Planning A Business Trip: 
Ten Things To Think Of Before You Go

So you want to export or do international business.   Well, if so, be prepared to travel and realize that it will involve both time and money.  Despite this, visiting an export market is the single most effective method for determining a city or a country's potential but this is only true if the visit is properly planned and you do your research in advance. Following these steps will help create a more efficient, productive and cost-effective business trip.  A trip that will provide you with the information you require to really make the most of your export opportunities.

1. Clarify your objectives

Take time to really sit down and think about what you want to achieve?  What is your goal?  What do you need to achieve to reach that goal?  Once you have determined this, everything should be scheduled around succeeding in this goal.  If your objective is to secure contracts for sale of your product, your trip to your target country will need to consist of meetings with and presenting to prospective clients you have already contacted and researched. Perhaps you want to determine if their is a market for your product, to evaluate the competition and examine whether your product is suitable for local consumers? There is no better means to achieve these objectives than traveling to the target market.  But again you will need to think about your objective and to do the research.

2.  The power of research

In real estate, it is location, location, location.  In international business it is preparation, preparation and more preparation.  He or she who does their due diligence and knows their subject cold and has prepared most fully will have the edge for success.  The biggest mistake most international business people make in approaching a new business opportunity is in not researching all facets of the opportunity sufficiently and not knowing enough about the opportunity, the foreign country, the foreign culture and the personalities involved that are linked to the opportunity.

3. Be efficient and be frugal both with your time and your resources

Determine whether financial assistance is available.  Business travel can be costly, particularly for small-and medium-sized firms with tight budgets.  Sometimes you can get help initially from your State Development Office or from the National government.  Also, think about ways other than travel to accomplish your objectives.  Travel for travel sake is usually not a good idea.  Although travel can be broadening, time away from your business when you are starting up and even later should only be undertaken if there isn't a good alternate.  Some travel is an inevitable part of foreign business but too much travel initially can burn up time, money and attention that really should be going elsewhere.

4. Seek expertise before you leave

You would be surprised how much help and good advice you can get by just asking.  There are many sources of information and advice available to exporters and international business, use them. First and foremost is the internet.  Go to Google or the major search engines and learn all you can about the opportunity or the country.  Websites for Asia like our own www.business-in-asia.com or others that are current and provide information without fee are a good place to start.  In the case of the U.S., the Export Centers http://www.export.gov/ .  The International Trade Administration (also part of the U.S. Department of Commerce) also can be helpful.  Some useful information to look at can be found at http://trade.gov/faq.asp  In the case of Canada The International Trade Centers (ITCs, at www.itc-cci.gc.ca) can be a great place to start. These have the same function at the U.S. Department of Commerce offices and are located in every province, the ITCs offer small-and medium-size enterprises a full range of trade development services and assistance. Local Chambers of Commerce, boards of trade or sector-specific business associations can often suggest contacts who are knowledgeable and experienced and may be able to help you make misteps in your initial efforts.  Once you have contacted these sources and if you still have questions or need more help, consider a professional but only for a very specifically focussed scope of work.  Take the time to analyze what information you need and then engage the expert on a short focussed contract to solve the need.

5. Use Your Foreign Office, Embassy or other Overseas Connection

Before you book your travel (mode and carrier) and your accommodation, make sure that you check the Travel Information and Advisory Reports available from the U.S. Department of State for the U.S.  (www.state.gov) and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade in the case of Canada to ensure what the actual travel conditions are in your target market and that travel is safe and recommended. This should be an early step before you plan your itinerary. The prudent traveler also confirms any meetings and reservations, learns about the local culture and customs, currency (and exchange rate) and contacts the Embassy representatives at the Embassy or Consulate in the target country to inform them of the business trip and its objectives.  Also contact to local business organizations like the Chambers of Commerce, Trade Associations, etc. can be useful in making contacts and getting further data and should be utilized where the response is helpful and timely.  

6. Don't Be Too Proud, Ask for Help

Again, help is out there for you if you seek it.  Network among your friends and seek contacts in the country or people who know about the country or the industry.  Seek them out and ask their advice and suggestions.  Don't assume that everyone you will talk to will give you good advice but be open.  Realize that the chances at your failing at a business endeavor are greater than your chances of succeeding.  Again, fortune favors the best prepared.

7. Create your list of tasks for the trip

Organization, preparation and research are the keys to productive and cost-effective business travel. Sit down and develop a list of tasks once you have done your research.  Your list should be clear and a concise summary of all that you need to accomplish in the target market. This may include face-to-face meetings with prospective customers, identifying potential business partners, such as agents, distributors or key service providers, obtaining information on competitors, legal issues such as intellectual property protections, local practices, regulations, legal issues and marketing and business promotion strategies suitable for the local audiences.

8.  Reach Out and Touch Your Customer

Many societies are much more verbal than the U.S.  Don't assume that everyone is going to communicate as crisply or as fully and by internet as might be the case in dealing with someone where English is their first language.  With the advent of the many new VOIP systems, calling through your telephone or computer can allow you to reach out and touch a client in their country and to ensure that you start your relationship with them plus also ensure that your list of tasks and goals for the trip are accurate and realistic.  The internet and e-mail are great innovations and can help to speed communication and limit costs.  Just remember, however, that a well thought out telephone call when made by computer can be low cost and often can help to bridge the distance and also help you learn more. 

9.  Don't Judge People By their Ability to Speak English

Generally both in research and once you arrive in country, you will have need to talk to and seek information from persons in the local country, their Embassy, trade organizations and other groups.  Keep in mind that these people are helping you and are graciously speaking your language.  Realize that mastery of the language is independent of how well they know the subject matter you are seeking, knowledge on their country, business or other issues.  Don't fall into the trap many first time and even experienced travelers make that just because they speak better English that they are smarter or more perceptive.  Some of the best advice I have gotten over the years was from people who often fractured every rule of English usage I learned in High School or College.  Listen to what they are saying, make the corrections in your head and consider their advice without prejudice.

10. Follow-up when you get home

Travei is very tiring.  Jet lag hits most people harder on their return than it does in the first days of their travel.  Many experienced travelers say travel west is harder than travel East.  Keep this in mind and remember that the business trip is often the first step.  Make sure your follow-up on the promises you have made to send additional data, clarify issues raised, etc.  Before you take the time to put your feet up and toast a successful trip,  take the time to solidify the business relationships that you have probably just commenced. Politeness is an under valued virtue and is critical in international business.  Take the time to say "thank you" and Send “thank you” letters to the individuals you met. Building a relationship is often assisted by showing you are polite, responsive, listen well and communicate fully. 

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