Tips for maintaining a strong return on business travel investments
Despite the sluggish economy, small businesses are picking up the pace of business travel. Business travel is a significant investment for small companies so therefore it is important to ensure you get a strong return on your investment. According to the Oxford Economics, USA study, every dollar spent on business travel in the U.S. results in incremental revenue of $12.50 on average.
While that may not be achievable for all small businesses, it demonstrates that business travel when managed effectively can enhance your bottom line.
- Create Business Travel Plans and Policies
Now, before you get out your calendars and start booking airfares, you need to create a business travel project plan. Establish guidelines for evaluating when a face-to-face meeting is better than other options. Then manage every business trip as you would any other project in your company.
Establish a business travel policy that requires business travel to be approved in advance. The policy should also set guidelines for reimbursable expenses. For example, do you pay for gym use while employees are on the road? What about in-room movies? Set recommended ranges for food expenditures.
One of your team members may think it is fine to dine at a 5 star restaurant at the company’s expense. I think you’ll probably agree, that is a little rich for most small businesses.
- Create a Trip Agenda
Everyone who travels on behalf of your business should provide a trip agenda with confirmed meetings and expected outcomes so you can measure the success of the travel investment. Also, make sure your team understands when they travel for business, they should use the time as productively as possible.
Check local business publications to see if there are business-related events scheduled that could be good networking opportunities. Do some cold-calling while you are there. Make the most of your time while you are in a particular city.
- Avoid Last Minute Travel Decisions
Unless you happen to fall into a special deal, booking travel at the last minute is typically expensive. Take advantage of loyalty programs which provide airline or hotel points. When you find yourself in an unavoidable last minute situation, utilize these points to help off-set the cost.
- Think Strategically
Think strategically when you book your business travel. For example, Monday is a busy travel day so typically when the demand is high, so are the prices. Try to fly mid-week when prices are lower.
Consider the possibility of making the business trip a day-trip so you don’t have to incur overnight hotel expenses. Also, many of the airline clubs offer business centers where you can book conference rooms to host meetings. I’ve actually done this and it works very well. You fly in, host your meeting and fly back to your office.
- Always Shop for Deals
The travel discount sites offer packages which include airfare, hotel and rental cars. Sometimes it is less expensive to book the package than it is to book each piece individually. However, before you hit the purchase button go directly to the provider as well. A lot of times the hotel or airline will match the internet pricing.
One thing I’ve found is if you book with the hotel directly, not the 800 reservations number, and you have to cancel, you have more flexibility. Often times the travel discount sites have few options for refunds or rearranged travel plans.
- Prepare a Travel Report
Once you have completed your travel, prepare a travel report. Review it in conjunction with your initial travel agenda. Use your trip report as a means to follow up after your meetings so you don’t let something fall through the cracks. It can also be helpful in making future travel decisions.
- Standardize Your Expense Reporting System
Finally, create a standardized expense reporting system. And make sure you consult with a tax professional about appropriate travel related tax deductions. Not everything can be expensed at the same rate.
Susan Wilson Solovic is an award-winning entrepreneur and journalist, author of three best-selling books, multi-media personality and a small business contributor to ABC News and other media outlets, public speaker and attorney. In addition to sitting on several executive boards of small business organizations, Solovic is the CEO and co-founder of ItsYourBiz.com, a company she led from a concept to a multi-million dollar enterprise (formerly SBTV.com. She is also a featured blogger on numerous sites including Huffington Post, AllBusiness.com, Constant Contact, WSJ.com and Fast Company.