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The most successful women entrepreneurs join multiple, diverse networks to learn from their industry contacts, meet customers and develop connections to expertise. Having a critical mass of women in these networks helps us all gain credibility. Brooklyn Cupcake thrives to help small women-owned businesses by trying to transform their concepts of the future of their business- to move them into a place where they have the vision and the confidence to catapult their businesses to a whole new level. Therefore, on a monthly basis, Brooklyn Cupcake will interview a small women-owned business in an effort to continue supporting one another.

This month’s featured small women-owned business is, Jirau Travel-Cruise Planners. Cruise Planners /American Express has a tremendous reputation for quality, service, and very competitive pricing for ALL of your travel needs. Cruise Planners Travel Advisors will help you discover exciting adventures around the world. From cruises to land tours and completely packaged vacations, they specialize in all types of travel and will create an unforgettable vacation just for you.

As a partner of American Express Travel, Cruise Planners Travel Advisors can offer exclusive AMEX benefits as well as provide you the opportunity to travel in style at the lowest prices available, with a “Layaway-type” plan”, while still receiving the best service in the travel business. 

Cruise Planners/American Express is a licensed, bonded, and insured agency. They are members of CLIA (Cruise Line International Association), NACOA (National Association Of Cruise Oriented Agencies), and ASTA (American Society of Travel Agents).

Name: Kathy Jirau
Title: Owner, Cruise & Tour Specialist
Company Name: Jirau Travel-Cruise Planners
Years in Business: 6 months (but 25 years of Travel Related Experience)
How many employees do you currently have? 1

Tell us about your business. What product or service do you provide and who is your target audience?

Jirau Travel-Cruise Planners not only specializes in cruises, but we also offer great land and tour vacations all over the world. With everyone working hard during the year, it’s becoming increasingly hard to spend time with our loved ones. We see vacations as a way to reconnect- the one or two weeks out of the year when we can spend quality time with our loved ones. We also love working with groups. Today many people are combining milestone celebrations- such as anniversaries, weddings- with travel. Family reunions are big today and we can make it memorable.

It takes a certain mind-set and bravado for anyone to start their own business and succeed, but it’s even more difficult for women in business. Please tell us what being a business owner means to you personally. What inspired you to become an entrepreneur?

In all fairness, I credit my husband for taking the plunge. While I have been blessed with job stability over the course of my career, he has not. So after 2 years of being unemployed, we decided that it was time for us to do something for ourselves and not be forever dependent on someone else for employment.

Do you work your business part-time?

Actually, I do work at it part-time and my husband is doing it full-time. The travel industry is dependent on building a customer base- which takes time. You don’t start seeing the fruits of your labor for months and the bills don’t stop coming to the mail box, therefore I have to keep my day job until we have a steady stream of customers.

There are observable differences in men and women entrepreneurs’ motivations, goals, preparation, organization, and strategic orientation. How do you perceive the various aspects of the experience of business? What skills do you believe women need in order to run a successful small business?

There are many differences between men and women in how they run a business. In our case though, we have the best of both worlds because where I’m weak, my husband JR is strong and vice versa.  That is the part that I love! For example, I’m the “Social Butterfly” so networking is my thing. He is strongest in the technological part of the business, so when I’m about to put a bat through my monitor because I can’t solve some tech problem, he steps in and saves the day.

Most women-owned businesses do not meet the traditional business standards. Women do not have access to the same capital necessary to grow a business. They do not have the same access to contracting and procurement opportunities that may help them to build their business. Women do not have the same access to resources. What barriers and obstacles have you confronted as a women entrepreneur?

Our business is too young so we have not yet faced some of those issues. We were blessed in that we had the starting capital for this venture. I guess I can revisit that question down the line.

Are you certified as a Women-Owned Business (WOB)? If so, how have you benefited by this? If not, why not?

No, not yet. I will be looking into it though.

Do you have a professional mentor or coach? If so, how has he/she helped you?

The Cruise Planners franchise is wonderful in that they provide a coach from the very beginning. It’s great to have someone to call with a question or to just receive the weekly e-mails checking to see if you are on track. Also, fellow franchisees have been wonderful. We have met so many wonderful people from all walks of life who have taken the plunge and like us, opened their own business. They have been wonderful in lending a hand and sharing their knowledge of the business. So rather than one coach, we have a team of them.

Advancements in technology have helped ease the movement of more women in business into leadership. What has been the most effective marketing and/or social media initiative or program you have used to promote your business?

E-mails, Facebook and Twitter have been instrumental. It’s the way I communicate with my clients and potential clients. It has also made it possible to reach hundreds of people at a time without it costing a dime. Twenty years ago we would have had to rely on a large marketing budget to reach maybe half as many people. That would have really hindered us.

Are there any resources or tools you’d like to share with other small business owners that have helped you run your business? If yes, please describe (and include links if available).

One of the first things I did was join a BNI (Business Networking International) Chapter near me. They have been instrumental in helping me grow my business. It’s a commitment since the weekly meetings are mandatory, but one that is well worth it.  Networking is a resource that is seldom used and surprisingly not taught to business students in universities. Joining a BNI has helped me not just network, but network effectively.

What business goal do you plan to accomplish over the next year? Are you choosing to remain a small business? Do you desire to have a large enterprise either by revenue, number of employees or market share?

The first year of any business is always the hardest and we knew that going in. In this business it’s all about building the client base and it takes time. Within our franchise, we have different levels of achievements based on sales. As a starter, you are a “New Star” and our goal for this year is to skip “Twinkling Star” and move on to “Shooting Star”.  However, we do want to remain small. Our goal is to be able to make a good living and afford us the opportunity to travel.

What one thing have you learned as a woman small business owner that has served you well over the years? What’s the best advice you have received in business that you wish to pass on to our readers?

To stay focused.  It’s so easy to allow everyday life to distract you. Set goals and stick to them. Make them visible because if you can’t see it you can’t reach it.

What would you say is your greatest professional accomplishment to date?

Taking the plunge and starting this business. It’s scary, but thrilling at the same time.

Do you have any new upcoming projects or reached a milestone? Are you involved in your community? If so, please tell us about it.

We are working on two really great projects for the winter season. We want to help promote fitness so we are offering a Caribbean Cruise aboard the “Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas” that will include a 5K Run in the beautiful Island of St. Maarten along with many other fitness related activities and lectures onboard. And, for Beer Lovers, we will have the first annual Beer Lover’s Cruise aboard the brand new “Celebrity Reflection” in late January- that is still in the works, but check our website for details in the coming weeks.

What’s the best way for our readers to connect with you (feel free to include the links to your social networks and websites)?

We can be reached by phone, e-mail, Facebook & Twitter. It all depends on what is best for our clients.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

I know that in this economy it is sometimes difficult to swing the cost of a vacation.  However, with enough time, we can work closely with our clients and come up with payment plan options (depending on the flexibility of the supplier). Airlines do not offer customers that option; but working with the cruise lines, we can break up the payments in such as way that they do not become too burdensome.

Video Clip: http://youtu.be/0jow9SP1SUs

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