Vacation for a small business owner rarely results in an actual vacation. Many small business owners feel that they can't totally check out from their business or it will crumble. On a typical vacation I'm sure many small business owners check their email and cell phone at a bare minimum. I know that I typically do. However, on a recent vacation cell and internet access was not available. Did the business crumble and fail? No, quite the opposite it thrived.
I wasn't sure how I was going to react to not having access to my businesses activities until we shoved the raft into the water. We were going on the trip of a lifetime. A 58 mile float trip down Montana's beautiful Smith River. A trip that requires a lottery to gain permit to float and when you draw one you would be a fool to turn it down. As we floated through the canyon I rarely thought about work. The funny thing is when work did enter my mind I wasn't nervous or worried...I was excited. I was excited to talk with my team to see what had happened over the course of the week I was absent. With 58 miles of river and the coolers full of beer I had plenty of time to think and here is what I realized at the end of my vacation.
From Solopreneur To Employees
Things had changed quite a bit from when I was a solopreneur. Back when I was the only employee the wheels of the business really could come off if I neglected it long enough. I remember having to tell every client that I was going on vacation and making sure they were ok with it. I would spend my vacation monitoring my phone and email to not only support my clients but also to give myself peace of mind. I would wonder if clients were upset. Were they shopping my services for a better fit? To say the least vacations for me back then were far from relaxing and I often found myself stressed.
Now we have four employees and soon to be five. When I went on vacation I clearly communicated with our staff what was going on, turned on my vacation email message and tuned out for 5 days. I came back from vacation relaxed, rejuvenated and happy. Also, the wheels did not fall off of the business. Instead I discovered that we had a new client and several proposals going out to new prospects. As I read through my email after vacation I smiled and was relaxed instead of stressed.
I think we have a neat culture at SLC Bookkeeping. We don't punch the clock. I don't monitor vacation time as closely as some think I should. I don't get upset when I call an employee during the week and they ask if we can catch up later because they are skiing, mountain biking or fishing. That is what we are all about; work hard and play hard. It is always entertaining watching a new employee figure out how we operate. They ask questions like "I'm going to the desert for the weekend and was wondering if I could leave a day early and take Friday off?" My response is always the same "I don't care as long as our clients are happy." Right from the beginning I tell employees it's all about the clients. As long as the work gets done and clients don't call me upset you can work how and when you want to.
It was slightly ironic that an article was published while I was on vacation about Hubspot's CEO Brian Halligan titled Hubspot CEO: 99% Of Corporate Cultures Are Stuck In The Past. It is an interesting article and Halligan has some good points in it. If you read the interview you will realize right away that Hubspot is not a normal place to work. However, it is a very successful company with a unique culture.
I think that in order for your small business to succeed you have to play fair with your employees. Like Halligan said in his interview it seems silly that most CEO's make 50x some of the employees. Like Halligan I don't make much more than our employees either and in return I expect very high performance from them. I also take a lot of time off to fly fish and go skiing so I expect our employees to spend some of their time following their passion. If all we did was go on vacation then nothing would get done. So internally we have the mentality to make it work for everyone. Work together to make sure everyone gets their fair share of time off. Communicate with one another about what weeks are important to have off and why. If you took off Christmas week last year maybe give someone else a chance. The end result of a company that plays fair with their employees is a highly efficient business that works.
Vacation for the small business owner is often not a vacation at all, especially if they are a one man show. However, taking no vacation is boring and will most likely lead to becoming burnt out. Find a formula that works for your small business to allow for time off.
Have you struggled with taking vacation time as a small business owner?
What did you do to resolve it?