Who's Minding the Store?
Next month, I'm going away for four weeks. Part of that time I'll be on the other half of the world, learning to dive the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. I don't plan to be continually checking e-mail, voice mail, or calling the office. Someone who owns her own business leaving for a month? How's that possible?
Frankly, it scares the daylights out of me. Like any boss, I find it impossible to leave my business. There's always a big project underway and a pile of work to be done. As a result, it's been years since I've had a serious vacation. Sure, I've added extra days to business trips and have even gone on a week-long vacation, but I've always called back to the office daily, checked e-mail daily, and done business on every trip. Let me tell you, sitting by a pool proofreading book galleys is most definitely not the same as lying by a pool reading a junk novel with a pina colada. Work is still work even when you're getting a tan.
So this time, I'm determined to really take a break. I certainly need one: I've got a new book about to be released, a Web site about to launch, a new business venture underway. These days my human batteries run down faster than a cheap laptop's. I need to get completely recharged.
So I'm making July a mini-sabbatical. I'm not ready to be completely out-of-touch with my business for all that time, but I am planning on clearing my work schedule completely, staying away from the office, and getting so far away that it's impossible or impractical for me to even check in.
Doing this, of course, isn't easy. Leaving for a real vacation (or any other extended time period, such as maternity leave) takes planning:
- Find someone to mind the "store." In the nostalgic past, shopkeepers put up signs saying "Gone Fishin'," and disappeared for a few weeks, but in this technological age, customers and clients expect to be able to reach you -- or someone -- instantaneously. In just about any type business, your clients may have an emergency, so you need to have someone lined up and prepared to step in for you. This can be an employee or an industry colleague.
- Cover routine tasks: Arrange for the routine tasks that have to be handled in your absence to be dealt with regularly. How will your phones be answered, mail and packages received, bills paid? You don't want to go away for one month but have your credit messed up for much longer. Routine coverage may be relatively easy, such as changing the message on your voice mail. Other items take more thought, such getting someone to pay any unanticipated bills or expenses in your absence. Give your attorney or accountant (or someone you trust completely) power of attorney to sign checks.
- Set a date far in the future and stick with it! Taking off three weeks "next July" seems far more possible in October than in May. We imagine that 10 months from now, we'll have managed to finally be all caught up! Setting a definite date becomes a goal to work towards.
- Make it hard to back out. Get your reservations reserved and deposits deposited. Plan to go with others who won't let you off the hook easily. The firmer your plans, the harder it is for you to decide you just can't leave now.
- Be realistic. Don't plan to go on vacation the very first day a project is SUPPOSED to be completed when you know you always go over deadline. Leave in your slowest month.
- Train employees to be able to cover for you. Hire people you trust completely or don't hire them. Give them a sense of ownership and pride, so they treat the company as if it were their own. That way you'll be able to sleep well even when you're thousands of miles away.
Even so, if you're like me, the idea of seeing my bags packed will make me happy but apprehensive. After all, it's "MY" business. How will it get along without me?
Copyright © Rhonda Abrams, 2001
Rhonda Abrams writes the nation's most widely read small-business column and is the author of The Successful Business Plan: Secrets and Strategies and Wear Clean Underwear: Business Wisdom from Mom. For free tips, register at www.RhondaOnline.com or write her at 555 Bryant St, number 180, Palo Alto, CA 94301.