Truly unplug on vacation by upgrading your Out of Office (OOO) email auto-responder before you leave

Written by: Karl Sakas

When I onboard a new client, I enjoy seeing them inevitably “steal” my Out of Office email auto-responder.

Want to truly unplug when you’re away from your agency? It’s time to upgrade your auto-responder and make yourself “needed but not necessary.”

Upgrading your Out of Office (OOO) helps you finally unplug, because you won’t need to worry as much. It helps when you’re not “away,” too. You can enable your OOO to go heads-down for “working ON the business” activities.

Here’s a free Out of Office template—based on the one my clients frequently “steal”—for you to customize to your agency.

[Free Template] A Better OOO Auto-Responder for Agency Leaders

[SUBJECT] Limited email access —

Thanks for your message! I’m in meetings on Thursday and Friday.

1) Clients get first priority. If you’re a current Sakas & Company client experiencing an emergency, text or call me at <number> and I’ll follow up during a break.

2) If you’re a current client with a non-emergency situation, I’ll follow up by EOD Monday.

3) Not a client yet but want help fixing growing pains at your agency? Please contact me, and my team can recommend next steps. Based on current commitments, I’m accepting new clients to start in <month>.

4) Want help solving <problem>? Come to my next training webinar on <date>. Learn more here.

Otherwise, you’ll hear from me on Monday or Tuesday. Thanks!

–Automated Karl

Let’s look at why the template works.

Dissecting Why the OOO Template Works

Here’s my thought process behind the upgraded OOO template, to help you customize your version.

  1. I focus on meeting the recipient’s needs—what to expect, and when.
  2. I point people to alternate solutions—for instance, texting me for emergency help, self-scheduling a future call, or completing my sales pre-intake if they’re a prospective client.
  3. I intentionally segment the self-help options to link turnaround time and client loyalty. For instance, if you’re a client having an emergency, I will drop everything to help you. If you’re a prospective client, I’m glad to help—but you need to wait to join the inner circle.
  4. When possible, I share how the recipient benefits from my being away. (Not always possible, but sometimes the case.)
  5. I put my return date in bold. Because—let’s be real—that’s ultimately the one thing people care about. Don’t bury the lede.
  6. I often mention services the recipient may not currently use (like on-site visits or group training). This can help on upsells—for instance, your saying “I’m traveling for a client video shoot” reminds other clients you offer video services.
  7. Replying to a client (or other party) while your OOO is up conveys to them that they’re important. (Do this when you’re working, not while you’re on vacation!)
  8. Hyperlinks (to the conference you’re attending, for instance) let people learn more if they want to. And if they don’t care, they won’t click the link.
  9. In line with my company values, I preserve client confidentiality—I don’t say I’m “on-site at XYZ Agency.” I may mention the city if I’m traveling, but only if that won’t reveal the client’s identity.
  10. The “Automated Karl” signoff shows my sense of humor. I’m signing the email, while acknowledging that it’s not really me.

My OOO approach fits into my strategy of creating a truly “boutique” experience. It reflects my personality, manages the recipient’s expectations, and helps people solve problems without needing me immediately.

Think about how you might customize the template to fit your needs, and how to enlist your employees to participate.

Why It’s Better Than Your Current Auto-Responder

Put yourself in the shoes of someone emailing you. They want your help, and they’re hoping for a timely reply.

  • If they’re a prospective client, they want to reach you.
  • If they’re a client, they expect a fast response.
  • If they’re a reporter, they need a fast response (including your alternate press contact)… or they’ll move on to another expert.

Instead of merely saying “I’ll away ’til X date,” the template provides options, sets expectations, and conveys your personality.

Most recently, I used my auto-responder while on vacation to volunteer on a Dover Harbor train trip to Boston. It helped me unplug, while serving those who emailed me while I was away.

What about taking extended leave—for instance, more than a few weeks? Consider a call-to-action (CTA) asking people to re-send their email in the future. Declaring “email bankruptcy” can work if you make that part of the auto-responder. After all, people will follow up if they want to hear back… as long as they know the ball is in their court.

Creative Ideas for Subjects & Intros

Upgrading your Out of Office email auto-responder is all about customization. Here are some creative ideas to help you get started, particularly on the subject line and the intro sentence.

Subject line ideas for your OOO message

Subject lines are the first things people read. Here are auto-responder subject lines to consider:

  • Learning new techniques at INBOUND
  • Limited email access ’til <date>
  • { Recharging / In meetings / On-site / Team retreat } ’til <date>
  • Away for family emergency
  • Limited email access while traveling
  • Away on [maternity/paternity] leave ’til <date>

The idea is that you’re managing their expectations (without their even needing to open the auto-responder email), while sharing (when possible) how they might benefit from your being away.

You get to choose how much to share. I lean toward providing more info (for instance, that you’re on vacation instead of just “away”), since that helps clients and prospects see you as human. If your office is closed for several days, you might not want to publicize that to prospective burglars.

OOO Intro Ideas

Here are some intros I’ve used—to say when I’m back, but also to share something interesting about why I’m away (with a hyperlink, when appropriate).

  • “Thanks for your message! I’m in meetings between now and Friday afternoon, which means limited email access. I’m “back” on Monday, July 2.
  • “I’m currently on vacation (June 13-18) to attend my first Silent Meditation Retreat. It’s probably not a cult… but if you don’t hear from me next week, I may have misjudged things.”
  • “Thanks for your message! I’m on vacation until April 4th. (Australia, New Zealand, and Abu Dhabi)”
  • “Thanks for your message! I have limited email access between now and Wednesday afternoon, while I’m in Dallas for the NSA conference. (No, not that one—the National Speakers Association.)
  • “Thanks for your message! I’m on-site today (Tuesday & Wednesday) with a client.

“In meetings” is a powerful phrase—your recipient understands what that’s like. (You don’t need to say whether the meetings are internal or external.)

If you aren’t on vacation, consider updating the OOO each day or two to reflect what people should expect.

If I’m away longer, I customize the language to ensure the message works regardless of when someone reads it—empathy is part of creating a boutique experience.

Question: How will you upgrade your Out of Office auto-responder based on my agency template?

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