“So you meet people from all over the world, just hang out with them, have fun, eat, drink for free and get paid for it? I’d love to have such a job!”
Ah yes, my life is exactly like this, that’s why I want to share with you something what nobody tells you about being a guide.
You will be working for free.
So doing volunteering job does not sound very appealing? Well, I did it for 1 year. When you are just starting something, you need more experience. The chances are, when you are not professional about something, setting a price might be too early. I think you have heard of something like unpaid internship? You do not get money, but you get experience and knowledge. When to start asking money for your service? I cannot say exactly, but you should feel it. For me, at one moment I understood that I am doing a job, and I do it way better than the way I started. I realized that many people are taking money even for less job, so why can’t I do the same? Once you feel confident about your skills, set the price. Not only you will start earning money, but people will see that you do it professionally.
It will always be too expensive for somebody
There will always be people for whom visiting your tours will be too costly. And they will not be shy in saying this. When I did the group walking tours I set a small price – 200 UAH. And what was my bewilderment, when people from countries with way higher incomes than here were saying me that this is too much. And this was less than a price of a burger in their countries. For this money you either buy a burger or get a guide and a friend in a new city who will spend time with you (and sometimes we were spending half of a day together). Individual tours should cost more than group ones, and this is a matter of a fact. But I still get requests from people who start bargaining saying that this is expensive for them. I do not like to bargain. I suggest free tours to people with whom we can cooperate, I suggest deals to clients who book more than one tour or those who visit my tours later again. Those for whom it is too expensive, can find the other guide. There is a buyer for every good.
You, as a guide, should know your price too. When you feel that you improved a lot, there is nothing bad in setting the price higher. As one of my guests said, the guides are not only selling their time, but their precious knowledge. But if you set the price, be so kind to measure it up.
You cannot make everybody love you.
Do not try to be perfect, to make everybody fall in love with you. Just be natural: people feel it, and they fall for honesty. When I just started doing walking tours, i was gathering groups of people wih the main aim: to create a special atmosphere when everybody do not just come and go, but leave as good friends. During most of such tours i felt like I succeed, but there were some moments when I just did not feel this ambiance. And I was coming home, very disappointing, I wanted to stop doing this and was blaming myself.
With the time I understood that I cannot make everybody love me. I cannot make everybody satisfied. This was one of the reasons I switched to individual tours, where I could find common language more easily, when we had time to get to know each other better. And it is totally normal when somebody will not be overexcited about you. Love it or leave it.
Sometimes you will have NO BOOKINGS…
Like literally…blank spaces in you calendar and your wallet. And you might feel very discouraged, thinking this excursion can be your last booking. And it can be, if you do not work on your product. You will have to work on the content of your blog, website, facebook page, you will have to engage the audience, to make people know about your guiding. References work out well here, word of a mouth works even better.
But do not think people will always leave references. And even those who are damn satisfied about your guidance. But you should understand it too: some of them are having a tight schedule, some might leave reviews only a couple of weeks or even a month later, but what they will do for sure, they will recommend you to their friends, colleagues or relatives who are coming to your city, and this can be the best advertisement ever.
…and sometimes the guests will let you down
Cancelling a tour 20 mins before its start, notifying you about it via….guess what? Right, via e-mail! When I was all Ready Aim Fire, and my high speed overcrowded metro was taking me to my potential guest, i decided to check my e-mail, where I read that he deeply apologizes and cannot come. He had my number, he could call, but in nowadays world everybody seems to check e-mail every minute, so why calling? I made amazing tour for myself, I found new secret places for my next tours and I bought 3 awesome books about Kyiv (guests who let you down, are teaching you what to do when you suddenly got some free time).
People might be telling you how much they want you to be your guide and in the end, when they come, and you cancel your plans for them, they might decide that they do not need a guide anymore. Sometimes you will be losing not only your time, but also other guests, because you will reject other requests for people who will eventually decide not to visit your tours. Nobody is saved from that, and such situation should teach you how to be more flexible with your time. Or how to ask for the prepayment.
The guests might want more than just a tour
I was too naive on the beginning when I thought that all men who are booking my tours, are ACTUALLY interested in a tour. It is not always easy to be a guide. Things are getting more complicated when you are a female guide. Sometimes you might be asked about escort (and not in the traditional old meaning of it), sometimes – about marrying the guest.
It will be understatement if i say that i was shocked when one of my guests, after 2 hours of walking, took my hand in his hand and suggested me to become a couple. It was a nice hill, the sun was going down, but it did not seem very romantic to me. This is why it is important to clear up the expectations and explain to the potential guest, what you will do, and what you will not.
You cannot know everything
Your guests will be asking you questions, to some of which you will not know an answer. Back in time, I remember how I could not asnwer the simple questions, and I thought a good guide is the one who can make a story in a couple of seconds. I have a good fantasy and I have to admit, 2 years ago I could make up a candy out of shit. But now I understand: it is simply impossible to know everything. I can say something like: I guess, maybe, in my opinion, or even, “to be honest, I am not sure, but I can check”. And I check it, when I come home, I google like crazy to make sure that next time I will know this.
But next there might be the other question. This is how we learn. If your guests needed to get all the statistics or facts, they would just open Wikipedia. But they hired you, a human being, so do not be worrying about showing your human part. But a curious one, who will get an answer to all the questions, not just forget it after the tour is finished.
Guiding can be a stress…
As at every job, at some point you get stressed with guiding. But with the guiding your chances of getting stressed are 3 times higher. I would even devide it into 3 periods: pre-guiding, guiding and post-guiding. I remember how I used to be an answering machine to people who were supposed to visit my tours (finding accomodation for them, calling the banks to ask about bank accounts there, sending them lists of restaurants and bars).
Sometimes I spent valuable hours of my life to manage all the questions of my “guests”…whom I never met in the end, because the things stopped at the pre-guiding stage, when they got all they need for free, and disappeared like Englishmen. Guiding itself is quite stressful sometimes, if you are seriously doing your job and worrying to make it go smoothly. Post-guiding period can be another reason for stress, as you might start thinking if the guests liked everything, if there will be no complaints and so on. There can be a stress-free guiding though – if it is your hobby rather than a job. But your whole guiding experience is a long way to learn how to manage not only stress, but a lot of other things you can use in your life.
…and a risk
You never know, if your guests come, if they not disappear in the middle of a tour without paying. They can be killers, rapists or terrorists (okay, with my fantasy I migth go write detectives), but this is quite possible. I had a tourist who was trying to hack my email after I refused to do a walking tour for him (thank you, Google, for double authentification!)
Every time I meet a new person, I take a risk, but this is completely my consious decision.
But those who do not risk, do not drink champagne
…or beer, or wine, or nice cocktails in amazing hidden bars where you will take your grateful guests and they will be inviting you for the drinks, for dinners or lunches, inviting to their homecountry, hometown and even house, because they will be damn thankful for every minute you spent with them. And you will be sitting in this bar, looking at this person (or people), laughing and thanking Universe for them. You will be coming home a little bit drunk: mostly because of happiness. You will go faster, because you will learn how to fly. I am flying home every time I meet such people on my tours.
I call it a dope. Then at home I feel so overexcited that I cannot fall asleep. But tomorrow I have to be fresh and cheerful, because tomorrow I have an important task again: to teach somebody how to love Kyiv. And I cannot afford to fail.