Thursday, July 12, 2012

It’s a Matter of Policy (part 1/2)

Every organization operates according to a set of business rules, whether explicitly documented or merely integrated into the culture’s oral tradition. You should adopt a set of business rules, or policies, for your consulting practice, too. In this two-part series I will share some of the operating policies and principles I’ve accumulated for my one-person consulting and training company, Process Impact. These might or might not apply to your business, but I encourage you to consciously formulate your own analogous policies.

On Traveling

One characteristic of consulting and training is that you usually have to go where the work is. This isn’t always true, thanks to virtual consulting and webinar technology. Most of the time, though, you can expect to have to travel to client sites. Early in my consulting career I had no idea how much work I was going to get, so I happily accepted every opportunity that came along. I was fortunate to get traction with the business quickly. The result was that I was doing a LOT of traveling. Before long, I adopted the policy that I Don’t travel during more than three weeks out of each month. This doesn’t mean that I was gone three-quarters of the time, just that I might travel one or more days during three out of every four weeks. It’s important to set time aside at home to get caught up, maintain relationships with friends and family, develop new training material, write articles and books, and even relax and enjoy yourself. This policy also has helped keep me healthy. I know two consultants who became ill and couldn’t fully recover for several months because their travel commitments were so exhausting. The only thing worse than traveling a lot is traveling while you’re sick. So leave time for yourself.

Along that same line, I find it very tiring to teach more than two days in a row. It’s hard to be witty and charming, both on your feet and on your toes for seven or eight hours day after day. Therefore, if a client asks me to teach two sessions of a two-day class, I Take Wednesday off between a pair of two-day training sessions. I might do some sightseeing, visit friends in the area, or take in a movie. My voice, my feet, and my disposition all benefit from the refreshing break. Of course, I don’t charge the client for my expenses or time on the day off.

Anyone who travels a lot has had the joy of being stranded overnight (or longer) in an airport or a nearby hotel. It happens, whether due to bad weather, mechanical problems, missed connections, or terrorist acts. I was stuck at a client site far from home for several days after 9/11. Another consultant friend was trapped in Rochester, New York, for more than two days because of just one canceled flight, because there was simply no space on numerous later flights to accommodate the affected passengers. I don't worry much about such delays on my way home, but it can be disastrous on your journey to a gig. Therefore, I Never take the last flight of the day to a client site. I'd rather arrive several hours early than to miss the engagement because I'm in an airport hotel a thousand miles away.

I’ve done some international travel, going to Europe a couple of times and taking several trips to Australia and New Zealand. This led me to my next traveling policy: Only fly across an ocean in business class or better. Yes, it’s expensive, and no, you don’t get there any faster. But it certainly is a lot more comfortable. I arrive at my distant destination better rested and ready to work. I build the fees for the business class airfare into the price quotes that I provide to my overseas clients. If they are unwilling to pay the cost, that’s no problem—I just thank them for their inquiry and stay home.

I have a consultant friend who thrives on international travel. He and his wife are real outdoorsy people who love to rough it and explore exotic locations. They really suck the marrow out of life. (I tried to suck the marrow out of life once, but I chipped a tooth on the bone.) Ken has decided to Spend one extra day sightseeing for each time zone change. So if Ken goes to China or India, he takes along his wife and they spend several extra days touring, hiking, camping, or whatever. This is not a bad way to see the world if you can afford the time and cost.

You know all those little bars of soaps that hotels give you? I don’t let them go to waste. Instead I Collect hotel soaps and shampoos and donate them to a homeless shelter. I know some people think it’s unethical to “steal” soap you didn’t use. I view the soap as part of what I’m paying for the hotel room, so it bothers me not one whit to take it with me. Over the years I’ve given hundreds of little bars of soap and bottles of shampoo to people who need them more than I do.

Some years ago I figured out an interesting traveling trick: I learned how to Leverage frequent flier programs against each other. At the time I had second-tier premium frequent flyer status on just one airline. I wrote to a second airline that flew on some of the same routes and invited them to match my premium status on the first airline. They didn’t bump me up two frequent-flier levels, but they did bump me up one. “Hmmm,” I said to myself, “that was easy.” The next year I tried it again—it worked again. Then I mailed a copy of my new premium card on Airline #2 to Airline #3 and made them the same offer. Again, they took my bait.

I was able to pull this scheme off for several years, parlaying premium status on one airline into others and enjoying the ensuing benefits. It cost me nothing more than a few letters and stamps. There was nothing underhanded about this—I was simply presenting each airline with a business offer. One year, I actually held premium frequent flyer status on four airlines without having earned any of them. The scheme didn’t always work, and lately I don’t have premium status on any airline because I don’t fly very much anymore. It certainly was nice while it lasted, though. Let me know if this works for you.

What are your own policies regarding business travel? Please share them with comments on this post. In part two of this series I’ll share some additional Process Impact policies regarding finances and client relations.

(If you found this article helpful, please consider making a donation to the Norm Kerth Benefit Fund to help a consultant who has been disabled since 1999 with a traumatic brain injury from a car accident. You can read Norm's story or donate here. Thanks!)

1 comment:

  1. This is not really a policy, but I do have some processes and habits for business travel.

    Packing and using a laptop:

    Flying long distances:

    NB I had to travel economy :-(