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Make the most of overseas business trips

Five small-business owners give their hints & tips for business travellers whilst overseas

Overseas business trips can be expensive and of course involve spending valuable time away from base. So, how do you get the best outcomes? We asked five small-business owners.

Sarah Brown, founder of London-based Pai Skincare, “sensitive skin experts and makers of certified organic skincare”.

“I love travelling, but I have two young children, so I keep my overseas business trips short. But, I always fit in as much as possible - on my last US trip I did 34 meetings in four days.

“Normally, I visit our key markets, catching up with stockists and suppliers, doing press interviews and speaking at events. Being overseas allows you to get a true flavour of your customers’ culture and understand how shopping habits vary. It also takes you out of your day-to-day bubble, which can provide added inspiration.

“It’s not just a question of paying for flights and hotels. You should never forget the value of your time – you must make it count. Go energised and ready to sell – not just your product but also your vision and story. Make sure all your meetings have maximum impact.”

Management, sales and customer service performance consultant, Andy Coughlin of Andy Coughlin Consulting Ltd

“I do 15 overseas business trips a year; destinations include the USA, Africa, the Middle East and Russia. I love travelling but it can be challenging, time-consuming and make you feel lonely.

“Before travelling, find out about local customs and business culture, but don’t over-think it. If you’re polite and friendly, you’ll be ok. Learn a few essential words and phrases and it will be appreciated.

“Don’t try to cram in too many meetings – things generally take longer when you’re in an unfamiliar country. Ask your provider how you can limit your mobile phone bill when overseas. Let key UK customers know if you’re going to be overseas – especially if you’ll be in a different time zone.

“For long flights, have your technology in your hand luggage, so you can work. Use any spare time to do some ‘big-picture thinking’ about your business.”

Bernadine Tay, founder of Chester-based Quinteassential designer and creator of “premium loose-leaf tea blends of uncompromising quality”.

“I regularly travel all over the world to buy tea, meet suppliers and potential business partners – it’s the best part of my job. I schedule as many meetings as possible and use all the free communication and navigation tools on my devices to limit cost.

“I try to have some time to myself while overseas on business. I love learning about new cultures and enjoy having conversations with random people. Opportunities to learn are everywhere.

“Before meeting contacts, send an agenda, so you’re both clear about objectives – it can save time. It’s important to understand local business culture, because being too eager to talk business or close a deal might work against you. Showing appreciation of other people’s culture always makes a good impression – wherever you go.”

Ben Snowdon, managing director of Birmingham-based of Lock, Stock & Barrel

“I travel mostly to countries in Europe, but I’ve been to Russia and the USA this year. Mostly, I go to support a launch or to visit customers. To limit costs, I only go if it’s essential and carry out thorough research on new markets before traveling. You must plan your visit and set up meaningful meetings – otherwise you’ll waste your time.

“I pick hotels located close enough to meetings, but also in nice areas close to local attractions. I’d rather save money on flights and stay in better hotels. If English isn’t widely spoken, I’ll ask contacts if they know of a reliable local interpreter, so they can accompany me to meetings. It’s well worth the cost.

“Trying to work on flights is challenging, but my devices are close to hand while I’m travelling and overseas. Inevitably, you’ll want to find out about people, businesses and places, so make sure your hotel has good Wifi.”

Paul Forkan, co-founder of Gandys – a “unique lifestyle brand designed in London, inspired by travel and fuelled by a desire to give back”.

“My brother Rob and I go on many overseas business trips each year and try to fit in as much as possible. Being overseas inspires our designs. For example, when we were in Portugal last year we saw some really cool tiles and used a similar print on our swim shorts.

“You should always mix business with pleasure. When we went on our press trip to Jamaica a few years ago and we visited the Bob Marley Foundation, as well as Richard Branson’s entrepreneur centre. We also met the local Rastafarians in the Blue Mountains.

“You must try to make the most of every minute. You never know when you might meet an important new business contact you might not have met otherwise.”

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