One of the perks you’re supposed to enjoy when you’re self-employed is the freedom to take time off when you need it.
The reality is that for solopreneurs and small business owners, the cultural pressure to keep working is magnified by the fact that you’re ultimately responsible for everything. Americans are famously “under-vacationed,” with less than half of employees taking all the days they’re given.
However, you definitely need time to rest and replenish your creative thinking and problem solving skills. Here’s how to make those breaks happen.
Why business owners need to take regular breaks
Whether your idea of a great vacation is umbrella drinks at a tropical resort or backpack camping in the wilderness, no one needs to convince you that vacations are fun. If fun isn’t a good enough reason for you, here are some other benefits of getting away.
Vacations are good for your health
Researchers and health experts have studied the effects of vacations on wellbeing for decades. Among the findings: vacations reduce blood pressure and stress-hormone levels, can be a factor in preventing heart disease, and can help reset unhealthy sleep patterns. The more frequent and regular study subjects’ vacations were, the stronger the health benefits. Considering the stresses of running a business, these are valuable benefits.
Vacations improve your creativity
None of us likes to think there’s a limit to our brainpower, but researchers say it’s true. Constantly drawing from the well of our own ideas and creativity without a break causes our mental productivity to decline over time. Apart from being just plain depressing, that mental slowdown can crush your ability to innovate and develop smart responses to business problems. The good news is that with more frequent breaks, you’ll be able to solve problems better and faster.
Vacations can be good for your brand
Worried that you’ll seem like a slacker to clients and customers? Don’t fear. Letting people know you’re taking a well-earned break (and that they’ll be taken care of while you’re out) shows that you know how to balance your time and take care of yourself. If you have employees or are looking to hire, a vacation-friendly attitude will make your company more appealing to applicants, especially Millennials who put a high priority on work-life balance.
How to budget money and time for a vacation when you work for yourself
One of the saddest things to hear from self-employed people is that they don’t have the time and money for a break. How can you break out of the working-too-hard-to-stop cycle?
Price your products and services right
Remember, when you’re self-employed, it’s up to you, not an employer, to make sure you have paid time off. If you’re setting prices too low to make that happen, revisit your pricing strategies and maybe change your target audience to one with more buying power.When you’re self-employed, it’s up to you, not an employer, to make sure you have paid time off. Click To Tweet
Set up vacation savings
Building vacation savings into your budget is important but easy to overlook. Put aside a set amount each month so you can book those state park reservations early or jump on an airfare deal when the time is right.
Fence off your vacation time
Over the past five years of self-employment, I’ve learned to be consistent about choosing vacation days well in advance. You can sit down with a calendar at the start of each year or each quarter to pick the days you want. Block them out on your calendar app so you don’t book meetings or work on those days.
How to vacation without coming home to chaos
Coming home from vacation to a messy house is kind of a bummer. Coming home to business messes can kill your vacation relaxation buzz in no time. Plan ahead so you can enjoy your break and your return to work.
For solopreneur online retailers
Post a notice on each page of your site and your checkout with the dates when you’ll be unavailable to answer customer inquiries, offer support, or ship orders. Emphasize the date when you’ll be back online. Set up a vacation autoresponder notice for your work email addresses. If you’re truly concerned about customer issues cropping up while you’re gone, you can take your shop offline, with a notice telling customers when you’ll be back.
For independent freelancers and consultants
The general rule I follow as a freelance professional is to give clients a month or so of notice when I’m going to be away for more than a couple of days. That gives them enough lead time to adjust their timetables, if necessary. I also spell out which of their projects (or project sections) will be done before I leave and which I’ll tackle when I return so they don’t have any last-minute surprises. I use a vacation autoresponder for my emails, too, so they don’t think I’m ignoring them while I’m away.
Remember to let potential clients know about your plans when it’s relevant. For example, if you have an inquiry about a major 3-month project, be upfront about the fact that you’ll be in Fiji for a couple of weeks right in the middle of their project window.
For small e-retailers and agencies with employees
If you’re a small online retailer or agency owner with employees and vendors, make sure they know when you’ll be out well in advance. Decide who’s going to cover for you and who will maintain your website. Put those plans in writing, along with a process for resolving any problems, and notes on when to contact you. If your vendors or clients normally deal directly with you, introduce them to the employee who’ll be taking over while you’re out.
Make sure you have contact information for your webhosting service in case you need to resolve site issues from the road. If you’re traveling abroad or to a remote area, find out what type of internet and phone access you’ll have, in case you have to deal with work on vacation. You can buy a short-term in-country mobile and data plan with your carrier or pick up a pay-as-you-go phone with local coverage when you reach your destination so you don’t have to scramble for access if something comes up.
While you’re on vacation
Pulling your attention away from your business long enough to relax can be tough, especially during your first vacation after you launch your business. If a trusted employee is minding things for you, you can safely disengage unless they contact you. If you’re a solopreneur, you have a couple of choices.
Check in occasionally
If worry about your business threatens to spoil your break, you could check your email and website from time to time. The risk of that is you may end up responding to clients and vendors who forgot you’re on vacation. That trains them (and you) to ignore the boundaries you set on work time.
The other risk is you may see a piece of bad news you can’t do a thing about. This happened to me when I foolishly checked my work email on the first day of my very first vacation as a freelancer. That’s how I learned one of my biggest clients was halting their content marketing program pending an overhaul. That could have waited until I got home, not only because it made me apprehensive but also because I felt like a dummy for stressing myself at the start of a trip I’d saved for all year.
Going totally offline is the vacation ideal. Most of us don’t come close to achieving the no-email-on-vacation goal, because we’re all secretly afraid we’ll miss a one-in-a-million crisis and come back to chaos, but we can get closer to totally unplugging with practice. I took the offline approach during my second trip abroad as a freelancer, because my past vacations showed me I had a good handle on preparing for breaks. I also didn’t want any out-of-my-control bad news spoiling my family trip.
When you return from vacation
Re-entry doesn’t have to mean catching up on email for two days straight. Prioritize by checking in with your clients, employees, and vendors, and address any real issues that cropped up while you were gone. Make a few notes on what to do differently next time to make vacations even less stressful.
Take a moment to appreciate the fact that your business can stand on its own for a few days while you’re rewarding yourself for your hard work. Then start flexing those newly refreshed creative-thinking skills to make your business even better. While you’re at it, start planning your next vacation.
Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelancer who enjoys writing about business development and marketing, e-commerce payments and fraud prevention, and travel.