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How to tell when it’s time for your small business to get serious about corporate travel

By Mike Baker, published on Feb 11, 2019
How to tell when it’s time for your small business to get serious about corporate travel

You have big aspirations for your small business, and you’re well on your way to achieving them. But even as your company grows, it might not feel natural to think of your company as “corporate.” You’re used to being nimble and keeping your policies as lightweight as possible. Plus “corporate” just sounds so stuffy!

But even the most agile small businesses need some “corporate” policies in place. One of those areas is travel management. Even small companies have employees who travel for work, and this means that they need some policy (and tools) in place to book travel, track spend, and manage itineraries.

Whatever the reason, when the need for travel arises, your employees just deal with it. After all, everyone’s busy. Most likely, the traveler makes their own arrangements. When they get back, they submit some receipts or whatever they can pull together for reimbursement. Or, maybe your small business has a company credit card your travelers can use to pay for their flight, hotel, food, and any other related expenses. It’s all kind of informal, but it’s working.

...Or is it?

Here’s the problem. Like so many aspects of building a business, there comes a time when flying by the seat of your pants (no pun intended) stops working. Either you lose control over what your employees are booking, or you devote a lot of time and energy to managing the booking process for all of your travelers — finding the most cost-effective options, creating itineraries, making changes on the fly, etc.

At some point, both of these options fall short. Your business is growing up, and your policies and procedures must do the same.

Creating a strong corporate travel process may not sound incredibly exciting, but it can have a massive impact on how your company operates. Small businesses have a naturally energetic, creative air about them. Who wants to squelch that with a long of list of rules? No one wants to become the travel police. On the other hand, if you don’t get organized, your company will pay — literally.

Doing Nothing Will Cause Pain

A lack of corporate travel guidelines creates chaos and wastes time and money. Seriously – how much time do you think your traveling employees spend researching the possibilities and securing travel arrangements? It’s a lot more than you realize. And that’s no way to grow your company. Without guidelines, you also invite internal conflicts that can arise around issues of fairness. Here’s an example.

Wanda thinks travel is a perk. When she takes a vacation, she always treats herself to the best of everything, so when she travels for business she does the same thing. Meanwhile, her coworker Jonah travels as conservatively as possible. Even when the flights are inconvenient and the rooms are, frankly, a tad tattier than he would prefer. He’s willing to sacrifice his comfort to save money for the company, often taking red-eye flights and staying in economical hotels.

Over time, however, Jonah is going to notice the “Wanda situation” and start treating himself to better rooms, flights, and food, too. Why should he suffer? It’s not like anyone is making an effort to rein in Wanda’s luxuriant spending, or praising him for saving the company money.

It’s not surprising that employees have different expectations about how and where they travel for work — just as they have different expectations about working hours, attire and everything else. It just means that, as businesses grow, they need to codify their travel-related policies to ensure equity and transparency.

Corporate Travel Requires a Corporate Travel Policy

Every small and medium sized business with significant travel spend needs to implement formal guidelines that employees can easily follow. This is equally true whether you have only a few travelers or lots of folks who are regularly on the road. A written corporate travel policy covers all the key components of a trip, such as transportation, hotels, food, and incidentals. It spells out what is allowed and what is not as well as the reimbursement process and timeline.

When everyone is on the same page, you automatically have a better chance at achieving consistency and parity in terms of hotel quality, allowable expenditures for room rates and food, flights and seating selection, etc. You can get a grip on company-wide travel expenses and improve traveler happiness at the same time.

If the word “corporate” makes you uncomfortable, just think of it as business travel. Whatever you call it, if your people are on the move, then you need to proactively manage that process. It’s time to say goodbye to seat-of-the-pants and say hello to corporate (business) travel planning.

About the Author: Mike Baker
Mike is Director of Marketing for Lola.com and a former journalist, farmer and teacher.