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How to take a vacation when you have a small business
This article is part of our Complete Guide to Health for Entrepreneurs, which covers topics like mental health, eating healthy, work life balance and avoiding burn out.
It’s a cliche that small business owners don’t take vacations, but like many cliches, this one exists for a reason. Unplugging can feel almost impossible when you run a business. Other people depend on you, and dealing with that guilty feeling (“I’m keeping people waiting!”) is a never-ending challenge.
But if anything, the nagging sense that there’s always one more thing on your to-do list is actually more reason to take time off and recharge. Taking some time away to truly relax and disconnect from work means that when you come back, whether it’s after a couple days or a couple weeks, you’ll be refreshed, inspired, and ready to go—and maybe even have a clearer sense of your business’s mission and goals.
Here are five tips you may want to consider before signing off, so you can finally turn off your work brain and enjoy your vacation!
Plan in advance
You probably don’t want to take vacation during your business’s busiest period. If you’re a wedding photographer, June might not be the best time to jet off, but if you’re a ski instructor, it might be the month when you can finally take a breather. Even if your business doesn’t have obvious “seasons,” it’s a good idea to crunch the numbers to determine the best vacation time. Taking time off when business is slower will lessen the amount of catching up you have to do when you get back, and reduce the chance that you spend vacation answering emails and working from your phone!
Running those numbers will also tell you where you stand with another VIV (Very Important Vacation) factor: cash. Just as you don’t necessarily want to tune out during your busiest time, you also want to make sure that you have enough cash in the bank to cover your operating expenses while you’re gone, and after you get back.
Communicate with your clients
Loop in your customers so they know what to expect while you’re away. No one will begrudge you some time off—as long as they’re prepared and understand what it means for them. Set up that email vacation alert and turn on the “vacation” toggle for your Etsy page, or put a note on your website, blog, or ecommerce page. If you’re working on any larger, ongoing projects, talk to those clients early, so they understand how your vacation will affect deliverables. Communicating clearly, well in advance, means you won’t be fielding any frantic client calls from the beach—and you can respect both your customers’ time, and your vacation time.
Automate what you can
Get the administrative parts of your business running as smoothly as possible so you don’t need to monitor every little thing. This might include setting up automatic bill payments for any vendors you’ll need to pay while you’re gone—a time saver even on a regular week. You need to get paid too, so schedule invoice reminders for any outstanding payments, and follow up with those clients before you leave.
You might also want to block off your calendar—between that and a vacation alert for your email, you should be able to avoid any meeting invites for the days you’re gone. Go ahead and mark any reminders or to-do’s for when you’re back right now, too, so that re-entry to real life is as easy as possible.
Now is also a great time to to set up customer support. If you’ve been putting off building an FAQ page for your website or ecommerce page, an upcoming vacation is a great excuse to cross that off your list. 70% of customers prefer to self-serve when they have a simple question about your business, so building a support page will allow your customers to get answers when they need them, even when you’re away. And that FAQ page will remain a valuable resource for both your existing and potential customers long after your suntan has faded.
Teach and document
If you have employees, or work regularly with the same freelancers, think about the information you want them to have when you’re away. In the same way you’d create FAQs for your customers, your employees probably also have regular questions they rely on you to answer. Detailed documentation on your business practices, or what to do in certain scenarios, prepares your employees to handle day-to-day incidents without needing to interrupt your R&R. This is a great time to build up any internal resource documents like instructions, emergency manuals, and contact lists.
Create a contingency plan
This falls under the category of “hope for the best but prepare for the worst.” You’re unplugging and recharging, but you still want to be reachable if something big happens. Let an employee or a family member—whoever is helping out while you’re away—know where you are and how they can reach you, and when you need to hear from them. Is a customer late on paying an invoice? They probably don’t need your hotel phone number for that. A financial issue or possible client of a lifetime? You might want to take that call! Being clear about when you want to be contacted means you won’t spend vacation glued to your phone “just in case,” because you can relax knowing that if something really important comes up, you’ll hear about it.
It’s also a great idea to make sure you can access all the information you might need while you’re gone. Set up remote access to documents and projects using a file sharing service like Dropbox or Google Drive, and make sure you can access your business email and banking from your phone, if you’ll be somewhere remote or won’t have desktop access. Again, the goal is not to use these things, but getting everything set up in advance is the equivalent of keeping jumper cables in your car: you always want them—just in case!
Now, actually take a break
You’ve worked hard to be able to take this vacation, so really do it. If you know you won’t be able to look away from work completely, schedule a time once or twice a day to check in for 15 or 30 minutes. That way, you can spend the rest of your time doing what you took a vacation to do: whatever you want!