Originally created 05/02/04

Owners need to plan for vacations - for them and their kids



NEW YORK -- With summer not far off, small business owners should be thinking about vacations - for themselves and their children.

Many business owners, especially new entrepreneurs, tend to discount the need for their own vacations, and that's a mistake. Everyone needs some down time, and most owners find they work better when they've had some time to relax and enjoy a change in scenery. Many of them also worry about being away - what if a customer or client needs something?

Marcia Golden, a partner in the New York marketing firm DJD/Golden, likened taking a vacation to a new parent adjusting to leaving a new baby. She recalled that in the early days of running her own business, her feeling was, "God forbid the clients think we have a life."

Golden said she and her husband didn't tell clients they were away, and so, "in the beginning a lot of vacation time was spent putting out fires for clients from whatever part of the country we might be at." Years later, she's more comfortable letting clients know she'll be on vacation. And she finds "people are very respectful of that."

Golden does give her cell phone number to some clients for emergency use and handles some problems when she's away, but she does have much less of a working vacation than in the past.

Before you take your vacation, you need to give your customers or clients plenty of notice, so they can plan for your absence as well. Frank Julie, an attorney in Manhattan, said that even though he has a partner, he still notifies clients that he'll be away so there are no unpleasant surprises.

It's also a good idea to arrange with another business owner to cover for you, in case a customer or client has a job that needs to be done immediately. Customers will appreciate your looking out for them, and chances are they won't defect to your competitor.

An issue for many business owners is how much work to do from vacation. With laptop computers, PDAs and cell phones, an owner could spend an entire vacation working. The answer depends on the age of the business, whether there are employees who are able to carry on in the owner's absence and the owner's comfort level.

Julie said he checks voicemail and e-mails while he's away "so I'm not as inundated when I return." But the more he practices law - he's been doing it for 16 years - the more important being on vacation with his family has become.

"That's the priority for that time period," he said.

Another vacation issue for business owners with children is how to keep their kids entertained and safe during vacations from school. Many parents enroll their children in camps, either day camps or sleep-away camps, but there are often gaps of several weeks after school ends and before camp begins, and again when camp is over and before classes resume in August or September.

"You have to line up a support system in advance," said Debra Koontz Traverso, a professional writer and a parent who works at home. That means setting up activities and play dates and arranging for relatives or babysitters to look after the kids. Many working parents will be glad to swap child-care time with you - if you take their kids for the afternoon, they'll watch yours another time so you can get work done.

The age of your children can make it easier or harder. If they're in the early years of school, chances are you'll need some kind of full-time care, even if you run your business from home. The younger ones are more likely to keep interrupting a parent, no matter how much they're told Mom or Dad is working.

When they're older and more self-sufficient, they're likely to be able to entertain themselves, although Traverso says she makes sure there are plenty of books and videos available.

And they might be able to help out in the business. Golden said that in her office, there are 12-year-olds helping to stuff envelopes during school breaks.

You might schedule your own vacation during the gaps between school and camp - and that might be the best option because it will ensure you have time with your children.

Lisa Roberts, co-author of "The Entrepreneurial Parent," reminds parents that "summertime is a time to relax with your children. ... You don't want to rob your children of the summer fun."

She suggests arranging your work so you can take off one afternoon a week to take the kids to the beach. You can always stay in touch with the office by cell phone.