Is that vacation you’ve been thinking about long overdue, but you’re worried your small business can’t manage without you? You’re not alone. Two out of three Americans say they can’t fully unplug while away from their job, and according to the U.S. Travel Association, American employees forfeited 212 million vacation days in 2017. This is especially true if you run your own company and are directly responsible for all matters. Before you go ahead and cancel that scheduled R&R, realize that it is possible to relax and enjoy time off while still fulfilling your responsibilities to your customers.
The key to keeping your business running smoothly while traveling is to plan ahead and set realistic expectations. It’s also a good idea to invest in a few useful communication tools that will help you separate business from pleasure while keeping you connected to essential matters. Consider these five ways to stay available while traveling.
1. Plan a “Slowdown” in Advance
There are two crucial steps in preparing ahead of time for an upcoming vacation. First, get as many tasks off your plate as possible. Second, move the goalposts by a week or two where you can. Ramping up your work hours before your departure allows you to get more done and lightens the load on anyone expected to shoulder the responsibilities in your absence. Also, look ahead to your longer-term goals and see if you can move meetings, new product launches, or reports out by a few days or until you return.
2. Set Expectations for Response Times
Preset expectations with your customers by laying out parameters for responding to various types of contacts. Add a note to your website next to your contact information, letting customers know your response time is “within 24 hours.” This allows you a little leeway in getting back to people without them feeling let down if you don’t immediately respond. You can also set up voicemail recordings and automated email responses that reassure customers their message was received and will be replied to as soon as possible.
3. Appoint a “Number One”
One of the worst fears a small business owner faces is being unable to respond to a crisis. You should always have an emergency contact for your business, as well as in your personal life. Your emergency contact can monitor aspects such as social media and other business-related news and let you know if anything requires your immediate attention. This gives you peace of mind in knowing you won’t miss a potentially damaging or viral event so you can relax and enjoy yourself. Being able to count on your staff and delegate tasks also means less worry for you while you’re away.
4. Schedule “Work Time” During Travel
Fifty-six percent of professionals say they connect with the office while they are on vacation. When you travel, you’ll likely have downtime. If you’re planning to travel by plane, bus, or train, use that time to check in on your business. Many airlines now provide free in-flight WiFi or offer it for a small upcharge. Another helpful tactic is dedicating a specific block of time each day to answer business communications. Allotting yourself a daily two- to three-hour block to catch up on business enables you to relax guilt-free the rest of the day. Divide your days into “work time” versus “free time” and clearly define these parameters. Doing this will avoid conflict with family members or friends who don’t understand why you can’t fully “unplug.”
5. Invest in Communication Tools for Your Business
Separate your personal and business life by creating a dedicated virtual business line. You’ll eliminate the barrage of work-related messages when you’re enjoying yourself; however, it allows you to check up on things during travel or self-assigned “work time.” You’ll also be able to stay in contact with family members or friends without constant interruptions by work calls or emails. Consider downloading an app that threads customer communications (such as text, phone, and email) together. This will facilitate a faster response during your allotted work time.
Okay, it’s time to get packing. But before you book anything, remember these five valuable tips to ensure your small business continues to run smoothly, without casting a damper on your vacation plans.
Nova Benedicto is the product marketing director for Grasshopper and join.me at LogMeIn. Previously, she worked in B2B marketing and corporate strategy for Staples and General Motors. When she’s not working to deliver value to micro businesses, she’s hanging out with her son and husband in Boston, MA.