Taking time off from your small business

Break-time walk

Break-time walk

We all need a break. We know that. Sometimes we let ourselves be tied to the mill.

In the early days when we started, we learned that businesses do not run themselves. It might have seemed that the more we worked, the more money we made, and the less we worked, the less money we made. So we might have got into the habit of working all hours of the day, six or seven days a week.

I have learned, and perhaps you have too, that working every hour God sends is not good for our health, and actually not good for our business because we become tired and jaded and less efficient. We may forget things and make mistakes. We have to go back and re-do tasks that should have been easy.

Most of us work to our own schedule. After all, it is our business so we can organize our own schedule. It is vital not only to manage our work time, but also our time off; our time to relax.

Actually it is important for everyone to have time off and not to work long hours for any period. When I worked for a large firm of accountants way back, there was a culture of getting in early and staying late. It was expected of everyone, whether they actually had anything to do while they sat at their desks. Latterly because of poor organization by my bosses I actually did not have enough to do and said so. Eventually I decided to leave the office when I had done my work and my contractual hours were fulfilled. I had much more satisfaction in the gym or at the cinema in the hours I was no longer wasting.

In one of those sorts of work cultures it is easy to be locked into a treadmill and be worn out and be far less effective. I was interested to read in Forbes an article advocating a four-day week for employees. Of course the employees would be expected to work longer hours as a price for getting an extra day off a week. However, both mentally and physically it seems to me the extra downtime could make a person much more effective at work when they were doing their four days on.

So it is with we who run our own businesses. Yes, we should be flexible in the way we run our affairs in order to suit our customers and clients. However I know that I work much better when I am making sure I do take time off, and that I make time for important family stuff. And as I have mentioned, when I am out for a walk, which is every day, I have my best ideas for my business and for my writing, because relaxing my mind makes those ideas pop into my head without any effort.

Four day weeks may not suit everyone. Sometimes I have a four-day working week. Sometimes I have a holiday and therefore a “no-day week”. Sometimes I just take an afternoon off. If our businesses are well-run and efficient we should all be able to do that. We are not slaves to our businesses or ourselves, because that would be no fun, and business should be fun, shouldn’t it?

Are you afraid to take time off? You shouldn’t be.

 

Enjoy yourself

Reflections

Isn’t it great to be happy? We cannot be happy all the time. Life can be difficult. We have family pressures and worries. We have business pressures too. No one has ever run a business where everything went right.

This past week I have been thinking how important it is to be happy in work. In my days as an employee I have had several periods when I was very happy. I felt liberated early on in my working career even as an office junior, because for the first time I was treated as a real person and not an irrelevance as I had been during my mostly rather unhappy education. It was great.

Later I had a magical few years working close to the London insurance market, and then again during my first job as a manager. Finally as an employee I has a very brief but enjoyable period working with someone who has this week fallen from grace in a rather shocking way. Although we did not part on good terms, I am truly sorry and at the same time grateful that I was allowed a time to know how good I was at what I did; even if it did turn out to be the last time I was able to have a job before passing the age barrier to getting another.

Bike time

The rest is history of course, because I got on my bike to start a business. I have had a lot of fun and still do. I could not work for anyone else now. Times were very hard at the beginning, and there have been ups and downs since, but we are still standing and the economy does seem to be better.

Relaxation

I have learned it is important to relax. I need to get out of the office, and I enjoy walking around our local countryside and across along the river. When I am outside, I get my best business ideas, my best ideas for articles and blog posts, and get to sort out solutions to difficult problems to do with business or otherwise. I don’t have to make an effort to think. In fact I do not dwell on sticky issues when I am out. I take in the scenery and surroundings and the useful thoughts just pop into my head, because I am enjoying myself.

My wife and I do take holidays as often as is practical, which is at least annually and sometimes twice a year. We are sometimes self-indulgent, but we only get one go at our lives.

It’s later than you think

An elderly couple to whom I used to speak sometimes on one of my local country walks no longer seem to be living at home. I don’t know what happened to them. Maybe they couldn’t cope any more. Perhaps one has died or maybe both. I know the old gentleman had run his own business, though mostly we talked about cameras and photography. I just hope he and his wife had fun.

Business should be fun. If it is, we run it better because we have enthusiasm. If business isn’t fun we need to sort ourselves out or run a different business which is fun.

My old biology teacher used to say “Are you happy in your work?”. Well, are you?

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Cut off from the world

We have been travelling recently and within the past week unexpectedly I have been completely cut off from any broadband or internet connection. As I run several small businesses, at first I felt complete withdrawal symptoms.

It is strange not being in touch with the world of business, and yet I guess had I been in business for myself fifteen or twenty years ago I would have thought nothing of it or at least would simply have relied on the phone to stay in touch. Now of course we are accustomed to having a continuous stream of information 24/7 if we want it.

Having re-established connection with the world, of course nothing is awry. It shouldn’t be, because I have arrangements to make sure that all important matters are dealt with in my absence, my phones are answered and there is really nothing that should go wrong.

I will be away for a while yet. I don’t need to worry about business, because although it doesn’t actually take care of itself, I have provided for it to be taken care of.

It really is important to take a step back and relax sometimes. I knew that already, but am pleased to have had the timely reminder. Have a good holiday now if it is your vacation time, or have one when you have time off. Make sure you do have time off, though, because you will be better for it.

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Why we should avoid giving our clients and prospects the holiday blues

Holiday beach

We all need to have a holiday. Well, nearly all of us need one. If we have a small business it takes a certain amount of planning, just as it does to make sure we take leisure time during our working week.

Our clients do not take holidays at the same time as we do. That means that if they leave a message with our office or send us an email they expect some response within a reasonable time. I think a reasonable time is no more than a day for the client to know that you have got or will get the message.

If the client has sent an email, make sure that someone sends a real reply and not an “out of the office” standard response.

If the client has telephoned you know that I think they must have spoken to someone representing your business, if they called in “normal” office hours. That person should have told them that you will get the message when you get back from your holiday. The client will feel that something is going to happen.

If a prospect has called with a new enquiry and not had a timely response their business will go elsewhere.

I don’t think we need to be distracted in our planned leisure time by clients as everyone should understand we all need a holiday. At the same time, I don’t think they should be left hanging, waiting for something to happen, without knowing we are away.

We need to make sure our businesses appear professional and reliable. Most of us are not there 24/7 because we are not large corporations, but that is why we can be special and offer a more personal service. We can show our clients we care and still have a life outside. What do you think?

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Business, red tape, regulation, the Nanny State and the Land of the Free

As most of we small business owners already know, in UK from 1st April 2009 all workers are entitled to 5.6 weeks paid holiday, which is 28 days for a worker on a five day week. Well, quite right too, you might say if you are not the business owner who has to grant all the employees this extra leave, with no compensation from the Government, so generous with all our money.

Now, please understand that I do acknowledge the value of having family time, and all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy (and Jill a dull girl, I suppose). However, with this latest addition to paid leave and the prospect of even longer maternity and (probably) paternity leave the small business owner is bound to come under great pressure, given that we are in a recession, profits are under the hammer and cash flow is tight. Indeed the employee-leave element is very likely to be what breaks the camel’s back, though it is hardly a straw, but an additional heavy burden.

I have recently been in the United States. Now, the recession is biting hard and there is news daily about jobs lost or expected to be lost throughout the US, property foreclosures and the rest. Americans work very hard in that they have far less paid leave than their European counterparts. As I understand it there is no statutory minimum for paid leave in the US, and most employers give between 10 and 20 days, and no doubt this depends on their jobs market. I am certainly not saying that in Europe there should be no statutory minimum; I am just wondering how the British Government, in collusion with the EU, has managed to get up to 28 days; a terrible millstone around the necks of small business in general.

I freely admit I once had entitlement to 28 days paid leave. It came after 30 years of employment and was earned through seniority and value to my employer. I started as the office junior on three weeks leave, and my parents started on two (and they worked Saturdays). I was not even allowed paid leave to take professional exams, in which my employers saw no value.

Few small business owners are able to award themselves 28 working days leave, Monday to Friday. Most work many more hours, though this time is not always productive. Talk to me about that or buy Clare Evans’ book. No, I am not on commission.

I felt a little downhearted returning to the over-taxed UK from the still free independent US where I saw no speed cameras and where everyone is carrying on regardless without too much wailing and gnashing of teeth. I know which economy will bounce back first, and it won’t be the over-taxed, over-regulated, social network monitoring (and probably steaming open our letters), paranoid Nanny-State UK.

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