BUSINESS OWNER Jennefer Witter enjoyed the holidays. Right before Christmas, she turned off the lights of her New York public-relations agency, Boreland Group, and kept them off until January. “Shutting down at the end of the year allows me a moment to catch my breath,” she says.
It’s never easy for a business owner to take time off. Most entrepreneurs say they worry about losing money or customers if they take a break; many say they don’t trust staff to handle day-to-day operations in their absence. But some, like Witter, have discovered that the traditionally quiet period between Christmas and the new year is an opportune time to recharge the battery for the year ahead.
With many clients and vendors also taking time off for the holidays, “you can almost take a guilt-free period off without worrying about having your BlackBerry attached to your waistband, or your cellphone in your pocketbook,” Witter says. With the holidays a few weeks away, she has begun alerting her clientele that the office will be closed, as it usually is, for the last weeks of the year, although she’ll be checking phone messages and emails on a regular basis.
The key to taking time off, even during a slow period like the Christmas holidays, is to give your clients plenty of advance notice — something many business owners worry about doing, small-business experts say. “It’s funny how so many small-business owners are afraid to be human beings and want to appear like large corporations,” says Elizabeth Potts Weinstein, author of the upcoming book, “Grow Up! Strategies for Small Business,” due in early 2008.
In actuality, many clients choose to work with a smaller business because it’s not a “faceless” corporation, she says. Most clients or customers will understand that you’re taking time off during the holidays — usually, they’re doing the same thing — and will appreciate the advance notice, she says. Before your planned absence, send an email or mailing to your clients that they only have two weeks before you will be gone for 10 days, for example. That way, your upcoming holiday also becomes an effective sales strategy. “People are naturally procrastinators,” Weinstein says. “It helps people say, ‘Oh! Now I really need to make that appointment.”
It’s also important, in advance of taking time off, to supply your clients with a home or cellphone number where you can be reached. Being accessible in case of an emergency assuages client worries and “lets them know you are concerned about them, and that you’re not just going to go off,” says Julie Lenzer Kirk, president of Path Forward International, a small-business consulting firm in Damascus, Md. Most people won’t abuse the emergency contact information if you’ve given them plenty of advance warning and they know you are on vacation, she says.
If you shut down your office during the holidays, change your outgoing phone message to reflect that, Kirk adds. “The worst thing that can happen is that a customer calls and doesn’t get an answer,” she says. Or, if employees will staff the office in your absence, brief them on each client’s chief concerns, and how to handle a few worst-case scenarios.
If you’ve got employees working during the holiday period so you can take time off, “do some type of overtime, or some type of bonus to compensate for that,” suggests Kelly Davis, owner of Strategy Tree, a Danville, Calif., human-resources consulting firm.
Many companies will shut down on Christmas and New Year’s Day, and give full-time employees the time off (with pay) for those days. Davis advises her small-business clients to clearly outline a holiday schedule at the beginning of the year, so that employees know what days they have off or when they are expected to work. That careful, organizational planning goes a long way in avoiding bitterness and even employee lawsuits, she says.
As for the business owner, Davis usually advises her clients to take time off, especially if they worked holidays while they were building the business. Often, clients don’t realize how much the commitment to the business, and all the missed holidays, has upset their families, she says. “People don’t realize…how much resentment can build,” she says. “For your health and the health of your family, you need to make a commitment to do this.”
Entrepreneurs often struggle with guilt when they take time away from the business. One solution for the workaholic is to work “on” (rather than “in”) the business during the holiday week, says Weinstein, the author. Don’t schedule any client meetings or calls so you can have some uninterrupted vacation time. But also use the time off to update your business plan, outline sales goals and map out marketing strategies for the year ahead.
“Take off partially for family, but partially for business planning,” she says.
For business owners who run seasonal enterprises or retail shops, the holidays can be the busiest time of year — and for them, vacation is not an option. But “that’s something you knew when you got into that business, so that’s not a surprise,” says Kirk, the small-business consultant. “Take your Christmas in July.”
(“Balancing Work & Life,” a weekly column written by Colleen DeBaise for smSmallBiz.com, advises entrepreneurs on how to better balance their lives. Write to her at email@example.com .)
SmartMoney.com provides news, information, and tools for business professionals and growing businesses. All content provided by SmartMoney is © 2008 SmartMoney®, a Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and Hearst SM Partnership.
SmartMoney.com provides news, information, and tools for business professionals and growing businesses. All content provided by SmartMoney is © 2009 SmartMoney®, a Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and Hearst SM Partnership.