Last year, I spent a considerable chunk of my time in the clouds. And I don’t mean daydreaming; I mean literally 30,000 feet up above. And no – I am not a pilot. I travel for business. As a small business executive, time is your most precious asset. Your business travel strategy must be to make each trip count.
Business trips are often expensive and can impact productivity. However, they are necessary.
Optimize your business travels with these simple tips to make sure that you stay on track and make the best of your travels.
Prioritize necessary trips.
As COO of CarBrain I oversee most of the operations and I’m involved in growing our area coverage. Pre-COVID-19, our industry was very much about old-school relationship building. The preferred method for establishing working partnerships was a good old face-to-face meeting and a “test my grip strength” during shaking hands (before shaking hands was possibly fatal).
In total I had close to 30 business trips last year. From St. Louis to Chicago to Las Vegas & San Francisco – we were all over the United States.
But not all meetings are created equal. When scheduling business trips, especially now that a new normal emerges, a good idea is to ask yourself: Is meeting face to face an absolute MUST?
There are cases wherein you really need to see how they function to check if they’d be good partners.
- What are their operations like?
- What are their facilities like?
- What are their capabilities like?
- What is the working environment?
- How is the attitude of the people at the company?
- Is the equipment well taken care of?
And so forth…being able to answer these questions is an important decision when looking to make partnership agreements. So, at times, meeting face to face can be an absolute must.
But not all the time. There are instances when a face-to-face meeting should have been a simple Zoom or Microsoft Teams call. And sometimes, meetings would have been better as an email!
Given that time is one of your most precious resources, it is important to prioritize only the trips that truly call for your physical presence.
Travel with a purpose!
It’s important to have set objectives for your travels to make sure you remain focused. When your most important human assets spend such a significant amount of time traveling – you need to make every minute count. And that means absolute efficiency.
Before embarking on a trip, it’s critical that you identify your objectives and keep your focus on that. The last thing you want is a trip that turned out pointless. Ask yourself: Which are the most-important key results that I’m after?
This could be signing up a new, large client. This could also be gaining significant exposure at a specific event. Your most important objectives will define what the priorities of your tasks will be.
Because your time is limited, some things will have to be postponed or simply set aside. You may feel the urge to schedule as many meetings as possible while understanding that not all opportunities are equal.
Picture this: Let’s say that your main goal is to sign Big Partner, Inc, a firm that could increase your inventory or sales in a big way. You had a great meeting with them last night and they mentioned following up on certain items while you were still in town. On your task list is also a one-hour meeting to review your ad spend’s performance for the last two weeks.
As you’re getting ready for the meeting with your marketing team, Big Partner gives you a phone call requesting a one-hour block to discuss potential agreement terms. Do you postpone the advertising review in favor of the meeting with Big Partner, Inc?
If you’ve lined up your priorities, you know what you need to do: postpone the review with the marketing team, and squeeze in a second unplanned meeting with the potential client.
Having a clearly listed set of priorities will help you remain flexible to ensure that you’re completing the objectives for why you set out the trip in the first place.
Optimize your calendar.
Planning in advance is a critical component of efficient business travel. From itinerary to travel time: we had to account for as many different scenarios as possible. Business travel requires careful planning. From the itinerary to business meetings and company operations – being away from the office means that you have to be more exact when it comes to planning and scheduling.
Within each day of the trip, I had to factor in things like:
- Business meetings
- Time spent in transportation
- Managerial tasks
- Team meetings
- Potential outings with clients during trips
Travel is often synonymous with early mornings and late nights. So the fatigue builds quickly. Both physical and mental. So make sure that you eliminate items that are not essential and be smart when managing your time.
If you can squeeze in an important call while on the ride from the airport to hotel, do so. Welcome the idea of holding business functions at coffee shops, which has become common practice. You can do a job interview or meeting, physical or virtual, at a Starbucks! Get comfortable. Order some good coffee. And get it done.
Wake up early.
In my case, it meant waking up at 4:30 a.m. and going to sleep early. You can send out all the emails, set tasks, review reports, and if you are lucky you will still have enough time to hit the gym before you get on the road.
Waking up early gives you a head start to accomplish as much as possible – take this as valuable time.
Stay on your toes.
Traveling can be unpredictable. Things will not always go your way, and this can throw your to-do list for a loop. Be creative and flexible, and stay on top of your tasks.
- Idle time in between meetings? Answer emails
- Flight was delayed? Catch-up on pending tasks.
- An appointment was cancelled or delayed? Conduct work reviews and/or check in with team members.
Squeeze as many tasks as you can during your downtime. Airplane rides, car rides, waiting in lobbies – this is all time to be doing menial tasks like checking emails or responding to messages.
Your time is more restrictive while you are away and that means you need to maximize how efficient you are with it. It also means that you need to be even more attentive than you normally are.
Heavy luggage can be impractical and inconvenient. Waiting for your check-in luggage takes a lot of time. If you need to get out of the airport fast, try to bring only a carry-on bag.
It’s also pretty expensive. Depending on the airline, a checked bag can cost between $25 and $150. To avoid spending unnecessary funds on extraneous baggage, skip the luggage, and only pack the essentials in a carry-on. You can always wash your clothes at most hotels once you reach your destination.
Of course, there are situations when checking in a larger baggage can’t be helped. Last year, we attended 12 trade shows between September and mid-December alone. This meant that we needed stands, banners, props, and other such items. If you can source out these items in the destination, great! Otherwise, find a way to minimize the costs.
Move around wisely.
Avoid long commutes unless absolutely necessary. Especially if you’re in a densely populated metro, as the possibility of some kind of traffic blockage is increased. During your itinerary, try to plan your meetings as close to each other as possible to make each trip the most efficient it can be.
I generally avoid renting a vehicle unless it is absolutely necessary. My go-to transportation service is Lyft, for the most part. Most drivers generally work with both companies, and on average – in my experience, Lyft tends to be 25% cheaper than Uber, at least here in the United States.
For renting a vehicle, I will usually go with Alamo. I’ve found these to be the cheapest and most reliable services for when I need to get around.
Combine travel perks.
Travel rewards are an easy way to minimize travel expenses. Typically, you get them by using a credit card that rewards you in points you can put towards paying for various travel-related expenses including hotels, rental cars, and plane tickets.
Depending on the credit card company, you can access some amazing rewards and save hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars when you travel. Different cards offer different types of rewards, amounts of points, and fees. For instance, one card might offer four times the points at restaurants and three times the points when booking with airlines while another will provide you with more than ten times the points at certain hotels.
There are so many different travel credit card options. If you are serious about saving money during travel (and getting rewarded for it), travel rewards are the way to go.
Don’t forget to have fun.
So far, this article has been all about work, work, work. Of course, that’s exactly the point of business trips in the first place. But if it turns out that you have some free time, take advantage of it to experience the destination.
It doesn’t always have to be a city sightseeing tour or a great wild adventure. Sometimes, you can still connect with a place by simply trying its cuisine, tasting some local wine, watching the sunset, or hitting the spa after a long day’s work. Squeezing in some fun will make you appreciate business trips more and veer you away from burning out. If you’ve done all the tasks you traveled for anyway, use that extra time to pamper yourself.
Overall, it’s all about maintaining a balance between ensuring that your travels are productive and taking goof care of yourself.
I hope this article serves as a useful resource for those who are traveling for work and helps you understand how to manage your trips to be the most productive they can possibly be.
About the Author: Marcin Ladowski is the COO of CarBrain.com. A serial entrepreneur, he’s committed to finding innovating ways to bridge technology, marketing and operational side of business. He’s also a world traveler, who has explored Central and South America, and speaks three languages.