Did you think that owning a small business was the key to freedom? Not if you equate freedom with the ability to absent yourself from day-to-day operations and just kick back and relax, that is, take a vacation. At the beginning of last summer, Ondeck Capital published a study showing that 57 percent of small-business owners planned to take a vacation that year. Of the total sample, 9 percent planned on being away for two weeks, 26 percent “for a few days.” (See an infographic from the study here.) Ondeck’s data, pulled from the survey, shows that small-business owners are more likely to take a vacation if they’ve been in business more than 10 years, and if they have more than five employees.
A study commissioned by Sam’s Club found that nearly 50 percent of small-business owners only take major holidays off.
These business owners are what Minda Zetlin in Inc. magazine calls “vacation deprived.” They take less time off than their employees do. And the ironic thing is, of course, that small-business owners only get a vacation if they give it to themselves. You give a top-performing employee two weeks off; yourself, two days. Huh?
Why is it so important to schedule that off-time? Inc.'s Zetlin lists a few reasons. They’re not measurable metrics, such as lead generation or sales productivity, but they’re just as important in the long run because they help fend off burnout. If you take a serious vacation, Zetlin says you will be: 1) more productive, 2) will enjoy work more, 3) will be easier to work with, and 4) will set a valuable example to others at the business by being “happy and rested” instead of burned out and snapping. In addition to those, your home life will improve, you’ll live longer, and you’ll be happier.
In short, a vacation is one of the most effective stress relievers for business owners, so why don’t more owners take advantage of vacation time?
One big reason is fear. Specifically, fear that everything in the business will unravel the minute the owner is not around. “Taking vacations as a small-business owner might seem truly daunting,” Julie Elaine Brown writes, at learning platform website Popxpert.com. “If you truly want to make this happen, you have to make it a priority and plan well ahead.” That’s so you can actually take time off without the time off being a one-week or two-week anxiety attack.
Lots of experts offer advice on how to pull off a regular vacation as a small-business owner. And sometimes one expert’s advice contradicts the advice of another. Popexpert’s Brown, for instance, suggests that once gone, owners “unplug.” That is, forget about reading email or trying to run the business from a smartphone on the beach. But others, such as Jason Richelson, writing in Entrepreneur, advise that you “stay in the loop with Web-based collaboration tools,” and then names some you can use.
The biggest issue is whether or not there’s someone at your operation who is competent enough, trustworthy enough, and has enough delegated authority to run things smoothly in your absence, with or without hourly/daily electronic monitoring via email or text. “Having a reliable stand-in who knows your business inside and out can help bring peace of mind while you're on vacation,” Richelson writes. “Ensure a smooth transition by going over both routine and unexpected tasks along with the appropriate procedures.”
Here’s another reason to go away, especially if you have a lot of anxiety about it, according to website Small Business Trends: Test yourself and see what happens. “Vacation time is actually a good time to measure how well the company actually operates without you,” writes the site’s Barry Moltz. “If the company‘s success is all about you, it is actually a very dangerous situation.”
Step Back and Let Go
If you have that reliable person to run the business in your absence, let him or her know well in advance when your vacation is scheduled. Besides briefing her on the full scope of the additional responsibilities she’ll need to assume in your absence, you can also:
- Let other employees know about your vacation dates, since they may want to let key clients and suppliers know well in advance when you’ll be gone.
- Arrange your vacation around major deadlines so that it has the least impact on the business.
- Identify any possible problems that are looming, and address these well ahead of time, so that your time off isn’t suddenly cut short by a business crisis.
- Set up a firewall between yourself and customers or employees, so that those who call or email receive a voice mail or email response to the effect that you are “Out of Office,” stating the time you’ll be gone and the day you plan to return.
If you feel there’s no way you can completely remove yourself from the day-to-day operation of your business and that at some point on vacation you’ll have to check in to find out how many leads there are, how many appointments are booked, etc., set strict limits on how much time you’ll spend checking in. An hour a day, tops. Or else you may need to reassess whether it’s truly a vacation.
Also consider: Are you really needed at work, or is this behavior keyed to your need to feel important and in charge? Because trying to control everything from somewhere on the beach could be completely counterproductive, says blog site Lendified.com: “If your head is not 100% in the game, you may be doing more harm than good by trying to play along,” the blog’s writer points out. “Instead, put trust in your team and enforce boundaries with customers/clients/partners by stepping back and letting go.”