x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Time to give yourself a break

The Life: A couple of SME owners share tips on how to go on a vacation and not worry about losing clients or crisis management.

Anilesh Kumar of Levtech Consulting takes time off at least twice a year but never for more than a week at a time. Jeff Topping / The National
Anilesh Kumar of Levtech Consulting takes time off at least twice a year but never for more than a week at a time. Jeff Topping / The National

Meghna Kothari and her family never went on holiday while she was growing up.

Her father, Pradeep Kothari, a businessman from India, was too busy setting up his trading company In-Style.

Now 26, Ms Kotahri owns a small marketing and advertising firm called McCollins Media in Dubai and she plans to take her first proper holiday this month.

"I have finished all client projects," says Ms Kothari, adding the run-up to her seven-day trip to South Africa involved diligent planning.

Finding the time to go on a holiday is one of the many problems that vex small to medium-enterprise (SME) owners. Fear of losing business if they stay away for more than a week and the difficulty of managing any emergency situations during a holiday are just some of the reasons.

Only about 46 per cent owners of the 500 SMEs surveyed last year in the United States by the American Express Open Small Business Vacation Monitor confirmed they would take a summer holiday.

But not getting away from it all can seriously damage your health and business.

"If the SME owners do not take leave, they will become jaded," says Harshit Jain, a former banker and an adjunct faculty of business and management at University of Wollongong in Dubai.

"[Also] from a business continuity point of view, the owners need a to build a second line of succession in whom they need to develop trust; they can do so by taking a vacation and empower the [employees]."

In the UAE, where almost 80 per cent of the non-oil economy is accounted for by SMEs, taking a holiday can be difficult. Anilesh Kumar, 30, who owns the IT services firm Levtech Consulting and the marketing agency Frequency Advertising, tries to mix business with pleasure and manages to go away twice a year but never for more than a week at a time.

"Typical sales cycle [of companies] is three to six months," he says. "If you take a leave of 15 to 20 days you pretty much put yourself out of the race."

Unless he has to attend a family event, Mr Kumar usually takes his holidays during Ramadan and Christmas.

"Work pressure is least and you have minimum client expectation," he says. "A lot of the clients themselves go travelling during this time."

Identifying staff in the company who can handle daily operations is crucial. "I brief them before I leave so that I can quickly engage people on ground," Mr Kumar says.

"In an Excel sheet I mark responsibilities and attach all the documents such as proposals and previous email correspondence."

He generally has two key staff at Frequency and four at Levtech.

At the moment, Mr Kumar is working with a large retail client on three IT projects and he briefed his Levtech account manager before he left for Bali for a week last month.

Telling customers about who to approach in the owner's absence and being available in case of crisis is another important aspect.

"I have already informed all my clients," says Ms Kothari, who has 26 customers. "If there is disaster, I would fly back but I like giving employees freedom."

A timetable while on holiday ensures Mr Kumar's business does not lose out on clients.

"I go through emails either at the start of the day or end of the day and spend half an hour on my laptop each day," he says.

Young SME owners have their own ways to handle employees and clients but both Mr Kumar and Ms Kothari agree on one thing: the need to take a holiday.

"My industry is a creative one, and I need a breather," says Ms Kothari.

"I tell my mom: 'I will take a holiday for Dh20,000 [US$5,445] and come back with a million-dollar idea."

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