Each homebased entrepreneur needs to put different plans in place before he or she can take time off. Here are some of the management dilemmas you'll have to address before leaving:
- Do I need anyone to cover for me? For some people, this is neither possible nor desirable. The freelance writer doesn't have an understudy, for example. But if the assistance needed is administrative and you often have someone helping you, this may be the time to further tap into the aide's skills. For example, Brice has her virtual assistant check her phone and e-mail messages daily when she's away. Because the assistant is already so familiar with the business, her instructions are to handle all responsibilities and only call Brice if there's a family emergency or a media call.
If you don't have an assistant, virtual or otherwise, but think you need someone to check the mail and return important phone calls, then partner up. Try to strike a deal with someone you respect who also runs a homebased business. There are a number of duties you can help each other with when one of you takes a vacation: opening mail, depositing checks, taking orders. Your "crib" sheet should include important phone numbers, how routine matters are handled, and what constitutes an emergency that warrants a phone call to you.
- What do my clients need to know? Some people, like Schneider, don't change the message on their answering machine when they go on vacation because they call in daily (though stress gurus would say that defeats the purpose of getting away). Only when Schneider returns a call does he tell the person he's out of town. "With the technology available today," Schneider says, "nobody even knows you're gone."
It's different for Ralph Levey, president of Italy Farm Holidays Inc., a Tarrytown, New York, company specializing in arranging vacation stays in apartments, wineries, houses, castles and family farms in Italy. When he and his wife visit their second home in Tuscany, Italy, twice a year--a part-vacation, part-scouting trip--his voice-mail message tells his clients he's in Italy and won't be able to send them brochures or return their phone calls immediately.
Pilgrim relies on her voice-mail message to provide information. "I usually say I'm out of the office and will have a limited amount of time to return calls," she says. "However, I tell them if they leave their name and number, I'll return the call when I get back. And I do."
- What can I do before I leave that will help relieve stress when I get back? Pilgrim never makes appointments on the last day before a vacation or the first day back. Instead, she devotes those days to doing things that are top priorities, including returning phone calls.
°/ooIs it possible to mix business and pleasure? When Levey and his wife are in Tuscany, for the most part, they're on vacation. But they also spend a good chunk of time roaming the Italian countryside, stopping at trattorias and lodgings to evaluate and possibly recommend to travelers. It's part of the job.
For entrepreneurs in similar trades, it's also possible to mix business and pleasure. But most homebased entrepreneurs don't--and mixing the two isn't relaxing. "Going on vacation means `hanging out,' doing whatever you enjoy doing," says Pilgrim. "And attending a trade convention is not hanging out--even if you occasionally sip a mai tai by the pool."
- How can I use technology to buoy, not sink, a vacation? Whether you can avoid technology altogether while on vacation depends, of course, on your type of business. Levey couldn't be away from his office for too long without his notebook computer and cell phone, but he uses them only when necessary.
Schneider, on the other hand, doesn't have to haul his fax/answering machine around with him when he spends a month in Florida each winter--but he does. It gives him a sense of security--even though he rarely uses it.
Stacy Brice is different altogether. She wants to get away from technology--and likes to go either where it can't be used (a mountain cabin with no phone jacks) or where it's too expensive to use regularly (a cruise).
All the consultants to homebased businesses whom I talked to admit getting away is difficult--even for them. Yet all appreciate how important vacations are for revitalizing your body and spirit. Pilgrim recommends a quarterly vacation, though she realizes that's not always possible. But just understanding you can't go at a breakneck pace indefinitely is the first step toward walking out the front door.