In our work providing Business Travel to organisations, we have observed some good and not so good practices. I hope to highlight some of the better practices and believe if implemented through out the organisation will serve up definite dividends in significant savings while ensuring staff moral is as high as possible.
In the 4 plus years I spent as a Consultant for two of the Big 4 Accountancy firms, I went on many trips along with my colleagues and clients, local, regional and fortunately, in some instances international.
As you would expect, I think organisations such as the ones I worked for have some of the best practice business travel policies and are called best practices not just in name, but most times, also in execution.
Small or smaller businesses might not have the same structures or number of people, but can implement aspects of those policies that can help them achieve significant savings on travel.
1. Budgeting: Define your financial goals, using an acceptable basis from the past or whatever is acceptable as best practice in your industry as a basis. Project into the future with concrete plans and returns expectations.
In doing this, remember to put in some numbers for travel, trips, meetings, exhibitions, events etc. Those estimates (or budget) will guide your decision making and help prioritise your business travel activities. For example, if you plan to make international trips to promote your business, but experience budgetary constraints, you might want to explore local and regional opportunities again to achieve the same aims like Business Groups, Chambers of Commerce, Local presence of related organisations you were looking to reach out to on your international trips and so on.
- Planning: This aspect is usually missed by many people. The travel industry offer incentives to everyone for early bird arrangements, i.e. the earlier you make bookings the better the prices and deals (mostly) and the opposite is also the case. So, once decisions are made and made in advance, make the travel arrangements to curtail costs.
I understand that not all travel can be planned and many unexpected events that need to be attended to arise during the course of normal business, but as much as can be within your power to control, plan, do so.
- Clear policies: Travel, Approvals, Limits etc. I have known of organisations with no clear reporting lines, clear policies on expenditure, travel expenses, spend limits, duration of stay, class of hotels, flights etc. Sounds like a lot of work, especially for small organisations, but just putting down one line each on the above mentioned aspects, communicating that to the whole organisation and sticking by it helps provide a reference point for everyone. It sets a clear framework for everyone to work in, fosters teamwork and a sense of direction.
Payment Terms: Agree payment terms that enable you maximise your funding. For example, if your debtors pay you between 30 to 60 days, try to find a travel company that will fund your travel and allow you pay 30 to 60 days as well. If not all your travel, find those that will allow at least some of your travel to be on account with them for 30 to 60 days. That aligns your incomings and outgoings. Even where most of your income is in cash, you can still seek out opportunities from travel companies to allow you make delayed payments, thereby helping to manage your cashflow. The 2 key things to understand in doing this successfully are a). your revenue/income profile and b). how to create well defined, consistent payment terms that align accordingly.
Value your employees: Every organisation should have a policy, even if it just a couple of lines, written out about the value they place on their employees and work towards implementing and upholding it. That feeds into the type of business travel standards the organisation sets and implements. Otherwise, an organisations business travel policy can be skewed against the employees who may be made to cope with unacceptable conditions in the name of travel. I have heard of cases where senior people and less experienced team members all travel on the same flight class, e.g. business class. I have also seen where less experienced team members are given a tiny amount in which to procure hotel stays when out of base, but their more experienced team members are given huge 4 or 5 star only considerations.
Each organisation has to find a balance. A balance between their financial capabilities, the worth of their employees, their contribution to the organisation and how that can be reflected when they have to travel outside the main office base. I have known employees, good employees, who have changed jobs to different organisations because they felt they were not valued enough. In some cases uncomplimentary company travel arrangements contributed their unhappiness, especially where they had to spend a lot of time away from thier base.
- Do as much as you can remotely, shop around or find alternatives where possible: I believe face to face presence is required, even in our current, sometimes hectic internet age. However, remote working, online calls, shared/virtual working, virtual work rooms and other creative ways of working should be explored to help reduce business travel to the face to face essential meetings only. Webinars, online calls and other possibilities should be explored and investments made in software plus training that enable these.
This will not however be for all businesses, but most businesses will benefit from exploring these opportunities alongside their existing business travel plans. They are not mutually exclusive and indeed work hand in hand most times.
- Be honest about where you are and what you are trying to achieve: This sounds a little trivial, but most entrepreneurs and growing businesses, as much as they need to be aspirational and talk big to be big, need to consider what they are truly able to afford when making travel plans. This helps mitigate against embarrassing situations of going into avoidable debts and inappropriate agreements.
In conclusion, Business Travel is meant to achieve growth, more revenue, higher profile or be at the top of mind of your clients, vendors or other stakeholders. Whatever the reasons for travel, ensure all trips have clear outcomes. They may not always be achieved, but make sure they are measurable and you react to them within your own allowable time frame. The perfect example would be an events company attending event fairs nationally, trying to promote their services as their main source of marketing, generating leads and sales. At some point they need to assess if the travel and event spend could not be spent differently or shared with another form of marketing e.g. online.
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