Vacation: Balancing business forces

Vienna, where I'll be in a few days. But how can a business owner manage things to truly enjoy a vacation break?

Vacation time, handled right, is both refreshing and challenging for anyone with business ownership and leadership responsibilities. If you can’t take a vacation without the enterprise falling apart, you either have failed to build enough scale or you are really poor at delegation.

On the other hand, your responsibilities never really disappear. In 2019 it is rare that you would be so far away that you could not communicate effectively. The problems always stop at your desk, even if it is in a hotel room or figuratively at an amusement park.

(I recall painfully an earlier example of this sort of challenge. We had implemented a new third-party payroll service before I headed to Disneyland with my wife and then young son. As we were waiting in line for the Mad Hatter Tea Cup ride, my cell phone rang. It turned out the payroll service had issued checks, rather than directly deposited the funds to the employees’ bank accounts, reflecting the service’s policy for the first payroll payment after opening a new account.

(After about 30 minutes on the phone with a supervisor, the payroll company came up with a work-around, realizing that indeed it would be impossible for me to sign the checks and the employees would not really accept missing their pay because their boss was at Disneyland.)

These matters are coming to light as I deal with some crucial internal business issues. One is confidential. There is no harm in sharing the other matter here.

When we started Ontario Construction News in May, we decided to use a bootstrap cost-saving approach. This meant that I would roll up my sleeves and take on the challenge personally of filling the PDF newspaper every day with suitable editorial content.

I can write fast, but knew we would need extra coverage, so contracted with a freelancer to help out. And we got the job done.

With my vacation approaching, I arranged with the writer to assume more of my load, and we added two additional writers to give her backup. But a week into the holiday, she reports this isn’t enough — the writing team is still short of material.

Costs are mounting. But I realized then that (a) I had undervalued my writing services to the start-up and (b) I would need to augment the vacation resources with additional budgeting for a third writer, while I set up a “canned story” file for the three remaining weeks of my holiday.

We’re lucky in that the new business is succeeding, or my vacation would have become even more costly personally as I would have had to cover the additional expenses. The evidence of my “soft cost” value to the business for the first three months will become apparent when we count the freelancers’ invoices.

The writing cost accounting will be useful when I deal with the matter referenced earlier in this post that I’ve observed is confidential. I could add to the pain by submitting a retroactive invoice for the true value of my writing services for three months. I won’t do that because it would just add fuel to the emotional fire.

I expect in the end the vacation will capture and perhaps ultimately cure some flaws in our business as we fulfil our responsibilities.

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