How to Step Away From Your Small Business & Have a Worry Free Vacation

Worry Free Vacations for Small Business Owners Are Possible

Woman riding mountain bike
••• Image (c) David Epperson / Getty Images

Most small business owners could seriously use a worry free vacation - but small business owners in general are notorious for not taking vacations at all. In fact, according to a survey on vacation time commissioned by Sam's Club, nearly 50% of small business owners take only major holidays off or nothing at all. And a survey by Funding Circle found that even major holidays sometimes fall by the wayside; 70% of business owners worked on Thanksgiving even though they had planned to take that whole day off.

And even those who do take time off find it very difficult to relax while on vacation. According to a survey by American Express OPEN Small Business Monitor, two out of three entrepreneurs worry while on vacation about everything from missed business opportunities through employees slacking off. Throw in concerns about the economy and ever-rising fuel and energy costs, and it's no wonder that so many small business people are reluctant to take some downtime.

But as Alice Bredin, American Express OPEN small business advisor, says, "For all of us and especially entrepreneurs, a vacation, even if downscaled, is a necessity not a luxury, especially when times are stressful."

So what can you do as a small business owner to get the worry free vacation time you need to keep yourself and your small businesses thriving? Basically, there are three options.

1) Close the Shop

One popular option is to close your business down during vacations. For example, a local bakery has a history of being closed for the month of January while its husband and wife owners take a vacation in warmer climes. Closing down a service business for a brief period of time is also possible with some advance planning; it's basically a matter of not scheduling appointments/commitments during a particular period of time and letting clients know that you're going to be away in advance.

Closing your business temporarily to take a vacation works well as a worry free vacation plan for some because it eliminates so many of the things we small business owners can't stop worrying about while we're gone. Employees can’t slack off, for instance, if they're not there.

If you're closing your business to take some time off you want to be sure that you're doing so during your slowest season and give your clients/customers as much notice as possible.

Closing your business for a certain period of time has risks though. Closed businesses don't bring in any money and being closed forces your customers and/or clients who can’t wait to take their business elsewhere.

(Need to know what to do if you're closing your business permanently? See How to Close a Business in Canada.)

2) Take Your Business with You

Many small business owners are able to take advantage of current technology and take their small businesses with them when they travel - a great way to get a worry free vacation. As long as you can work remotely and are vacationing in places with adequate technological resources (reliable electricity and wireless bases, for example) you can use your smart phone/laptop/tablet to keep your business operating.

Your chances of a worry free vacation are much improved because you're still able to keep tabs on things and deal with problems as they crop up.

Obviously, though, taking your business with you when you travel will not work for some businesses which require face-to-face interactions and/or hands on production. It doesn't matter how many muffin orders the bakers mentioned above are able to take if there's no one on site to bake them.

And it can also be a poor choice in terms of a business person's personal health. To do what it's supposed to do, rejuvenate and refresh you, a vacation should be a period of time you experience something different, not do more of the same.

But still, this can be the best solution for Type-A types who just can't stand to be cut off from their business for entire days. To make it an actual vacation, just be sure to limit your work time. Try using a time and setting aside a particular time to work each day for a limited time. When the time goes off, you're done - and hopefully back to worry free relaxing.

3) Find Replacement Management

For most small businesses, this last option is the best. The business continues to operate and bring in money and from a personal point of view, you get what you need most - a real break.

There are two things you have to do if having someone look after your business while you're gone is truly going to be a worry free vacation experience for you; pick the right person to manage your small business while you're on vacation and train them to do it ahead of time.

Pick the Right Person

If you have employees, choose the most capable and reliable person and designate him or her your second-in-command. (You should do this even if you're not planning a vacation as you never know when you'll be unable to work in your business for some reason.)

If you don’t have any employees, one ideal solution is to swap "vacation time" with another business person in the same or a similar area.

For instance, a financial adviser might cover another financial adviser's business for a week or two in exchange for having her business looked after when she goes on vacation. You might also ask a retired business person to fill in, or one of the members of your advisory board.

Training Them to Manage Your Small Business

1) First, if you are not a one-person business operator, and you're not already doing it, you need to start practicing delegation. Admittedly, this is more about training you then about training them, but you have to be able to let go before someone else can do it.

2) Make a list of important procedures and information. What does your replacement/second in command need to know to keep your business operating while you're gone?

3) Decide what an emergency is. Under what circumstances do you want your replacement to contact you while you're on vacation? If a certain client calls? Only if there's a fire or an earthquake? Be clear about your expectations.

4) Meet with the person who's going to be running your business while you're away, share the information and see what other concerns she or he has.

5) Have some trial runs. Before you go on vacation for a week, practice turning over the reins and taking a break from your business. Take a real mini-vacation or pretend you are and do something different such as taking the weekend off.

Having someone else be in control of things for brief periods, even if it's just a day, will give you both the chance to see how things go and work out the details of your "away" plan - and give you personally a chance to get used to the idea of not working on your business.

Running a business while on vacation will take a bit of work in advance on your part, but it's the best way to actually get a worry-free vacation when you do actually take one. And, once your vacation plan is in place and you have someone prepared to back you up, getting to take a vacation in the future will be a whole lot easier.