Small Business Strategies: The power of a vacation

Flip flopsWhen you own your own company, it can be very difficult to tear yourself away from the business for any stretch of days long enough to be considered a vacation. But taking a vacation is one of the most responsible things you can do for your company.

This is very tough for us Type A types to believe. We get so wrapped up in the urgency of the day-to-day workings of the company, and sometimes even in our own self-importance. It’s hard to believe the business wouldn’t immediately run adrift the second we take our hand off the tiller. 

When my first agency hit its one-year mark, my business partner and I contemplated a spa trip, both to celebrate the success of our first year and to plan for the next. We just could not imagine being out of the office for the five days the trip would take. We broached the subject with our first employee, who was by that point handling many details that neither of us were much good at anyway. When we asked if she thought that she and our skeleton crew could possibly manage without us that long, she burst out laughing. “I think we can handle it,” Rebecca said drily and turned on her heel to get back to work. 

The thing about getting away from the business for a number of days is that it pulls you out of the mire of details and deadlines. It breaks that ant trail of list making perpetually marching in your head. And eventually, not right away, but when your mind begins to calm, you will find clarity. This is where the power of the vacation lies.

With the distance of time and geography, you provide the space for big ideas to appear. The perspective you gain from stepping back from the business allows you to see both issues and opportunities you hadn’t had time to notice before.

Of course, this clarity doesn’t come right away. For me, at least, my mind churns as busily as ever for the first few days of a vacation. I sit on the beach thinking of things I need to make sure people back at the office remember to do, or hike in the desert hills with accounting numbers banging around in my head. But eventually, the salt water or the desert air do their trick. 

Most of the really smart business ideas I’ve ever had occurred to me on vacation, in a moment of stillness toward the end of the trip. I was staring out at the ocean in the early days of Tribe when I realized I could never make the income I wanted with only my own billable hours, at least not without working many more hours a week than I wanted. A few weeks after that vacation, I had six or eight freelancers working on client projects, and I was billing all their hours with a nice markup. Jennifer and I were sitting at the pool towards the end of one of our Arizona trips when we realized it was time for Tribe to get real office space, to collect all our home-office people in one location. That decision was huge to Tribe’s ability to grow, and to serve our Fortune 500 clients who were becoming increasingly less tolerant of trying to track us down in our virtual world. I was sitting on the beach on a family vacation a few months later when I realized it made a whole lot more sense to get a loan from our bank for the office build-out instead of trying to pay that out of cash flow. That decision gave us financial flexibility that made all the difference one tough slow summer. 

The hard part is trusting that it will happen. As the days of vacation trail behind me, I almost always think it’s not working. I somehow expect that my mind will immediately stop its usual racket the minute I’m out of the office. It takes time. It takes hikes in the mountains or runs on the beach, it takes long nights of good sleep and leisurely afternoon naps, it takes reading a few books, having some good meals, sitting on the porch for cocktails with people I love. 

Then suddenly, the big picture or the new idea or the instant clarity floats up out of nowhere. Often, it’s something that is so clearly the right thing, it later seems obvious. You just never saw it before. And likely would never have seen it, if you hadn’t taken the time to slow down for a few days.

Therein likes the power of vacation.

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