Working on the road

Australia is small but with a lot of innovation- so it is natural to look at larger markets from day one. That was true when I co-founded ACA and I’ve been travelling overseas frequently for the last 7 years. These are my top lessons learnt along the way (so far).

The risk of burnout is very high.

When I first started travelling for work I found it hard to allow myself to enjoy the trip. I took a work-only attitude and felt guilty if I did anything ‘fun’ while in a different city.  

At first I was worried about the perception of co-workers and even friends- “Oh Jon’s drinking in Singapore again”. And yes, on sales trips ‘work’ can mean hosting and taking clients out for dinner and drinks. As an introvert- I can assure you this is very much work for me.  

Add 15 hour days, not working out, eating poorly, red eye flights and constantly adjusting to time zones- and you can easily burn out. So I’ve since learnt to take time to enjoy the city I’m in and not worry about what people think.

Results come eventually- but take a lot of work.

With large projects comes long sales cycles- so a year or two after my first trip (and lots of follow up)  we started landing overseas gigs. This helped with my perception issue as everyone around me could see the results and now most of our work comes from overseas.

I’ve learnt it takes time and patience. First you need time for research and your first trip might simply be to become acquainted with the city. Then you need to learn the industry landscape and potential clients- before you can have a target list of meetings. For me this is trying to tap into the musical chairs of commercial real estate; what corporates are about to move? who moves in when they leave? What companies service this? Of course you could skip all this if you find someone with local contacts. But then you have to slowly build a relationship with that person. All this to say the first few trips to a new city will not result in anything tangible. But you have to keep chipping away.

The slowest part is learning the cultural differences. If you are in sales- you might have to re-learn how to sell. So you might want to start with countries that are culturally similar. But as an Australian business- Asia was our obvious international stepping stone. I think I travelled to Singapore at least 5 times before we landed our first sale. Hong Kong- 7 or 8 times. Tokyo- still working on it and learning how to sell. It takes knowing what you don’t know, constant adjusting and lots of follow up.

The quintessential Singapore selfie

The quintessential Singapore selfie

Packing your days with meetings is counterproductive.

It is tempting to have a meeting every hour to feel like the trip was worth it. When I first started travelling my days would look like this:

  • 7am: the only time to catch up on email and admin.

  • 9am to 5pm: back to back meetings- no lunch- late to every meeting- 5+ coffees to maintain energy.

  • 5pm to 1am: drinks, dinner, drinks. Mostly with people you have already spent all day meeting with.

  • Repeat for 4 days.

  • Red eye flight home. Straight to the office when I land.

Getting meetings is never hard. Getting quality meetings is more important. I realised I was filling my days up with meetings I would not bother with at home. It’s better to focus your energy and not spread yourself thin. So my meetings are a lot more focused now- with plenty of time to prep, do other work and rest.  My travel days look more like this:

  • 7am to 9am- time for me. Work-out, meditate, go for a walk.  

  • Anytime after 9am. One or two meetings only. Spend the time in between preparing or doing other work. Having a WeWork membership helps with this.

  • No more dinner or drink meetings. Get some sleep. If I’m out drinking- it’s with people I actually want to be hanging out with.  

  • Take at least one day off. Spend it doing something fun. Take advantage of being overseas.

Travel hacks

I’ll end this with a few bullet points of the travel tips I follow.

  • Pick an airline and stick with it. I don’t care too much about the lounge- but the flexibility with tickets and having access to a shower comes in handy. For a while I was travelling with multiple airlines and so had no status with any.

  • Get a gym membership that has global locations. You might just want the locker and shower if you have to check out of your hotel early.

  • The airport train is always the best way to get to any city from the airport- if it has one. Hong Kong is by far the best for this. On the way home you can even check your bags in at the train station 24 hours before your flight.  

  • Get a hot-desk shared workspace membership. WeWork is not the only option but it’s fine.

  • I can recommend CitizenM as the most consistent hotel I’ve been to.  Go to any of their locations and have the same experience. However, this is also why sometimes I don’t book them - I get sick of looking at the same hotel room and would rather something more unique. Or a bit more lux from time-to-time. But they are my go to for New York, London, Amsterdam and Paris.

  • Ask an Australian where the best coffee is or find an Australian run cafe (there will be a few). New Zealanders seem to know what they are doing too.

  • My number one tip: don’t eat the plane food- even in business class. If you haven’t looked into the benefit of fasting google that first. Use the flight as a fasting day and you will feel so much better when you land. The plane food is just not worth it. Tell the attendant up front- otherwise they’ll keep annoying you throughout the flight. Any intake will break your fast so nothing but water. 23 hours to London is a good fasting day. 8 hours to Hong Kong- walk in the park.  

CitizenM New York (SoHo)

CitizenM New York (SoHo)