Small business summer refresher: Get out of town, but stay in touch

chair-1286220_640By Mark G. Auerbach

As the Gershwins wrote, “Summertime, and the living is easy.” Well, for most small businesses, with one or two people running the shop, it’s easier, yet never easy. Here are some things to remember, as you slip into summer mode.

You can take time off from a daily routine, but you can’t really shut down any business, because, when people want something, and you’re not available, they go somewhere else.

I set my summer mode into a “split shift” I arrive in my workplace early, take a long “lunch break” during prime tanning hours, and return late afternoon to wrap things up. It works for me. I get pool time and play time, and my clients get quality time too.

If you’re shutting down for some time off (and you should, to recharge your body, mind and spirit), make sure someone is covering for you, and make sure your clients and customers know that you’re taking time off. You’ve got to let people know about your “summer hours.”

Before you leave town, plan your escape. Email the clients, customers, and other frequent contacts in advance, more than once if possible. I let people know I’ll be away a month in advance; they get a differently-worded reminder a week in advance, and another one two days before I leave. For example, our office shuts down between Christmas and New Year’s. It’s a quiet time or us, so I can also use the emails to mention holiday hours and staffing, which we send out before Thanksgiving. The second notice wishes people happy holidays. The third reiterates the holiday theme. I do similar postings to my Facebook business page.

Then:

1. Put a message on your voice mail. Tell folks how long you’ll be away, who to contact in your absence, and your return date. And, monitor your voice mail while you’re away. Return the important or urgent calls.

Mine says, “I’m on assignment through Monday, June 13. You’re welcome to leave a brief message after the beep. Please leave your name and phone number. If it’s urgent, call me on my cell at XXX-XXX-XXXX and I’ll return your call at my earliest convenience.

2. Put an away message on your email. Tell people that you’re out of the office until your return date with limited access to Internet until the date when you’re returning. Then, check your emails and respond to the urgent ones.

3. Put an “away message” on your website, Facebook page, and other online collaterals.

You want people to know that you’re not ignoring them. I pre-schedule my away messages, using HootSuite, so they run twice a day. I use slightly different wording on them, so they don’t appear repetitive.

If you decide to do an e-blast or direct mail piece about your summer hours and away dates, make it multi-purpose. Use an “address correction requested,” so you can clean your mailing list or email list of duplicates, and non-functioning addresses.

Summer’s a great time for networking. 

People are more relaxed, and the event locales tend to be more fun. Don’t forget to have business cards with you at all times. (If you don’t have them already, you can make some up quickly through online sources or office supply stores).

When you exchange cards, follow-up the exchange with a brief email saying something to the effect “Nice to meet you at the ABC Wine Tasting on Thursday.” Now, that’s a simple way of keeping “in touch” (which is networking). Also follow this up by linking up on LinkedIn, and/or following someone’s Facebook business page or Twitter feed. When you reach out, remind the person where you met. And when they “like” your business page, or link with you on LinkedIn, or follow you on Twitter, message them with a thank you.

Mix it up. If you usually meet a client at a particular coffee shop. try a summer one with outdoor seating. My meeting go-to in Western Massachusetts is Esselon Coffee Roasters in Hadley, with terrific gardens–a relaxing setting (with wifi) in which to conduct business. Our local Farmer’s Market has a couple of picnic tables, and there’s nothing like a meeting near homegrown fruits, veggies, and home-baked cookies. A change of scene does wonders.

Summer comes but once a year. Enjoy it !

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Mark G. Auerbach is principal at Mark G. Auerbach Public Relations, a Springfield, MA, based marketing, public relations, development and events consultancy. You can find more information about Mark at Facebook and LinkedIn.

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