All my family run their own business. From my mom and my dad to my brothers and sisters and it has always been something that I was aspiring to do. I actually fell into travel completely by accident I was studying IT and hated it. Without my knowledge my sister sent my CV into a large retail agency and the first I knew of this was when I got a call to come in for an interview. I went in for the interview and got the job I absolutely love travel and, especially after my first trip, the travel bug bit hard Even since then it's been an absolute passion of mine.

I continued working at this large retail company for a number of years. Whilst I learnt a lot, I became more and more disillusioned that their focus was more on the sales than on the people and customer service. It furstrated me that I couldn't spend the time that I wanted with each customer and each person I dealt with became a number in a queue that I had to get through as quickly as possible to reach a target. I was extremely successful but worked 12-14 hour days. There just wasn't enough time in the day!

Because of this I was eating in the car on the way to work. When I was at work I didn't have time to prepare food so I'd grab fast food on the run and often got interrupted so I'd never eat at the same time during the day. I'd arrive home late in the evening and order food which resulted in unhealthy meals. I didn't have time to exercise as I was working 6 or 7 days a week. This finally started taking its toll on me and I started to break down; the relationships around me were suffering.

As if it was meant to be, one night when I was at work late I saw the Travel Counsellors advert. It was like seeing a bright light at the end of the tunnel. The overall concept was incredibly attractive, particularly the part where you could run your own business from home. My biggest concern at this stage was the financial insecurity but I discovered that someone who worked previously for the same large retail agency as me, has joined Travel Counsellors. I immediately contacted her to find out her first-hand experience. I decided that this was exactly what I wanted to do and I made contact with the Travel Counsellors' head office team. It was meeting the team that made up my mind. I am a people-oriented person and I could see that everyone at head office shared my passion.

My previous company was very good at training and, when I spoke to this ex-colleague, she spoke about Travel Counsellors being outstanding and that they offered the best support structure. My husband was extremely supportive of my decision so it was all systems go.

When I joined Travel Counsellors the first year was challenging. I had to change my entire way of working and thinking and find out if I was driven enough to do this. The support of fellow Travel Counsellors and everyone at head office makes me very positive and inspired to be the best person I can be. The only decision you need to make is the one to fully commit and I have a lot of self-perseverance. I proved this to myself when I made a group booking of 120 people. I couldn't believe how easily the booking went; it was well over R1 million.

The way of operating as a Travel Counsellor in comparison to what I was used to was very different. I feel so proud when I think back to one of my most memorable client experiences. I was able to go to a family's home for the first time and during this visit I got to hear what was most important to each family member. Each wanted to do something completely different. At my previous company it would have been about giving them the cheapest holiday option but I was able to tailor-make a holiday that incorporated all of them. After my clients came back I had a phone call with them where they were all shouting with excitement and talking over each other to tell me the favourite part of their holiday!

Something that I always appreciate at Travel Counsellors is the fact that our products are always good quality so I no longer have to listen to disappointed phone calls. I don't have to do any of my own marketing over and above what Travel Counsellors offers. Most of my business comes from referral and I would say that on average I get about five new clients each month from referrals!

I have so much more time on my hands as a Travel Counsellor. In my old company, when I got an enquiry I would immediately send the request to a tour operator but would have to wait at least 24 hours for a response and it would take me up to three days to get a quote out. With Travel Counsellors I can get at least three quotes out in one day. I have the time to do all the research on the destination and with Travel Counsellors' own in-house system Phenix, I am able to dynamically package and customise everything. Phenix is so simple and easy to use and it has enabled me to earn way more as well as saving my clients' money. As a result, I am earning more than when I was in salaried employment.

On a personal note, once I had settled in I started to schedule my days so that I could go to the gym each morning and eat periodically. One day I saw myself on TV. My brother in law said "who's the girl who ate Nicci?" I weighed myself and then announced to my friends and family that my goal was to lose weight. Six months later and I had lost 30 kgs. I have maintained this weight and couldn't be happier! My bank balance disagreed as I had to buy a whole new wardrobe but, because I run my own business, I put in extra work so I was able to afford the spree! I wouldn't have been able to reach my goal otherwise. The reason I am where I am today is not only because of my sheer determination; it's beause I am a Travel Counsellor.

The friendships at Travel Counsellors are incredibly strong and I would say that they are equally as strong as the friendships that I am able to have with my clients. I have three clients who call me at least once a week to talk and each of these clients only travel twice a year! It makes me smile over and over when I hear them saying what a huge difference I made in their lives. I have had to rescue clients when things went wrong and I love being there for them and being able to help.

If I was to sum up my life in my old job I would say I was limited and now working as a Travel Counsellor I feel free! The transition was seamless!

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