I discussed the topic of business travel as an employee some time ago. However, this week I’ll be traveling as a contractor to another business, which has a couple of different wrinkles, so I thought I’d share my insights.
Planning, Arranging, and Paying
If you’re traveling long-distance to a client site, you’re usually going for one of two reasons:
- The client needs you there for a specific task.
- You want to meet with the client in person to build/grow your business.
In the former case, your itinerary will be determined by the client. In the latter case, you will be making the appointments with particular individuals. You might request or receive an itinerary of your visit in electronic or hard copy form. Print the hard copy of the electronic version as a backup. Have a solid plan (or make certain your client has a specific plan) for what you will do while you are there.
It’s a safe bet that if you are traveling for your own personal business development purposes that you will have to pay for your own travel (air, hotel, rental car, expenses), in which case you would claim those expenses as part of the cost of your doing business. If the client has requested your presence, they will (usually) take it upon themselves to pay for your air, hotel, and car (if needed). They also might reimburse you for reasonable expenses, so you would need to save all of your receipts. Make certain that your travel has been authorized–preferably in writing/email–before you make travel arrangements.
Depending on the size and rules of the organization, you might book your own reservations. Also, don’t be surprised if you have to pay for your travel expenses up front and then submit them for reimbursement after the trip, so make certain that you’ve got room on your credit/debit card to pay the bills until you are reimbursed. Determine if the time you spend in transit (on the plane) is billable or not.
Find out what the weather is going to be like and ask what office/site dress code is, then pack accordingly.
You might or might not have to stay in a hotel under the government per diem rate. When in doubt, ask. Odds are, the client has a list of preferred hotels for you to book.
Working on Site
When you arrive at the client site to work, you might expect to receive a temporary ID badge, desk, parking pass, and password to the company inter-/intranet, or sometimes even a separate computer work station if you don’t bring or the client does not want you to use your own.
I can’t stress this enough: be polite to everyone you meet. If you’re nice to your immediate customer but dismissive or rude toward the receptionist/secretary/administrative assistant, your behavior will be noted and shared with your customer. You do want to work with them again, right?
On site, you will largely be led around by your customer and introduced to the people you need to do your work. You might meet others as well (did I mention that you should be polite?). You might spend all of your working hours in the little room they set aside for proposals. If you aren’t shown them already, take the time to locate or ask for directions to the nearest restroom, break room, and emergency exits.
If you have the time and energy, take a little time to see the sights (if any) in the city you’re visiting. Don’t let fun time interfere with work. You’re there to work; playing tourist is just an extra bonus, and those expenses are yours, not the client’s.
Before you leave, make certain that you have accomplished all of the tasks and attended all the meetings you were scheduled to during your visit. Ask for feedback on your work, if the client(s) had time to review it. Also, ask what your next steps/action items will be or when you can expect to hear from the client again. Don’t forget to turn in any temporary IDs, parking placards, computers, or other client company before you go. Thank the client for having you there.
Following Up After the Trip
If the customer is reimbursing you, submit your receipts along with whatever internal form they might need in a timely manner.
Follow up on any action items you were given during the visit.
Simple, yes? But worth knowing. None of that is taught at your university/college, so it’s better to be prepared. If you’re heading out for business travel this week, may it be a safe and productive trip!