I'm afraid I can't talk to you today

I'm sure you've all received out-of-office / automatic replies to your emails - you send an email to someone and instantly an email comes back telling you they're out of the office until XX.

These messages help manage expectations when you're not around to respond to messages promptly and they can also give alternative contact details or a link to a FAQ page where answers to common questions can be found.

We live in a time when instant access to people and information is expected but it puts a lot of pressure onto a business owner and their team to always be available to everyone and in the end, to give quality service, you can't be instantly available at all times or you never get a chance to do whatever the job is you're supposed to be doing.

To allow yourself some time and space, particularly if you're out of the office for a meeting/event or on holiday, it's good to decide before hand how often you are going to check your email or if someone else will be dealing with enquiries/support during that time. When you know what the plan is, you simply need to tell everyone else and an automatic response to an email is just the thing. Here's a quick video to show you how to set up an Out Of Office response in Outlook and Gmail.


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Don't forget to plan your business holiday as well

With the holiday season approaching I thought it might be useful today to go through 3 things you should do prior to your holiday to ensure you have a peaceful break:

1. Speak to a phone answering company about holiday cover for your phones 

You could just divert your office phone to your mobile but that means that you have to make sure you have your phone with you at all times and keep checking to see if you've missed any calls.  That's doesn't make for a relaxing break that gives you an opportunity to switch off. 

It's much better for you and for your customers if your calls are answered professionally and a pre-planned response is given.  That might mean that you agree to check your emails once a day to respond to any urgent telephone message or it might mean that customers are asked to email a support email address with their query, for response within 24 hours.  Whatever you decide, you are able to enjoy your break without the constant worry of dealing with phone calls.

There are many call answering services available but if you want help to find one then get in touch and I can point you in the right direction.

2.  Create a schedule now for everything that needs to be completed before your holiday

It's one thing to have a long To Do list of things that need completing before you break-up but it's another to know how you're actually going to fit them in! 

Whether you use the task list in your email client, a project management tool such as Trello or Teamwork, or you simply want to print off a blank calendar for July/August (or the appropriate month leading up to your holiday), it's a good idea to schedule when you are going to do the things on your To Do list so you don't end up in a mass panic on the last afternoon. 

Bear in mind that things often take longer than you imagine so when you're planning the time slots for each task, realistically think about what you have to do and how long you need, planning the tasks round your other commitments.  If you're struggling to fit everything in you may need to prioritise and you might find Steven Covey's Urgent/Important matrix useful for this.

3.  Automate and pre-schedule what you can

I love automation - the magic that makes things happen without anyone having to do anything - and this is a great time to get some of that set-up and working so you have less to worry about during your holiday. 

Here's some ideas about what you might sensibly be able to automate in the next couple of weeks (although there'll probably be more that could be done in the longer term):

- Set-up 'Repeat Invoices' on Xero to ensure your invoices get sent out on time even though you're not working.
- Set-up an Out of Office / Automatic Reply on your email to inform people that you're on holiday and when they can expect a response from you.
- Pre-schedule your social media posts using a tool such as HootSuite.
- If people often request a piece of information such as a brochure, add a form to your website so they can do this and automatically receive a PDF download.

I'm sure you've heard the old adage, "fail to plan, plan to fail" so make sure that you don't fail to plan for a relaxing holiday!


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Ridiculous Photo Alert!

If you are a regular reader of my weekly emails you will know that I don’t usually sell anything, they are just short messages that will hopefully provoke some thought on topics that may be relevant to you as well as me.

I have to admit that this week I am going to tell you about a really useful service, but only because it links into what we talked about in last week’s email - getting a good break from your business during the holiday season.

b2ap3_thumbnail_July-29th---Beach-Genie---small.jpgIf you remember, the article I referred you to said that your business will actually benefit from you getting a proper break and recharging, but I suspect that even if you manage to make a space in your diary for a holiday, you still won’t leave your phone behind.

In case you’re wondering about the ridiculous photo, it is me hidden behind the delightful glasses and I am posing as The Beach Genie. 

The Beach Genie is the holiday cover package provided by my telephone call handling service - The Office Genie. It is ideally suited for small business owners whilst they are on holiday. Whilst you are lying on a beach or hiking up a mountain the Genies will keep your customers happy and your business running. You will be amazed what they can do for you, they go one step further than simple message taking.

You can contact the Genies direct on 01604 765475, ask for Jacqui and tell her Sarah Gathercole told you to call! Prices start from £50 for the first week including 20messages then £10 per day including 4 messages.

I hope that helps you at least consider having a proper break from the business whilst you’re away and normal service will be resumed next week, I promise.

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