When you think about vacations, many lists pop into mind: top places to visit in Europe, best vacation getaways for families, that all-important packing list. However, for small business owners, many of whom have but a few other employees in their company, just the thought of taking a vacation can cause more stress than relaxation. Though vital to maintain that work-life balance, vacations are often tricky propositions for entrepreneurs, but they don’t have to be. We’ve gathered our own list of best tips on how to take a vacation even if you have a small business.
Be realistic about “getting away from it all”
Although entrepreneurs we talked with said there is no such thing as truly getting away when you own a company, many said changing your mindset about vacations helps. “Detaching and resting is very important in your ability to generate ideas and to be productive,” says Helah Kehati, president of JPO Concepts, an event planning company based in New York City. “A couple of days off will only lead to more business success, [but] disconnecting completely is virtually impossible. I find that a quick morning check-in to the office each day puts my mind at ease.” In other words, realize from the outset that you will probably still check your email or phone, and value the downtime you do get, which is essential for yourself and your business.
Pick the right time
Whether you are in the gift business or an accountant, plan for vacations after your busiest times or during your slower months. “We try not to schedule vacations right before our busiest seasons—Christmas, Valentine's Day, and Mother's Day,” says Sarah Gross, owner and operator of Rescue Chocolate, a Brooklyn-based chocolate company. Linsay Chavez, owner of Busy Mom Boutique, agrees, “I plan vacation days to include weekends (and sometimes holidays) so that at least a few of my vacation days will be typical ‘non-business’ days when customers do not expect anyone to answer phones or ship product.” Timing your vacation correctly not only minimizes possible missed business opportunities, it allows you to relax more, as the stress of being gone during your company’s busiest time is alleviated.
Get ahead before you go
No one likes the nagging feeling of having pressing projects waiting for them when they get back to the office. “Do as much work as you can before you go so that if you do have to do some work while you're away, it's minimal,” says Taryn Scher, owner of TK PR, a public relations firm. “If you have emails to send out when you are supposed to be away, prep them in advance and save them as drafts. That way, you can be drinking a margarita on the beach and just click ‘send’ rather than having to worry about crafting appropriate emails when your mind is under a palm tree.” In addition, Scher notes that whatever industry you are in, it’s a bad idea to start a new project or sales pitch if you are leaving town the next day. “I try to tie off as many loose ends as I can before heading out of town to minimize the number of messages I will have while I'm out,” she says.
Be transparent with your customers
If you can’t tell clients in person that you will be away, remind them in other ways so they can know what to expect. “We make sure to set auto email responses telling people exactly when we are gone and also put up a big notice with the same information on the front page of our web site,” says Gross. “Customers can continue to place orders, but we make it clear that the orders won't be filled until after we get back. So, [that means] no rush orders. Most people don't mind waiting a little while for a quality product, as long as they have a clear idea of when to expect it.” That expectations piece is key, says Scher, and can be handled using these same passive notification methods. “You can put up an auto-email that let's people know you are checking email infrequently and will do your best to respond within 24 hours. I also put in the auto-email that if it's not ‘urgent,’ I will get back to them next week.”
If you have a small staff, give detailed information on when and how you can be reached—and also trust them to keep things running smoothly while you are away. “Empowering employees is essential on many levels, but is especially helpful when trying to go on vacation,” says Kehati. “Give your senior employee the power to make decisions on small, but relevant subjects. You will be shocked at the burden lifted from yourself, and you will also be pleasantly surprised at how competent your team is.”
Use technology to keep things going while you are gone
With all of the programs and computer apps owners have available, keeping your business in the social media conversation, while alerting customers you are away, is easy. “I schedule all social media posts in advance using Tweet Deck and also post on social media sites that I will be on vacation until "x" date,” says Chavez. “I find that most customers are very understanding when you have open lines of communication to let them know what to expect.”
Rely on the competition
In some business sectors, being away for a week or two could mean valued customers are at a loss of what to do when you are gone. Point them to good folks who can help—even if it is the competition. “I am a one-man pest control company and consultant,” says Scott Armbrust, owner of Rid-A-Pest Exterminators in Littleton, Colorado. “I became active in my trade associations, earned respect from my competitors, and got to know which ones were honest and ethical. When planning a vacation, I can contact one of them to cover emergencies without concern that I will be at risk of losing any clientele. I return the favor if one of them has to go out of town.” Taryn Mickus, owner of Milk Nook Lactation Services, a private lactation consulting practice in Alameda, California does the same. “I have a private practice as a lactation consultant,” she explains. “My field is competitive for clients, but it is also a small community, so I know my competition. Vacations are time for you to build goodwill among your professional community—let them take your clients while you are away, and trust that the karma will come back to you.”
If you must work on vacation, set specific hours
You might have to work a bit while in paradise, but to avoid it spiraling into an all-day work session in your hotel room, give yourself set times when to do it. “If you are in a good zone with your business, stick to somewhat of a small schedule in between sipping daiquiris on the beach,” offers Meredith Kole, owner of Preppy Epi, a line of epi pen carriers for kids. “It's important to go away, but your small business never sleeps.” Kole finds that the early morning or later in the evening is ideal for that work time. “I email in the evenings or first thing in the morning, which allows me to still enjoy any getaway I have,” she explains. Bill Hazelton, CEO of Optimum Interactive, an online performance marketing company, concurs. “I don't allow an open-ended work schedule when I'm on vacation. I set aside specific work time during the day to get things done,” he says. “Putting up a firewall between work and vacation is really, really important from my experience. If I don't do that, I end up working far more than I need to, and my vacation suffers.”
Give yourself time for “re-entry”
The first day or two back after a vacation can be so hectic that you lose all of the good relaxation vibes your trip gave you. Schedule your calendar with catch-up meetings and set aside time to get a handle on what happened while you were away. “Prepare for the week when you get back,” says Scher. “The week after vacation is often the worst, but it helps to be ready for it. Prioritize what needs to get done, and what can wait. Set a goal to be completely caught up by the end of that week. I like to review my day-planner on the plane ride home. The vacation is over at that point, time to snap back to it.”