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So you want to take a vacation?

You really need a vacation

Recently I got back from a much needed vacation and was lamenting about how much work and emails had piled up in my absence.  Yes, I have an amazing crew who handled the majority of the calls, but they too were very grateful we were back because we as the owners were the ones with some of the answers or who several of our clients insisted were the only ones to talk with. Sigh.

That’s when you start asking yourself is it worth it as a small business owner to take a vacation because of the stress worrying when you are gone and the hassles when you return.  My answer is yes.  However, I decided to do a little research on what other small business owners thought and did when it came to taking vacations.  I also researched the importance of time off and what current studies reflected.

A Google search found dozens of recent surveys and studies talking about what small business owners think of vacations.  Across the board, it averaged around 55 to 65% of owners will check in with the office while on vacation.  Only around 30 to 40% will make it a priority to take a vacation at all.  Most business owners feel that they cannot get away and that things will fall apart quickly and the repercussions are too great to take the risk.

Knowing how much I relaxed while away, and knowing how much nicer I am when I return, my feeling is it is vital to take time off in order to have a personal “control alt delete” and recharge my batteries. The expression "when the boss is happy, everyone is happy" is probably true for many of us. As bosses and business owners, we are behind the eight ball and like President Truman - the buck stops here. That constant pressure adds up over time.  We need the time away.

As it turns out, current studies say the same thing.  Constant pressure without a break can lead to stress which leads to a myriad of health issues.  People simply need to take a break once in a while.

So how does a small business owner take a vacation and know that things are under control and their business won’t be sitting in a pile of dust when they return.

You need to find someone who will be "you" while you are away.  They won't replace you - they will just fill in. Granted, this is hard to do in a single-person shop.  It might be something as simple as an answering service. Give them a series of responses to common questions. Or, find someone in your same line of business that you are confident can take on a project in your absence and not steal your business.  Try not to be an island - you need some backup in any case.

For many situations it also depends on the type of business you own.  A key question is "will the world fall apart" for your customers if you are out of pocket for a week. If it will for some, then you need to have some form of backup or disaster recovery.  Service industries like ours tend to have customers where this is true. If a server goes down or a critical business application fails, serious dollars can be lost.  Identify those critical customers and have a plan in place for them - who can they contact? How will you be made aware of the problem when you return? What is your contingency plan?

These plans can be very simple and easy to put in place. Once the plans are in place, it will become easier for you, the stressed out small business owner, to take that much needed vacation. It's your time to recharge your batteries so you come back fresh, relaxed, and ready for the next adventure.  You can come up with good ideas while you are relaxed and away from the phones and hassles as well.

In our case, some of our best ideas have developed while driving down to Disney, one of our favorite vacation spots. There is just something about knowing we are stepping away that relaxes us and we start chatting about possible projects or ways to take our business forward.

Even a sole proprietor can do the same thing - while you are sitting there on the beach, keep a small journal, or your cell phone and dictate any wild idea that comes to mind.  Then review them later when back at the office.  A relaxed mind is a creative one.  No phones are ringing. The slate is clear. Who knows what wonderful concepts can bubble up.

If you must get in touch with the home office while away, lot's of articles talk about how it is now easier to stay "connected" while on vacation. Smart phones, mifi connections, facetime, etc. all mean you can stay connected via an umbilical cord to your business.  But is that really relaxing? To us it is not.  That's why we tend to enjoy cruising because it forces us into a less-connected environment. Yes, it's stressful in one way - you cannot be reached. That's when you, as a business owner, need to assess what you put in place to cover for you while you are away.

Sometimes it is as simple as telling your customers that you will be out of pocket.  Many times I would hear "gee, I couldn't get a hold of you and I didn't know you were away."  Had they known, unless it was something catastrophic, they would have waited for your return.  It's the "not knowing" that freaks them out.  Some people use an out of office email responder.  I don't because that also lets spammers know you have a working email.  What is better is a short email that says "we are taking the time to recharge out batteries and will be back, better than ever, in a week."  Short, sweet, to the point. And your clients now know as well.  You can also direct them a contact person while you are away.  Again, it’s all in that new contingency plan you will develop.

I think we all fundamentally know it's important to take a break from work and stressful situations. We just need to take the time to put plans in place and then take the time off. It’s vital for us, for our customers, and for our staff. Everyone wins.  Now go out there and have fun and be sure to send pictures!

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Patricia Egen Consulting, LLC

803 Creek Overlook, Chattanooga, TN 37415
Main office: 423-875-2652 • Arizona office: 480-788-7504 • Florida office: 754-300-2827