Online Entrepreneurs: How to Take a Break (Without Breaking Your Business)
No matter the situation you find yourself in as an online entrepreneur that’s causing you to consider such a decision, it’s never an “easy” task to take an extended business break.
There’s so much guilt.
And SO many worries.
For instance, how can you take a “business sabbatical” — either full-time or part-time — and still make money (either a lot or a little)?
How do you continue to build followers and keep your blog alive, even if you’re not writing posts?
What should you know when it comes to taking care of client/customer service issues?
…Can you really take a break from business and still have anything at all to come back to? I mean, REALLY?
If this sounds like your kind of personal agony, I have some tips + ideas to share with you from my recent 4 month business break that just may help. 🙂
(And if you’re keen on discovering why I stepped back almost 100% from running Olyvia and what I’ve been doing all this time, you’ll find the details at the end of this post!)
HOW TO TAKE A BUSINESS BREAK — 5 THINGS THAT WILL HELP YOU STAY AFLOAT
1. Give extra prominence to your best passive income streams
You may or may not know just yet whether you’re taking a permanent or a temporary break from your biz, but in most cases you’ll still want to make money while you decide what’s next. To do this in a way that allows you the most freedom and rest, you’ll want to place a major focus on passive income.
First, take note of all the ways you currently make passive income (aside from ads): affiliate links, books/e-books, e-courses, stock photo packs, website themes, printables, membership libraries, etc.
From there, filter out what is most lucrative for you. What brings in the bulk of your monthly income without any special effort? For instance, you might have dozens of Amazon affiliate products featured around your website, but if your earnings from them are quite low overall, set them aside for now.
The same goes for premium priced e-courses that you can only sell with a lot of highly targeted work via your email list. (Unless you have a heroic email sequence already automated, of course!)
Once you have an idea of your 3-5 top performing passive income streams that can run entirely (or almost entirely) on their own, go through your site and remove — or minimize — everything else.
• If you utilize a sidebar, place big, beautiful graphics + links for 1-3 of your best-performers near the top. Take out all the others.
• For Resource/Favorite Tools pages, create a section at the top with your “must-haves.” Feature only a handful of your select passive income links in this section. (You might also consider giving them more prominence by making the graphics and/or text larger than the rest of the items on the page, putting in section dividers or giving that section a special background color, etc.)
• For Products/Course pages, do the same as above. Pick 1 product and/or 1 course that is your top seller and set it apart from all the rest. If you have time, add oomph by putting in (more) trust-building testimonials or reviews. (Depending on your circumstances and your brand, you might even try a small discount or special bundle price for the period where you’ll be stepping back.)
2. Refine your calls-to-action
You’ve heard it dozens of times from almost all online biz teachers: “The main goal of your website + blog is to get people on that email list!” And that’s true — as long as you’re able to sell via that email list.
However, when there comes a time where you can’t or won’t be using your email list as you should — yet you still need to have money coming in — I’m here to tell you that you CAN break this marketing rule.
What to do instead?
Direct people to your entry-level passive income products.
Leaving your standard email subscription boxes alone (ie: in your header area, sidebar, footer, etc.), work through a dozen or so well-trafficked blog posts and see where you can remove “Subscribe Now!” CTAs and content upgrades with a big, bold, direct call to “Buy ____ Now!”
Because you’ll be targeting a lot of fresh visitors who will have very little trust in your brand, this isn’t the place to push your $400 video workshop.
But if you have a lower cost item (less than ~ $30) that’s an ideal fit for that particular blog post topic (don’t try to sell something that is unrelated — it won’t work!), advertise it loud and clear with an eye-catching graphic and big purchase buttons. Plus, don’t forget to link to a sales page where they can learn about the item in greater depth (if available).
Other things you might do temporarily:
• Install a bold call-to-action “bar” that sits at the top of your website/blog and directs people to your best-selling passive income product. Try Hello Bar for this.
• Remove non-crucial main menu items so that it looks more like this:
ABOUT // [LINK TO SHOP, A SPECIFIC PRODUCT, OR RESOURCES/TOOLS PAGE] // BLOG
Move the other links — such as ‘Contact’ — to a secondary menu bar in your footer or sidebar.
• Change your social media bio links so that they point directly to a product page (or a resources/tools page that has affiliate links) instead of an email subscription landing page or your main website.
3. Set yourself up to be awesome in your inbox
Although you’re taking a break from your online business, I know that you’ve already guessed that it’s not a smart idea to remove yourself from your email inbox entirely.
All kinds of people, including your beloved clients or customers, are sure to be contacting you during your “time away” — and they’ll still desire (and have the right to) your epic service. 🙂
To make this quick and pain-free for you, prepare yourself (or a biz assistant/volunteer) with some pre-scripted phrases and paragraphs that you can reach for when an important email lands in your lap.
When you compile these, think: what are some anticipated questions or requests you might receive? What is the most common thing people contact you about? How will you need to turn down _______ while you’re taking your sabbatical?
Do know that you’ll often need to tweak your replies to suit the individual situation, but getting the bulk of your answers sorted out ahead of time will make customer service a breeze — while also protecting your reputation.
When/if you step back into full-time operation of your business, you don’t want to have to try to recover from the problems that arise from alienated customers or ignored biz inquiries!
If you’re not sure how to even start (or you simply just don’t have the time — #storyofmylife), I suggest grabbing an e-book/book to help you out. Mine is Pre-Scripted: The Small Biz Owner’s Mini-Guide To Building A Customer Service Script Database. It includes over 87 ready-to-use pro scripts that you can swipe (or modify), and they cover the most popular topics in online business:
You’re Inviting Input/Feedback
You Don’t Know The Answer
Someone Is Slow To Respond (…Or Goes Totally Rogue!)
Someone Is Experiencing Problems (ie: Technical Issues)
Someone Leaves A Critical Comment
You Want To Give A Word Of Appreciation
Someone Leaves You A Negative Review (ie: On Etsy)
Someone Wants Something They Can’t Have
Someone Is Frustrated…Or Furious
Someone Won’t Pay The Bills
You’re Turning Down Work
You’re Signing Off
You Want To Reassure + Build Trust
4. Tend (wisely) to your social media scheduling queue
Even if you’re not planning on working your business at all, it’s a big boon to you if you can maintain a minimal social media presence via some pre-scheduled posts. You don’t necessarily need to do this on ALL of your networks, though — you can choose what you think will benefit your brand most and go with only one if that seems best to you.
By doing this it will keep you in people’s minds, help you continue to attract new followers, support your blog traffic, and provide an opportunity for you to bring in some money. #allgoodthings
Twitter or Facebook
Tuesday: promote old blog post, product, affiliate product, or service
Thursday: share a helpful link or tip or quote
10 pins/week, with 3 being your own (aim for at least 1 of those 3 pins leading to a product/service/monetized e-course/etc.)
1 photo/week (every other week, you can also soft sell* a product/service/monetized e-course/affiliate product…)
If you can do a little more, try:
Twitter and/or Facebook
Tuesday: share a helpful link or tip
Wednesday: promote old blog post, product, affiliate product, or service
Friday: share a helpful link or tip or photo
30 pins/week, with 7 being your own (aim for at least 3 of those 7 pins leading to a product/service/monetized e-course/etc.)
2 photos/week (every so often you can soft sell* a product/service/monetized e-course/affiliate product)
* My favorite example of effective soft selling on Instagram is from byRegina:
5. Remain active in at least one online community
The whole point of stepping back from your business is to step back, right? I hear you! You don’t want to have to be tied to social media like it’s a pet. It takes a tremendous amount of work + energy, and if we’re honest here, it’s probably no small reason as to why you’re taking a break in the first place.
That said, hear me on this: if you can stick around in just ONE online community — whether that’s a Facebook Group, a Twitter chat, a biz forum, or a hopping blog combox — you’ll find it much, much easier to both maintain and jump back into your business if/when you choose.
Where do you love to spend your time most? Is there a core community that you’re in charge of? Pick that and yes, forget the rest.
A FEW MORE QUICK DO’S AND DON’TS
Do keep your email marketing service (ie: ConvertKit, Mailchimp, etc.) + social media schedulers + financial apps
Do cancel other non-essential monthly subscriptions, like stock photos/online photo editing apps/etc.
Don’t feel like you need to keep up with what other biz people are doing — use Unroll.Me to move newsletters out of view
Do let your followers know in advance that you’re taking a break, if you can (I didn’t and wish I had) — but don’t promise specific time-frames for returning if you aren’t absolutely sure
Do try to write a few blog posts or recruit some guest posts and queue them up for publishing throughout your break
↑ Don’t feel bad if you can’t
Don’t feel like it’s a “step backward” if you need to take on some minimal client work to help pay the bills
MY PERSONAL STORY: WHY I “QUIT” MY BUSINESS FOR 4 MONTHS
If you’ve read my fairly mortifying tell-all confession about my secret fears as an online entrepreneur (who also happens to be a single mom of three spirited munchkins), you know that over the months I’ve been getting tired.
One late evening I threw myself down on my bed in a state of what I now fondly refer to as Entrepreneurship-Induced Clarity Syndrome (officially: EICS) and thought to myself,
“I freaking love my business. I’m proud of what I’ve built. But the very last thing I want to do anymore is run this darn thing. If I could spend my day immersed in simply helping people instead of being the one who needs to run this whole wild show, I’d be so. much. happier.”
And so, I did the reverse of what nearly everyone else is trying to do in the blogosphere:
I intentionally (and quietly) went looking for a job working for ‘The Man.’
Only, the company I ended up choosing, after careful thought + reflection on my longtime experience with them, was a place so admirable that in my heart of hearts, I can’t think of them as The Man, nor my choice as a kind of “sellout.”
I chose to apply at Buffer.
I don’t mind telling all of the interwebs that my first application was a disaster. Though likely acceptable, if not desirable, at many places, it was everything Buffer is not: corporate-esque and terribly formal. Their classy + kind “thanks but no thanks” email was hardly a surprise!
But those who know me know that if I see value in something, I fight for it — and so I decided it was (more than) worth it to try again.
The next time I approached them without the usual dull trappings of the de-humanized, often pretentious American business culture. In essence, I chose to be honest, vulnerable, and completely myself. Flaws and all.
The gratitude I felt when I received an email in return asking me if I was up for answering another round of questions was such that I broke out in happy dance mode for at least a good 60 shameless seconds. 😉 #imsuchageek
From there I made it to a few more rounds of video interviews with Jenny and Carolyn, which in and of itself was an opportunity incredibly humbling, exciting, and pee-my-pants terrifying all at the same time. (Though I’m thrilled to report that I did not, in fact, pee my pants at any point.)
From what I understand Buffer can receive hundreds and hundreds of applications for a single position, so even to be asked to chat one-on-one with the genuinely lovely people there is sobering. I was (and continue to be) so very thankful.
In the end, however, I wasn’t hired for the position I had wanted. And while it was a hard thing, I don’t think it was a bad thing. The specific role I had applied for required a level of nerdy passion in an area that, while achievable over time, I wasn’t the best suited for right out of the gate.
And you know what?
I’d rather a company hire the best person for their customers as opposed to the could-be-the-best person, even if that means I’m the one who’s let down.
My expectations in my own business are no lower.
So, I still think it would be extraordinary to have the privilege to work long-term for Buffer one day, and hope that if the right opportunity opens up, I may be considered again. But time will tell, and I am okay with the wait. 🙂
And that’s the story of how I kept busy in April and May!
In June and July I was…
- Camping at Yellowstone National Park
- Camping at Mount Rushmore + Crazy Horse Memorial
- Eating s’mores
- Taking a train ride through the Black Hills
- Hiking + hunting mushrooms
- Losing the “Entrepreneur Fifteen” with Inside Out Training + Bender Fitness
- Picnicking at splash parks
- Working with a small handful of private clients on brand audits
- Hand-rolling sushi
- House and pet-sitting
- Tending to my little garden full of hot chilis, tomatoes, and herbs
- Reading: The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George / Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett / The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick / How To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie / Uprooted by Naomi Novik / The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro / The Customer Support Handbook by Sarah Hatter / Up next: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (eeeek!)
It’s been such a healing summer for me, but now I suppose it’s time to ask the inevitable question: what’s going to happen with Olyvia.co next?
The best answer to that is, I’m still figuring that out.
Despite being the Super Introvert that I am, I fiercely miss working with or among people. To help remedy this, I’m currently looking for a part-time position virtually or in my local community.
I also have this crazy dream where I open a beautiful bookstore-slash-coworking space, so we’ll see where that goes. 🙂
As far as Olyvia.co, I’m eager to keep it going — with conditions. I know now that I won’t ever be the entrepreneur who does joint venture webinars and emails people incessantly and seems to have some big ticket course to launch every other week. That’s not me, and not how I want to do business.
I’ll also refuse to return to the 16+ hour days where my health, house, and kids suffer. No, that will not be my life.
What Olyvia will be is a company fully dedicated to online customer service. In the short term, there are new customer service audits starting at $43. In the long term there will be straightforward, affordable digital goods for grab-and-go client/customer service and — tentatively — the opportunity to hire me to write service copy.
Beyond that, we’ll see what develops. I won’t make any promises beyond that whatever I put out there for you, I will make it as practically useful and financially reasonable as possible.
Now, if you have any questions for me — either about how to take a business break or my future plans — the floor is open to you. 😉 I’m happy to answer anything. If you’re up for it, please comment below — or shoot me a private email at firstname.lastname@example.org!