Most business owners know the struggle too well: They work themselves tirelessly, day in and day out. And nights, too, if we’re being really honest. They have their hands in everything and know every nuanced everything of their business, arguably better than anyone else. Still, they know they need a vacation; they know they need a break.
But they’re business owners: It’s their job to run the day-to-day operations of their business – their baby – and much like a parent, they can’t imagine leaving it in the care of anyone else.
After all, who could possibly love and care for this baby as well as they could?
They just need to have a little faith. Hope, even. At least that’s what the Mileses did.
Bryan and Shannon Miles had their Virtual Assistant Hope Ward. And with Hope at the helm, they took a three-month family sabbatical last summer.
We’ll give you a minute to process ‘... a three-month family sabbatical.’
And it all started with one out-of-office auto-reply.
WARNING: The following may make you uncomfortable. Anxious, even.
Because it’s not often when executives or business owners share messages like the one below, and we apologize in advance for any discomfort or temporary paralysis it may cause.
Here goes. Godspeed.
From: B. Miles
Sent: Wednesday, July 3, 2019 12:54 PM
To: John Smith
Subject: Sabbatical Out of Office … Re: Can we connect?
Thanks for your email.
I am excited to announce that my wife and I, after years of company growth, are taking a sabbatical with our kids. As a result, I will be out of the office, not checking my emails until Tuesday, September 3rd, 2019. In our absence, our COO will be acting in our place while we are away.
During our sabbatical, all emails will be forwarded to my amazing and capable assistant as they arrive in my inbox. She will review these emails throughout the day, but if your question is urgent, please reach out to her directly in a separate email.
Please note: ALL messages will be deleted from this email account as they arrive.
- So I don’t return to an inbox full of messages that have already been resolved.
- So I am not tempted to check email while I am gone.
- So I can fully disconnect and be present for my wife and kids.
If for some reason your issue is not resolved before I return, please resend your message after Tuesday, September 3rd, 2019.
Feel free to take a moment to compose yourself and reach for the nearest paper bag if you find yourself short of breath.
So, is your jaw off the floor now? Good. Because while this is an exceptional story, it doesn’t have to be a Miles exclusive.
Here, we sat down with the miracle worker herself – VA extraordinaire Hope Ward – to have her share her secrets.
First, the basics: Why did you become a VA?
“Ironically enough, I did not select this role, per se, nor did I set out on a path to find it – it kind of found me.
“But, I do 100-percent feel that it is a calling, and while I did not necessarily seek it out, it found me for a reason, and I fully believe it's what I was meant to do.
“I like to be around business-minded people; I like to be challenged to think critically and try to create an environment of growth and opportunity. I have been fortunate in my roles as an assistant to be able to work with leaders who have welcomed me into that space with them and allowed me to have a true hands-on experience and infinite learning opportunities along the way.”
How long have you been with BELAY?
“I began my career with BELAY as a Relationship Manager – now known as a Client Success Consultant – in October of 2017. [And] in December of 2018, I moved into my current role supporting Bryan and Shannon Miles.”
What do you love most about your job?
“I love the variety of different tasks, activities, and subject matters with which I get to be involved. A lot is asked of me, but a lot is also entrusted, and I sincerely appreciate and value that trust and responsibility.”
Now, let’s give the people what they want: How did you help Bryan and Shannon prepare for their epic vacation – or sabbatical in your case?
“Our preparation for [their] sabbatical actually started about six months out.
“We had a lot of dialogue – bi-weekly meetings leading up to the date – about how we would need to prepare and what things would need to be paused or redirected during their time away.
“We created a comprehensive, detailed list with an associated timeline for each item and who would be responsible for taking that over during the sabbatical. We had a lot of discussion around what-ifs, and if/how the client would like to be notified and/or brought in if needed.
“We created a short, very well-defined list of scenarios that we all agreed would be shared immediately if any of those should arise in their absence.”
What did you hope to accomplish with the list of hypothetical scenarios?
“Any leader can have a lot more peace and confidence to step away if they know they have already identified the parameters and/or non-negotiable reasons/scenarios in which to alert them while they are gone.”
And while they were gone, how did you support them?
“My day-to-day activities while they were away shifted into a lot more filtering and directing communication since they were not seeing anything that came to their email that I was managing.
“Prior to their departure, we had developed a system for what types of information should be forwarded if needed. The key to the communication being successful and effective during their absence hinges completely on the out-of-office response that they chose to set for their emails while they were away.
“It was completely honest and heartfelt, and this method ensured that anyone and everyone who reached out to them via email during their time away received an immediate response from them – crafted by them – explaining their decision to take a sabbatical and who they had empowered to respond on their behalf. Genius!”
What challenges or obstacles arose in their absence – if any – and how did you handle them?
“Luckily, there were very few – if any – situations that came about during their time away that required me to involve them.
“Our extensive preparation ahead of time really paid off, and we all knew who was responsible for what. So, we rallied around that plan and each did our part and essentially never missed a beat!
“That is not to say that I did not have any questions come up during that time, but I utilized my internal resources along with my gut instincts and best judgment and it all seemed to work out great!”
Absolutely no surprise that nothing came up with all that preparation. How would you advise other VAs to successfully do the same?
“Building trust is key – and often takes time.
“But, proving that you are trustworthy is easy. Gaining trust with your client will bring confidence to the relationship on both sides. It is not always about knowing or having all the answers as much as it is about showing that you can be resourceful and go find the answers.
“Be an extension of your client so that they can feel confident in your abilities and empower you. Take pride in being able to support them so that they can willingly step away with peace of mind.”
What would you want our BELAY clients to know about leaning on their VAs to go on vacation?
“Identify and articulate any major situations and reasons that the client would need or want to be alerted immediately so that there are very clear parameters and expectations.
“Practice some if/then scenarios with each other so that you can both feel extremely confident in what would need to happen in those cases and how it would be handled. This can actually be a pretty fun exercise.
“Having an out-of-office response from the client explaining their decision to step away and not be available is a game-changer and even gives the reader more confidence in the person that is being empowered to communicate on behalf of the client in their absence.”
What is one thing about what you do that makes you excited to get up tomorrow and do it again?
“I feel very valued and appreciated for what I do, and that absolutely continues to encourage and excite me every single day!
“I feel a huge sense of responsibility, and that drives me to want to ensure that it all happens the way that it needs to. I want my clients to have the utmost confidence in not only my capabilities to perform my job but also in my ability to care for their businesses in the same ways that they do.”