Franchise Players is Entrepreneur’s Q&A interview column that puts the spotlight on franchisees. If you're a franchisee with advice and tips to share, email ktaylor@entrepreneur.com.

Maria Tilton first learned about Cruise Planners, a travel-planning agency under the umbrella of American Express Travel, from her own travel agent. With experience in cosmetology and construction, Tilton didn't have a professional past in travel planning. She did, however, love to travel herself, and had visited countries all around the world. With the support of a franchisor, she was able to turn the travel bug into a business. Here's what she's learned as a Cruise Planners franchisee. 

Name: Maria Tilton

Franchise owned: Cruise Planners, an American Express Travel Representative, in Millstone, N.J.

How long have you owned a franchise?

Since 2010 – wow, time flies!

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Why franchising?

Franchising was the best decision for me because I needed the guidance to help kick-start my travel career and the support that Cruise Planners home office provides.

What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?

I was a cosmetologist for ten years and a construction-site supervisor for a local home builder for 13 years before investing in my Cruise Planners franchise.

Why did you choose this particular franchise?

What made Cruise Planners stand out? My travel agent at the time was a Cruise Planners franchisee, and I saw how successful she was. Also, Cruise Planners is part of American Express Travel, which helped me seal the deal, since it adds instant credibility to my franchise.

How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?

Because Cruise Planners is a work-from-home business model, the costs are relatively low, which was appealing.

  • Franchising fee – less than $10,000
  • Equipment for home office (computer, printer, fax,) - $1,000
  • Office setup (furniture, software ) - $500
  • Miscellaneous expenses (seminars, marketing) - $500
  • Total expenses prior to launch: approximately $12,000

Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?

Before investing in the franchise, all my research and advice came from my travel agent who is a Cruise Planners franchisee. Also, I spoke to existing franchisees to learn about their business.

Once I bought the franchise, I attended an intense 6-day training in Fort Lauderdale where I learned everything there is to know about owing a home-based travel agency. Now, I am constantly learning and getting advice from Cruise Planners home office.

One thing I love about Cruise Planners is the e-learning webinars, part of Cruise Planners University. This allows me to learn a lot about all of our travel partners. However, most of my travel experience comes from personal experience, since I have traveled a lot and been all over the world.

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What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?

You truly have to network yourself and get out there to meet people to earn their business. A lot of effort goes into it, but when you work hard, the outcome is amazing!

What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?

Be passionate and love what you do. It was an easy decision to become a home-based Cruise Planners travel advisor since I have a passion for travel and knew I could hit the ground running. I firmly believe that when you believe in your business, people will believe in you.

What’s next for you and your business?

I have a lot stirring in my pot this year. One goal is to travel more with my clients. I am often asked to travel with clients. I feel it is such a valuable business move, as they feel more comfortable traveling with someone who is experienced and can give them the insider perspective on a destination. In the end, people like to have a leader in the group, which is a unique asset that I bring to my clients.

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