Despite economic challenges, the same percentage of small business owners as last year (59%) are planning a summer vacation of at least a week, according to American Express OPEN Small Business Monitor, a semi-annual survey of business owners.
How do small business owners decide when to go on vacation? Thirty-four percent take a break when they’re stressed or have had enough, up 10% from spring 2007.
Of those surveyed, 20% say that they take a less expensive vacation in an uncertain economy. Interestingly, 27% of female entrepreneurs reduce their vacation budget compared to 18% of their male counterparts.
“The fact that most small business owners will vacation again this summer may not seem so remarkable, until you factor in that 56% are experiencing cash flow issues and 86% are being squeezed by rising energy and gas costs,” said Alice Bredin, American Express OPEN small business advisor. “For all of us and especially entrepreneurs, a vacation even if downscaled, is a necessity not a luxury; especially when times are stressful.”
Entrepreneurs who are 60 and older are most likely to have summer vacation plans (72% compared to 55% of their younger counterparts). Business size is also a factor in deciding whether or not to break away: small businesses with 50 to 99 employees are more likely to have vacation plans for a week or more (73% versus 59% of companies with fewer than 50 employees).
Going Guilt-Free But Not Worry-Free
A decline in optimism, the lowest in the six-year history of the Monitor (from 21% in 2007 to 9%), won’t prevent those planning a summer break from getting away with a clear conscience. Seventy-one percent don’t feel guilty taking a vacation, with 77% of those owners 50+ less burdened by guilt compared to 62% in the 18-49 age group.
For most entrepreneurs though, guilt-free doesn’t mean worry-free given that two out of three entrepreneurs worry while on vacation. Among their chief concerns are client care (36%), a missed business opportunity (31%) and employees slacking off (30%), followed by equipment/operational breakdowns and staff judgment calls (29% each), finding someone to manage their business (23%), and security (19%).
Eighty-one percent of small business owners intend to check in with their business either by phone or email while away, up 6% from last year. More specifically, the number who will check in once a day or more rose to 56% from 51% in 2007, and those who will touch base every few days or less is also up (22% vs. 14%). However, 19% will not check in at all, on par with last year at 21%.
“Unfortunately, many small business owners have difficulty stepping away and leaving things in the hands of others,” said Bredin, “This may explain why 26% of those surveyed say they check in several times a day.”
Twenty-nine percent of small business owners admit they receive complaints from family or their significant other about not disconnecting from their business while away. However, the survey shows that older entrepreneurs, those 50+, have an easier time letting go; only 25% of this group receive complaints about not disconnecting compared to their younger counterparts ages 18 to 49 (36%).
Combining Business and Pleasure to Save
One-third of small business owners are looking to save time and money by linking their vacation to a business trip. One-half of owners in the 50-54 age group are taking advantage of such opportunities compared to 34% overall. But, small businesses with 50-99 employees are least likely to link a vacation with business to save time and money (24% versus one-third of companies with less than 50 employees).
Getting Back to Reality
Seventy-seven percent of entrepreneurs manage their return from vacation in some fashion. One-quarter (26%) will prepare a to-do list before leaving, return a couple of days before they are due to the office or refrain from scheduling appointments the day they return. One in five (20%) will ease back into work by getting caught up on emails the day before they return.
Sixty-three percent of small business owners from the South plan to take at least one full week’s vacation this summer (about the same as last year) followed by 60% in the North Central states (up 10% from 2007), 59% in the Northeast (down 8%) and 51% in the West (down 5%).
More owners from the Northeast say they plan a vacation when they’ve had enough or are stressed out (43%) than their counterparts in the West (33%), North Central (31%) and South (30%). Further, numbers for all regions have increased this year over last with the greatest jump in the Northeast, 16% over last year; followed by North Central states with a 12% increase; the West up 7% and the South up 5%.
In an uncertain economy, fewer owners in the Northeast (14%) are likely to take a less expensive vacation than those in the South (17%) and North Central and West (24% each).
While owners in the West are less likely to take a summer break, most owners who are planning to get away will do so with a clear conscience. In fact, the percentage of those in the West who responded “no” when asked if they feel guilty about taking vacation is up 10% from last year (75% vs. 65%). By contrast, 73% in the South and 70% in the North Central region said, “Not guilty.” However only 66% of owners in the Northeast said not guilty, a 12% drop from last year (78%).
In terms of worrying while away, owners from the South lead the pack (71%) followed by those in the North Central states (67%), West (65%) and Northeast (63%).
Owners from the North Central and Southern regions of the country are slightly more likely to check in once a day or more often (59% and 58% respectively) followed by those in the Northeast (55%) and West (49%).
The American Express OPEN Small Business Monitor, released each spring and fall, is based on a nationally representative sample of 627 small business owners/managers of companies with fewer than 100 employees. The survey was conducted via telephone by Echo Research from March 10-March 21, 2008. The poll has a margin of error of +3.9%.
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