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The 3 Words That Define a Business Owner's Success

That "away from office" message doesn't signal laziness or complacency. It demonstrates competence and success.

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I used to get annoyed when I emailed someone -- particularly someone who owns a business -- and received an "away from office" auto-reply. Now I get envious.

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This week I'm travelling with my wife so you'd think -- for once -- I'd just relax, right? Kick back. Ignore work. Enjoy life and just soak in the sights without thinking of what's going on back home. That's what many people do. But me? Nope, not in the least. For 25 years I've been running my technology company and never have I setup an "away from office" message to be sent when I go on vacation.

Instead, here I am, sitting on a hotel balcony at 6AM -- a full seven hours ahead of my company’s time zone -- responding to emails, sending out a quick quote, updating a document that was sent to me to be reviewed and...oh, that’s right: writing this stupid article. My wife, a school teacher, is out cold in the other room. I should be asleep with her. But no, I'm working.

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Back in the day I eschewed people -- employees and business owners -- who left those “away from office” messages when they went on vacation. "What?" I would grumble to anyone who would listen. "They don't have a smartphone? Europe doesn't have the internet? They can’t just quickly respond to my simple message? Geez!"

I would complain (and write) of how these people weren't keeping up with the times and that their "unprofessional" behavior didn't correlate with today’s business environment. I would point out that people today -- customers, suppliers and colleagues -- are impatient, demanding and won’t just wait for us to get back from vacation when important things needed to be done and questions needed to be answered. I would say that today’s messaging technologies have created an atmosphere where business owners are expected to be on call all of the time, regardless of where they are and what they’re doing. I warned that sending an "away from office" message was akin to saying you didn't give a crap about them or your business.

How naive I was. Those three words actually say something quite different. They don't represent laziness or complacency. They represent competence and success.

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The fact is that my 10-person business literally can't run without me. My company is so poorly managed that just about any decision -- big or small -- needs to have my stamp of approval. I am a bottleneck for quotes. I have the final say over projects. I am the main point of contact for most of our clients. I refuse to delegate tasks that should be delegated. I don't trust others to take on responsibilities that they could accomplish with just as much success as me. I don't even have the confidence to take a week off from writing, fearing that my absence will create a void that just cannot be filled. I'm too self-important for all of this.

All of these traits are the signs of a busy, unsuccessful man.

The successful business owner -- regardless of size -- has built an organization. She has employees who do the work for her. She is comfortable letting others make decisions and is willing to bear their mistakes, knowing that the cost of these mistakes still pales against the benefits of having more freedom and flexibility in her life. She goes on vacation with her family and doesn't bother with work when she’s away. OK, maybe she checks her email once in a while just to make sure she's not completely buried on her return or that there are no significant fires to be put out. But, for the most part, she has the confidence and the humility to know that the world -- and her business -- will continue to turn even in light of her tragic disappearance for just a week. She knows she’s not that important and she’s fine with that.

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The result? She has more (and better) time with her family. She can spend more time relaxing. She has a better frame of mind. She is more rested, more balanced. She is happier. She has a better quality of life. We work to live, not live to work, right? I bet her business runs better without her, too. I bet mine probably would too.  

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