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Sunday, June 8, 2008

Technical Tactics as Alternatives to Business Travel--Episode 56

You Can Hear Janet Christy's archived interview on Techno Granny Show, Epsisode 56-TEchnical Tactics to Alternatives to Business Travel Listen at:


By Janet W. Christy

Before I started doing consulting and training for Woman and Minority Owned Businesses I spent more than 25 years in the telecommunications industry. In February 2002 (soon after the tragedy of 9/11) I wrote a white paper on “Minimizing Travel.” Even though six years have passed the situation has not improved because security regulations and gas prices keep increasing. Even though these pointers on Minimizing Travel are not directly related to being a Woman/Minority Owned Business I thought you might still find them helpful. Following is a slightly updated version of the 2002 white paper.

The Dilemma

The cost and complications of business travel have increased tremendously over the last few years and especially in recent months. Many businesses and organizations are struggling with the decision of whether to travel or not and how to effectively do business if they reduce the amount of travel. Some of the factors in these decisions are:

Cost of airline tickets, gas, rental cars
Cost of overnight stay (with increased security and related travel time one-day trips are not as easily accomplished)
Cost associated with increased time involved in travel (monetary and personal sacrifice)
Apprehension to travel/Concern for staff traveling
Frustration in the time and complication of travel
The old “revenue to expense” formula – weighs heavier on the expense side today

We are all ready to strongly consider alternatives to travel. However, much like a very hungry person in a buffet line – everything looks good. You will have to carefully analyze possibilities and be sure the methods compliment to the specific ways you do business and the outcomes you need. Following is a tested method for insuring the right choices are made.

Determine what type of trips you and your staff make and the desired outcome(s)
List the real negatives of not being face-to-face with the person(s) at the far end of the trip
List the time and dollar costs associated with the trip
Compare the two lists
Think of all possible methods of interaction (listed later) short of an actual trip
Compare each of the interaction methods with the negative of not being face-to-face and decide if there are ways to overcome the negatives
Ask the person(s) at the far end of the trip how they feel about other methods of interaction
Determine if you can serve more clients/customers and thus increase revenue by using alternatives to travel
Make a decision on each trip or type of trip based on the above factors
The Solutions

There are many ways to communicate and conduct business without traveling. There are also measures you can take to insure trips are more effective. A business must realistically evaluate the options to determine what is best for the situation. Several non-travel interaction methods may be employed by a business, depending on the specific situation and desired outcome. You must educate yourself and/or call on consultants and customer advocates to ensure you are not unduly influenced by the immediacy of the situation or the hype of the proposed solution.

Here is a list of some of the possible alternatives to business travel. (Some situations may require a mixture of the alternatives either simultaneously or at specific junctures in the process.)

Video Conferencing
Via your private network
Via the Internet
Via a video conferencing service/facility
Audio Teleconferencing
Online Presentation
Online Meeting with or without screen sharing
Instant messaging
Online Chat
Bulletin Board
Extranet (allow clients access to applicable information within your network)
Hard copy (US Mail, overnight delivery, private courier service, etc.)
One-on-One Phone Conversation (it sounds silly, but it is sometimes overlooked)
There are probably others that I don’t know about since I’ve been away from telecom for several years

Even though the logistics of travel have become more complicated, it is still the same set of logistics every time. Getting to the airport, allowing time for security checks, dealing with luggage and luggage screening – it’s the same every trip. If the trip is made by car it’s also a uniform set of activities. Preparing to “do business from home base” requires a whole new set of preparation and execution logistics. It also necessitates a new set of precautions. Here are some of the basic considerations and actions:

Appropriate network speed and size (phone lines or wireless)
Adequate network security
Proper software
Necessary equipment (video, quality speaker phones, headsets to filter out noise, etc.)
Suitable spaces that are acoustically adequate for video conferencing or audio conferencing
Training (equipment and procedures)

The old “tried and true” preparation actions for doing business are even more important when doing business without traveling and for making travel more efficient. Some of those actions are:

Research the other party (website, other internet sources, newspaper articles, financial report, and other appropriate material)
Reading ahead (the proposal, the past correspondence, any other background or appropriate information)
Test equipment and/or line at least a day before it is to be used
Know how to use the equipment or software
Have a technical expert available – a life line
Practice (on-line presentation, video or audio speech, etc.)
Allow enough time for the meeting (people tend to think a video or phone meeting will not take as long as an in-person one, your time savings comes from not having to travel)
Schedule multiple meetings or contacts if you do travel
Be sure you have proper materials with you whether you travel or have a meeting online or by phone
Be sure the right people do the traveling or are involved in the online interaction (do not involve unnecessary people in a video or phone meeting just because you can without having to incur travel expense)
Send one or two people to a conference and have them provide the information to other appropriate staff. Purchasing videos of the presentations may be an alternative to attending at all.

Travel is a way of life and business for commercial, non-profit, education and government entities. However, economic and security conditions require evaluation of travel practices and the implementation of alternatives It will take some effort to overhaul attitudes and procedures, but the results will be a more efficient and effective way of doing business.

I do consultations, research, radio interviews and meetings by phone all the time. During a phone consultation or meeting I often have the other participants go directly to websites and help them walk through forms, understand procedures and find information expediting their ability to action. Doing consultations by phone makes it affordable and possible for my clients to use my services.

Janet W. Christy is the author of Capitalizing On Being Woman Owned, a marketing guide for Woman Owned Businesses. She is the founder and President of Leverage & Development, LLC, a consulting firm that helps Women and Minority owned businesses use their status to their advantage. Her services include marketing research and planning, certification assistance, sales guidance, and assistance in government bidding.

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