When I became self employed I received a lot of doom-and-gloom advice from presumably well-meaning people:
– “It’s hard work from now on – you’d better kiss holidays goodbye.”
– “Self-employment? Fine, if you like working evenings and weekends.”
– “My dad/friend/uncle/milkman is self-employed and he hasn’t had a holiday for 15 years.”
I’ve cheerfully ignored this ‘advice’ and I can happily say that since I became self employed three years ago I have had at least a fortnight away every year, taken Christmas off and plenty of long weekend breaks in between. My business is as strong as ever, my clients have never suffered and I would say my life is richer and more prosperous for it.
However, the practical truth is that if you’re ‘it’ – the sole trader, owner-manager or proprietor of your enterprise, if, in whatever way, you and your business are one, taking a holiday involves plenty of careful planning.
This planning will pay off – you get your R&R, but it will also help you achieve your ultimate business goals. Most of us started businesses because we wanted a more comfortable life, a better work-life balance, or the freedom to pursue a professional or creative dream.
However, running a business can suck you into daily grind that holds you back from doing any of these things – until you’ve mastered the art of breaking free. Holiday time is your chance to practice just that.
Try these 7 steps to a guilt-free fortnight away:
Step 1. Sort out your attitude to time off
Drop the self-punishing, old-fashioned work ethic that says you’re only going places if your nose is on the grindstone. Leaving the work treadmill for food, rest and play shows strong commitment to your business success – because you are only at your best when you are adequately fed and rested.
Pushing yourself into long hours is a fast track to stress, ill health and burnout. Work is just work, and there are plenty of other aspects to you and your life – love, creativity, fun, health – that need and deserve your attention.
If you have any feelings of guilt or panic when you think about being away from your business for more than an afternoon, giving in to them will not take you to a good place. You need to get some perspective. You need a holiday!
Approach your holiday as though it’s a work project, rather than something taking you away from work. For example, you could imagine it as a big order or contract that will take most of your focus for two weeks – which means you’re going to have to clear the diary out for that fortnight. See? It’s easier already.
Looking at it this way helps you value a break as being important to the business – which it is! Your business depends on your wellbeing, so invest in it.
Step 2. Book your break
It doesn’t matter where you go, so long as you’re away, with your laptop far behind you and your mobile switched off. Ideally go where there is a limited mobile phone signal, or prohibitive costs to make and receive calls! To unplug is to unwind.
If you’re feeling twitchy about time off, I’d recommend booking your break at least four months in advance. That gives you plenty of time to plan ahead.
Step 3. Make some decisions
Does your business need to continue at full throttle in your absence, or can you allow it to tick over?
Do your customers and clients need your services day in, day out or can you provide extra products or services in advance to carry them through?
Would two weeks out mean a loss of two weeks’ revenue, or can you come up with a creative way of maintaining cashflow in your absence?
Step 4. Look into your systems
Taking a holiday is a good time to test how functional your business is without you. You need to be aware of what could happen should you become sick or otherwise indisposed, so now is a good time for contingency planning. Can your banking, social media activities, sales or bookkeeping become automated, for example? All will save you time and make your business less dependent on you.
Step 5. Get some help
If you have employees, now is the time to get involved in their development and bestow a little more responsibility on them.
If you are a one-woman band, look around for other businesses like yours who may be able to step in. Your competitors are also colleagues who can potentially help maintain consistency of service to your customers. If you’re worried about client-theft, talk to your solicitor about drawing up an associate contract which protects you from poaching.
Step 6. Communicate!
Decide on your cut-off time for taking on new projects, and don’t allow yourself to be pushed into taking on work you might be tempted to rush. If you’re feeling stressed or resentful, you won’t give it the attention it deserves, so you owe it to the client to be firm with them.
Tell your regular customers well in advance that you’re going away, and encourage them to plan ahead as well. It’s great to feel indispensable, but they can do without you for a fortnight if it’s properly planned. Convince yourself of that, so you can convince them, too.
Step 7. Plan, plan and plan
The earlier the planning starts, the more relaxed you’ll be when you get away. The best plans work with set milestones at strategic points, so establish where you want to be each week before your break. Finally, spare a thought for the post-holiday you, because re-entry can be difficult as you find your feet again. Try and cover yourself for the first few days back by not booking in too many meetings or massive projects you’ll be coming to cold.
If you have any more ideas about how to take a break from your business, we’d love to hear them. Drop us a comment below – and bon voyage!