Yes, small business owners take vacations. Here’s how they do it.

Editorial Team

6 min read
Couple hiking in the woods

Summer is around the corner, and while rising prices are prompting some to rethink vacation travel, few people are in need of a break more than small business owners who have spent the past two years contending with COVID-19, supply chain disruptions and labor shortages. But when the business is your baby, how can you ever get away?

For many small business owners, the struggle is real: According to a survey from OnDeck, 61% of small business owners take just five business days off per year, compared to 10 for those employed by corporate America. On top of that, 67% of business owners said that they check in with work at least once per day while on vacation, with only 15% saying they disconnect entirely.

But there are huge benefits to taking a true vacation: stress relief; mental health; precious time with family and friends; and the fresh perspective, bursts of creativity and energy renewal that comes from a true disconnect from the daily grind. Here’s how four business owners pull it off while keeping business humming.

1. Over-plan far in advance

Everyone has to plan their vacations in advance, but a small business owner should be thinking even farther ahead. Over-preparing and being ultra-communicative with your clients, employees and customers will help ensure that your absence from the business doesn’t have too high of an impact or leave anyone scrambling.

“If you have individual clients that work with you, personally (instead of working with any of your employees), alert them in advance to your vacation schedule and that you will be unavailable to do their work during your vacation,” writes Janet Attard, founder of Business Know-How. “Tell them you’ll be back at work two or three days after you actually get back, too. Doing so will give you time to catch up and get back in the swing of things before dealing with clients and new issues.”

2. Work within the natural ebb and flow of your business

The concept of a “summer vacation” doesn’t apply to everyone. If you own a swimwear store on Cape Cod, for example, summer is not exactly a great time to step away. Pay careful attention to the natural ebb and flow of your business and try to plan vacations around the quieter and slower periods.

“Whenever I’m planning to take time off, I always choose a time that I know will be quiet for the business,” said Max Robinson of Turnbull & Scott Industrial Heating. His industry naturally has a busier season in the winter months, so by planning his vacations in the summer, he can rest assured that he’s not missing out on anything major or urgent. “You’ll always be missing out on business when you take time off, but you can minimize the impact by choosing a generally quieter period to take your vacation.”

3. Build time-off into your culture

As a business owner, it can be easy to forget that your actions and policies impact the work culture around you. That applies to everything, including PTO and vacations. If you’re not taking time off seriously for yourself or your business, your employees might feel the need to mirror that behavior and burn out.

“PTO is very important to me,” Tony Wibbeler of Bolder Industries, a waste management company in Boulder, Colorado, told Zenefits. His company offers PTO to everyone and makes it mandatory. “We enforce it in our culture by saying things like, ‘Hey your PTO is running out what are you going to do with it?’” Wibbeler says that the payoff of such a policy goes beyond the obvious. Not only can his workers feel flexible with their time, they feel more secure and committed to their jobs thanks to the policy’s impact on work culture. “Our PTO policy pays us back 10 times over,” Wibbeler says. “Most factory workers clock out for the day and don’t care if shit hits the fan. Our workers stay to solve the problem. People who leave the company give us four weeks’ notice or ensure their role is filled. They talk about how cool it is to work here. That’s value.”

4. Be open about vacations to deepen connections

Being open and honest about your time off can have two benefits: open communication helps your staff, customers, and clients prepare for your absence; and, according to Alana Rivera, founder of the sustainable body care brand Etta + Billie, transparency deepens connections with employees, customers and clients alike.

“I always let both my B2B and B2C customers know when I’m going to be away and where I’m going via our newsletter,” Rivera told Nav. “Not only does it strengthen our business relationship, it’s also an opportunity to connect on a more personal level. When I went to Portugal last summer, I let my wholesale partners know a few weeks ahead of time that I’d be out for a couple of weeks and asked for any suggestions of places to eat or see. Not only did I get an influx of orders but I also got wonderful recommendations and well wishes!”

5. Relax and enjoy yourself

Perhaps the most important tip for taking a vacation as a small business owner is to actually relax and enjoy yourself. Whether your plan is to swim, ski or skydive, do it and enjoy it. This is your time, and as a business owner, your time is vitally important.

Burnout is real, and small business owners take on a lot. Running a business means throwing yourself completely into your work, and the only way you can make that a long lasting proposition is by being equally serious about your time off. This is doubly true considering that all the planning and preparing business owners need to do for a vacation may have already added an extra stressor to your daily grind.

Once you’re on vacation, be on vacation. Relax, have fun, unwind, and blow off some steam. It’s not selfish, it’s an investment in you, and your mental and physical health. If you take your vacation and relaxation seriously, it can pay off long term with you being less stressed and better equipped to handle the day-to-day of running your business.

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