Va­ca­tion­ing busi­ness own­ers learn to trust staff

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - MUTUAL FUNDS - JOYCE M. ROSEN­BERG

NEW YORK — While hik­ing in the Hi­malayas for three weeks, Mike Scan­lin had no cell­phone ser­vice much of the time and no way to charge his phone. Run­ning his busi­ness — a one-man op­er­a­tion — be­came a very spo­radic propo­si­tion.

It was a cal­cu­lated risk. “I felt I was go­ing to lose cus­tomers, lose some busi­ness if they couldn’t get a re­sponse for three days,” says Scan­lin, owner of Born to Sell, a busi­ness soft­ware com­pany based in Las Ve­gas.

“But it’s worth maybe los­ing a bit of busi­ness to ac­com­plish the items on your bucket list.”

Changes in tech­nol­ogy have made it pos­si­ble for va­ca­tion­ing small busi­ness own­ers to never be out of touch — un­less they de­cide to go to a part of the world with­out enough cell­phone tow­ers, band­width or elec­tric­ity. Some­times they find out by sur­prise. But many un­der­stand that they’re los­ing their tether to their com­pa­nies. Some leave the busi­ness in the hands of trusted em­ploy­ees, or have projects and press­ing mat­ters dealt with so be­ing out of con­tact won’t be a prob­lem.

Scan­lin was able to check emails when the hik­ing group made it to the top of in­clines dur­ing his 2012 trip. But in valleys where they camped, there was no ser­vice. And even when Scan­lin could get a con­nec­tion, he couldn’t down­load doc­u­ments or pho­tos, and the nine hour­plus time dif­fer­ence with the United States meant a lag be­tween emails and replies. He couldn’t go on­line to fix any prob­lems that might come up with his web­site, and there was no one back home who could do it.

It did make Scan­lin, whose com­pany was a year-and-ahalf-old when he made the trek, a lit­tle un­easy. Born to Sell sur­vived, how­ever, and he has since vis­ited places like Peru and Easter Is­land, lo­cated nearly 2,200 miles off the coast of Chile, where cell­phone and in­ter­net ser­vice were of­ten un­avail­able.

Check­ing in is the norm for most own­ers. With tablets or smart­phones in hand, many set aside time on a trip to at least read im­por­tant emails or touch base with em­ploy­ees and im­por­tant clients. In a re­cent sur­vey of 700 small busi­ness own­ers and man­agers re­leased by Amer­i­can Ex­press, the vast ma­jor­ity said they check in by phone or email while on va­ca­tion. More than half of those do so at least once a day. But nearly a quar­ter don’t check in.

Aaron Hockel knew be­fore he left on his two-week hon­ey­moon to Peru last sum­mer he would have min­i­mal ac­cess to a cell­phone net­work or the in­ter­net. So he de­cided to just be off­line and leave the dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing com­pany, Al­taVista Strate­gic Part­ners, in the care of his three busi­ness part­ners and 15 staff mem­bers. They would deal with cus­tomers and prob­lems that were his do­main.

“It was a scary propo­si­tion at first be­cause two weeks is a long time to dis­con­nect,” says Hockel, whose com­pany is based in Glen Burnie, Md.

At places like Machu Picchu, the his­toric In­can moun­tain fortress, there wasn’t any con­nec­tiv­ity. But even at a ho­tel with Wi-Fi, Hockel ig­nored his email in­box.

“I knew, if I open this, I’m open­ing a Pan­dora’s box,” Hockel says. When he re­turned home, he found he’d made the right choice: “Our staff did an in­cred­i­ble job com­mu­ni­cat­ing and tack­ling is­sues.”

Corey Kupfer, a lawyer for 30 years who also has a speak­ing and con­sult­ing busi­ness, called his of­fice sev­eral times a day from va­ca­tions in the early years of his prac­tice. By about 15 years ago, he was call­ing just once a day, and Kupfer re­al­ized the prob­lems his staff talked to him about were things they could han­dle on their own. He told them he wouldn’t call in on his next va­ca­tion.

“Peo­ple fig­ure things out when they don’t have you as a crutch. It em­pow­ers them and helps your team to grow,” says Kupfer, who’s based in New York.

Kupfer has trav­eled in re­cent years to Ecuador, the Utah desert and the West Bank, had no cell­phone ser­vice and no wor­ries be­cause his staff and part­ners can han­dle the busi­ness with­out him. His mantra: “I’m not that im­por­tant.”

Own­ers of brand-new com­pa­nies are less likely to dis­con­nect. In May, Brad We­ber was ready to leave his lap­top home and his 10-yearold mo­bile app devel­op­ment com­pany in the hands of his 15 staff mem­bers.

“The busi­ness had ma­tured to a point and the team jelled to a point where I felt com­fort­able do­ing it. I knew they’d be able to han­dle what­ever came up,” says We­ber, owner of Boul­der, Colo.-based In­spir­ingApps. He went on a week­long sail­boat trip off Gre­nada where he had to fo­cus on the sail­ing.

“There was not much en­ergy left to think about the of­fice,” he says.

Still, for some own­ers, be­ing out of touch isn’t part of the plan.

“There was a bit of a gulp,” re­calls Chris Brant­ner about his Rocky Moun­tain back­pack­ing trip this spring when he had vir­tu­ally no cell­phone ser­vice. His brothers, who work with him at his Hous­ton-based com­pany, CutCableTo­, were do­ing their jobs, but “I’m the guy who gets the call at 8 p.m. if the web­site’s down. That was prob­a­bly the most wor­ri­some part, if things stopped func­tion­ing.”

Brant­ner, whose web­site pro­vides in­for­ma­tion about cable TV al­ter­na­tives, was able to give one brother a heads-up that he wouldn’t be able to ac­cess the web­site if needed. Af­ter that, with noth­ing more he could do, he went back to hik­ing.

“It was nice to get away for a few days and turn off my brain,” Brant­ner says. When he re­con­nected, he found the web­site hadn’t crashed and no harm was done.

Dale Ja­nee was caught by sur­prise dur­ing a week­end trip to a ru­ral part of Poland in 2014, dis­cov­er­ing there was no way to go on­line or con­nect with cus­tomers as she ex­pected. Ja­nee, the owner of a pil­low­case maker called Savvy Sleep­ers that sells to beauty sa­lons and re­tail­ers, wor­ried that clients who wanted to place or­ders or had ques­tions would turn to an­other sup­plier when they were un­able to reach her.

“It felt like an eter­nity to be dis­con­nected from my busi­ness,” Ja­nee says.

While at the air­port to head home, she logged in and found all was well. Since then, the Dal­las-based com­pany has grown to the point where Ja­nee has hired an as­sis­tant who can keep an eye on the busi­ness when she’s away. And, she re­al­izes, the walks she took and books she read on her trip pro­vided a needed respite.

“At some point, you have to dis­con­nect on va­ca­tion,” she says.

Cour­tesy of Mike Scan­lin via AP

Small busi­ness owner Mike Scan­lin poses for a photo on the trail to Mount Ever­est Base Camp in Nepal in 2012.

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