By Doug Bennett, aka The Goals Guy®
How do you feel about taking time away from your business? Does it terrify you? Do you worry about losing your customers or letting them down?
When I first started my business, I was terrified to be away from the coalface for any length of time. Striking out as an entrepreneur is frequently showcased as a way to create freedom, but many of us move from working regular hours with a consistent income to working round the clock with no guarantees.
I’ve recently enjoyed a three-week break in North America (Alaskan cruise, then Canada, followed by a week in Boston [conference] and Cape Cod). During that time, my team only needed to communicate with me twice.
I’m going to share with you the three ways that I’ve made the shift from always being available to creating a business that can operate smoothly without me for extended periods of time. If your goal is to take some time off without feeling guilty, then adopt the following tactics!
1. Get perspective and prioritise what really matters to you
If you feel the pull to respond to a query at 7pm on a Saturday evening, take a step back and question whether your actions are progressing a sale.
For example, in financial services there is little point in me responding to a mortgage query at the weekend, because the rest of the professionals in the loop are unlikely to progress anything before Monday.
Before you dive into work at unreasonable hours, challenge if there is any benefit to doing so. The chances are there is a cost, and that cost is to the valuable time you could be spending with your family or friends.
Unless you are a brain surgeon, it’s likely that your business isn’t a matter of life and death. When I became an independent financial adviser/mortgage broker, I did everything I could to make sure I was constantly available. I was married with two young sons; my decision to put work first cost me my marriage. I became a part-time dad and lost time with my children.
Hindsight tells me that those extra sales weren’t worth the price I paid.
2. Clearly demarcate your time so that you look after your #1 business asset: that means you!
If you work at a frenetic pace without taking time off to recharge, you’re likely to burn out. At first, ring-fencing time away from the business can feel really scary, but if you begin by stepping away from your phone or email for increased periods of time, you will build your confidence in “letting go” and trusting your team or support network to pick up the slack.
I utilise three effective time-management systems devised by Strategic Coach® (premier business coaching for entrepreneurs): Free Days, Focus Days and Buffer Days.
On Free Days do nothing business related; it’s you-time. On Focus Days you concentrate on money-making activities and progressing or growing your business. On Buffer Days mop up any administrative work, which helps you achieve more on your Focus Days and relax more on your Free Days.
When you segregate your time like this, you will gain strength and resources to deal with any complications that arise (by taking time off), and you will achieve more on your Focus and Buffer Days. You can read more about these tactics here.
To support my Free Days, I like to do a brain dump (see my earlier blog) of all the information that’s in my head in order to free up space for more creativity. Incidentally, I also have some of my best ideas when I’m on holiday or on a nine-hour flight where I’m not interrupted (unless the cabin crew want to offer me a drink!).
3. Be proactive and combat potential problems before they arise
If you have established good relationships and built rapport with your clients and potential clients, it’s likely that they’ll wait for you to return from your holiday or day off.
If you are genuinely concerned about missing phone calls, you might like to consider investing in a professional answering service or a virtual assistant (in the past I have used alldayPA and Moneypenny for around £50 per month). This means that your clients or prospective clients can speak to a real human being who will take a message or let them know when they can expect to hear back from you.
If your business is reliant on responding to customers within a set timeframe, it’s good practice to ensure that someone else is available to take those calls.
Most of the time when I am “unavailable”, my team can work on business queries so that the client can see some progress and knows that they are being well looked after.
Setting clear expectations with your team and your clients supports a healthy work-life balance. Under-promising and over-delivering works well for my business. If, for example, I advise a client on a Wednesday that they will have the answer to their query by Monday morning and I send it through to them on Thursday afternoon, well before expected, they will be delighted. In practice, this also builds up goodwill so that when I am on holiday and they are told there will be a short delay before I can fulfil their request, they trust me to deliver.
I hope this blog has inspired you to put a plan in place so that you can take time off, enjoy life and recharge your batteries. I’d love to hear your thoughts; and if you’re considering my professional support to progress your business goals, click here to book a complimentary discovery session.