How to take a holiday from your small business

Being a small business owner has plenty of perks. Presiding over a business you’ve built from scratch is often its own reward, as is the thrill of venturing into uncharted territory and determining your own destiny. The experience of being the boss is pretty hard to top.

Operating a small business is a labour of love, but it is not without its challenges. Long, odd working hours can exact a physical and emotional toll. A survey conducted by NRMA found that one in three business owners work more than 50 hours a week; 37 per cent said the pressures of running a business strained relations with family and friends. Unsurprisingly, many small business owners feel their professional demands outweigh the need to take a holiday: 37 per cent typically take less than five days of annual leave, and 61 per cent take less than 10 days.

Making the case for leisure

The benefits of taking some down time from the daily grind are well documented. Holidays allow workers time to rest and relax, and can help in maintaining high levels of performance and motivation. Rachel Service, the Happiness Concierge, says the benefits are both personal and professional. “Unless you’re taking time to recover from the working week, you can do more damage than good,” she says. “Being efficient means giving yourself break and perspective — it’s this perspective you can put back into the business.”

Unless you’re taking time to recover from the working week, you can do more damage than good

Those who take holidays more regularly typically suffer less stress. Yet for many small business owners, taking a break itself is a cause for concern. A Xero survey showed 42 per cent of Australian small business owners said they struggled to take a holiday because they needed to be available at all times as the primary decision maker; 37 per cent said it was because they were the sole employee; 32 per cent said they couldn’t relax if they didn’t know what was going on with their business.

Preparation is paramount

A bit of planning can ensure a vacation away from work is a pleasurable, stress-free experience.

Letting clients, customers, and vendors know of your impending holiday is a crucial first step — it’s recommended that at least six weeks’ notice is given, and an out-of-office email responder is set up once your period of leave begins.

Equally important is the need to ascertain the level of service provided to clients while away. Consultation with other staff members is particularly important. Being prepared to relinquish the reins in a practical sense can help business owners feel psychologically ready: allocating duties to other staff members can ensure processes run as usual, while sole traders can look to technology to bridge any gaps.

Technology: tips and tricks

Social media promotions, marketing, e-commerce, payroll, inventory management and communications tasks can be automated through software, freeing up more time for business owners to concentrate on more creative or personal endeavours. Popular options include Buffer or Hootsuite which automatically schedule social media posts, as well as customer relations management (CRM) software like QuickBase which can manage sales contacts, future appointments, B2B leads, accounts, and relationships with customers.

If business owners are short on staff, they can also delegate admin tasks to virtual assistants. Sites like Freelancer.com, Upwork, and elance are massive marketplaces for contract workers, who can be called upon to perform duties (e.g. make vendor or customer service calls, update databases, undertake research) remotely.

Strategies for self-care

Our reliance on technology is a double-edged sword; it can be a blessing and a burden. It can enable small business owners to work remotely or check in on their business from afar, but it can also make it impossible to clock off and relax. To combat this dilemma, Service recommends scheduling time off in the same way you would schedule an appointment, which ensures a well-earned holiday is treated as a vital professional obligation rather than a source of guilt.

Establishing clear boundaries between work and leisure time is also crucial. This can include practical measures like disabling work email notifications on your smartphone or taking a day off from checking your inbox. Service also suggests planning time-out days each quarter and “letting your team, contractors, and suppliers know it’s a regular event so they come to expect It and manage themselves accordingly”. If you’re working a seven-day week, sticking to a curfew (no work after 6pm, for instance) can help recharge your batteries.

“If the business relies on you to sustain itself, it will fail when your mind or body starts to shut down from fatigue,” Service says. Fretting about being away is unproductive and unhealthy. It’s more useful to see holiday time as an investment that will pay off in the long run — for the wellbeing of you and your business.

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