For most startups, international travel is an essential part of doing business. Living out of a suitcase can be challenging but also rewarding, and if your business is international and your clients are spread around the globe, it is simply what you have to do.
Since a young startup will typically have a very limited budget for travel, business trips should be very carefully chosen, planned and executed.
Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs waste precious time and money on ineffective business trips and are later surprised that nothing much happened. This is especially frustrating if you have only one shot at getting potential partners to notice your startup.
Following is a short checklist to help you get the most out of international business meetings.
1. Set clear achievable goals:
Before going on a trip, you need to establish clear and reasonable goals for the planned meeting. It might not be realistic to expect a first meeting to end with a signed contract, but make sure you know exactly what you are hoping to acheive—whether it is a letter of intent, information, or important leads. Having predefined goals will help you steer the meeting in the right direction.
Make sure everybody is in sync about the meeting date, time and location. Do not forget to send an invitation to anyone who should participate in the meeting and follow up to see that they are planning to attend. An automatic email confirmation is not enough. Some of the intended participants may have not read it, or haven’t entered the meeting into their calendars. Always leave enough time between meetings. Expect meetings to start late and end late, and consider traffic. Don’t be late.
3. Always be prepared:
Send everyone scheduled to attend the meeting your marketing materials or any other relevant documents. Learn everything there is to know about the company whose representatives you are meeting—what it does, what it needs, who else is it working with. It goes without saying that you need to know every detail about your own business and industry.
4. Set action items:
It is absolutely vital to check which of the goals you set in advance were achieved and immediately set action items resulting from subjects discussed in the meeting. Remember that even a seemingly trivial or purely technical action item (e.g. sending requested contact details) can mark the beginning of a beautiful business relationship.
5. Follow up:
I cannot overstate the importance of a good follow up email. This should be sent as soon as possible after the meeting and preferably on the same day (and certainly no later than the day after). Following some short pleasantries, get to the point and summarize action items, targets and goals. Your potential business partners do not have your startup on the top of their minds. If you want to work with them, you have to go the extra mile.