Travel Management for Small BusinessesBy Kathleen Burns
The complete guide to finding the best travel management solution for your business.
Corporate travel is a central component to growing a business — even when starting small.
But, travel expenses add up quickly, which can be detrimental to a growing (or any) business. That’s why it’s so critical to get on top of your travel and expense management — before it’s too late.
With so many options for corporate travel management solutions on the table, how do you, as a small to medium business employee/owner, go about finding the best fit?
Should you hire an internal travel manager? Recruit a travel agency? Let your business travelers fend for themselves? The first step toward making the best decision is to think about what you want to get out of a managed travel program.
As a small business, you’re going to want to prioritize managing corporate travel costs, which means creating a travel policy to help keep business travelers within budget, as well as travel and expense management capabilities. We’ll dive into more details on how to best go about small business travel management throughout this post.
But wait a second — why does managing business travel even need to be a priority for small businesses? Can’t the few employees that do travel just handle it on their own?
The short answer? No. At least not if your Finance team cares about tracking each dollar spent, if HR values making employees feel cared for, or if whoever arranges travel prefers to not spend their weekends on the phone with American Airlines.
Importance of Managing Travel for a Small Business
Still not convinced that growing businesses need to spend more money on travel management when corporate travel is already a massive expense? Fair enough.
But here’s why: To keep your company from spending more money than you have to on corporate travel. And to save you some cash along the way.
It’s no surprise that business travel is one of the top expenses companies face. And for good reason: corporate travel has proven to be one of the best ways to pursue new business opportunities, develop relationships, and recruit top talent.
But just because you’re a small business and “only have a few travelers” doesn’t mean you should ignore your travel program as a whole.
Even a few business travelers can throw your travel budget out of whack when booking travel is left to employees’ own devices. And as a small business, your budget likely doesn’t have much wiggle room.
So how can managing your travel help your business run more smoothly? By centralizing all travel booking into one tool, Executive Assistants or Office Managers don’t have to chase down itineraries and receipts for individual business trips.
Instead, all of the necessary information (flight, hotel, destination, duration, the names of traveling employees, etc) is accessible in the same place.
What about reducing your company’s expenses? Adapting a corporate travel management solution is the number one way to reduce your company’s travel expenses. When all business travelers use a centralized booking tool for flights, hotels, and rental cars, the company wide travel spend is significantly easier to track.
Without such a tool, information about travel spend is scattered across the company, and Finance must depend on traveling employees to submit their own receipts and expense reports. This often happens weeks after the trip is over, making financial budgeting and forecasting near impossible.
With a corporate travel software solution, managing expenses becomes even easier. Integrations with the expense management tools you’re likely already using means that all dollars put toward travel can be collected in one place. Treating a client to dinner? Employees can snap a photo of the receipt, upload it to the software platform, and an expense report is instantly created. Plus, your team can load the company credit card information into the platform to track each charge in real time.
Corporate travel management is essential for small businesses because it pulls in all travel stakeholders, centralizing (and simplifying) the entire process, while also increasing visibility into travel spend.
One more time for the people in the back — with a corporate travel software tool, your Finance team has real-time visibility into any and all travel spend. Game. Changer.
Tips for travel management in a small business
Great, now you know why it is important to manage your corporate travel, even as a small business, but how exactly do you act on it?
Here are four tips to get you started with your small business travel management:
- Establish a centralized booking tool
- Implement a travel policy
- Streamline travel and expense management
- Provide traveler support.
Centralized booking tool
When traveling employees book independently, itineraries and receipts are scattered across multiple emails, consumer websites, and credit card accounts. And even if the number of employees that travel in your business hovers in the single digits, this siloed information is wasting your business a lot of time and money.
Establishing a centralized booking tool for flights, hotels, and rental cars collects all of that information in one place so that corporate travelers know where to book, travel managers have visibility into the company wide travel plans, and the finance team can easily track travel expenses in real-time.
Corporate travel policy
With small business travel management, implementing an effective corporate travel policy will be one of the most crucial steps.
As a small business, you’re probably dealing with a pretty tight budget. So, you better make sure your traveling employees are sticking to it. The best way to keep your budget on track is through implementing — and enforcing — a corporate travel policy.
This policy should outline how much can be spent on flights and hotels for business trips, based on the destination, as well as per diem expenses. With a clearly communicated policy, employees know exactly how much they can spend on their business travel.
Streamline expense management
Along the same line as budgeting, a major weakness in unmanaged corporate travel programs is delayed expense reports. Employees book their travel, buy meals on the road, and take ride shares throughout their destination city.
However, in unmanaged travel programs these costs are unknown to the Finance team until the traveler returns and submits an expense report. On a tight travel budget, that is a recipe for disaster. Travel management software eliminates this threat by simplifying the expense report process. All employees have to do is snap a photo of a receipt, upload it to an app, and the rest is automated.
Provide Travel Support
Travel plans rarely go smoothly. But your company’s travel manager likely can’t keep up with all of the changes, cancelations, and delays that inevitably happen during each business trip. Nor do they have the connections or travel industry expertise to deal with interruptions in the most effective way possible. With the right corporate travel management tool, your travelers could have unlimited access to 24/7 traveler support to help with any issues they meet along the way.
The best way to hit all of these steps is by pulling in a third party to help with your travel management. What this should look like depends on your company’s needs and budget, but the most common options are corporate travel agents or a corporate travel management software.
Top travel management software for small businesses
Travel management is not a pain point exclusive to large enterprises.
But, none of the legacy travel management solutions, like Concur and Egencia, have been able to effectively cater to the needs of SMBs. Instead, newer companies are filling this gap with modern technology and software capabilities to make the process simpler than ever.
Because of this recent industry expansion, there are several different options that can help with small business travel management. But, they each have different strengths and weaknesses.
Here’s a breakdown of the top solutions:
TripActions is a travel management platform that incentivizes corporate travelers to book lower-cost hotel, flight, train and car options to help their company save money on travel. While saving money is all well and fine, this approach isn’t sustainable in the long run because your company ends up paying for each incentive gift card.
TripAction’s pricing model is also not sustainable for small businesses because they charge customers booking and transaction fees, on top of a subscription charge. This unpredictable pricing is better suited for larger, more established enterprises who have more flexibility in their travel budget and are willing to pay for widely varying monthly charges.
TravelBank is a corporate travel management tool advertised as a smarter way to book, track, and earn rewards on business travel. TravelBank offers a free version of their products, which is often appealing to small businesses.
However, most of the necessary tools for effective travel management are only available with a Premium account. A Premium account on TravelBank also charges transaction fees for each booking, and any changes to an itinerary, which can add up quickly as business travel plans are rarely set in stone.
TravelPerk receives praise for its multilingual support and ability to book multi-city trips. With headquarters in Barcelona, TravelPerk is a good travel solution for larger companies based in Europe and overseas.
TravelPerk’s unpredictable transaction pricing model and international focus make it better suited for larger, international companies that can sustain unpredictable expenses.
NexTravel is a fairly small company that helps businesses manage their end-to-end travel booking experience. Customers can get started on NexTravel with a free account, but in order to access beneficial features like expense and HR integrations, better inventory, and multiple policies, you have to upgrade to Premium.
The pricing for a Premium account is dependent on which features and integrations your company uses, which can get confusing.
Lola.com is a lightweight, cost-effective travel management solution for growing US-based companies. Users praise Lola for its intuitive interface, powerful reporting tools, and world class 24/7 support.
Lola’s transparent flat-rate pricing with no transaction charges and access to negotiated fares make it a perfect choice for budget-conscious companies. Plus, a fully customizable travel policy makes it easy to give employees the freedom to book on their own, while ensuring that they stay within budget.
Best Travel Management Solutions for Small Businesses
The best travel management solution for small businesses varies depending on travel needs and budget, but there are a few non-negotiable features that all businesses will benefit from.
The best travel management solutions for small businesses will have...
This is a big one for small businesses. The whole point of managing business travel is to control travel spend — to make it predictable. That becomes impossible when your travel management solution charges you booking, change, and service fees. Your travelers can’t control the weather while they’re on the road, but one big storm could lead to an extra $50+ per traveler because of service and change fees.
Prioritize a tool that charges flat subscription fees to integrate at least a little bit of stability into your business travel.
Travel and expense management
Travel and expenses go hand in hand, so the best travel management solutions for small businesses will also include expense management capabilities. Look for a travel solution that integrates with the expense tools your company is already using. Or, if you haven’t adopted an expense management tool yet, investigate options for both tools at the same time.
Customizable travel policies
Related to travel and expense management, fully customizable travel policies will help keep your team in budget and empower your Finance team to more accurately predict future travel spend. The greatest weakness of corporate travel policies is that travelers often don’t know what the guidelines are, or that they even exist. Pick a travel management solution that allows you to customize your policies and clearly labels in policy vs. out of policy options while employees are booking travel.
Online booking capabilities
Have we mentioned how important a centralized online booking tool is yet?! Jokes aside, this is probably the cornerstone feature for a travel management solution. Make sure the management solutions you’re considering include online booking tools for flights, hotels, and rental cars so that all of your company’s travel plans are collected in one place.
Free 24/7 support
Perhaps the only thing worse than getting stuck at the airport for hours is having to spend your free time on hold with airlines when someone else’s travel plans go sideways. If your travel program doesn’t include customer service from a third party, that is the exact position you’re putting your Executive Assistants or Office Manager in. But choose wisely — many travel management companies charge extra fees for service calls. Instead, look for solutions that offer expert support, at no extra cost.
The most important thing to consider is the outcome you are looking for from a travel management solution, be it managing spend, savings on flights, traveler support, or all three. Use those priorities to guide your decision and you’ll find a solution that works for your business.