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How business owners cope on holiday

Associated Press logo Associated Press 29/06/2017 Joyce M Rosenberg

While hiking in the Himalayas for three weeks, Mike Scanlin had no smartphone 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 small business owners to never be out of touch while on holiday - unless they decide to go to a part of the world without enough smartphone 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 hour-plus time difference with the US 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-a-half-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, where smartphone 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 in the US released by American Express, the vast majority said they check in by phone or email while on holiday. 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 smartphone 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 staffers. They would deal with customers and issues 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, Maryland.

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 holidays in the early years of his practice. By about 15 years ago, he was calling just once a day, and Kupfer realised 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 holiday.

"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.

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

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 realises, the walks she took and books she read on her trip provided a needed respite.

"At some point, you have to disconnect on holiday," she says.

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