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Business Owners: Consider a Sabbatical

by Marcia Yudkin

In a recent survey of business owners by American Express, half the respondents expressed worry about jeopardizing a major client account by going away on vacation. A Staples poll found that 37% of business owners can’t easily recall when they last had a vacation. So if taking a week or two off is challenging, it’s no surprise that for most business owners, the idea of taking a sabbatical trip seems about as do-able as going to Mars. 

A sabbatical does take lots of planning and preparation. But the rewards can be priceless. I recently took 10 weeks off to drive from Massachusetts to Alaska and back with my husband. It gave me fresh product development ideas, put business stresses in perspective and totally cleared up a health problem that could have become serious.

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Based on my experience and discussions with other business owners and self-employed professionals, here are some things to think about if the sabbatical idea appeals to you.

1. Decide whether your finances permit a full or partial sabbatical. In 2003, my husband and I took a three-month road trip around Canada and the “Lower 48” United States, but I wasn’t thinking of it as a sabbatical since I worked several hours a day on the road. In 2007, I did just about no work during the trip. This did not involve financial sacrifice, since I’d prepared for this for nearly a year by creating high-priced information products that could sell online without my active engagement. The passive income, in fact, covered our trip expenses. 

You might decide to raid your savings to pay for your time off. Just be sure that whatever you decide on this question enables you to take a break without very much financial worry or stress.

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2. Plan coverage for your home and business. That might mean renting out your house or arranging for a caretaker, and it certainly means having someone take care of your mail and routine business responsibilities while you’re away. I don’t normally have an office assistant, but I engaged the services of a virtual assistant for the duration of my sabbatical. Mail was forwarded to her, and she kept me informed about that by email, and she sent out products on my behalf to fulfill the orders that came in. Most experienced virtual assistants charge $25 - $50 an hour, and I do recommend that you pay someone for these services. It’s probably way more responsibility than a friend or relative would happily take on for you.

3. Decide on how “in touch” or “out of touch” you’ll be during your time off. If you forward all your business calls to your cell phone, you probably won’t experience much of a break. And you’ll be annoying people around you on the beach, in museums or at national parks as well as disrupting the main purpose of the sabbatical – to get away psychologically as well as physically. 

It’s far better to check phone messages once or twice a day or have someone handle all but the truly unusual or highly important calls for you. Likewise, decide whether you’ll delegate your email or handle that yourself. I kept up with email correspondence myself in about 20 minutes in the morning and evening, and it usually felt like a nice change of pace from traveling rather than a chore.

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4. Plan how much time you’ll set aside for the sabbatical. In the academic world, a sabbatical is nearly always a year, but you may not need anywhere near that long to enjoy the benefits of taking a break. Two weeks is definitely not enough. Probably a month is the minimum I would recommend. After two months, I usually start getting homesick. 

Marcia Yudkin is the author of Web Site Marketing Makeover and 10 other books. She publishes a weekly newsletter on creative marketing, Marketing Minute. Find out more about how you can plan and pull off a business sabbatical in her course, "Take Your Business On The Road."

Copyright 2013 Marcia Yudkin.  All rights reserved.

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