As a business owner, when was the last time you took a proper holiday?
Being a humble cog in the corporate machine can be frustrating, but at least your holidays are your own. Few entrepreneurs and sole traders realise the luxury of receiving four weeks of paid leave until they’ve launched their fledgling ventures. There’s a lot to be said for having a colleague who can handle enquiries in your absence, while dedicated personnel manage issues like accounting and customer services all year round.
Because few business owners have someone completely trustworthy who can step in and keep their company ticking over in their absence, the burden of responsibility is often so great that holidays become difficult, and sometimes impossible. There are few official figures on the amount of time off taken by self-employed people, though a survey earlier this year suggested more than three quarters of small business owners skip holidays to focus on keeping their companies running smoothly. Anecdotal evidence indicates many people simply don’t bother, since working twice as hard before and after a period of absence obliterates any benefits of the ‘holiday’ itself.
However, working flat out will eventually lead to burnout and even illness. These are some of the steps sole traders and entrepreneurs can take to try and enjoy guilt-free time off:
- Identify quieter periods in your working year. Going away when workloads aren’t too heavy can reduce the stress of finishing up – most companies have peak periods and relative lulls, often during the summer holidays when many customers are also away.
- Notify clients of an impending absence well in advance. If your business is based around existing custom rather than new enquiries, most clients will be sympathetic to a short period of absence if it’s advertised several weeks in advance.
- Promise a swift reply on your return. Out Of Office autoreplies, voicemail messages and banners on a website’s homepage or Contact Us page can reassure customers that their enquiries haven’t fallen into a black hole, and will be dealt with fairly soon.
- Consider whether friends or relatives can help. Clearly, your parents or friends can’t do your work for you. What they might be able to do is hold the fort – answer phone calls, schedule diary appointments, pick up and sort through post, etc.
- Use webmail sparingly while on holiday. Nobody wants to be the person on a sun-lounger, furiously typing a lengthy document on their smartphone. However, checking emails twice a day can keep clients on board, especially if…
- …a holding email is assembled prior to departure. If you don’t want to set an autoreply email – which might be the case if you anticipate receiving quite a lot of mail – prepare a standard email you can send to anyone who contacts you, thanking them for getting in touch and promising to respond on your first day back in the office. Copy and paste it to any new enquiries.
- Build confidence by gradually taking longer breaks. Don’t go to Australia for a month in your company’s first year, start by taking a long weekend. When the sky doesn’t fall in, it’ll encourage you to go away midweek, then for a full week, and so on.
- Deal with finances before departure. If you’re due to file invoices while you’re away, prepare them prior to departure and attach them to draft emails that can be sent on the appointed day. Finally, pay bills in advance to ensure financial peace of mind.
- Factor in time differences. Don’t wake up in a Californian hotel and immediately feel compelled to check your voicemail, because the working day will be over back home. Deal with admin at convenient moments, rather than trying to work to UK time.
- View a holiday as good for business. Entrepreneurs often feel guilty when they take time off work, but well-judged holidays will improve motivation and performance throughout the rest of the year. That’s good news for everyone – especially clients.
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