women to Africa to celebrate Alison’s birthday. Alison is a travel agent with her own business, and I had already been to African over twenty times by then. I realized then that it was “sharing” the African experience with others that I enjoyed most. So Wild Rainbow began from the desire to share the excitement I get every time when the wheels touch down on African soil.
I began to train as a field guide soon afterwards so that I might provide an even better, more hands on experience with my guests. As one of just a handful of American women certified as a trails guide with the Field Guides Association of South Africa, now I can lead my guests on the ground and support the staff in making the experience the best possible.
What do you think has been the secret to your success?
The personal service we provide our guests. A trip to Africa is usually a very special “bucket list” trip for many of my guests. They are spending their hard earned money to experience their own African dreams, so it is very important to us that those expectations are met.
I personally support our clients from the planning stage through to meeting them at the airport in Africa, guiding them for their safari, and then putting them on the plane home. Instead of boilerplate safaris where you might be traveling on a bus with over 30 people and staying in hotel-styled lodges, for only a bit more we can provide the Hemingway-styled luxury trip to a small group of travelers.
What major challenge did you need to overcome starting your business, and how did you overcome that challenge?
My own inexperience! I had never run a business of my own before, so everything was new for me - setting a business plan, creating office systems, finding employees, renting an office, down to learning the everyday lingo of travel agents - the curve was pretty steep. The best way I found to overcome that challenge was picking up the phone and asking the people I thought highly of as business people and asking them for their advice. No book or class could provide the good advice I received from friends with experience. From there, it was sink or swim, so I just jumped in and started swimming!
How have you promoted your business?
Initially, we ran constant ads in magazines we knew our clients read, attended travel shows across the country, and sent out snail mail business-announcement postcards. Luckily, I already had a fairly substantial database from my fundraising background, from which I could glean possible interested persons. More recently, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have kept us visible to more people worldwide than ever before. Facebook ads have been highly successful for us with short turnaround.
What marketing and promotions have worked and what haven’t?
We quickly found out that the travel shows did not get us any clients, but we did learn a lot about how large travel companies work and got connected with IGLTA (International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association) and their help was invaluable. And running the print ads might have helped our ego, but again, did not turn into actual business. After a lot of trial and error, we found personal appearances, online presence, direct mail and only a couple, well-placed larger ads helped with our visibility. Africa travel is so specific and personal, it became clear in the end that it is word-of-mouth that turns into real results for us.
What advice do you have for others who want to pursue their dream business?
Failure is just a step towards success. If you don’t pursue your dreams because you fear failure, you will never achieve your dreams. I found so many people I consider successful business people have a string of little failures behind them, which guided them towards that success. It certainly helped me to know that I might have to accept failure, but it didn’t mean I wasn’t going to be successful at some point in the future.
I am lucky in that I have developed a lot of personal contacts which have turned into business for my company. Making sure I am involved in my local community, volunteering for organizations I care about, donating to causes I find important to me, and supporting other people in my world has established a path towards success. Those personal connections built up over time have made the difference for Wild Rainbow African Safaris and in the quality of my life personally.
Thanks so much for sharing your personal story and tips Jody. It just goes to show you that if you have a dream for a business, it is possible!
If you have questions or comments for Jody, please post them below. And if you have questions about how to increase promotions for your business, please write to me below or at www.rembrandtwrites.com.