Taking break from work can be a difficult decision

By Joyce M. Rosenberg
Associated Press
Published June 11, 2007

One of the hardest things for a small-business owner to do, especially in the first few years of a company's existence, is to take a vacation, even if it's just for a few days.

Many owners struggle with taking time off, and when they do decide to take a break, tussle with themselves over how much work to do while they are away.

"Your business is your baby, you really don't believe someone else would come in there and handle it with care," said Renee Wood, who is contemplating her first vacation since starting her retail business, The Comfort Co. in Geneva, five years ago.

"I didn't trust that someone else would handle [clients] with the same loving care that I did," said Wood, whose company sells items people can give to the newly bereaved. She also didn't want to close the store because that would have meant a loss in revenue.

But Wood is finding that her life is out of balance, and that by not taking a vacation she has missed spending time with her four children. She can take a vacation now because she hired an employee she trusts to take care of the business.

Still, like most small-business owners, she will stay in touch during her five-day trip, doing as much customer service as she can with the help of a laptop.

Technology is making it easier for many people, not just small-business owners, to work or stay in touch with the office while they are away. In a recently released AP-Ipsos poll, about one in five respondents said they did some work while on vacation, using technology such as cell phones and computers. The poll surveyed 1,000 adults.

It took Suzie Boland three years after she started her public relations agency in 1999 before she took a real vacation, but now she is taking trips and keeping in touch with her company only minimally.

Boland, president of RFB Communications Group in Tampa, lets clients know well ahead of time she'll be on vacation, so they can plan to get their projects to her before she leaves. And she has confidence that her staff of two can handle client needs while she's gone.

Boland has followed the mantra of "delegate, delegate, delegate," something business experts say is critical for a company to be well-run, and not just when the boss is away.

"It's the element of good management: learning to delegate," she said. "For a small-business owner, that's a tough thing to do. You have to wean yourself away as well as educate people."

Jennefer Witter is taking her first vacation since starting her New York-based PR firm, The Boreland Group Inc., four years ago.

But she has chosen the week of July 4 for her trip to London, knowing that many of her clients also will be away and won't need her services.

Tamara Wilson, who owns a Seattle-based PR firm under her name, takes vacations to Maui that leave her out of touch. That's a big change from when she started her company nearly 12 years ago and she gave clients total access to her during her time off. The result was she wasn't taking relaxing vacations.

It took her nearly seven years before she did take a trip that helped her shake off the stress, Wilson said. And, like other owners, she is able to do that because she put together a capable staff.

Wilson is philosophical about clients who might prefer her to stay home and work for them.

"If you want me to be the best that I can for you, you need to let me take off time to relax as well as regroup," she said.