Owning your own business may mean never having to ask someone else if you can go on holiday; yet many small business owners end up working longer hours and more days, and taking less leave. Research by Santander Business Banking shows 76% of small business owners have had holidays disrupted by work issues, with 10% taking no leave at all in the last year.
But it is important to take a break from time to time. Overwork can lead to stress-related health problems, making you less effective or possibly unable to work altogether – having an even more detrimental impact on your business. So if you realise you’re sacrificing your home life for work, feeling tired, anxious or irritable, having difficulty sleeping or concentrating – you need a break!
Not only will your business suffer if you’re not on top of your game due to ‘burn-out’, but also you run the eggs-in-one-basket risk of not having backup in case anything happens to you – you could find yourself unable to work but with no-one who can pick up the reins. So here are some tips and techniques to help you keep on top if things without becoming too indispensable to your business.
Tame the technology
It may seem a nice idea to be Blackberry-free while you’re on your jollies, but it could backfire if you miss something critical while contacts, colleagues or clients frantically try and track you down. So ensure you have Internet access to email, business banking etc. to keep on top of any vital issues or emergencies while you take a break. I personally get a lot more stressed at the thought of missing something important, so it makes for a more relaxing time if I make a point of checking my emails every two or three days, just for my own peace of mind – and to avoid coming home to a mountain of unread messages! Just don’t get obsessed – switch the gadgets off until you need them.
The key to taking a successful, stress-free holiday is good planning. If you just wait for a ‘quiet week’ to materialise, it never will! So check your diary, book time off in advance, and plan for it. Identify your less busy times of the year, and finish things off where possible in the run-up to your break so as to minimise any necessary workload while you’re away. That way you shouldn’t need to log on more than once every few days. And don’t forget to leave a voicemail greeting and out-of-office reply that says when you’re back, when you can respond to messages and what to do if someone needs you urgently!
Let someone else take the strain
Probably the main way to lessen the load on you while keeping your business ticking over is through delegation.
To delegate effectively, first be sure to delegate to the right people! They should have high levels of ability, willingness, so that they will be self-sufficient and need minimal direction or support from you. Also be sure they have the opportunity to do what you ask them – the spirit may be willing, but the diary is weak! Plan well in advance and invest some time in giving them completely clear instructions and any necessary training or learning beforehand. Check they have fully understood what you want and are in agreement with it all. Make sure your standards are realistic – they may not to things the way you would have, but this doesn’t mean it’s wrong! And finally, be prepared to trust them – give lots of praise and positive reinforcement, and although it’s a good idea to do regular checks, don’t harass them for reports every five minutes.
If you’re a sole trader with no staff, hire trusted support (friends, family, business contacts) where possible, allowing time to train them if necessary. You could also consider ‘virtual assistant’ companies who provide remote business support services.
Delegation can be tough if, like me, you are a bit of a control freak! I often find myself reluctant to let go, thinking “I can do it better/quicker myself”, and having a lack of faith in other’s abilities. But I have to make a concerted effort to redefine my priorities – asking “Why am I doing this?” and thinking in the long term rather than the short term. I also make a point of being process-oriented (focussing on the tasks that need to be done) and using effective people management techniques to make sure that people will be fully equipped to do a good job.
Blur the edges of your time
As someone who runs her own consultancy business, work-life balance is extremely important to me. It would be far too easy to fill all my waking hours with work-related stuff! Working 9-5 isn’t the ideal solution for me, so instead I use the flexibility of being my own boss to keep that balance right. I’ll often work a few evenings and weekends from home, knowing that I can then have some time off during the week to go to the supermarket, cinema, lunch etc. I travel a lot, so diary management and good use of travel time is key – I arrange meetings with plenty of time allowed in between (knowing I can be checking emails on the bus!), put in time slots for desk work, and often crack open the laptop while sat on a train. I’m a member of a couple of business lounges in London, so I know I can work from those if I have a spare hour or two, as well as using them for meeting venues. And for simple things such as checking my Twitter feed or planning my diary, I’ve mastered the art of multitasking – i.e. doing that whilst listening to Coronation Street (but not watching a film with subitles). All of which means I can maximise the use of my work time, leaving me more leisure time!
If you still feel unable to take time off, just take the long-term view– what’s a week or two of reduced earnings compared to work-related stress? Look after your health and wellbeing, and you’ll keep your business healthy too!