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Entrepreneurs convert travel budgets to tech money

By Gabrielle Piché

A 4K video camera. Equipment to better the sound quality in Zoom calls. Video conference fees. These are the things Jessica Baudin-Griffin is putting her company’s money towards after closures from the COVID-19 pandemic cancelled her work travel plans.

Baudin-Griffin expected to travel to Australia, Japan and Taiwan this year to promote her company, Intellidance. Now, she’s working from home with no trips abroad scheduled.

“I think you always, as an entrepreneur, go in with a plan and then expect that plan to go off the rails,” Baudin-Griffin said.

Intellidance is a movement and music program for children. It has users in 33 countries. Baudin-Griffin said around 30 per cent of her marketing budget is dedicated to travel and other out of home expenses.

Leading workshops and classes in other countries often leads to sales for Intellidance, Baudin-Griffin said. When she went to Thailand, she made more money than she spent on the trip.

“There’s a little bit of that fantasy element, that excitement. (Customers think), ‘We have someone who’s come all this way, we don’t want to miss out on this opportunity, we’ve had the ability to connect with her in person.’”

Even so, Baudin-Griffin said she has better sales online.

The quarter before the COVID-19 pandemic hit Canada was one of Baudin-Griffin’s lowest sales periods. Her sales this April skyrocketed — they were some of the best she’s had in the past four years.

Intellidance has been in the online education space for a long time, so that positioned the company for success, Baudin-Griffin said.

Now, she’s funnelling the money saved from not travelling into reaching people online.

“It was a good reminder in April that while I love travel, I’ve got to keep up the video and that online presence because I can reach that many more people,” she said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has completely changed what travel budgets look like now and for the short term, according to Lori Jestin-Knaus, a regional manager and business advisor for Women Entrepreneurs of Saskatchewan.

Travel budgets vary per company, she said. Some entrepreneurs don’t spend money on travel, while others who export and go on trade missions might have a high travel budget.

There is no “right” amount of money to put in a travel budget, Jestin-Knaus said. It depends on the industry and size of the company.

Businesses could redistribute their travel money in several ways, she said.

“I would recommend that the company… Ensure they have an adequate rainy day fund and if it has been depleted, that they replenish it.”

Businesses can purchase items that they need for pivoting, Jestin-Knaus said. They can invest in e-commerce and digital marketing, retooling and new product development, among other things, she said.

The owners of Piccola Cucina have used their travel money to buy more online advertisements.

Facebook, Instagram, Google, Amazon.ca — Piccola Cucina advertisements are now hitting the major online platforms more than in the past.

“That money goes right to the bottom line, which is kind of nice,” said Pina Romolo, the company’s president and CEO.

Romolo said before the pandemic, her company spent about 10 per cent of its budget on travel. She plans to spend less on trips in the future.

“What this has forced me to do, and us to do in our business, is first of all realize and understand how much we’re actually spending on travel,” she said.

Usually, Romolo goes to food shows in North America and the WBENC national conference. She also travels to visit distributors and customers.

Romolo said she expects there’ll be less travel as people become more comfortable with video calls, especially in the food industry.

“People are going to be leery, especially in food, to go to big food shows, especially where everybody is sampling food and touching similar things.”

Romolo said she’ll adapt if the industry turns back to the way it was pre-COVID-19, but she prefers investing her money in online sales.