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Small Business Owners ’’Not Guilty!’’ About Getting Away This Summer but Won’t Escape Worry-Free, According to OPEN from American Express Survey


Fewer Plan to Take a Week or More Off - First Drop in Four Years; Advice on Preparing Staff From Small Business Expert and Regional Data

NEW YORK,- Fewer small business owners expect to take a summer vacation of at least a week this year (59% vs. average of 67% over last four years), but those who do plan a break aren’t likely to feel guilty about it, according to the OPEN from American Express Small Business Monitor, a semi-annual survey of business owners. Though 72% say they get away guilt-free, the majority of those surveyed (65%) admit they worry about their business while on vacation.

What do nearly 60% of small business owners worry about? Their staff -- chief among their concerns while vacationing are that an important client or customer won’t get the level of service they are accustomed to receiving (39%), followed by staff judgment calls (26%); slacking off (25%); and who will manage their business while they are away (22%). Interestingly, more women business owners are concerned about their staff’s judgment calls than their male counterparts (30% vs. 21%), and more women owners worry about employees slacking off in their absence (27% vs. 20% men business owners).

“Small business owners are optimists by nature -- in fact, the survey shows that 87% see the glass as half full,” said Alice Bredin, OPEN from American Express small business advisor. “But when they’re not in the driver’s seat, even if for a few days, they often can’t relax.”

On average, three-quarters of small business owners (75%) say they check in either by phone or email with their business while away. Thirty-two percent check in several times a day, with some touching base as often as once an hour. An impressive 21% are able to resist the temptation to check in at all.

Despite their worrying, only 22% of owners surveyed say they are criticized by their family or significant others for not disconnecting from business while away. By gender, significantly more men business owners receive complaints around this issue than their female counterparts (27% vs. 18%).

There’s No Time Like Downtime

“Thirty-five percent of those surveyed say their best ideas come during downtime -- ideas which could lead to business growth. Unfortunately, fewer small business owners this year than last plan to take a week or more off this summer,” said Bredin. “It’s crucial though that they learn to take a breather to recharge their energy and creativity -- for the good of their business.”

To help small business owners worry less about their staff while away, Bredin offers the following advice:

Prepare employees for daily challenges: Walk them through work on deck and discuss step-by-step how they can solve any issues that might come up in your absence.

Then, prepare employees for the worst: Think through everything that might possibly go wrong while you’re away -- losing the combination to the safe, a client not getting a delivery as scheduled, a power failure, flood . . . and provide viable solutions.

Give staff all the resources they will need: Provide key contact information for support resources your staff will need to handle challenges in your absence. Supply these resources a few weeks before you go so that you can problem solve together. This will help employees fly solo while you’re gone.

Build a safety net: Set up your staff to succeed and trust that they can meet any challenge that may come up. Then step back -- let them know when to contact you and be crystal clear. “Call me if Client A surfaces but don’t call if . . .”

Replicate yourself: Have a “go to” person -- even if it’s someone outside of your firm -- whom your staff can go to when they need counsel. That person may be your ace-at-business brother, a colleague in another industry or your accountant. Make sure though that it is someone who can take a leadership role and make a decision you’d be happy with when a time sensitive situation arises and you can’t be reached.

“This may seem like a lot of work,” says Bredin, “but it’s the groundwork required for many small business owners to actually enjoy their time off. The good news is that once a plan is in place, you’ll have it ready the next time you decide to escape.”

Easing Back into the Saddle

To help make the transition from vacation to heading back to work smoother, owners implement several strategies that run the gamut from making a to-do list before going away (27%) to avoiding scheduling meetings on their first day back (24%), returning from vacation a couple of days early (20%), and reading emails the day before getting back to business (18%).

Looking for a window

By and large, small business owners opt to go on vacation when they get a window in their schedule (59%) or when their kids have a school break or spouse/partner can get away (50%). But a quarter (24%) of those surveyed say they take a break when they’re really stressed and have had enough. Only 10% consider a vacation a reward for winning a new customer or bringing in a piece of business.

Regional Snapshot

Two thirds (67%) of small business owners from the North East plan to take at least a week’s vacation this summer followed by 62% in the South and 57% in the West. Only half (50%) of owners in the North Central states said they will get away for a week or more.

Among their worries while vacationing, owners in the North East are least concerned about staff judgment calls in their absence with only 15% saying it’s a concern. By contrast, 34% of owners in the North Central states worry about their staff’s judgment followed by those in the West (28%) and the South (27%).

When on vacation, more owners from the North Central check in with their business several times a day (36%) than those in the West (19%), North East (27%) and south (28%). And, in line with these findings, those in the West are best at letting go of work while vacationing by not checking in at all while away (27%), followed by those in the North East and South (22% each), and North Central (14%).

When asked if they feel guilty about taking vacation, owners in the North East and South said no (78% and 75% respectively) followed by the North Central (70%) and West (65%).

In choosing when to go on vacation, more owners in the North East and West do so as a reward for winning new business (15% and 14% respectively) than those in the South (9%) and North Central (5%).

While overall 38% of business owners said they try to link their vacation to a business trip to save time and money, there are regional differences: 47% in the West said they try to link trips, while only 39% from the North Central, 36% from the North East and 32% from the South do so.

Survey Methodology

The OPEN from American Express Small Business Monitor, released each spring and fall, is based on a nationally representative sample of 626 small business owners/managers of companies with fewer than 100 employees. The survey was conducted via telephone by International Communications Research from March 26 through April 12, 2007. The poll has a margin of error of +3.9%.


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