Keeping a business going while on vacation
Next May, Greg Butterick is going to take four months off work to bike across the country. But while he's pedaling from the Empire State Building to the Golden Gate Bridge, he said, he needs to be sure his IT business is also rolling along smoothly.
His Babylon-based company, Butterick Computer Consulting Inc., has three technicians on staff to help other businesses with their technology needs, like setting up computer systems, networking phones and troubleshooting.
Butterick, 49, has been biking since he was 16, and he said he'd always dreamed about riding cross-country. But as a small-business owner, he said he knew: "If I want to do this, I have to seriously plan for it. You can't just up and go."
It's not unusual for small-business owners to have trouble taking a vacation. Manta, a Columbus, Ohio-based online community devoted to small-business issues, released a survey in July showing that nearly half of the 1,200 small-business owners polled said they had no time for a summer vacation this year.
"Most small businesses have fewer than 10 employees," said Greg Garrick, Manta's vice president of marketing and communications. The owner's being gone "is a significant impact to the company."
Butterick started his company in 1995, and revenue is now approaching $1 million a year. But in those 17 years he has taken only "one solid week and a half [off] for a regular vacation with my wife," he said. "Otherwise, it's day trips here and there, because you have to have coverage."
Prep staff for your absence
Butterick knew that if he wanted to take his bike tour, he needed to figure out ways to keep clients happy and well-served, and ways to ensure a steady revenue stream while he's away. So he turned to business consultant Jack Signorelli to help him prepare the business for his extended absence next summer.
"It's not uncommon to find business owners who haven't taken more than four days in a row off in 20 years," said Signorelli, who has a Northport coaching company called Soundview Business Solutions. "They think everything needs to be done by them. Getting them to step back and work on their business instead of in their business is a constant struggle."
Signorelli helped pinpoint two keys to maintaining the business while Butterick travels: He needed to train an employee to take on a management role, and to implement a series of systems and processes to make his business easier to run remotely.
Butterick identified one of his employees as the best person to act as a manager: Harris Leslie, a technician who has worked for him for nearly four years. Butterick is teaching Leslie where all the critical information about the business is stored, and he's passing along relevant details about clients. Butterick will send Leslie to an eight-week leadership-training course this fall to help prepare him for the extra responsibilities.
Keeping tabs while away
As for processes, Butterick has made several changes. Instead of relying on his own memory for passwords and other information, he's transferring all of his services to a secure cloud-based system, so clients' information can be made available to whichever technician is called on to work on a given account. And instead of just working on one-off projects, he has started offering annual contracts, to help keep revenue flowing in while he's away. He also hired a consultant to do his bookkeeping.
Perhaps most importantly, he's working with Signorelli to develop some key performance indicators: measurable benchmarks that he can keep tabs on while he's away to make sure all aspects of his business are chugging along as expected. Because even though he expects to disconnect while he's on his bike, Butterick does intend to stay in touch during the evenings, as long as he has wireless access.
"There is no totally checking out," he said.
AT A GLANCE
Name: Butterick Computer Consulting Inc., Babylon.
Founder-owner: Greg Butterick
Revenue: Approaching $1 million