The image of a serene sunbather on a tropical beach with cocktail in hand doesn’t scream out “small business owner,” and it probably never will.
It’s tough enough running any business but owners of small shops with just one or a few employees have their own special challenges – like taking a vacation.
Paige Evans is a micro business owner with an interesting perspective on the vacation dilemma facing many entrepreneurs – she runs a travel agency from her home office in Ankeny, Iowa, and a one-employee shop in Omaha, Neb.
Unlike many small business owners who wait for years before they’re comfortable leaving their livelihood for time off, Evans managed to go on a vacation by year two of her 10-year-old business.
However, she has the added benefit of being able to spot good deals through her agency and she gets incentives from vacation hot spots in hopes that she will be encouraged to sell them to clients.
“As technology improves, it makes it easier,” says Evans. She transfers her Iowa phone number to the Omaha office.
She also has a deal with her husband that they take their laptops on vacation and agree to work only two to three hours in the morning and then they go offline.
“I advise my clients I’ll only be available at certain hours, and we manage to still be in touch with business,” says Evans. “If your business is on your laptop you can be in touch with both worlds.”
But technology is not always a perfect fix: Evans advises travelers to check and make sure that wireless access is available if you’ll be primarily visiting small locales. She went on a week-long bike ride across Iowa recently and couldn’t get her laptop to work in several rural areas. Plus, the ride was part of a charitable event attracting thousands of bikers. It was so crowded she couldn’t get a BlackBerry signal.
As an avid traveler, she also recommends that small business vacationers planning a cruise should check on the ship’s Internet access. “It can often be very expensive and only available at certain times of the day.” Those headed to resorts should check the same.
Mix Business with Pleasure
Professional photographer Chris Humphrey is based out of Tulsa, Okla., and runs a successful one-person business shooting weddings. He has solved the small business vacation dilemma by taking two or three days off of work and heading to a trade seminar or conference.
He goes to Las Vegas every year for a wedding convention and meets with many of his vendors while picking up new products and tips. He also attends a photographers’ association meeting that is held in a different location annually.
“As part of the usual conference routine there’s usually some entertainment,” he says, adding “it’s nice to close the business for a couple of days but when you get home you haven’t wasted that time.”
Kim Balk, president of two-person Legal Technology Services in Des Moines, Iowa, makes sure her one employee can fill in for her when she’s out. She also relies on a subcontractor who is trained to run the business if necessary.
Balk says it’s been difficult to take time off as business is strong, but managed to take a family vacation while speaking at a conference held by the Iowa State Bar Association. She brought grandma and the kids to the event at a nearby resort and took two days off to relax. (Her husband, who sells Dodge, Ford and Chrysler cars, decided to forego the trip because summer is one of the prime selling seasons for a dealership.)
Photographer Humphrey had planned a rare, family vacation to Disneyland with his wife and two kids for September. But work started piling up for him that month and it looked like the trip would be canceled. So on a day in late February, he saw that March was a light month for him so he booked a trip on the spur of the moment and the Humphreys were able to go.
“Although it probably wouldn’t be a regular thing for us," he says. “Sometimes too much planning can get in the way.”