By Nik Darlington
At Red Squirrel Wine, we source new bottles in three main ways. Sometimes we're shown them by a UK-based importer or other distributer. Other times enterprising wine producers contact us and send samples, with the hope we fall in love with them and import them. Then there are times we get itchy feet and travel to vineyards ourselves.
No second guesses which one is the most fun. Yet with travel comes cost. It costs us money, obviously, but also it costs us time. In a small business with just a few employees, time and money are very costly indeed.
So it's always a balancing act, travelling. We spread the load, and try to go abroad around half a dozen times a year. This typically means Europe, of course. Come back in a year or so and ask if we have the travel budget for sourcing jaunts to Australia...
For a wine merchant, travelling to visit the supplier is perhaps more crucial than for other industries. Modern technology is making the business world simultaneously bigger and smaller, yet you can't taste new vintages over Skype (now that would be an invention and a half, albeit a somewhat soulless one).
So go we go, keeping an eye on the time and the bottom line. Here are four travel tips that I imagine apply to most small businesses.
1. Put time ahead of money.
Unless you truly are scraping the bottom of the biscuit barrel, and unless we're comparing £1,000 and £100 aeroplane tickets, I rarely believe the cheapest option pays in the long run. If you've got to leave the office an hour or two earlier in order to get to a provincial airport, and do something similar at the other end, ask yourself how much that extra hour or so of your time is worth. It might not be much of a saving after all.
2. Learn a new language.
I know many people around the world speak English, and even if they don't there are ways of getting by. But even a few choice words can go a very long way. You don't want to lose that new contract because you didn't know your ciao from your elbow. Duolingo is a really good new app you can get on your tablet or smartphone and pick up the basics and more pretty quickly.
3. Stay connected.
Take a dongle or some sort of roaming top-up for your phone. Finding Wi-Fi abroad is like trying to find a motorway in Dorset. If you've only got another colleague or two back at home, you're going to be on the job nearly as much as you would be at home. Don't let those important messages go missing because you forgot how to say "what is the Wi-Fi password" in Portuguese. Cf. point two.
4. Travel smart.
The big trade-off remains time versus money. The first three points are more about saving time than saving money, so what about the reverse? Well as long as you're following points one and three, consider this: fly during the day, in the middle of the week. You might think that you can't possibly leave the office in the midst of the working week, and it's more responsible to travel 'on your own time' at the weekend (which after all, for most small business owners, doesn't really exist).
But.... flights are more expensive at weekends because that's when people go on holiday. Earlier and later flights midweek may tend to be busier too, as business people take them to get in a full working day. However, you're your own boss. You might work every waking hour, but they're your hours. So get the 13.45 from Heathrow on a Tuesday and you might save a bob without killing that all-important commodity: your time.
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