As most of us know, it is fabled that Isaac Newton “discovered” gravity while observing an apple falling from a tree. George de Mestral, a Swiss engineer, was out hunting with his canine companion and became curious about the burrs sticking to both he and his pup. After looking at them under a microscope, he discovered tiny “hooks.” A few years later, he invented what is now known as Velcro. Scottish physician, microbiologist, and pharmacologist Sir Alexander Fleming left for a two-week vacation. Upon his return home, he discovered a strange mold growing in his staph cultures, and voila—penicillin. While curiosity played a large part in these discoveries, the other element was a departure from the “office,” so to speak.
Science hasn’t been able to definitively prove whether a vacation is beneficial or not because of all of the variables involved, but most people will attest to the fact that spending some time away from the office is “crucial,” including Dexcomm’s owner Jamey Hopper. He believes that down time and decompression are a necessity for everyone. And that “a change of pace and change of scenery helps you to come back with a renewed energy and perspective about work again.” As a matter of fact, he recently left the office to enjoy two weeks of exploring the European countryside with his wife and Dexcomm co-owner, Janine.
Unfortunately for most business owners, just the thought of taking a vacation brings on anxiety-the polar opposite of what a vacation is meant to incite feelings of. Jamey can completely relate. He had first-hand experience of the problems that have the potential to develop, especially for a newly minted small business owner. When he first purchased Dexcomm, he wouldn’t have even dreamed about leaving for a grand vacation, because even simply leaving for the day meant that he would return to chaos in the morning.
If you are at this point, and believe that a vacation is an impossibility, we are here to tell you that it can be done, and successfully, too! For last 10 years, Jamey states that he can leave the office for several weeks at a time and it feels like he was just out to lunch. A tremendous change from his humble business-owner beginnings. He says that proper preparation is crucial in achieving this feat. He credits these three things for helping him the most: staying connected, establishing a communication plan, and forming a good management team.
1) Staying Connected
Contrary to popular belief, having an enjoyable vacation doesn’t mean that you need to be completely disconnected from the outside world. As a matter of fact, the most anxiety riddled vacation that I have ever taken was aboard a cruise ship. Technological communication with my family was unreliable at best, because we hadn’t anticipated the uselessness of our phones during our trip. And instead of being able to enjoy myself, knowing that I could blast off a few text messages to check in on everyone, I was constantly having to hunt people down to make sure that they were ok. This is certainly no way to take a quality vacation.
As a business owner, the separation anxiety can be even more intense. It is not just about making sure that everything is going smoothly on a personal level during your vacation, but also back home at your company. This is why Jamey made the decision to stay connected to the office during his vacation. As a result, he said that he was truly able to relax and enjoy himself. He told me, however, that he limited his communication times. He only checked his email once a day, and did not add an international plan to his cell phone. This way, he was able to have the best of both worlds. A quintessential vacation, without worrying about what was going on in the office, because he saw it in reports every day and had the ability to respond if required.
Make sure that when planning your vacation that you have access to the tools that you need to help you stay connected to your office in a consistent, albeit infrequent, manner.
2) Establishing a Communication Plan
Before Jamey left for his vacation, he discussed his vacation communication preferences with the management team. For example, he let them know he would be checking his email at a specific time once a day, and exactly what type information that he wanted to see during those check-ins. This allowed him to very quickly extract what he needed, to be satisfied that he was staying abreast of daily operations, and it also gave the staff the necessary response time to meet his expectations.
Determine your communication methods and let your team know your exact expectations and desires for those interactions while you are away. Also, stick with a regimented plan to keep things flowing as smoothly as possible.
3) A Good Management Team
Jamey strongly acknowledges that he would never have been able to have a successful vacation without a team of capable individuals to run the office in his stead. Fortunately, as an established business owner, he now has the luxury of knowing that his management team is more than capable of taking care of any problems. But what about the new small business owner, or the sole proprietor? It can happen, it just takes some preparation!
Plan and train your own “management team” to take ownership of your office during your vacation.
Whether it is a family member, a contract worker, a virtual receptionist, or your right-hand office woman/man, prepare them well in advance of your departure. Determine their exact role, and what knowledge base that they will need to successfully help you run your operations. Then you can determine a training plan and establish expectations.
Prepare your clients for your departure.
You don’t have to give them glorious details about your 7-day trek in the African wilderness, but it would behoove you to let your clients know that you will be unavailable, and tell them who they can reach out to in your absence.
Increase your daily check-ins with your “management team.”
While once a day and only by internet worked for Jamey for his check-ins, this may not feel right for you. We would still recommend, however, that you stick with a timeframe and report expectations, regardless of how much communication and what type you desire, so that everyone can easily follow your predetermined communication plan.
Establish an “emergency protocol.”
If you feel as though there are some client emergencies that you would rather handle yourself, even while you are on vacation, this is perfectly ok, too. You should make it very clear to your vacation team what an “emergency” constitutes, and establish specific methods of contact and times to reach you for this.
Vacations don’t have to be a faraway dream that only exist in your head. No matter what stage you are in as a business owner, you should still take some time—even if just a day or two—for yourself to healthily decompress so that you can continue to put your best foot forward for your customers. As always, preparation is the key to making your departure a success. If you stay connected, establish a communication plan, and a put in place a good management team, you too, can take a few days to enjoy yourself!