Tips to keep your small or freelancer business running smoothly whilst you’re on holiday!
This is part 2 of a 2-part mini series around the subject of taking time off and achieving the perfect balance between work and family life.
If you’re a freelancer or you run your own business, it can sometimes feel like there’s never a good time to go on holiday and/or you can’t afford to. Think about this though: how productive and successful will you be if you’re always stressed and burnt out? Think about how time completely away from it all can really benefit your business (as well as you).
So with that in mind, how do you go about overcoming all the obstacles in your way so that you can take a well-earned break? Read on for 10 things to do before going away on holiday so that you can relax…
1. Give your clients advanced notice
This is important as a professional courtesy and to manage expectations. Like in all areas of life, good communication is key! Send an email at least 2-3 weeks ahead of time (or even earlier!) to give them the heads-up about your availability.
Remind clients that if they want anything doing then they’ll need to request it by a certain date otherwise it’ll have to wait until you’re back. Communication is key, and by managing expectations you can avoid disappointment and any negative experiences.
2. Backup your website
It’s sod’s law that issues will wait until you’re away and least able to deal with them quickly, so you can mitigate that by making sure you have a full, recent backup of your website (and anything else important, for that matter) so that should the worst happen, it won’t ruin your year.
You may think your web host or the company that manages your website for you does this – and they should – but mistakes can and do happen, so it’s always a good idea to take your own backup too. If you use WordPress for your website, this can be as simple as going to Tools, Export and clicking save. 2 minutes could save hours, days or weeks later!
3. Don’t forget your Email auto-responder.
People will obviously email you while you’re away, so it’s common practice (and courtesy) to set up an auto-responder that will let them know that you’re away, so can expect a delay before you read and reply. How you do this will vary depending on your email client, but on G Suite (that’s Gmail for business, ie. using your website’s domain name for email addresses) you just click the cog icon in the top-right, click Settings and then scroll down to Out of Office AutoReply. Then you’ll set the start and end date, along with what you want the message to say. It’s a good idea to say when you’ll be back, and remember that you can use the cliché of “annual leave” if you think saying the word “holiday” is just far too unprofessional (I’m kidding).
If you’re using G Suite then you’ll also get the option to send the auto-response only to people in your contact list, or even only people in your company/organisation, if you like.
Another cool feature on G Suite is you can now “Schedule Send” an email, so if there’s something you want someone to be reminded of while you’re away, or you want to arrange for something in the days before your return, you can just click the little Down Arrow next to the send button and choose to defer sending until a given time/date.
For a 14-day free trial of G Suite, click here: https://goo.gl/XZdg2C and then send me a message on your social network of choice (I’m @paulfp everywhere) and I’ll give you a discount code which gets you 20% off your first year!
Bonus tip #1 – Whilst you’re poking about in your email, do an inbox purge before you go – clear it out, reply to anything you need to and tie up any loose ends. It’ll still look a mess when you get back, but at least it’ll be all new mess!
4. Put a message on your phone
Once you’ve done your email auto-responder, don’t forget your phone! There will, of course, be people who try to call you instead of email so they need the same treatment. That could be as simple as re-recording your voicemail greeting before turning your phone off, or if you’re part of a bigger team with your own direct line, you might be able to put a message on the phone before the call gets placed back in a general queue or something.
Don’t just divert all calls to your mobile – and for that matter leave your work mobile turned off! You need a break, it’s bad for mental health to still be half “at-the-office” whilst on holiday.
If you’ve only got a very basic phone setup, consider something like Vonage Virtual Receptionist for your business. This sophisticated automated attendant phone service lets you create main menu pathways, routing your callers to the appropriate department or individual for a streamlined experience. Virtual Receptionist also gives you the flexibility to customise your call routing for holidays, lunchtimes or even after hours calls.[Yes, I’ve basically copied and pasted that from their website – but it’s worth checking out! Click this link and you’ll be helping me out if you sign up – thanks!]
5. Put a Notice on Your Website
This tip probably only really applies if you’re a solo freelancer and operations will be pausing completely whilst you’re away. If that’s the case, consider putting a notice to that effect on the contact page on your website?
If your business takes online orders and you fulfil them yourself, make sure customers are aware of delay before they pay. Don’t scare them off completely though, maybe offer a discount or sweetener to keep their custom during a time of slower delivery? Better to lose 10% of your revenue than 100%, eh?
6. Schedule things in advance
Blog posts, YouTube videos and social media posts can all be completed and scheduled up in advance so that even whilst you’re sunning yourself on the beach, your website and social channels can still look active and be driving engagement.
We offer a range of Social Media Management services that you can make use of all year round, not just when you’re on holiday! It can save you a huge amount of time to have everything scheduled up and ready to go, so that regular posts go out across all your social channels several times a day, without you having to stop what you’re doing and write a post. That doesn’t mean you can’t mix in additional off-the-cuff posts, of course, but ensures that regardless of whether you do or don’t, your channels are still active and keeping brand awareness high.
7. Delegate Tasks to Team Members When You’re On Holiday
If you have a small (or large!) team, make sure there are no jobs or functions in your company which are solely down to one person – that’s the best way to make a business fail anyway, because that person could leave! But especially when that person needs a break and holiday, others MUST be able to take over seamlessly.
If you can’t leave your business alone for a week or two, you’re doing something seriously wrong.
Documented procedures and workflows can really help here. Plus, whilst you’re away, that will give people who step into your shoes a chance to learn, grow and develop – which will be useful if you move up the ladder and they end up moving into your place, or even just taking on some of your responsibilities long-term one day. If you haven’t got a team you can trust and rely on, then fix that!
If you’re a freelancer and don’t have the luxury (or is that liability?) of a team, then network and collaborate as part of your general day-to-day business modus operandi before you go away. That way, you’ll hopefully have trusted contacts that you can turn to for help while you’re away – returning the favour yourself when they go away.
Don’t see fellow freelancers in the same field as competitors, see them as potential collaborators and think about how you can add value to each other’s businesses!
8. Document an “emergencies only” contact procedure
You don’t want the rest of your team, or your clients, bugging you whilst you’re on holiday with little things that can wait until you’re back. However, for major things that need your attention right away it can be useful to have a process in place for them to get in touch with you. This will actually give you piece of mind, because hearing nothing will be good news, rather than just not knowing either way. Rather than having a niggling thought in the back of your mind that everything might have gone hay-wire and you’ll be walking into a nightmare next Monday morning, you’ll be able to kick back and relax knowing that they’ve not called you, so no emergency’s happened.
9. Hope for Peace, Plan for War
As strange as it may sound, being fully prepared to work if you absolutely need to, eg. due to an emergency, might help you to relax better when on holiday. Knowing that if, on the off chance, something does go really wrong with your business then you’ll be able to fix it and not feel trapped a million miles away will give you piece of mind.
With that in mind, make sure that you have access to everything you might need – like emails and other data. If you have a VPN set up to your office or other systems, make sure it’s definitely working correctly. Make sure that the place you’re staying at has WiFi and you’re all set up with access to it. Or, make sure you have a mobile broadband dongle, or a SIM in your laptop which is topped up with credit or paid-up on a data plan. If you might need to make calls from a business number in an emergency, make sure you’re set up with something like Vonage so that you can either make calls from your business plan on either a mobile or desktop app, or take the VoIP box away with you so you can plug it into the broadband where you’re staying and use a normal phone with it.
It’s a bit like having fire extinguishers and smoke alarms in place – you hope never to need them, but having them there means you can sleep easy.
10. Charge Enough to Pay For Annual Leave!
Make sure the amount you charge clients for your services throughout the year is high enough not only to cover your day-to-day living costs and expenses, but also to allow for things like sick days, holidays and even enough to put aside for a pension. If you don’t do all those things, then you’d be better off working for someone else and getting “a proper job”!
So you shouldn’t be running your business on such a tight shoestring that taking a couple of weeks off in the summer becomes a frantic worry, with thoughts such as, “how will I cope not earning for TWO whole weeks??!”
I know that can be easier said than done, but that should give you something to aim for if you’re not there already. Aim higher. Aim to get good quality, well-paying clients that respect you as a professional, appreciate your work and will pay accordingly.
We can probably all think of a client that demands the world and expects to pay tuppence. That last invoice you sent… was it really high enough for the time you spent? You’re a talented and experienced professional, after all, and you spent years honing your skills and working on self-development (all of which was probably unpaid). Would you be better off finding a better quality client to replace them and then politely tell them you can no longer provide all those services for so little money? If they’re willing to accept the price rise and new terms, great! If not, you’re probably better off without them (and that sort of client) in the long-term. Food for thought!
Bonus tip #2: Whilst you’re away, capture any inspiration you find. Take a camera, notepad etc. and write down thoughts that might come to you whilst your mind’s at ease and your brain is in its low-power state.
Holiday time is important, because this is your mental health at stake. You need to relax and switch off in order to avoid burnout. This will make you more productive and happier on your return, so there’s absolutely no reason not to!