Transcript: How To Take A Vacation When You’re Running A Business

Well, hello there. It’s Catherine Langman here, and welcome back to another episode of the Productpreneur Success podcast.

This week’s topic is all about how to take a vacation when you’re running a business, and the inspiration for this week’s topic is my own holiday that I just took last week. I had a week off with my family, my husband and three kids, and we decamped down to a little beach holiday town, not far from where we live, about an hour and a half away, beautiful little beach town.

We had this booked because it was my mother’s 80th birthday. I come from a pretty big family, but I am the only one who lives in the same city and the same state as my mother. Unfortunately, thanks to all of the border closures and lockdowns through this coronavirus pandemic period, none of the rest of my family could actually come. So it was a much smaller celebration than we had been planning. We’ve been planning this for quite some time.

But anyhow, we went down there. My mum had her own holiday house, and we had our own holiday house. We were right on the beach, and it was just amazing to take a few days out and to just decompress a little bit and a bit of a relaxation and recuperation, rejuvenation, whatever you want to call it. I guess for me in my business now, I’m able to take a bit of a break like that, and it really doesn’t impact my business because I have an amazing team to keep the coal fires burning, so to speak, and to keep the business running and doing all the things that need to be done. So shout out to my amazing team.

But I do remember that from my early days, especially when I started my first business, it’s pretty uncommon to take a holiday, right? It’s more common as entrepreneurs to just keep hustling and to keep working and putting in the long hours. I don’t know what it is about entrepreneurs, but I think we’re pretty driven human beings and pretty ambitious a lot of the time. And I guess a lot of the time it doesn’t necessarily feel like work, either. So it’s not like when you’re an employee. You turn up and you do your job and you get paid for that. Then you go home and you have your evenings and weekends off, hopefully. So, anyway, it is a bit of a problem, I think, with entrepreneurs and small business owners not taking a break. That can start to impact your health and it can lead to burnout.

I believe that all entrepreneurs and business owners do need to take a break every now and then. My husband is probably going to say, “You should take your own medicine sometimes. Take your own advice.” I know.

But, as entrepreneurs, we’re typically not, especially in the early years, we’re not going to be taking out four-week block of holidays, most of the time, like you would potentially as an employee. In fact, I don’t I think I know many business owners at all, certainly myself included, who would ever take that much time off in a year and I am working towards it. I would definitely love to take a bit more time off during school holidays, but to take a big block of time is hard. And I’m sure that the reasons that we, as business owners, don’t take that time out and to take a vacation, there’s many different and varied reasons why we might not do that.

For me personally, it’s usually been a bit of a combination of feeling as though I just have way too much to do and not enough time or a big enough team to get it all done if I don’t keep going. Or it could be that taking a break means a loss of income that I’m relying on. Or it could simply be and it definitely has been in many times over the years, I’m just simply enjoying myself too much and just feel too excited and exhilarated and motivated by the work and I don’t want to take a break.

But I know with my first business, I was literally working day and night and weekends without taking a break. I wasn’t taking a holiday or a vacation or anything like that. I was doing things like traveling interstate every couple of months to run trade shows and expos all around the country. I was running the day-to-day business and doing all of the sales and marketing for the business.

I can’t remember now, because this is back in 2007 onwards, I can’t remember now how long I kept that up before taking a break and before my energy and health were impacted by this, the high stress levels and the lack of sleep and all of that kind of stuff. It was probably at least a year, if not two.

But the consequences of not taking time off, especially if you are working long hours and feeling like your stress levels are running pretty high and you’re not getting enough sleep consistently, it can lead to burnout and I can speak from personal experience. It’s not fun. And I know that I have a couple of clients who’ve either reached the point of burnout or sort of on the road to that. So shout out to you guys. This is your instruction from me that you need to try and schedule a holiday, and I’m going to give you some tips and some strategies to manage that time out from your business without losing the business.

Recently, I came across this excellent quote. I’m not going to remember it correctly, and I don’t know where I read it, so I’m just going to give you the gist of it. It went something like this, “Everything will work again, if you switch it off for a bit, including you.” And it is so true. Sometimes the most productive thing that you can actually do to help you get more done is to take some rest. So let’s go through how can we do that. Just acknowledging again, that I do understand that probably in the early days of your business, you’re probably not going to want to take a break. Often in the early days of a business, you’re pumped, you’re motivated. You’re happy to hustle and put the work in. Especially when you start to see some results coming in, that can be extra motivating and you just want to keep working hard and long hours.

But it isn’t sustainable to work like that in the longterm and you do burn out. If you can’t foresee yourself being able to take at least a week out any time soon, at least make sure that you’re taking the evenings off and the weekends off, just building in smaller breaks along the way until you can take a bigger chunk of time.

In fact, I think in my first business, the first time that I actually took a decent break would’ve probably been after the birth of my third child. I started that business when I had my first two children already, so they were toddler and baby when I started that business. It was probably about two years after I started the business that I actually found out that I was pregnant, maybe three years. Anyway.

Ironically, I didn’t really take a break when I had my daughter. I had a couple of weeks off when I gave birth. But after that, I actually went back into the business and kept going, which was a stupid thing to do in hindsight. But I think the child, I just sort of thought, “Oh, yeah, it’s fine. I know what I’m doing.”

So I went back to work and, of course, fell into a bit of a hole. So when she was about three months old, I just had to take a break and so we left Sydney for a few weeks. I think I probably had about three weeks or something like that. I needed to do that before I really did burn out.

So I’ve definitely been through times where, in the early days of business, before I had a really big team or I didn’t have products in a warehouse or anything like that. So I’ve been through different scenarios where trying to take a break where I don’t have a team or, literally, can’t have the business ticking over without me there and then later down the track as I have built teams and I have other people to do the work for me. Then there’s other things that you need to consider to make sure that the revenue and the sales, et cetera, keep coming in whilst you’re away and they’re there to do the work and, of course, to ensure that they’re doing things the way that they need to be done.

So let’s talk about both scenarios. Let’s go through the first scenario there where it’s a little bit early days in the business and it’s maybe just you, or were you and a very small team or maybe you and a couple of contractors and you’re still managing all of the order fulfillment, so picking and packing all of the orders, you’re still doing things like customer service and posting your own social media content and sending your emails out and all of that sort of stuff. So you’re pretty much wearing all the hats in the business.

If that’s where you are in your business, how do you take a break then? There are actually things that you can do. Obviously, one option is to literally shut down your online store so that you can’t take any orders. I’ve certainly seen that happen before. One client that we’re working with at the moment did that over Christmas. It was off the back of an extremely busy sales period in the lead-up to Christmas. But then she was in the sort of product category where she really didn’t anticipate making many sales over the Christmas to New Year’s break. She probably would’ve made some, but turning the store off at that point in time wasn’t going to completely break the business.

It’s not my favorite way to do things, especially if you have been working on your business and you’ve started to get a little bit of momentum with things like getting traffic to your website and generating sales in your online store, the sorts of things that you might be doing to get that traffic and sales, so working on your search engine optimization, your SEO, or working on some paid ads, whether it’s Google Shopping or Facebook Ads or whatever the case may be, building your email list, starting to build a little bit of an audience of people who know you.

If you then go and turn your online store off, you will definitely lose momentum and you probably will see a bigger impact than just one week’s lost sales. Say, for example, you have some organic search traffic because you’ve been working on your SEO and then Google starts to see that people are coming to your store and they can’t order, so they’re leaving straightaway, then that doesn’t look very favorable on you and so you can start to see your rankings impacted a little bit by the clicking away from your website.

Similarly, if you are doing things like paid advertising you certainly wouldn’t be sending traffic to an online store that’s closed so, obviously, you would turn the ads off. By doing that, turning your ads off, then you will also lose momentum with your ads.

In another scenario say, for example, you’ve been sending emails, or you’ve been starting to build up a bit of an audience, whether it’s on your email list or on social media or wherever, and people start to know that you’re the online store to go to get whatever it is that you sell. If then they start to go to your website and it’s shut, then that can be a bit of a turnoff as well and you might start to lose that audience a little bit.

So I guess as a last resort, obviously, you can close your online store, but here’s an option for you that will help you to avoid doing that and still take a little bit of time off. This is what I have done in the past. It’s not going to allow you to take a really long time out of your business, but if you need to take a week away, this is what I would be doing.

You still enable your websites to take orders, so you’re still open for business and you can take orders. But you need to have some notices all over your website to say that the orders will be shipped on whatever date after you return. My suggestion is that you offer an incentive to customers to place the order anyway and wait. That might be free express shipping on all orders. Don’t make them use a coupon code. Just make it across the board, if you can, and potentially something else as well, like a small free gift with purchase, something along those lines. So just incentivize customers to still place their order and wait for the shipping.

If you’re going to do this, you need to make sure that you’ve got notifications all over your website, so the notice right across the top of your website, where you would usually see free shipping on orders over $60 or whatever your free shipping threshold is. Put it up there, put a pop-up that appears on your website and an exit intent pop-up as well. I would be putting it in red bold text in your product descriptions as well, and make sure it also goes out in the order-received emails so the automatic email that goes out, so you’d need to edit that as well.

Just make it really clear. I know that there’s always going to be the one person who doesn’t read, but try and put it in enough different places where you’re going to really reduce the risk of somebody not seeing that their order is not going to be shipped for a few days. So that’s one thing.

Then the next thing that you definitely want to do is send a couple of emails in the weeks leading up to your holiday. Send two or three emails, notifying your customer base, notifying your email subscribers and your social media followers as well. Let them all know in advance that you’re going to be going away for a week and give them the opportunity to place an order and have it shipped before you leave. This can generally drum up a few extra sales in advance. Then, obviously, you’ll still be accepting orders while you’re away.

You will see that your orders will drop a bit because it’s clear that their order is not going to be shipped straight away, but you will at least keep some orders ticking through. Then when you come back, you can have a pile that’s hopefully significant enough that you haven’t lost too much business, but not too overwhelming that you’re going to stress out when you get back from your holiday. We don’t want that. But you can pack them all and ship them after you get back.

Now, obviously, as you grow, you will be able to train up a team and start to hire some staff or start to outsource, of course, but you’ll be able to start training people up to run things in your absence. Doing this is, obviously, going to make it a little bit easier for you to step away from the business, either to take a holiday for shorter or longer periods of time.

For me, I always tried to fill the order fulfillment roles first, so bringing in staff to pick and pack orders. If you can train up a few different team members to do that sort of work, that’s really helpful because that means that you don’t have to just rely on one extra person to do that work while you’re away.

That’s the first role that I typically hire for, followed by things like customer service and social media management as well. But at least with things like customer service, you can usually respond to that while you’re away, if you haven’t hired for that role yet. Social media staff, you can schedule stuff in advance and you can respond to comments and things while you’re away. So if you haven’t hired those staff yet, it’s not the end of the world. That’s sort of the order that I would be hiring a team. Order fulfillment first, so getting people to pick and pack, then your customer service and social media management. There’s other things after that as well.

Now I know that a lot of business owners, they are quite particular about the way that they like things done, whether it’s the way that you pick and pack an order or the way that you present it when you’re packaging it up or whatever the case may be. I know that a lot of us are fairly fussy about the way things are done. We like them done a certain way and it can be hard to let somebody else do something. Not everyone’s going to do things exactly the way you do it, right?

There’s a few things that you can do to ensure that things get done really well, even though you’re not the one doing it. Everyone who scales a business needs to get through this phase. So potentially book yourself a holiday and give yourself a deadline for that point in time when you’re going to have this in place.

But, essentially, what you need to do to help you get through this is to start documenting the way that you do things and the boring way of putting it, it’s documenting your systems and procedures. But, literally, it’s just documenting the way you like things done and making it really simple for other people to follow those instructions.

To help you with that, if you want to start doing this in your business, you can refer back to our episode, my podcast episode number 18, How to Systemize to Supercharge your Online Store. I’m joined by Lisa Munro from Happy Tummies, who’s really good at systemizing and documenting those sorts of systems and procedures so that her staff do do things the way that they need to be done. She shared her methods for doing that, so definitely go back to that.

Even if you don’t feel like you’re at the point where you can hire somebody yet, firstly, I would say that probably a lot of you are actually there now and don’t realize it. But secondly, it doesn’t necessarily cost a lot of money to start hiring and training staff on a casual basis to begin with. And little bit by little bit, if you can start to free up some of your time to work on growing the business, rather than doing the work like picking and packing orders, you will see that your revenue starts to grow a little bit quicker.

I know it can be very easy to feel like we should be able to do it all, right, especially us women. I think that’s our kind of default mental setting. We should be able to do it all, which is ridiculous. I’m pretty sure Jeff Bezos doesn’t pick and pack orders over at Amazon, right? So we need to make sure that we are not standing in our own way and we’re not the bottleneck to our business’s growth and that we can start to bring in a little bit of help.

So it’s not all about enabling us to go and take a holiday. It is also about enabling us to grow the business. So definitely go and give episode 18 a listen and I will link to that one in the show notes, make it easy for you.

Now, when you do have a team, whether it’s a team of part-time or casual staff or contractors that are just coming in while you’re away or over busy periods, whatever the case is, but when you do have a team to fulfill orders while you’re away, you will, obviously, want to ensure that sales and revenue doesn’t drop whilst you’re away. That being the case, then you definitely need to put some plans in place in advance and make sure that you’re scheduling some of that marketing in advance as well. That means things like scheduling any emails that are going to go out, scheduling social media posts and things like Facebook ads for any promotions that you’re going to run while you are away, to make sure that the sales keep coming in.

Now I’m going to go out on a limb here and say I’m pretty sure that any promotions you have running whilst you’re away on holiday are probably just going to be small ones. Well, myself, I wouldn’t be going on vacation right in the middle of a major product launch or promotional campaign. That’s just me. But small promotions or incentives, they’re quite useful tactics to keep sales trickling in or coming in at a consistent rate.

For example, things like a free shipping weekend or maybe a small free gift with purchase or a volume discount, like buy three, get one free, that sort of thing. Those sorts of promotions shouldn’t be too complicated to run without you being there. They shouldn’t be too complicated for your team or your staff to manage whilst you’re away. They’re the sorts of things that’ll help your sales to stay consistent whilst you’re on holidays so that you can pay for that lovely holiday.

So make sure that in advance of your trip, that you are planning what is going to go out marketing-wise. I would most definitely want to write and schedule all of the emails to your subscribers, make sure you test them before you schedule them, write and schedule social media posts and also schedule any Facebook ads to start and stop at the promo start and end dates. Usually those sorts of Facebook ads, we run those sorts of promotional ads just to the warm audiences and that works really, really well.

I think it’s actually a tip from Lisa from Happy Tummies, who’s the podcast interviewee on episode 18 that I just mentioned, but something else that she learned the hard way, she had gone away on holidays and had scheduled all of that marketing stuff to happen, but she literally only scheduled it for the week that she was away or the period that she was away. I can’t remember how long she was away for.

When she got back, she was ill. She’d caught some sort of a stomach bug whilst she was away and so she came back and she was really ill. So all of the traffic and the sales kept coming in while she was away, but she got back and she was just too sick to really do anything and so basically all the marketing stopped. That definitely impacted her sales as well at that point, so not when she was away, but when she got back.

So it might be a good idea to just give yourself a little bit of a buffer. Schedule some emails and some social media content, et cetera, to continue the week that you come back and give yourself a chance to catch up on everything else before you have to jump back into the marketing zone.

Now, if you are going to run any sorts of promos or incentives while you are away, make sure that you properly inform and train your team so that when you are away, that they know how to pack orders correctly and they’re aware of any kind of incentives. If you’re picking and packing orders or you’re answering customer service inquiries, there’s nothing worse than having to do that and be completely unaware of a promotion that’s running. You don’t want to get any panicked calls from your team while you’re away, so make sure that you train them in advance.

Secondly, you want to make sure that you’re taking advantage of things like sales automation as much as you can. By sales automation, we love to use the tool Klaviyo, which is an email marketing platform that integrates really deeply with your shopping cart, your website. So we use this to send out automated marketing emails, rather than you having to write and schedule absolutely everything that you’re doing.

You could be sending out automated emails to new subscribers, so that would increase purchases from your new first-time customers. You can do things like abandoned cart emails to recover lost carts, and also post-purchase emails to encourage repeat purchases from your existing customers. There’s a lot more that you can do in Klaviyo, but that’s the sort of basic three that you want to have in place.

I can definitely refer you to one of my earlier podcast episodes as well to explain in more detail about how to automate those new and repeat sales. It’s episode six and I shall link to that in the show notes as well.

Now customer service can typically take up a lot of time and this may or may not be your job at the time that you want to take a vacation. But either way, I have a fantastic and very easy trick that you can all implement right now, regardless of whether you’re wanting to take a holiday. You can all implement this right now, and it will potentially save you several hours every week on customer service.

Now being able to provide good customer service, it is a really fantastic way to have a positive impact on your customers and your potential customers, so we all want to do a good job with that. But without a doubt, as your business grows and your revenue increases, your customer service inquiries will increase as well and it takes up a lot of time. So here’s a tip that can save you a lot of time on the customer service front.

What you can do is add your most common frequently asked questions to your Contact Us page. If you don’t have an FAQ page at all on your website, it’s definitely time to get one in place. But one easy way that you can save yourself heaps of time is to put the most commonly asked questions at the top of your Contact Us page. So that way customers basically need to read through those questions before they get to your contact details.

Basically I would be recommending your including whatever the most common questions are that your customers are asking, but things like, when will my order be shipped? Can I use a PO box for delivery? Can I have my order shipped express? Can I pick up from your warehouse? My parcel hasn’t arrived yet, can you track it? An item that I need is out of stock, whatever it is. You can go through all of your customer service questions and work out what the common ones are for you, but put them above your contact details. That way, hopefully, people will have a look through those.

Basically what you can do to sort of draw their attention to the fact that that information is there is to, on your Contact Us form on your website or where your contact details are, you can say, “I have read the FAQs and still have a question,” so you’re really prompting people to just have a bit of a look.

I know when I was in charge of the customer service in my first business, there were some really, really common things. Sometimes they were about an order and sometimes they were about how to use the products. So if you can systemize that a little bit by putting that information right before your contact details, that way, you’re less likely to get that knee-jerk reaction from somebody who’s too lazy to go looking for the answer where they pick up the phone or shoot a quick email, and then you have to respond, obviously. So that’s a quick tip there that will, hopefully, help reduce your customer service time and make it a little bit easier for you and your team if you are away for a little while.

Then, of course, we also spoke about using sales automation to help ensure consistent sales tracking on while you’re away. It doesn’t matter if you’re away. I mean, everybody should have some automation in place in their business to keep sales going. Then, of course, we spoke about planning and scheduling your marketing in advance of your holiday. That’s the things that you can do to help you take a break while you have a team. They’re fulfilling all of the orders in your absence.

Then, of course, if you are pre-having a team and it’s just you, you still should be taking a break every now and again, and so I was talking about how you can incentivize customers to still place an order and wait for you to ship it after you get home.

Hopefully, that’s a few useful tips and tricks to help you to take a break and, hopefully, I’ve been able to encourage you of the necessity, as an entrepreneur or a small business owner, the necessity to take a break every now and again. I truly believe that sometimes, especially if you are feeling stressed or exhausted, or just feeling like you just can’t get stuff done, you’re feeling you can’t be as productive as normal, whatever the case may be, that is the time when you absolutely need the break the most.

What you’ll find is just having that little time away from the business, away from the computer screen, you can relax, your brain can decompress. Oftentimes the most creative ideas and answers and solving problems, all of that stuff happens when you’re able to relax and rest a little bit and you can come back into your business feeling a lot more energetic and rejuvenated. You’ll be more productive and more efficient and you’ll be able to move your business forward a lot more efficiently as well.

That’s it from me for this week. I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode. Last, but not least, if you are not already in our Rockstar Productpreneur Facebook group, you are invited to join this free community and I would love to see you in there. I’ll pop a link on the podcast show notes page for that group as well. I love interacting with all of you, Productpreneurs, in there and answering questions and supporting you through your business journey.

That’s it for me for this week and I’ll catch you all later. Bye for now.