In today’s episode, we are pulling back the curtain and taking a look inside one of Chicago’s most highly rated to her companies. Inside Chicago Walking Tours was founded by Hillary Marzec, a solopreneur, in 2015. After years of designing tours on behalf of other companies, she decided it was time to launch a business of her own, where she could take guests inside some of Chicago’s most beautiful buildings.
In this episode, Hillary reveals some of the benefits and challenges of running her own tour company, which marketing strategies have worked the best and which ones were potentially a waste of money, the reservation booking software that she absolutely swears by, and her strategy for growing her business and finding the best new guides.
This is another great episode for anyone interested in starting their own tour company business. And it’s also just an inspirational story of a woman who took on the massive challenge of starting a business on her own and who has succeeded in growing that business to become the number one tour on TripAdvisor.
Following The Fun In Business
When Hillary launched Inside Chicago Walking Tours as a solopreneur, she decided to offer 6 different tours, twice a week each. To say she was busy is an understatement. However, though it was a lot of hard work, it didn’t always feel like work since she was following her passion.
“In improv comedy, we say you ‘follow the fun of the scene.’ So if you’re following the fun of where your work is taking you, if you’re pursuing what you’re passionate about and interested in, then yes, it feels like work sometimes, but ultimately it doesn’t feel like work. It’s a joy, you know?”
Still, Hillary put in a lot of long hours to build up her business, especially in those early days. “It was a matter of building up a little bit of a brand recognition. Tourism is an overwhelmingly large industry in Chicago, so it took a few years to kind of build up that presence.”
Most Effective Marketing Strategies
Hillary’s initially focused on more old school marketing methods, like using rate cards and flyers. It was a lot of physical effort and didn’t always offer the best return in investment. She admits, “it was a matter of trial and error in terms of.”
In more recent years, she has focused primarly on SEO, which she attributes as being her most effective marketing strategy to date. When describing her tours online, Hillary does SEO research to ensure the listing features the right words to attract new clients to her site.
Hillary also lists her tours on third-party OTAs such as Viator, Airbnb Experiences, and more.
Growing Her Business With New Guides
Though the business started with Hillary leading all of the tours, she now employs a handful of qulaified guides as her business has grown. However, Hillary admits that handing over her tours to other guides has not been easy. “I guess it’s how people feel when they send their child off to the first day of school. Like “don’t break it, don’t break her!”, you know? and that’s how I feel when I’m sending somebody out with my tour.”
Thankfully Hillary has figured out a forumla for finding the best guides — eagerness. She says, “eagerness is going to make for a good tour guide because they’ll be able to take feedback, take criticism, and I can trust them to study the material and then go beyond the material.”
More from this episode
Want to know a bit more about how Hillary developed Chicago’s top rated tour company? Which reservation booking platform she recommends? What she loves most about being a tour guide? How she keeps her guides, long-term? Tune in to hear the full episode from Hillary Marzec!