You run your own business. You’re always on. Checking emails. Processing orders. Creating content.
But what happens if you need to take a break? (and let me just be clear, I think you absolutely should allow yourself to take a break).
Maybe it’s a planned vacation. Or maybe it’s an unexpected break such as managing a family emergency or medical issue.
What’s the most important thing you can do to make stepping away as non-disruptive to your business as possible?
Use an email autoresponder.
An autoresponder is a reply that a sender will receive in response to an email they send to you in the time period you are away. You should consider using one if you are away from your computer entirely, but also if you are working on a reduced schedule and expect a delay in replying to emails.
I do this myself, and encourage everyone to do so if there is a time when you anticipate being less-responsive-than-usual. A good auto-responder sets expectations for your customers and clients. It’s the best way I’ve found to not only notify people of your change in schedule, but also allay worries and fears.
Components of an effective Autoresponder
An effective autoresponder has 4 pieces.
- A Statement that you’re away/on a reduced schedule, including dates.
- Sets an expectation about the current schedule.
- A list of alternative contact methods (if applicable).
- A ‘thank you’ for understanding.
Here’s an example (with the components numbered):
Thank you for your email. (1) Until December 27th, I will be traveling with limited access to email. (2) I will be checking in weekly, so expect a delay in receiving a reply. (3) If you are experiencing an order-related issue, please contact Melanie at [insert email address]. (4) Thank you so much for your patience and I look forward to connecting with you fully-recharged in 2018!
If you are a one-person operation, it is perfectly fine to omit (3).
Set realistic expectations
I sometimes hear, ‘oh, but I don’t want to set an autoresponder to tell people I’m away because it will look unprofessional’. Uh, really?
What’s more unprofessional? Having a client wait more than a week for a reply on an email, with no notice that you’ll be gone? Or setting realistic and reasonable expectations about your availability?
Have you ever walked by a shop and seen a sign that says, ‘be back in 10 minutes’? Chances are, you say, ‘okay cool. I’ll come back in 10 minutes.’ No big deal.
Now, what would you do if that same store had no sign. And was just mysteriously shut. Or empty. You would probably assume they were closed for the day. You might think they went out of business. It may even make you think the business was unreliable. Now that’s unprofessional.
Treat your email like your storefront and put up a sign.
I always ‘under-promise and over-deliver’. When I took a trip to Vietnam, I assumed I’d have absolutely no internet access. When I’m teaching at a conference, I assume I’ll be too tired to check emails. And if I do get a chance to check in, customers are delighted that I’ve found some spare time to exceed expectations. Most people are completely understanding and don’t mind how long you’re gone if you tell them what to expect.
Maybe you’re experiencing a medical issue. Or need some mental health time. Or you have a family emergency and you just don’t want to talk about it.
Your personal life isn’t everyone’s business. You CAN be vague about the reason for your change in schedule, as long as you’re setting realistic expectations.
Here are some phrases you can use to be vague but still deliver the message:
I’m taking a mini-sabbatical for personal development.
I will be working a reduced schedule to accommodate family matters.
I’m checking email less frequently to focus on my work in a more in-depth manner.
Heck, you can even say you’re ‘on vacation’! Vacations can be spent at home in your jammies… travel not required!
I think you’ll also love reading this article from the NY Times: Your Best Ways to Say ‘Sorry, I’m Out of the Office’.