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Well Traveled Self-Employment

Sheree M. Mitchell is the President & Founder of Immersa Global. Immersa Global is an upscale inbound tour operator and destination management company that specializes in exclusive food, wine, art, and faith-based travel programs as well as small meetings and events in Portugal. As an American company founded on over 15 years of experience in the luxury market in Florida, Immersa Global is uniquely qualified to handle the most discerning North American clients’ needs for leisure and business travel and small event production. Our approach is so unique, that we’ve garnered the attention of major international travel media such as Forbes, Travel & Leisure, Travel Weekly, and more.

When and why did you join the NASE?
I joined NASE in 2020 in search of a community of like-minded small business owners and entrepreneurs. I’ve always belonged to industry-specific organizations, but during the pandemic, at a time when I felt the most vulnerable as a small business owner, I wanted to connect with an organization that could understand my journey and represent my interests on Capitol Hill.

What inspired you to enter the field you are in?
Extended international travel and global citizenship have been lifelong goals for me. As a teen and young adult, I had the chance to travel and study abroad each summer for 10 years. However, it wasn’t until graduate school that I realized that I wanted to explore travel as a business. Fortunately, during that time, I was given the opportunity to design and lead a cultural immersion program to Costa Rica for a group of Florida college students. After that experience, it was clear to me that I would pursue a career in the tourism and hospitality fields.

When and why did you start your business?
I’ve been curating travel and designing customized cultural and language immersions programs abroad since 2002 (well over a decade before Immersa Global was incorporated). The “why” is simple, there was an opportunity in the market for what I had to offer which was influenced by my own experiences as a foreign language learner (and educator), my unique experience as a solo female world traveler, and my ability to design unique theme-based leisure and business programs abroad for discerning Americans. Immersa Global has evolved significantly since its inception, but one thing has remained constant: theme-based programs, events, and experiences where clients engage with highly-accomplished professionals in the target destination.

How do you market your business?
Immersa Global serves a unique niche market in travel and tourism and event production. We’re currently using online marketing, my speaking engagements at industry trade shows and conferences, referrals, and PR services to engage with clients.

What challenges have you faced in your business? How have you overcome them?
For anyone in the travel and tourism sector, Covid-19 has been the most catastrophic event in modern history. The pandemic completely devastated the industry to a point that many small tour operators and DMCs have been forced out of business for good.

Pre-pandemic, Immersa Global’s two biggest challenges were connecting with B2B and B2C clients who valued our products and services as well as securing international supplier partners who could meet our high expectations. Both of these challenges have become less prevalent over the years, but it wasn’t immediate. Getting our brand in front of the right client included a lot of trial and error in our marketing approach. What’s been most effective was adding a public relations specialist to our team. The difference was felt almost immediately.

On the other hand, the solution to finding the right supplier partner was directly tied to my ability to conduct business in Southern Europe. Over the years, I’ve learned to assume nothing and communicate Immersa Global’s needs and expectations in very basic and specific language very early on. We’ve even implemented a system where a team member will prescreen suppliers and only recommend them for a proper site visit and meeting if they are indeed an excellent fit. Both solutions have helped to streamline our processes and save a considerable amount of time and money.

Do you have any employees?
Yes, I have two part-time virtual assistants and I hire independent contractors for business support and larger projects. In the near future, I’d like to hire a full-time multilingual and multicultural administrator.

What’s your schedule like, what’s a typical day for you?
Regardless, if I’m in the US or Europe, I’m up by 6:30am, exercising by 8:00am and at my desk by 9:30am until 8:00pm or later. (My day tends to be longer than most due to the need to accommodate clients’ schedules in different time zones.) My typical workday includes designing new programs, meeting with clients via Zoom, and liaising with team members and suppliers. The bulk of my work can be done remotely with the exception of site visits (i.e. upscale hotels, restaurants, and meeting and event venues), exploring new regions to develop new products, or when I need to be onsite to supervise the more complex projects.

What’s the best thing about being self-employed?
I really appreciate the freedom that I have to be as creative and innovative as I deem fit for Immersa Global. I enjoy being able to steer the company based on my vision without having to go through layers of gatekeepers. I also really enjoy the daily challenges that come with operating a business in a very dynamic industry. However, my favorite thing about being self-employed is having complete control over my time and performance. My work requires an enormous attention to detail, a high level of discernment, and acute cross-cultural competences; skills that are best executed in comfortable work environments that I define and create for myself.

What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received from a client?
From a B2B client: “Your team made my clients feel welcome and cared for the entire time. Thank you!” From a B2C client: “Our trip to Portugal felt like we were visiting a good friend from college who introduced us to her local network. Everyone we met knew Sheree and treated us like royalty!”

What’s the most important piece of advice you would give to someone starting their own business?
Have a team of mentors, friends, or acquaintances who are also small business owners with whom you can talk. You will need to be in constant contact with people who’ve personally gone (or currently going) through the challenges of entrepreneurship. It’s such a unique experience that only those who’ve been there can relate. Also join professional organizations in your industry. This could also be a source of support as the people who join these types of groups are usually seeking a community of like-minded founders and leaders with whom to engage.

Which NASE member benefit is most important to you?
I really appreciate the legal services that NASE made available its members. All of the benefits are great, but this is the most valuable one for me.

Any other information you would like to share?
Thank you for creating opportunities to support and highlight our small businesses within the NASE network. The growth grant and the monthly member spotlight are so important, especially now as many of us are recovering from the pandemic.

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Courtesy of NASE.org
https://www.nase.org/about-us/media-relations/nase-in-the-news/2022/02/25/well-traveled-self-employment