One often overlooked aspect of being a small business owner is how to take time off from work. This is an important topic to discuss (and for you to think about), because sooner or later you are probably going to want to take a vacation or a break.
Maybe you’ll want to take time off from work for the holidays, or to go on a family vacation. But, whatever it is, trust me, the time will come when you’ll want to step away from your business for a few days.
The question is — how do you actually go about doing that?
When I first got started, I didn’t take time off from work at all for the first six months. I worked right through the holidays, pretty much 24/7, without stopping to relax for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or the New Year. That was a personal decision I made, since I was still so new in my business, and I don’t regret it.
But once I’d been in business for while, I realized that I needed some time off every now and then!
Since then, I’ve taken a combined 5 weeks of time off from work. Three weeks for my wedding and honeymoon, as well as two weeks off during the 2016 holiday season.
Back in June of 2016, I got married and went on a honeymoon with my new husband to Mexico. While all of this was happening, I obviously needed to take some time off. (And I was firmly instructed to do so by said new husband!).
Altogether, I took three weeks off: the week of the wedding and two weeks for the honeymoon. It ended up being a full three weeks because I purposefully added a couple extra “buffer days” before and after the wedding/honeymoon just in case.
Allowing for those extra days made sure that I would get enough time off to have it all work out. And I’m really glad that I took the full three weeks off, because I really needed it.
Sometimes you can get so caught up in work that you don’t realize how destructive you’re being to your body. It’s only until you’re actually on vacation and relaxing that you realize how much you really needed it.
How to Take Time Off From Work When You Have a Small Business
Let Your Clients Know Far in Advance
It states in my client contract that I have to give 4 weeks notice before I take time off from work.
I added this clause to my contract both so that clients would realize that, yes, I am actually allowed to take some time off. And also because I think four weeks is pretty generous. It makes them feel good that they have some extra time to get ready for me to not be there.
Even if you are just trying to prepare your business for the holidays, not an actual vacation, it’s still nice to give clients a heads-up that you won’t be answering emails on, for example, Christmas Day, or New Year’s Eve. Some clients will expect you to be available 24/7, so you need to lay down the law. I have those national holidays written into my contract as well.
Agree to Do Some Work, But Not All
Depending on what service you provide your clients, you may be in a situation where you’re running the small day-to-day details of someone else’s business.
If you are working with a very busy client, or they don’t have certain workflows in place, it can be extremely difficult for them to manage without you there.
For my clients, I don’t do too much of email management or that kind of thing, but I do take on a lot of social media and content creation. When it comes to those projects, I always agree to schedule them out in advance for when I will be away.
Going the extra step for those types of tasks when you are getting ready to take time off from work makes clients feel a lot more comfortable, and they will be much less likely to get upset about the whole thing.
I also don’t think it’s fair to just walk away for a few weeks if you normally are in someone’s business every single day. Those clients may not be able to manage without you. So put a plan into place that will leave both you and the client feeling comfortable having you take time off from work.
Your Vacation Isn’t Necessarily an “Off” Switch
You should also be prepared that not all clients will take your time off as a hard and fast rule.
When I took time off for my wedding, I told all my clients weeks and weeks in advance, yet still I had clients emailing, expecting me to finish tons of last-minute things before I left, on the night before and day of my wedding, and even while I was in Mexico on the honeymoon.
It took a full four days from the time my vacation time officially started to actually stop working. So many clients were emailing with last-minute requests. It was way more difficult than anticipated to wrap some of my projects up. Those few extra days of vacation time were such a blessing.
The same thing happened when I was getting ready to come back from vacation. Clients were emailing a day or two ahead of time, like “Are you back yet? I need you!”
So it’s good to make sure that your working hours don’t immediately resume the second you get home from a trip. You’ll probably want at least an extra day or two to recharge before getting into work mode again.
This transition period will get easier as you take time off from work again and again. You’ll get a little better at laying down the law to your clients and preparing for the break.
If it’s truly important, like a wedding or a funeral, don’t hesitate to truly tell your clients “no.” They can’t expect you to be at their beck and call every single day of your life.
Transitioning Into Relaxation
When I went on my honeymoon, it surprised me how long it took to actually get into “vacation mode.”
Even by the time we got to Mexico, it was still a huge transition. It took me two or three days to stop stressing about work and clients 24/7.
I just have one of those brains that is just really hard to shut up. So if you are like that, too…know that sometimes it can be difficult to tell your mind and body that it’s time to relax and enjoy some peace and quiet for a change.
As you prepare to take time off from work, it’s important to realize that going into “vacation mode” is not as easy as it sounds. You probably won’t be able to flip a switch and relax the second you want to.
There’s a transition time for both your clients and yourself.
Rely on Your Team
For those of you just getting started with your business, this might not apply, but if you do plan to take time off from work, it may be a good time to consider bringing on a team member.
Maybe there’s someone who isn’t celebrating Christmas (or celebrates a different holiday), and you can take them on, even if it’s just part-time, during the holidays or while you are on vacation.
It’s amazing to have a team, because you know you can rely on them to do your work while you’re on vacation. If there’s an emergency email, they can handle it or let you know. And they can take care of those recurring tasks, like social media scheduling, that I mentioned earlier, too.
You do have to also keep in mind that your team may wants breaks, too! Just like with your own clients, make sure it’s in your contract that they have to give you advance notice. This will allow you to put a backup plan into place. But be patient with them, because everyone needs to take time off from work every now and then.
If having a team isn’t in your cards yet, you should be very firm with your clients. Give them the appropriate notice and don’t let them take advantage of you. Let them know that they can send you materials and directions in advance. This will allow you to complete projects so that ahead of time before you leave. Just be careful not to take on too much!
When Everyone Wants to Take Time Off From Work
Something I like to do, especially if it’s a holiday situation, is to actually rotate time off with my team.
So, for example, if I know that almost everyone on the team will be unavailable for a single-day or weekend holiday like Thanksgiving or Christmas, I will make sure that I’m “on call” during that time.
Instead of taking my time off on those days, I will instead take a break before or after the holiday. This makes sure that someone is there to handle emergencies (and there will be always be emergencies!), but doesn’t put unnecessary pressure on me or my team.
Being unavailable on holidays isn’t as important to me as it is to some of my team members. We don’t have children or a big family, so it’s not that big of a deal. Because of this, I will take the hit so that they can enjoy their time off.
Handling Client Requests During Vacation Time
It goes without saying that you will probably receive at least a few emails from clients while you’re on vacation. Depending on the service you provide, it may be a good idea to come up with some sort of compromise. Like if they email you with the subject line “URGENT,” you’ll try to get back to them within 24 hours. Unless you are going somewhere strange, you’ll probably have at least some access to your email.
This is just a nice extra touch to add. You want your clients to feel like they can still get in touch with you if absolutely necessary.
This is especially important if you do a lot of stuff like website maintenance for your clients. Nobody is going to be happy if someone’s site goes down for two weeks while you’re unavailable.
As you prepare to take time off from work, it’s also a good idea to set up an autoresponder. Have it go out for those not-too-important emails you might get from clients or acquaintances while you’re away. Include the dates of when your vacation begins and ends, so they’ll know when they’ll hear back from you.