3 Business Lessons Learned + Changes Made after 2 Weeks Vacation in Italy

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Written by Cher Hale

I quickly surveyed the list glaring at me with red due dates on my desktop. Asana loved to remind me how late I was on my tasks, and while that would normally mean a couple of late nights for me, I didn’t have the luxury of extending my work hours this time. That’s because, in about 24 hours, I was scheduled to be on a plane for a 2-week trip to Italy. Between hosting a weeklong retreat and attending a wedding, I wouldn’t have time to sit down and work to make up for these late deadlines.

I knew the tasks would weigh on me while I was abroad and I knew that I would dread coming home to a list of unfinished tasks, an unruly inbox, and a vacation hangover.

As a tiny team, we had been operating at about 50% of our capacity because I couldn’t take the time to create standard operating procedures or think about what we could be doing differently, and it was clear that I had a number of glaring inefficiencies in my business operations.

When I returned to work, I knew that things had to change – not just for future vacations but also for sick days, family emergencies, or spontaneous outings with friends.

Turns out, going on vacation is one of the best things I ever did for my business. Here are three major lessons I learned from that time.

As a tiny team, we had been operating at about 50% of our capacity because I couldn’t take the time to create standard operating procedures or think about what we could be doing differently”

Problem: If you don’t do it, it doesn’t get done

Solution: Systematize Client Care

Problem: Every week, I send a weekly recap to our clients that explains what I pitched, what we landed, and any administrative tasks I accomplished. If I wasn’t there to write them, they wouldn’t happen. In fact, even before the vacation, I was sending them out on Monday or Tuesday instead of the previous Friday.

I offer all of my clients a complimentary monthly strategy call with me, but if I didn’t send out the email to remind them to book a time, the meeting either wouldn’t happen or it would be scheduled last minute and interrupt my daily schedule.

That isn’t all though. If a client was booked for an interview, it was up to me to get them the interview link and prep them for each interview. As volume increased and we began booking up to 20 different types of interviews per week, I couldn’t keep up and make sure that every client received the information she needed. It was a system held together by an off-brand glue stick and construction paper – bound to fall apart.

Solution: It feels cliche to say, but I was the bottleneck that kept these systems from functioning properly. Plus, I wasn’t offering my office manager feedback when she made little mistakes. So, the first action that I took was to get really honest with her about the mistakes she had been making. As a rule, I now give her feedback whenever I think something should be different – no matter how tiny of a detail it is.

Once she understood where she had diverged from the standard operating procedure, I trained her to take over the weekly recaps, had her automate the monthly client meeting reminders, and involved her more in the back-and-forth scheduling process for client interviews. Once we nailed down those processes, we were able to refine them to create an even better client experience.

Problem: Duct-tape tools, apps + software for client processes

Solution: Streamline tech stack

Problem: Before my vacation, I had cobbled together a system for tracking media placements that included Google sheets, Asana, Slack, Zapier, and email. Since there were so many tools involved, both myself and my office manager would forget to update them, resulting in incorrect numbers and outdated information.

I couldn’t tell a client how well they were or were not doing because I could barely tell what I had or had not accomplished for them.

Solution: When I thought about the systems that we consistently used, it was clear that the optimal solution would be to create a system in Asana and completely remove Google sheets and Zapier from the equation.

After I spent time learning the lesser-known features of Asana, a tool that I thought I knew inside and out, I was able to design a process that we could use to track pitches, placements, and conversion rates.

I couldn’t tell a client how well they were or were not doing because I could barely tell what I had or had not accomplished for them.

Using Asana in this way has drastically reduced the amount of time it takes for me to see at a glance the progress we’ve made for a client which gives me useful information that I can use when asking clients to renew their agreements, to create case studies, or to sell our services to new potential clients.

Problem: Undercharging

Solution: Raise those rates!

Problem: I knew that I was undercharging my clients, but I didn’t know by how much and had no idea how to calculate what I actually needed to be charging them. After my vacation, it became clear to me that I needed to devote time to figuring that out, especially if I planned on growing the business or ever having free time.

Solution: Once I decided that I was going to get clear about my numbers and do what was necessary to raise prices, a number of resources came my way, including my local Spokane Business Development Center. With the guidance of my business advisor, I am learning all about profit margins, balance sheet ratios, and how to plan for growth.

Turns out, going on vacation is one of the best things I ever did for my business

As a result, I’ve raised prices by 130% and have begun to consider hiring my first two employees. If I hadn’t had access to my local business development center, though, there are plenty of other resources I could have tapped into online including working with a fractional CFO or taking a Profit Mastery course.

While your challenges may differ from mine in both detail and scale, you will still find value in taking a step away from your business so you can see the bigger picture.

Now, where you spend that time — whether it’s sipping on a spritz on the Italian coast, chasing the northern lights, or exploring street food in Asia — is totally up to you.

About Cher

Cher Hale is the founder and director of a national boutique agency that believes in using storytelling and public relations as a force for good. They specialize in boosting visibility for underrepresented or marginalized authors, experts, and entrepreneurs through comprehensive communication and media relations efforts. As a first-generation Taiwanese-American, she is passionate about leveraging the power of media to tell diverse stories through online, print, TV, radio, and podcast mediums so she can play a role in reshaping how our society views social justice, give-back initiatives, feminism, and multiculturalism. Connect with her on social: Instagram or on the firm’sFacebook Page

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