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How to Grow Your Small Business Through Strategic Travel Decisions

November 12th, 2016 /

I sat before my dual monitors, checking the lighting, the camera angle, and my appearance before I began a meeting with the biggest client my company had ever pitched to. Now, you might think the Internet connection on a Tuesday morning in San Francisco would be up to the task, but you’d be wrong. The call crackled and eventually dropped. Awkwardness ensued, and though we eventually got the deal done, it was in spite of that call, not because of it.

This was the day that cemented my belief that—under the right circumstances—business travel is worth the cost.

But if you’re a business owner like me, figuring out which circumstances are the right circumstances can be tricky. How do you know when travel is worth the money and time? Over the years, I’ve developed a litmus test for strategically planning only trips that are likely to promote business growth.

how to grow your small business

Sometimes you’ll benefit from abandoning the corner office in favor of the road. Image by Flickr user Nick Bastian (CC BY-ND 2.0)

When CEOs Should Travel

In today’s virtual marketplace, we are constantly connected. But with so much background noise, we sometimes struggle to actually hear each other. Emails reaching out go unanswered. Scheduled phone calls get canceled because other things—face-to-face things—come up.

So, as a CEO, I always recommend traveling when you have the potential to seal the deal. A friend of mine acts as the key salesperson in a thriving virtual company and travels often to secure new clients. He also uses speaking engagements to strategically connect him with his target consumers. This makes sense—according to one recent study, it can be difficult to develop trust when communicating remotely, which means that the difference between “let’s have a conference call” and “let’s meet in person in LA” is tremendous.

Meeting in person is also a valuable method of determining whether potential business partners actually believe in your company’s mission, or if they’re just in it for the money. An executive friend shared this fantastic story with me:

“A few years back, I ran a startup children’s website. I was approached by a potential investor who seemed really keen to close a deal between our companies, so I went out on a limb and asked him to meet me at Disneyland for the day. It was my little way of seeing if he was truly interested in providing support for a company based around children. We had a fantastic time at the park and afterward took a detour to visit one of his company branches. We ended up doing the deal, and he and I have been friends for years since.”

We might not all be able to use a trip to Disneyland as an acceptable business expense. However, I believe every business owner can benefit from becoming a part of the larger business travel community. Traveling a few times a month puts you in a clearly defined group of executives and business owners that are similarly driven to succeed, and the more you travel, the more you’ll run into people that you know—the world becomes smaller, even as your own network grows.

As CEO, how often should you travel for business?

As a CEO, it can be hard to know when to ditch the airport and stay home. Image by Flickr user Jorge Diaz (CC BY-SA 2.0)

When CEOs Shouldn’t be Traveling

Still, there’s a line between beneficial travel and travel so excessive that it actually inhibits growth; finding that line can be difficult. While it takes some trial and error, having a strategy set up in advance can help you decide whether or not to make that sixth business trip this month.

I’d first recommend that you avoid travel if you’ve been a little TOO successful at securing clients. You want to avoid situations like the one a fellow executive described to me:

“I was traveling much more than I do now, making great relationships—and, suddenly, we had too many clients. You’d think that would be a good problem, but it was a nightmare. We didn’t have the infrastructure to handle the influx, and I wasn’t there to help create it. We had to hire a lot of people quickly to try and resolve the imbalance. I started turning down travel opportunities—things I’d worked years to earn. It was a huge wake-up call for me.”

If, as a business owner, you are very involved in company culture, you should probably also reduce the amount you travel. My colleague, for instance, enjoys interacting with employees and takes pride in being a fundamental pillar of company culture. Being a very visible CEO tends to have a positive effect on company workflow and morale, and, on a more mundane level, you might be the only person in the company who can answer certain questions. My colleague’s advice for those in this situation: stick to traveling no more than five business days per month.

It’s also a good idea to avoid additional trips if you notice you’re starting to cut corners in an attempt to save time. When I try to depend on red-eye flights in order to “maximize” my hours both at home and away, for example, I usually just ended up exhausted. If you aren’t planning your business trips with enough time to spare (because you simply cannot spare the time), you’re not doing your company any favors by taking that flight. Trust me.

Make Your Business Travel Work for You

Whether it’s you or your team doing the traveling, be sure that you’re investing your time and resources in ways that actually lead to business growth. I can guarantee that once you hit the sweet spot and avoid the pitfalls mentioned above, you’ll never want to go back to your old habits.

If you’re looking for another way to strategically revolutionize your travel process, you should also check out JetLux. They take all the stress out of booking a hotel, and give you access to corporate rates and suite upgrades even as a small business owner.

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