Running your own business or being freelance has many perks. You can get up when you like, work when you like, you can’t be sacked and the money you earn belongs to you – but there are drawbacks. And one of the biggest headaches any boss of their own destiny faces is how to take time off without going bankrupt. Here, as small business owners ourselves for over 20 years, we give some tips…
Firstly – there are three types of holiday you can take if you run your own business. One is the ‘working’ holiday – not to be recommended unless you want a full-blown domestic with your partner or spouse over the fact you are constantly plugged into a phone or laptop.
Then there is the 100% holiday – the ideal in that you truly to switch off. You might shut down your whole business while you go away or leave it to a business partner to run. Alternatively, you plug in the answer-phone and have organised an ‘I’m away’ message to be automatically sent to anyone who emails during your break. You do not get emails when you are away, you don’t take your business phone and your holiday accommodation doesn’t even have an internet connection for you to check your website (you don’t want to know if it crashes as it would ruin your holiday.) If this is lucky you, and you are able or feel confident enough to leave everything, then you don’t need to read any further!
Unfortunately, however, while cliched advice about taking a break extols the virtues of simply disappearing and cutting yourself off from the world, few business owners are lucky enough to be able to do this. It is just not feasible – and simply would not be fair – to completely disappear for a fortnight, make yourself totally unavailable and leave clients in the lurch…plus, you could come back to a total nightmare that could have been prevented with a simple email or phone call.
Planning your holiday
Choose your time – if you have a period in the year when business is slack it can be worth going away then. Bank holidays when everyone else is off work can also be good times to include in your own break.
Otherwise, accept that as a small business or freelancer, who enjoys lots of perks, you will probably have to do some work to keep everything ticking over while you’re away. If you have a live website, for example, at the very minimum you do need to google it daily and check it is ok. If you have a blog, you also need to ensure that hasn’t been hijacked by a phantom hacker or suddenly crashed while you are on holiday. If you run Paypal, there’s nothing sensible about not getting your emails that warn you your account has been compromised… So even if you plan on doing very little, at the very least ensure where you stay does have an internet connection. We filter out any accommodation without wifi broadband at time of booking (it is a deal-breaker on any villa or hotel), and check out any extra cost that we will entail. Ditto the phone – for some countries your phone might not work and it is worth contacting your mobile phone provider and finding out how much it will cost to have it on constantly while you are away (often it is as little as a fiver a day.) Remember, it isn’t that you will definitely need all this – but if a crisis happens the last thing you want to be doing is driving round in a strange country searching for an internet cafe…
Before you go
Should you tell clients you are going away? We believe you don’t need to tell people you will be away just for a weekend – or even a few days – if you will have your phone and email as usual and can simply respond and say you will ring in a couple of days for example.
But once you get to a week – it is best to say, if only so you are not in an awkward situation of turning a commission or work down. You also want to discourage people from contacting you on holiday and if they know you are away, then they are less likely to bother you. You might also want to give prior notice you are going away. For example, you don’t want to load yourself with work just before you go and give yourself an impossible deadline – or worse, find yourself taking a large amount of work with you.
At the same time, just before you go, leave a message on the office answerphone with clear instructions. Explain you will be away until a given date (set it a day after you get back to give you chance to get your bearings…) but give a mobile in case or emergency (very important to say emergency as this also deters something that is not really urgent) and remind people of your email.
Remember if your home is your office, it’s not a great idea to broadcast the fact you are away on Twitter or Facebook unless you want to invite burglars. However, contrary to advice given out by people who clearly do not run their own business or are not that busy, we don’t believe you should abandon Twitter or Facebook while you are away either! While trying to set up two weeks of scheduled tweets every day obviously is going to be incredibly hard work, and not a sensible option, it’s a good idea to write a few blogs before you go (which you can load on while you are away or schedule to be published on a timer) and tweet a few times a day, lest your accounts just look abandoned.
While you are away
Check emails every day – that way anything urgent can be dealt with on the spot and you will not arrive home to hundreds of emails. And check phone messages for anything that needs emergency attention. Once a day google your website, blogs and Twitter to ensure they are still there (and haven’t been taken over by spam…)
One of the cons about being freelance or running your own business is you do not get holiday pay. We believe there is no point in working if you have no holiday at all – and that when you go on holiday it should be just that and that ultimately you need to accept very early on that taking a break means you will lose money. That said, financial loss can be minimised…
Clearly if you are an internet based business and most of your web traffic comes from a pay per click sponsored listing on Google, you can take it down for the period you will be away. However, if you are lucky enough to have a good organic listing on Google, you can’t stop prospective clients and customers from contacting you. In this case, we believe rather than sending out an automatic ‘we are away’ email, it is better to designate half an hour a day during your break to email people back and explain you are happy to help, but you are away until a given date.
Be realistic – stick to your designated half an hour a day for work and accept that some people will be happy to wait until you get back but some people won’t and will go elsewhere.
Don’t be tempted to take on extra work even if it means money, as the last thing you want to be doing is simply transferring your office – and all the hassles that go with work – onto your holiday. So if that client does go elsewhere, do not beat yourself up about it. Of course it’s hard to accept you might have lost money – but doing this you will minimise the amount of money you lose and at least that person will go away with a favourable view of your company.
Finally remember … taking a holiday, enjoying a proper rest and time away with family and friends is absolutely essential to your very well-being. So don’t feel guilty about it! At the same time, if you do find yourself doing a little work on holiday, don’t feel too angry either. Chill out – remember all those perks that do come with not working for others…
Essential checklist for business owners wanting stress-free holidays…
* Pack a laptop which is up to date with all your latest emails – even if you plan doing zero work, never go anywhere without an internet connection.
* Take a mobile phone which works in the country you are visiting.
* Remember business bank cards and account details – check you have any passwords you need.
* Don’t forget latest notebooks and diaries.
* Set your office answerphone with clear instructions while you are away. Done properly, most people will not want to bother you while you are away, you will be able to sort out anything urgent and you will come home to zero messages…
* If you have a blog, write a few before you go and schedule them to be published while you are away.
* Tweet and Facebook at least a couple of times a day – take ten minutes to schedule tweets and Facebook messages a day to keep these ticking over.
Are you freelance or do you run your own business? If you have any tips about going away then we would love you to add them below…