Prepare for a Vacation, Then Take It!

Yes, you need a vacation. Everyone does, even small-business owners and solo entrepreneurs. Don’t think you can’t take one, just because you run a small company or a home-based business, and don’t feel you can’t extricate yourself from it. You can — and should — take time off if you want to stay in business very long.

“If you don’t take a break, your creative and problem-solving abilities will burn out,” says Alisa Jenkins, a Tampa, Fla., area business and marketing consultant. “Successful businesspeople take breaks,” she says. “It actually helps your business to take breaks.”

Here are 10 tips to help you plan that get-away.

1. Call or e-mail your keycontacts at least two weeks before you leave. By “key contacts,” we mean your key clients, partners, vendors and employees. Post a note on your extranet, if you have one. Tell them the dates you are going to be gone, and someone they can contact in your absence. Two weeks’ notice allows them to reach you with any urgent business that needs your attention before you leave.

2. Designate people in charge while you are gone. Obviously, if you have employees, you want to designate someone to run the company while you are gone. Your employees need to know who’s in charge during your absence. You also need someone to handle communicating with key clients, partners, vendors and/or employees. This may or may not be the same person as the one in charge. You may have your No. 2 run the business, and your No. 3 handle external communications, for example. In any case, these must be people you can trust, to lead and represent your company well.

3. Designate a contact person for you. Along the same lines, you need to designate someone to reach you in cases of — and only in cases of — an emergency. If you have employees, that may be your No. 2. If you don’t have employees, it may be your accountant, attorney, a close relative or someone else you can trust. This person has been entrusted with how to reach you. You want someone who knows when and when not to call you.

4. Make a list of your employees’ work priorities while you are gone. Besides designating the people in charge, you need to establish a list of what tasks and projects you expect your employees to have completed when you return. This sets your agenda, and helps your employees know what is expected of them. It need not be excessively detailed, but it must be clear and understandable.

5. Make a list of your own work priorities for when you return. This list allows you to take your mind off work while you are gone. What you need to do when you return is all mapped out. Confine this list to short-term tasks; those that need to be done and can get you back into the swing of things. Know that many unexpected things may come up while you are gone.

6. Assign someone to do your administrative tasks. By administrative tasks, I mean sorting through your snail mail, handling your phone messages, even answering your e-mail. Again, this has to be someone you trust. If you don’t have any employees, you might consider asking a friend. Even if all they do is go through your snail mail and put the priority items on top of the stack, which can help you get back into your work routine faster when you return.

7. Pay important bills before you go. Or at least set up a payment strategy with your employees for while you are gone. Don’t leave them in the dark due to forgetfulness — or tarnish a valued relationship with a vendor or service provider. Also, leave enough petty cash for your employees to handle unforeseen bills or emergencies.

8. Use security smarts in disclosing your absence. Consultant Jenkins says she is surprised at how many solo entrepreneurs announce in their telephone greeting that they are outof the country for three weeks. That is like saying, “If you want to break into my business, feel free to while I am gone.” Be smarter than that. Tell callers that your business is closed for three weeks, or that you may be hard to reach over the next three weeks.

9. Have your contact person make periodic checks of your business. If you are a solo entrepreneur, you need someone you trust at least to drive by your office from time to time to make sure everything looks in order. You can also tell the local police or sheriff’s office that you’ll be out and request that they swing by the office on occasion.

10. Last but not least, don’t overwork before you leave. Try to add more hours to your day in the weeks leading up to your vacation, to spread your preparations over more time. The last two days before you leave will no doubt be hectic anyway. But put yourself in a position where you don’t have to pull any all-nighters.

While you are on vacation. Should you check in with your office while you are gone? “We recommend you don’t — not at all, if possible,” Jenkins says. “The idea is to completely remove yourself from work.” Two small-business owners I interviewed say they don’t call in. “I may do one courtesy call, but that is more for curiosity’s sake — not to do work,” says Scott Marino, co-owner of WebUndies.com, an online retailer.

“I completely disengage to spend time with my family — no phone calls, no e-mail,” says Mark Anderson, publisher of Strategic News Service, a technology newsletter. “There are people who know how to reach me, but they know that they shouldn’t.”

However, not everybody is alike. Some people may be able to relax more if they do check in daily, or periodically. If this is you, here are some rules to follow:

Have only one contact person. Go through that person and no one else. Don’t accept work calls from anyone else.

Choose the time of day you make the call. Make it be a time that works best for you, not the person you are calling. If you are relieved after a few days that everything is OK, stop calling.

Don’t call during these times: the first 48 hours and the last 48 hours of your vacation. Start and end your time off on weekends, if necessary, to allow yourself these restful buffers.

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