6 rules for small business owners in taking a vacation

Small Business Owner Vacation RulesNot only do we small business owners work long hours, but we don’t take nearly as much time off as we should. And when we do finally get away, we often take our cell phones and computers with us and work while on vacation. I’m as guilty of this as anyone, and it’s taken me years to really relax and escape work while on vacation.

Case in point … I just got back from a 2 week vacation in sunny Puerto Vallarta in Jalisco, Mexico (a fantastic place with wonderful people … highly recommended as a place where you can truly unwind). Yes, I did take my smart phone and computer, but I did very little work there and was able to recharge my batteries by following my 5 hard-and-fast vacation rules, which are…

1. Plan your work around your vacation
If you run a business that involves deliverables, events or anything that can be labeled a “project,” start planning weeks or, better yet, months out for clearing your schedule for those days or weeks that you will be gone.

For this particular vacation, I called my marketing clients far in advance to ensure that they not only knew about my planned absence but that any deadlines would either fall the week before I left or the week after I got back (setting deadlines for yourself the week after you return often means you will be working 80 hours that week … it may be unavoidable, but by all means try to set deadlines at least a week after your vacation).

2. Identify and coordinate that you have a backup person in place
If you have an assistant, business partner or staff member, you will need to make sure they are capable of running your projects and/or your business while you are gone. It’s pretty much impossible to prepare them for everything that might hit or for doing everything that you do on a day-to-day basis, but you can put in place mechanisms so that they can handle the common items they will encounter as well as
how to manage certain clients and projects. This preparation will start at least a month in advance as you get them up to speed on the relevant projects and clients.

As for our small business management software company, I am fortunate enough to have a great business partner and two sharp staff members who can more than keep the fort down while I’m away.

If you don’t have staff or a business partner, now is the time to find another person in your industry who you can team with to cover for each other when you each go on vacation. I know two attorneys who each run their own solo-practitioner firms, and when one goes on vacation the other covers for them. This requires a certain level of trust … first that the other individual is qualified and competent, second that they will honor your relationships with your clients and not try to steal them. However, there are many honorable professionals in your industry with tons of integrity, and you probably already know who they are. You should consider approaching them and creating some sort of “vacation coverage partnership” with them.

Note: There will be certain things you can put off while on vacation (like your accounting, billing, business development, etc.), so don’t try to overburden your backup person with everything … just make sure they can handle the pressing and/or major stuff and leave the rest for when you return.

3. Remind your clients the week before you leave
Your clients are busy people and may forget that you will be leaving, so you should shoot them a friendly reminder that you will be gone on vacation a week before you leave. This way they will feel less inclined to contact you when you are gone, and it may prompt them to schedule in advance any work they need to have done.

4. Debrief your backup completely two days before you leave
In the past when I had lots of projects going on before a trip, I would type out a document listing all the projects I had going on and any corresponding deadlines as well as any outstanding items. Then I would go over all this with my backup person as well as give them contact information for all relevant parties. Sometimes I would even set up a phone conference with my backup person, my client and any vendors/subcontractors that might be involved to make sure everyone was on the same page.

5. Create an autoresponder “out of office and on vacation” email and corresponding voicemail message
This lets everyone know who didn’t know you were on vacation of when you will be getting back so that you can respond to them at that time. In the message, leave the contact information of your backup person in case of emergency.

6. Don’t respond to email and voicemail unless “the building is on fire”
I won’t tell you not to bring your phone or computer, because I always do. However, you should not feel compelled to reply to emails and voicemails unless it truly is an emergency. And by emergency I mean something that’s a true threat to your business. My business partner and I literally say we won’t call each other unless the building is on fire, and you should have a similar mentality or else you will find your vacation getting interrupted time and time again.

Now, go enjoy some well-deserved R&R.

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