“It’s fun to be able to breathe again,” a tour operator colleague shared with me during the recent ABA Marketplace in Nashville. He was referring to the improved economy and the positive effects it had on his business.

Indeed, rising tides raise all ships, but it doesn’t mean we can put our business on cruise control. With three years of headwinds at our back, here are five tips to get better results in 2014.

#1 Clean Your Database
It’s a fact of business – nobody buys something from someone they never heard of. That being the case, what explains the bad emails, dead contacts and stacks of business cards that never made it into your database? If you want to do better in 2014, start by tackling your database. Strapped for time? Hire a local college student or recent graduate who can take on this task as an internship or for a nominal project fee. They’ll get experience and you’ll get someone who can run rings around you on the pc.

#2 Know When to be a Farmer and When to be a Fisherman

Consider the difference between farmers and fisherman. Farmers plant their crops in the spring, care for them all summer and bring them in in the fall. Fishermen wake up in the morning hungry, so they get the rod and reel out and bait up.

What plagues people is that they go from one deadline to the next without looking down the road. In other words, they don’t think like their prospects think. Dedicate one day a week to farm. Evaluate your trip calendar. How does it jive with your customers’ planning habits? Get emails, calls and brochures to key prospects. Plant those seeds. What you’ll find is that being a better farmer makes you a better fisherman because the seeds you plant in the spring will ripen in the fall, and your last-minute reservations result in a bumper crop.

#3 Become an Expert…At Something
We have been preaching about the rise of niche and affinity travel for the better part of the last decade. Being that it’s the future of group business, what can you specialize in?

#4 Stop Being Socially Awkward
Every day it consumes news coverage, floods your inbox and is on virtually every website. Yet when I ask tour planners about social media, you’d think they just drank sour milk. 2014 is the year you recognize the significance that social media plays in your customers’ lives. Ask them what social network they use and commit to it for six months.

#5 Be Funny, Creative, Memorable

Do your voicemails sound like recorded scripts? Do you talk someone’s ear off without letting them come up for air? The average person is exposed to 3,000 advertising messages a day – how does yours stand out?

With an improved economy, pent-up consumer demand and scores of revitalized destinations, 2014 can be your best year ever. Follow these tips and your boat will be cruising faster than the rest of the fleet.

−By Jeff Gayduk, Publisher