Small business tips for stress-free holidays

Many people will take a break for Christmas and New Year – but not many of those will be small business owners.

The reality is small business owners won’t take a holiday for fear of things falling apart.

But working yourself into the ground isn’t a great recipe for long-term success.

So, we spoke to successful businessperson and serial traveller, Victoria Wilkinson from First Class Accounts, about how to take leave and keep the bottom line healthy.

The Pulse: Before we jet off, could you tell us a bit about yourself

Victoria: I’d worked in accounting roles in the finance sector for years and was sick of the 9-5 routine so decided to start my own bookkeeping business in 2004. I now have three part-time staff, a great core clientele, and around 60 other clients I work with in a consulting capacity when they need help on specific projects.

The Pulse: When was your last holiday and where did you go?

Victoria: In May, I went to Tanzania in Africa for six weeks. We did an epic safari in the Serengeti and visited Kilimanjaro… I’ll be climbing it next time!

The Pulse: Did you feel anxious about leaving?

Victoria: Yes. I’ve done lots of other shorter trips but this six-week holiday made me nervous because it meant I’d be away during a BAS period — a notoriously busy time for the business.

The Pulse: What did you do to prepare?

Victoria: First up, I told clients about my holiday plans well in advance and set up systems to make sure they would be looked after during my absence.

I helped set them up on free communications tools like What’s App, Viber, and Skype so they could touch base for anything urgent.

I organised my staff to cover at least four days per week, briefed them thoroughly about client accounts and set up a special inbox that all staff could access to respond to clients.

I also used a cool program called Icecream Screen Recorder to make some training videos that showed staff and clients how to access things like cash flow, P&L, and Payroll reports in their cloud accounting software packages.

READ: How to run a bookkeeping business on the road

The Pulse: Did preparing so much mean you could switch off during your vacation?

Victoria: It made me feel comfortable that things would run smoothly when I was away.

However, I did check in every two to three days when I was in away.

Tanzania is seven hours behind, so I’d get up at 6am and be able to do a couple of hours work when my clients were online back home.

The Pulse: That doesn’t really sound like a holiday. Why were you working?

Victoria: To be honest, I felt better about being away when I had the ability to login and check everything was okay.

Knowing I could keep up-to-date took away the stress of thinking about the time I’d have to spend catching up when I got home.

I don’t think I can ever fully switch off, but I can manage my time to make sure work doesn’t ruin my holiday by setting strict rules.

For example, I will only check in every two or three days and work for a limited number of hours. I will be very clear with clients about my schedule and what I can achieve for them within it.

The Pulse: Do you think it’s damaging for business owners not being able to totally clock off?

Victoria: I think it all comes down to your personality. For me, I would stress more if I wasn’t checking in on my business on holiday.

At the end of the day, business owners need to be realistic and find a solution that allows them to holiday in a way that’s restorative to them – the key is planning.

The Pulse: Have your holidays had a good impact on your business?

Victoria: They’ve given me the headspace to look at ways I can make my business more efficient. I realised that sometimes I enable my clients to contact me all the time and this wastes a lot of time.

So, going on holidays has inspired me to help train and empower them to do many everyday bookkeeping tasks themselves. And finally, I always come back refreshed and happy, and that means I’m at my best for my staff and clients.

The Pulse: Has anything ever gone pear-shaped while you were away?

Victoria: Luckily, no. The most urgent thing I had to do was prepare some financials quickly for a client who was applying for a business loan. It was a simple enough task and everything went through fine.