When financial consultant Joe Ely drove an hour and a half without an appointment to see a banker on behalf of one of his clients, he found the banker wasn't in and wouldn't be in at all that day. "I needed a concession (on the exact legal description of a loan's collateral) from the banker, so it was the type of meeting where I didn't want an appointment," says Ely, whose West Lafayette, Indiana, firm, Douglas Jackson Pierce LLC, works with agribusinesses--farmers, ranchers and other businesses directly serving the agriculture industry. "I believed I needed to see the banker's body language, eyes and sense of ease (or unease) with the suggestion."
A waste of time? Not at all. "Even though the banker wasn't in, I left a handwritten note with my business card attached," Ely says. "My going there had communicated the importance of the deal, so the ensuing discussion yielded much better results."
This may be the Information Age, but a little face-to-face contact can still go a long way toward growing your business and solidifying business relationships. Business travel is a necessity, albeit an often expensive one, for most entrepreneurs. Unlike large companies that have the resources and negotiating clout to cut deals with hotels and airlines, entrepreneurs must approach travel with the same savvy they bring to other areas of their businesses. That means not only getting the best travel deals they can, but also making the most of the time and money they do spend on the road.
Whether they travel five days a week or twice a year, today's entrepreneurs have discovered ways to stretch their travel dollars, while keeping in mind that business travel is an investment that must be maximized. Here are some of the ways you can make the most of your travel dollars:
1. Determine whether the trip is necessary. A lot of work can be done via telephone, e-mail, fax and modem. Nevertheless, personal contact and one-on-one meetings are much more effective in certain situations. "I travel if person-to-person contact is mandated to make a client or resource familiar and comfortable with us personally, or if a problem needs face-to-face resolution," says Kim Baker, author of Desktop Direct Marketing (McGraw-Hill, $27.95, 800-338-3987). "This ranges from someone being unhappy with our work to getting our hands dirty resolving a problem with a project."
Scott Cole, president and CEO of Mass Music, an online music store in Davis, California, agrees that personal contact can be important in doing business. "If there are many issues that need to be negotiated, I find we usually get a better deal if I fly or drive to wherever the other person is," he says.
Projecting the return on investment you're likely to receive from making a trip can be a good way to make the Go/No-Go decision. Marvin Drobes of Diet Solutions: People Helping People, a Howell, New Jersey-based independent distributor of Herbalife nutritional products, has developed such a formula. "I only travel to meet distributors who bring in at least $20,000 per month in sales," says Drobes. "And I don't spend more on a trip than 50 percent of my monthly income from that distributor."
Following the principle of network marketing, Drobes has developed a network of customers who, in turn, have also become product distributors; Drobes earns a percentage of each sale his distributors make. When he travels to conduct sales training, give motivational talks and do product demonstrations, the increase in sales makes the expense worthwhile. Monthly sales in the visited sales territory tend to increase 15 percent to 20 percent for several months after one of his trips, he says.
2. Use your travel time wisely. When Ely worked for a consulting firm before he started his own firm, he noticed many of his colleagues didn't accomplish what they wanted on a trip. "All they could think about was going home as soon as possible," he says. It's a good idea to set goals and objectives for the trip and make sure you accomplish them before heading home.
Because the cost of travel can also be measured in lost work time, it's important to make sure you make the most of your travel time. Not surprisingly, cellular phones, pagers and laptop computers figure prominently in the arsenal of today's road warriors. In addition to these tools, Drobes also takes fliers, brochures and other sales materials on his trips and distributes them as he travels.
Cole prepares for a trip as he would for a major meeting. "I draw up an outline and a list of the points that need to be brought up and discussed during my meetings," he says.
Ely travels primarily by car and uses the driving time to rehearse his greeting and mentally outline his presentation. "I try to identify the three central points I'm trying to communicate during the meeting," Ely says. Then, at his destination, he parks and spends about five minutes going over his presentation one last time.
3. Remember, saving isn't everything. You may want to get the most return from business travel at the lowest possible cost, but be sure to maintain a balance when you're traveling. "Sometimes travel makes people so tired that loose-knit objectives, like `Sell the contract' or `Make personal (one-on-one) contact,' are more workable," Baker says. "I plan on no more than a six-hour workday to mitigate the effects of travel-related stress and too many hours waiting in airports."
By the same token, focusing only on saving money isn't necessarily the best way to get the most from your travel dollar. After all, you're traveling for valid business reasons, not to create unnecessary stress. Comfort and convenience will go a long way toward making you more effective on the road.