As a small business owner, traveling for business can be a vital part of building and growing your company. Even if you love traveling, learning how to budget for business travel is no vacation and requires some careful budgeting, especially for the bootstrappers among us. If you want to reap the rewards of business travel without putting a painful dent in your company’s finances, read on to learn some tips and tricks on how to budget for business travel.
Don’t Ignore the Core
Before you even think about allocating funds for business travel, it’s essential that you make sure all of your bases are covered in terms of the core expenses for your business. This means taking care of your operating expenses like renting your office or retail space, paying your utility bills, and administering payroll. Then there are your non-operating expenses, like finance charges on loans and the company credit card.
If there is room left in your budget after these core expenses are accounted for, you need to ask yourself whether the travel costs you’re looking at are justifiable for your company’s short-term and/or long-term success. Traveling to sign a big contract that will bring immediate revenue to your company would be a justifiable expense. Similarly, traveling to conferences where new skills are learned and connections are made can pay off in the long-term, too. Bottom line, you need to ask yourself whether or not the trip is worth it. Your gut will usually steer you in the right direction.
Keep it Frugal
If you’re running a startup, you’re no stranger to hunting down cost-effective solutions to get things done. Apply that same mindset to business travel expenses and do your homework to find the best deals on (coach) airplane tickets and budget accommodation tools like Hotwire. If you’re attending a convention at a hotel, it may be worth your while in terms of networking to book a room there, especially if the hotel offers airport shuttle service and complimentary meals like breakfast. But make sure you look into other options for lodging as well: AirBnB, regular B&Bs, corporate apartment rentals, and boutique hotels can help you cut your accommodation costs.
Take advantage of apps like Roomer, which lets you book hotel rooms at a discount when the traveler who originally booked has to cancel. If you find yourself sticking around your destination for an extra night, try Hotel Tonight to make a last-minute reservation at a cut rate.
A bit of advance planning when it comes to transportation expenses will help you avoid unpleasant surprises once you’ve reached your destination and need to make your way around town. Instead of hopping in a cab, use UberX or Lyft, or look into public transit options before you leave home. If you’re renting a car for travel in the US or Canada, use the GasBuddy app to seek out the cheapest gas prices when you’re on the road.
If you’re traveling for just a few days, it makes sense to keep your luggage to a bare minimum (read: just a carry-on). Pack the essentials, but be smart and ship any bulky promotional materials ahead of time to your hotel. Sparing yourself that hassle will free you up to focus on other things, and get your trip off to a more stress-free start.
Traveling for business can be great for your company’s bottom line, if it’s done right. It's all about weighing the risks and rewards. And while you’re out there handling business, meeting new contacts, and taking some time for yourself to relax and have fun, don’t neglect to track your travel expenses. Your bookkeeper (which, as a small business owner, may very well be you) will thank you!