As a CEO or as a small business owner when you start to venture into Export Markets, for some time you will travel frequently, before you reach the stage where you set-up your local team.
I am a small business owner myself and I have been travelling regularly to Europe on behalf of our portfolio of Australian clients.
Recently my work travel has escalated and I have been travelling to Europe once a month to either Sydney-Frankfurt or Sydney-Paris.
Of course, that has an additional impact on your business, don’t expect clients and partners to put things on hold while you are gone! And it also has some implications in terms of maintaining a balance in your personal life, especially if you have kids to consider.
During the last 10 years, since I set up Exportia, I have come up with a few tricks that has prevented me from putting my business at risk, from jeopardising my personal life and that has helped me to continue having successful business trips. At the end of the day, if you are travelling a lot it has to bring success to your business.
Here are nine survival tips for frequent flyers:
1. Get your to-do list sorted out way before you board the plane
You want to keep your focus on getting the business done while you are overseas. Usually two weeks before I fly, I start to build up a list of things that absolutely need to be completed before I go. And I make sure I get them done, before my departure date. There is nothing worse than jumping on the plane realising you’ve forgotten to approve a contract, or you forgot to talk to that client before leaving.
2. Keep your trips short and more frequent
I have tried a few variations over the years, longer trips (2-3 weeks) and less frequent trips and shorter more frequent trips. I have to say, what works best for business and on the personal side, was to have shorter and more frequent trips. First of all, I found that it gave my European distributors and clients the feeling I was often there and they felt very well supported by me. In fact, it made it easier for me to follow up on sales leads and close deals. It is harder to do that when you have not been there for a while. On the personal life side of things, it makes it easier to recover from jetlag. And it goes faster for your little people and your partner. It works better for your work/life balance.
3. Plan for some down time during the trip, even if it’s just a day for you
Over the years, I found that I could cope better with frequent travel when I had a free week-end during business trips, when I just rest for at least a day. It’s not always possible especially during trade show season, but whenever you can, do it. I found that when I did spend a day switching off completely from business, to just sleep, read, go for a walk or a swim, I found I recovered from jet lag faster on returning to Australia.
4. Gear yourself to your destination’s time zone
As soon as I board a plane to any capital city in Europe, I immediately check the time at my destination and put myself into that time mode. If it’s night there, I will have no coffee, no alcohol and do my normal evening routine, like reading, instead of watching a film. As I look around me, I can also see other people use earplugs and eye-shades, to isolate themselves and prepare to sleep. In my case, I don’t hesitate to ask for extra-blankets, I even tell the flight attendant I won’t have meal if I feel I am going to fall asleep. When this is a daytime flight, I will then have plenty of coffee, and try to work, do a few stretches, again have no alcohol, I find, helps me to stay awake.
5. Go to work straight away
I always observe the same strict rule, as soon as I land in Paris or Frankfurt, I systematically head straight into a business meeting. I find it puts me straight into the time zone and it keeps me focused and alert. I usually only have one or two meetings on that day. I usually don’t plan for very long drives on the first day. I book a hotel close by to where I have my meetings and just head to my hotel shortly after my meetings.
When I return home to Australia, again, I head straight to work. However, I make my days a bit shorter. I am more productive this way. And I can then give more attention to my family as well.
6. Stay “OUT OF OFFICE” on your first day back at work
This a tip from my coach Cath Duncan, and it works well for me. When I come back to work, and catch up on things with my team, but officially I am only back at the office the next day, and I reflect that in my OUT OF OFFICE notification. I found it really helps to re-focus on priorities and regroup with the team.
7. Keep information flowing between you and your team
It is paramount to continue running your business while you are away. And your team plays a key role to doing that successfully, For me when I am in Europe, it means, I’ll call my team early morning before I start my day. We follow-up every other day on how things are progressing. Equally, the team can stay abreast of my activities and can start the follow-up activities from the meetings I just had with clients. Fast follow-ups are key to success in export markets. Fast follow-ups really leverages your sales meetings overseas.
8. Keep your little people at home informed
I have an 8 year-old daughter and have been a single mum for a long time, My daughter did travel with me, when she was a baby. Later with school commitments, she would stay with her dad in Australia when I travel to Europe. That’s when I realised the importance of telling her where I was when I was overseas. My daughter would always ask her grandma where is mum. I had her regularly on the phone, almost every day, but I’d focus on her daily life and forgot to share where I was and what I did. So we came up with a ritual, we have a notebook which is called “Ou est maman?/ Where is mum?”. I write down for her my precise itinerary day by day. Not only does she feel better about knowing where maman is, she has also become an expert in Google Maps and Google Earth.
9. Leverage technology
When you are a small business owner travelling, leveraging technology really helps. My whole business is cloud-based, from our document sharing system, to our CRM to other productivity tools we use. I specially like to use mobile applications to be able to share my meeting notes with the team, and our clients, regardless of time zones. My team keeps assigning tasks to me and I assign tasks to them also while I travel. It just keeps business running smoothly. Of course on the travelling logistics side, I am a big fan of booking platforms with mobile applications.
Christelle Damiens is the managing director of Exportia Australia and the president of Exportia France. She has been Foreign Trade Adviser appointed by the French Prime Minister, between 2009 and 2012.
Exportia assists Australian SMEs to successfully export their technology to Europe.