Time Off Is No Option, It’s Required
Article by SARAH E. NEEDLEMAN, The Wall Street Journal
Last month, Brandi Greygor did the unthinkable for an entrepreneur just starting out: She took a weeklong vacation.
“I needed one because I ran myself into the ground,” says Ms. Greygor, a 35-year-old mother of two who also works part-time for a consulting firm from her home in Union, Ky. But it wasn’t easy separating herself from the retail business she launched last August to supplement her income, Sassy Mama Boutique. “My worry was that I’d get orders in when I was away and not be able to fill them,” she says.
Whether you stay at home or travel, taking a vacation from building a business is critical, experts say. Entrepreneurs tend to work intense, long hours in the beginning and can easily burn out fast. Besides, deviating from a normal routine is an opportunity to think about an enterprise from a fresh vantage point, which can be helpful for deciding which direction to go in next.
“You’ve got to take some time off,” says Mark Green, a small-business consultant in Portland, Ore. “Otherwise, you’re just going from task to task and you never get to clear your head.”
A few months after starting YourLittleFilm.com, a video-editing business, in 2009, Logan Hale took a three-day vacation by himself. He stayed at a campground near his Los Angeles home and spent the time off hiking, meditating and lounging in a small coffee shop. The following summer, he made the same trip and he plans to do it again this August.
With each getaway, Mr. Hale, 34, says he returns refreshed and with a clear strategy in mind for taking his company to the next level. For example, he spent his first hiatus pondering ways to execute his business plan, which up until then was just an idea he had only beta tested. The following year, he focused on expanding his target market of families to include corporate clients. And this summer, he plans to brainstorm how to grow the business beyond a one-man operation.
“When I’m working and my head is buried in my laptop day after day, I feel like I’m constantly looking at trees and never seeing the forest,” says Mr. Hale, a former freelance event producer whose work dried up when the recession hit. But once he’s alone and away from home, “I can get that mile-high perspective,” he says.
For some entrepreneurs, a simple way to take a vacation is to tack free time onto business travel. Walt Ribeiro does this whenever he attends conferences and trade shows for his New York start-up, For Orchestra, which sells orchestral scores and recordings of pop songs that he re-arranges.
During a recent work trip to Minneapolis, Mr. Ribeiro dined at a famous restaurant and toured the city’s skyway system of interconnected pedestrian footbridges. Another time, he snuck away from an expo in Las Vegas to check out the Hoover Dam and catch up with a friend who lives in the area.
Mr. Ribeiro, 27, launched his business in 2009 in anticipation of a pink slip from an awards-show company that did lay him off about a month later. He says he can’t yet afford to take a traditional vacation and would find it too difficult to resume working on his start-up after going away for more than a few days anyway.
“To get back into the zone after turning off like a light switch is not that easy,” says Mr. Ribeiro, who last year traveled to four U.S. cities on business. But by squeezing in a few hours here and there for entertainment, he says, “I relax and release and still stay within the mindset of running a business. It’s worked out great for me.”
Another way to avoid entirely cutting yourself off from your start-up while on vacation is to take advantage of modern technology. With smartphones and other mobile devices that connect to the Internet, you can check email, post social-media updates and handle other tasks from afar as needed.
Meanwhile, keep in mind that vacations can even present serendipitous networking opportunities, says Andy Birol, a small-business consultant in Pittsburgh. “You’re around people who also don’t have their heads buried down in their work and are equally open to new stimuli,” he says. “I’ve closed business in a hot tub in Bermuda. I’ve met clients on a train to the Josef Glacier in New Zealand.”
Also remember that you can always manage expectations ahead of time. Ms. Greygor, the accessories retailer in Kentucky, let her business partners know that she’d be out of pocket for one week in June. She also posted a note on her website explaining that any orders placed during her absence would be shipped the day of her return.
As it happened, Ms. Greygor got more orders the week she went away than ever before. She filled them as soon as she got back, and not a single customer complained about the longer-than-usual delivery time.
“At the end of the day, I learned that a little time off goes a long way,” says Ms. Greygor. “The world does not end when you go on vacation.”