Do I Have to Take Vacation (I’m a Sole Proprietor!)? (Podcast) | Ep. #059

Elizabeth Larkin, Michael Kelly, and Eric Dollinger

In episode #59, hosts Elizabeth Larkin and Gene Marks answer a question about a small business owner who doesn’t think he can afford to step away from his business long enough to take a vacation:

“I’m a videographer mainly for weddings, and I have never taken a vacation. If I’m not working, I’m not getting paid, but everyone keeps telling me that I need time off. Now before you say ‘take a vacation in the off season’, please understand that I don’t have an off-season. I’m booked just about every weekend. What should I do? Really I’m just looking for you to validate me by saying vacations aren’t that important.”

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Elizabeth: Alright, Gene, last episode I put you on the spot by asking you how often you call your customers. This time I want to hear if you ever take them out to lunch.

Gene: No.

Elizabeth: Do they take you to lunch?

Gene: So I don’t call my clients, I don’t take them out to lunch. This is terrible!

First of all, there was an article in the Wall Street Journal recently that was saying how the number of business lunches are markedly declining.

Elizabeth: Oh, yeah.

Gene: People don’t take the time out to actually have lunch, lunch. It’s funny because some countries… you go to the UK, those guys drink their lunches.

Elizabeth: Really?

Gene: Yeah, it’s different, it’s a cultural thing, but in America it just seems like it’s becoming less and less. I hate having lunch with people. Not you, we had a nice lunch today.

Elizabeth: I was like we just ate together like 20 minutes ago!

Gene: It was very, very nice. It was good talking, but in general, I hate going out to lunch with people because I’m so… whatever I’m doing during the day, lunch time is my 30 minutes where I can be on my own and it’s what I use to read the paper, or look through the news and whatever.

Elizabeth: Plus you work at home, so the thought of, “Oh god, I’ve gotta really leave my house?”

Gene: Yeah, well, no. When I’m around, even though I work from home I’m out and about at clients and all that, but I mean I structure my day where I’m meeting different clients. Unless I’m there for a whole day where I’m leaving at 11:30 and going to the next client at 1:30 just to give myself a break where I can just be on my own and decompress. I don’t like, when I go out to lunch with people I don’t normally like it very much. Do you?

Elizabeth: But if a client calls you.

Gene: Oh, of course I would. Yeah, yeah.

Elizabeth: Yeah, and you’re like, “Ugh. I have to go to lunch.”

Gene: Yeah, really. Normally if I’m gonna meet a client, I like to make it like it’s not a sociable kind of thing. I’ll meet you at your offices so we can meet about what you’re doing about your system, I can give you some advice. Or if you want to get together for coffee before or after, that’s fine.

It’s funny, I have a really good client that I see frequently a few times a month, and they always make fun of me because they always invite me out to lunch with them, and I accept one out of a hundred times.

Elizabeth: Are these the brothers?

Gene: Yeah. These are the brothers, I’ve mentioned them before. They always invite me out to lunch, and one out of a hundred times… and I love these guys, I love this client, but I’m there from 8 in the morning until noon, and then I usually leave at that point and I can’t wait to just go and have a sandwich on my own and just not have to deal.

Elizabeth: That’s because you’re an introvert.

Gene: I’m an introvert. Yeah.

Elizabeth: Even thought it sounds like Gene is an extrovert, but introverts get a lot of energy from spending time by themselves.

Gene: Yeah.

Elizabeth: You need to recharge.

Gene: Yeah, I do. Some people love being around other people.

Elizabeth: They get energy from being with people.

Gene: I’m not saying that my answer’s by any means the right answer. I think everybody… you do what you want to do.

Elizabeth: Do you think it’s good to have lunch with clients once in a while?

Gene: Sure! Of course! I think it’s great to be able to. I envy clients of mine who have lunch with their customers or are sociable and can actually go out there and knock it around and be that way. I envy that personality.

The more personal connections you make with your customers, I’m telling you, it just goes such a long way.

Elizabeth: What about coffee? Or an after work drink or something?

Gene: Coffee I’ll do. Dinner, like never. Dinner is, forget that. People don’t like to have dinner anyway, I’ve found, because people’s families are coaching their kid’s teams or whatever. Yeah, I’ll go have coffee as well, but I’m telling you my clients are busy.

They really are. They’re kind of running around so I would have coffee with a client if we have something to talk about.

Elizabeth: If you wanted to get out of the office or something.

Gene: Yeah.

Elizabeth: What about with your employees?

Gene: Yeah. We do meet. That’s something that we do do, because everybody’s out working around a project, so it’s kind of the only opportunity I can really get to see them.

Elizabeth: So you’re not like, “Oh god. I have to have coffee with Cory.”

Gene: God, no! Oh, no, not at all! No, no, no. Actually, I try to do that.

Of course, me being the cheapskate, penny-pinching person that I am, every hour that I take of Kelsey is a chargeable hour I’m taking away from our client, you know what I mean? I have to always balance that. Having lunch with the people that work with me, to me, is a better use of my time than having lunch with a client, because it’s the people that work for me that are interfacing the most with clients, and if they’re happy and they’re jazzed… they’re my investment. I’d rather them go out there and say the good word.

Elizabeth: Yeah. Definitely. Okay, we will be right back with our question. This is about taking vacations as a small business owner.

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QUESTION: Do I Have to Take a Vacation?

And we’re back. Our question is from Peter H. in Francisville, Louisiana, and he’s a videographer. Peter writes:

“I’m a videographer mainly for weddings, and I have never taken a vacation. If I’m not working, I’m not getting paid, but everyone keeps telling me that I need time off. Now before you say ‘take a vacation in the off season’, please understand that I don’t have an off-season. I’m booked just about every weekend. What should I do? Really I’m just looking for you to validate me by saying vacations aren’t that important.”

Well, I’m not a business owner, so I’m sure Gene is going to have a better answer for you, but I will say, you gotta take a vacation.

Gene: Yeah!

Elizabeth: What if you just went Monday to Wednesday? For a couple days.

Gene: Well, let me ask you a question first of all.

First of all, Peter, define “vacation.” Peter’s not here, so Elizabeth, I’ll ask you. You have a definition of vacation, what’s your definition of a vacation?

Elizabeth: It’s not working.

Gene: Okay. For how long?

Elizabeth: A long weekend could be a vacation to me.

Gene: Okay.

Elizabeth: I mean, I think generally when people think of a vacation they think of one week, but I think with the economy the way it is now, and younger people wanting to travel more and work in different places, a couple days could be a vacation.

Gene: Listen, by the time I’m off two or three days I start going nuts. Yeah, I mean different people have…

Elizabeth: But you work on vacation.

Gene: I do! I work even when I’m on vacation, but I balance it out, but my work isn’t the same as Peter. He’s a videographer, he’s gotta be on site at a wedding or at a whatever. So, for starters, Peter, are you happy? If you’re working 7 days a week and you’re doing what you’re doing, and you’re enjoying it, putting aside the fact that you’re making money at it, which we all enjoy doing; are you happy? Is that where you want to be? Are you thinking while you’re working, “Geez, I wish I was lying on a beach somewhere.” Or, “I wish I was on a cruise somewhere.” But dude, if you’re happy working 7 days a week, this is your life, not my life, and not Elizabeth’s life. Do what makes you happy. And there’s nothing wrong with not taking a vacation.

But don’t let me hear that you’re feeling like you’re burned out. You’re so tired, or you’re so stressed, or you’re running around, because then I’m gonna say to you, “Well, then clearly you’re not entirely happy with what you’re doing. You need some time off.” To decompress.

It’s your decision, decide what you want to do, but I don’t want to make anybody feel bad if they don’t take vacations. By the way, your employees should be forced to take vacations, because that’s the basic internal control for any business. Everybody’s gotta take a vacation because whenever there’s a fraud, you always find that out when somebody’s away on vacation.

Elizabeth: Someone’s away on vacation.

Gene: But you, as the boss, that decision is entirely up to you. You, Elizabeth, you come from a corporate mindset. You work at a company.

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Gene: And you’re like, “I’m getting my vacation, man. I’m gonna take my vacation.” In fact it would be weird, here at The Hartford, if you didn’t take…

Elizabeth: A lot of people leave vacation time on the table every year, though.

Gene: But, they leave some on … in fact, I wrote about that recently. That like 54% of Americans, there was a new study, don’t take all of their vacation times. That’s not unusual, but he’s asking about not taking any vacation? Don’t you think that’d be kind of weird if somebody in your group here at The Hartford didn’t take any vacation.

Elizabeth: No. In fact…

Gene: That’d be kind of strange.

Elizabeth: We kind of bully into taking vacation.

Gene: Yeah.

Elizabeth: Someone’s like, “It’s time for you go away for a little while.”

Gene: Yeah. There’s a lot of reasons why you want… plus if your coworker’s like, “Please take a vacation, we need a break from you for a week,” you go away.

Elizabeth: I love all of my coworkers.

Gene: Yeah, of course you do. When you work at a company, you have that culture, that mindset of, “Hey! It’s a benefit,” and people take it.

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Gene: You look weird if you don’t take it. If you’re running your own business and you’re really enjoying what you do.

Elizabeth: Yeah. I mean, I always think there’s people in corporate America that think they can’t take a vacation because then everything’s gonna fall apart when they’re gone,

Gene: Oh, bologna.

Elizabeth: But that never happens.

Gene: No. No. The world keeps turning on. Now you know, in Peter’s case, he’s a videographer. Just like all of us running businesses, if he’s away for too much, not only could his business fall off, but also he’s gonna be losing some opportunities and that stinks because we hate walking away from those opportunities.

Elizabeth: Now what would happen if you took two weeks off and didn’t work while you were… didn’t look at your email, nothing. What would happen?

Gene: I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t do it. I mean, I actually couldn’t be away from email for two weeks because not only would things not get done, because I’m the bottleneck in a lot of projects. I’ve gotta make decisions.

Elizabeth: Ugh. It’s always the boss who wastes everyone’s time.

Gene: Yup. It’s always the way. And then also, I would probably miss some opportunities. Somebody that reaches out, “Hey, Gene, I’m looking into getting a CRM system,” and I’m not replying to them? I’d shoot myself in the head.

Elizabeth: Someone else could read your emails for you.

Gene: Yeah, I guess, but we’re too small to do that. We don’t have the resource to do that. I couldn’t even imagine… plus, I gotta tell you something, Elizabeth. People ask me about my schedule. I’m busy. I get up at 5 in the morning, I do a lot of writing throughout the day. I really like being busy. Like you were saying, “Yeah, Gene, hey you do work when you’re on vacation,” or whatever. That’s therapeutic for me. I know that you’re looking at me like I’m insane, but even…

Elizabeth: Okay, next episode we’re gonna have a therapist in here.

Gene: Yeah, it’s weird, but even my wife is totally cool with it… and I can talk and hang out. I bring my laptop with me to the pool, and I’m replying to emails while I’m out there, she’s reading a book. And I don’t do it the whole day, I do it for like an hour or so.

Elizabeth: Oh, okay. I thought that your vacations worked that you got up, worked for like an hour, then went to the pool.

Gene: I do.

Elizabeth: I didn’t realize you were bringing your laptop.

Gene: Sometimes I’ll bring my laptop to the pool if I want to check on emails. I won’t work.

Elizabeth: Do you get weird looks from people?

Gene: No. I really don’t. And the other thing is, when I work when I’m on vacation, and again different people, different business owners do different things, I usually don’t start new things.

Elizabeth: Oh, yeah.

Gene: I don’t work on any proposals or agreements or contracts or whatever. I don’t do those kinds of stuff. It’s email.

Elizabeth: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Gene: I’m usually keeping up on email.

Elizabeth: I completely understand business owners checking their email on vacation.

Gene: Yeah.

Elizabeth: I think it’d be weird to bring like, “I’m gonna finish my strategy deck.”

Gene: Yeah. That’s not something…

Elizabeth: At the pool. That’s weird.

Gene: That’s not something that I would be doing. Again, it gets back to Peter’s original question, should he be taking vacation or not. I just say, “Dude, you decide what makes you happy, okay? Life is short.”

Elizabeth: Yeah. If you’re okay not doing that, I mean. The thing is you can just have one weekend where you don’t book a wedding or any other event.

Gene: It’ll kill him.

Elizabeth: But…

Gene: It’ll kill him. I know the feeling. It’ll kill him. And then his competitor’s gonna book it and then his competitor gets the next job. It’ll kill him. He’s gotta deal with that.

Elizabeth: Alright, we’ll be right back with our Word of Brilliance.


Elizabeth: Alright, we’re back with our Word of Brilliance. Know what’s weird? We haven’t talked about our dogs in a while.

Gene: I know, and your dog is so sweet now. Your dog is behaving. Your dog is taking… your dog is okay now? Being left alone?

Elizabeth: Oh no, she’s still has separation anxiety.

Gene: Oh gosh. Unbelievable.

Elizabeth: It’s never… I actually left her alone on Sunday and planned a whole girl’s day out with some of my friends. We drove to the Connecticut shoreline, which is an hour away.

Gene: That’s nice.

Elizabeth: She barked the entire time. We went to a winery called Saltwater Farm Vineyard, they’re a small business, and we sat down with our glasses of rosé looking out over the vineyard and I got a call from the security at my building…

Gene: Because the dog was barking.

Elizabeth: Saying, “We’re getting complaints that your dog is barking.”

Gene: Why won’t you get the dog one of those collars that buzz when they bark?

Elizabeth: Because they’re mean.

Gene: My mom, 76 year old woman, she got a dog and she is… it was a rescue and the dog has been barking when she’s out, and she got complaints. She thought the same thing, mean. I’m like, “Mom, number one it’s a dog. Number two it’s a rescue. It’s a rescue dog. This dog is living in luxury. Your dog has the greatest life in the world. You love this dog, you’re smothering this dog, you spoil it. Your dog lives in a wonderful place. He’s got a great life for a dog. Okay, so you get the collar so when you bark it gives you a little bit of a shock and then he stops barking. Life is good. He’s a dog. And it would make it much better, not only for you, but for your neighbors and whatever. It’s a dog!” Right? It’s not cruel.

Elizabeth: Also.

Gene: He’s got a great life.

Elizabeth: I want to say I have employed so many small business with this issues. Because I’ve used trainers to work on this. I’ve used different food. I’ve tried different …

Gene: Try the collar thing and see, and the other thing I’m gonna tell you is that what she found with her dog, Tito, by the way. She named the dog after her favorite…

Elizabeth: Vodka?

Gene: Vodka, yeah. It’s her favorite vodka. Vodka martinis, she has a lot of them. It buzzed the dog or whatever, gave it a little shock. It was like three or four times, and then the dog stopped barking.

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Gene: Then the dog was like… So it’s not like it’s all the time, and it worked for her. The dog is a happy happy dog. Just as happy as your dog is. It’s a dog.

Elizabeth: How old is that dog?

Gene: About 6? 5 or 6.

Elizabeth: 6 years old?

Gene: Yeah. Like I said, it was a rescue.

Elizabeth: Your mom also had to put up a fence for the dog, right?

Gene: Oh! She spent thousands on the stupid dog. She never had a dog before in her life. She had to put a thing in her kitchen, and then her balcony. Then the dog was peeing … she’s had to do all sorts of things… now the dog was biting people.

Elizabeth: Oh my gosh!

Gene: Yes. It’s a little dog, it’s a little, I forget the kind.

Elizabeth: Chihuahua?

Gene: No. It’s a, I forget the breed.

Elizabeth: Yorkie?

Gene: I don’t even know. It’s white. White with curls.

Elizabeth: Now has your dog met this dog?

Gene: Yeah.

Elizabeth: How do they get along?

Gene: They get along great. In fact, we’re taking her dog. She’s going to Cuba next week and we’re taking…

Elizabeth: Oh wow!

Gene: I know, and we’re taking her dog for a week. The dog stayed with us before, and gets along great with my dog, not so great with our cat. That’s a whole other story.

Elizabeth: Alright, let’s talk about your Word of Brilliance.

Gene: My Word of Brilliance today is, Doritos.

Elizabeth: Oh my gosh.

Gene: Here’s the reason why.

Elizabeth: Delicious snack food?

Gene: I love Doritos. I’m a big Doritos fan, and the reason why I bring up Doritos is because, and I wrote about this a few weeks ago. I wrote about Whole Foods.

Elizabeth: Okay.

Gene: Whole Foods has been struggling of late.

Elizabeth: Really?

Gene: Profitability-wise. Yeah. They’ve been having some… they’re not… I mean, they’ve been struggling. Struggling with growth, struggling with profitability, and I was asked by my editor to write about it. I thought about it, and I said, “I don’t shop at Whole Foods.” There’s a big Whole Foods near me, and I don’t shop there. And the reason I don’t shop at Whole Foods is because they don’t sell Doritos. I love…

Elizabeth: They have a ton of junk food there.

Gene: It’s not as good, and I like Doritos. They don’t sell a lot of the stuff that I like.

Elizabeth: Okay.

Gene: Right?

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Gene: You can’t go to Whole Foods and buy the kinds of foods… ’cause I eat some healthy foods and some junky foods.

Elizabeth: Maybe you should write a food diary for us. For small businesses.

Gene: You don’t even want to know what I eat. What I eat, you want to do the opposite.

But the point with Whole Foods was that there are people that love Whole Foods. A lot of people responded to what I wrote. People were angry. People were like, “Well, it’s a healthy… ” whatever. Okay, yes it is a healthy, whole foods, whatever, but they’re struggling. They’re not, you know. The writing is on the wall, you have to change it up a little bit, and maybe…

Elizabeth: I’m sure they will. They’re a very smart company.

Gene: I hope so. As a business yourself, if you are running a business that’s either not profitable or not as profitable as you’d like it to be, or once was profitable and is becoming not as profitable, you gotta change it up. That might even involve changing your model.

It might even change a little bit of your mission. I mean you have to compromise a little bit if you want to stay in business, because it’s just a business. If Whole Foods were to say, “Yes, we’re all about health, and we’re gonna make sure we are the leader in providing healthy foods. But, sure we’re also gonna provide for our customers like Gene who is happy dying early.”

Elizabeth: Get those Doritos.

Gene: “We’ll have the Doritos available. It’s fine for them to do that, but for our customers that want healthy stuff, we’re gonna be the leader there.”

Suddenly, now they’re attracting customers like me into their store, and they can maybe still have a balance, and grow from that. The lesson is from Doritos. If your model isn’t working very well, rather than being stubborn and bullheaded about it, maybe tweak the model a little bit and change it up a little bit. Compromise a little bit, if that means bringing in more customers.

Elizabeth: How do you feel about their pricing? Because everyone thinks they’re so much more expensive than other grocery stores. They’re actually not.

Gene: They’re not. No.

Elizabeth: They’ve done studies on the generic brands, their Whole Foods, I think it’s called 365 brand.

Gene: Yeah.

Elizabeth: Fruits and vegetables, meats, they’re not that much more expensive.

Gene: They’re really not. Whole Foods is a great store. It really is. The quality of foods there are great. The one near me has this whole prepared foods, it’s great.

Elizabeth: See, that’s where I think they’re succeeding. Because that is the future of the food industry. Is that people aren’t gonna grocery shop, they’re just gonna get take away foods. Cooking has been on the decline for the past 40 years. People just want to walk in, get a rotisserie chicken, get some sides, and leave.

Gene: But the issue is again that they’re still limiting a lot of stuff that people buy for their daily… accessories for your bathroom, paper towels, or things you find in a super market. You know what I mean?

Name brands that people are familiar with that they don’t offer. I think that just makes people say, “Well, I’m just gonna go to the regular super market because I can get all that stuff.”

Elizabeth: Do you know how Trader Joe’s is doing?

Gene: That I don’t know. I know a lot of people near me shop, there’s a Trader Joe’s as well and people love it. People love it.

Elizabeth: People are… about Trader Joe’s.

Gene: It’s very inexpensive.

Elizabeth: And they don’t have any brands that are available anywhere else.

Gene: No, they do not.

Elizabeth: That’s all their own

Gene: It seems like you can’t do a full shop there, either.

Elizabeth: No.

Gene: We have a supermarket near us, we live in town, in Philly, but grocery stores themselves – that’s a whole other topic for another day. Not a great business.

Elizabeth: Alright.

Gene: Doritos.

Elizabeth: We will be back with another episode in a couple days.

Gene: See ya soon.

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