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During the third month of our bootstrapped existence, my co-founder Michael Szymczak and I were blinded by an opportunity that put our business at risk.
During CES in 2009, Michael and I met a couple of slick-talking sales reps from New York that put far-fetched dreams of selling our OrigAudio speakers in Toys “R” Us. We immediately booked expensive plane tickets to New York City and hotel rooms. The sales reps picked the time and place we would all meet, which was the nicest restaurant I had been at in years…and probably since. After our $500 dinner, it was clear there was no deal to be made as the conversation seemed to change dramatically from when we first met to enjoying $25 slices of bacon as appetizers. I’m still a little bitter, but we learned an important lesson the hard way: travel is a significant investment that deserves your attention as an entrepreneur.
After the bad experience in New York, we took a proactive approach to managing travelling costs and worked hard to find ways to save money while on the road. As OrigAudio grew, it turned from a necessity to a way of conducting business and keeping costs low.
Related: 6 Ways to Curb Jet Lag and Travel Fatigue
From that experience and others, here are five ways to travel for your business without blowing your small startup budget on fruitless opportunities.
1. Schedule and plan your meetings yourself
We learned the importance of planning your own meetings the hard way. Plan ahead and make reservations instead of leaving all of the decisions up to the preferences of who you’re meeting with.
2. Layover rule
Many major airlines allow up to 24 hours for a layover without charging an additional fee. This comes in extremely handy when trying to cram several stops into a longer trip. We often stop in Tokyo for a layover and conduct business, and in less than 24 hours, we’re onto Hong Kong without paying for a multi-leg itinerary. This strategy has been huge for our business and has helped trim our travel budget by thousands each year.
3. You have to have points to win
I’m a big believer in points and The Points Guy, a website that helps travelers find the best deals and use of their frequent-flyer miles.
Points may seem arbitrary to some, but when you’re travelling multiple times every single month, you have to take advantage of flight programs and hotels to make the most of a small travel budget. I rack up points with every meal, hotel stay, rental car or flight, and these have helped the company get many free trips throughout the year.
Related: 5 Ways to Stretch Your Travel Budget With Freebies and Discounts
Also be sure to get business credit cards with lucrative points earning plans and great travel benefits.
Lastly, check out Skiplagged to find the cheapest flights available.
4. Auto rental: book, cancel, book
Whenever I’m going to need a car for a trip, I book far in advance. Nine out of ten times, the rates for that same vehicle are cheaper when I land than when I first booked. I check rates right when I touch down in a city, and if it’s cheaper I cancel my original rental and rebook for the cheaper rate.
5. Land first, book second
Staying in a Marriott in every city is nice, but we wait until we land to book a hotel room for the night using either Hotwire.com or HotelTonight. Do your research beforehand to make sure there isn’t a Penn State football game that forces you to stay 50 miles away in Altoona — I learned that lesson the hard way.
Always think of meals when considering a hotel as well. Some chains have free breakfast in the morning and a free dinner or appetizers from 5-7PM, leaving you one meal in between to cover outside of the cost of the hotel.
Related: How to Get the Most Out of Your Business Travel