Holiday-Proof Your Business

Scoutie Girl - Tooling Around: How to holiday-proof your business

You dreamed of quitting the daily grind so you could spend your days leisurely making your art while your kitty napped in the sunshine beside you. You’d make the most of your new-found freedom by taking romantic long weekends and exotic adventures with all the copious amounts of annual leave you would entitle yourself to.

In reality, though, you’re working three times as hard as you were before, you’re up til all hours crocheting scarves and your cat doesn’t have a spot to nap because of the stacks of in-progress orders and packaging piling up all over the studio entire house.

You’re thinking, ‘I don’t have time to take a holiday!’

Sound familiar? I know how it feels. But you know what? You still need to take time off.

There won’t magically be two weeks where you have no work to do. You need to make the time to take off so you can rejuvenate, have new experiences and spend time with loved ones.

I know many of you will be currently in your busiest time of year, frantically getting Christmas orders out, so I’m not suggesting you pack up and leave your customers hanging. The timing of this post has more to do with the fact that very soon I am heading off overseas for a much-anticipated six week holiday. Hooray!

Yep, I am leaving my baby, my little business, for half the summer.

I admit: it is not easy. But when I’m looking back on my life, I’m going to remember the amazing experiences I’ve had, not the missed emails or potential client orders.

Now that I’ve got you mentally planning your next trip, let’s take a look at some strategies to help you take off from your business — or even keep it running while you’re off making snowmen in the Austrian Alps (which is precisely what I plan to be doing this time next month).

Give notice

I’ve been mentioning my trip on social media and in direct communications regularly over the last couple of months, so with this advanced notice none of my clients will be surprised at the last minute to find I’m not available. Even potential clients I have advised of the timelines required to complete their wedding invitations before I leave. Far from being annoyed, they have thanked me for letting them know so they can order early to avoid missing out.

Your checklist:

  • Mention your plans on social media (also helps show you’re a real person!).
  • Contact current clients (including wholesale customers) to let them know.
  • Let potential clients know you’re going away when they contact you.
  • List your closure dates and order deadlines on your website/shop.
  • Put reminders of dates and deadlines on your blog, newsletter, and social media.

Be realistic

I am always starting new projects — a new product line here, a rebranding there, a collaborative photo shoot (or five) there. I had to be realistic about what I could achieve before my departure. I had to accept that as much as I wanted to get the ball rolling on my blog redesign or new product launches, I was much better off putting all of that on the back burner and focusing on the jobs that needed to be completed.

This doesn’t just apply to your own work, but also outside opportunities. This means increasing the use of the word ‘No’ in your vocabulary. If you find this hard, like I do, try saying ‘Not right now’ instead. This only applies to collaborations you actually want to pursue in future, though!

Don’t think of this as a ‘mañana, mañana’ mentality. I’m normally an advocate of making time for the important — not just the urgent — work, but when you are trying to prepare for time off, it’s about prioritising the work that needs to be done before you go. If you find yourself with spare time before you leave, by all means bring some of those longer-term projects back onto the to-do list. Speaking of your to-do list (I use Zendone), it’s time to take a good, hard look and see where you can trim the fat.

Your checklist:

  • Don’t start any new projects. (New orders are okay if they come in before your order deadline, I’m talking about non-urgent projects.)
  • Limit the scope on current commitments (maybe you can’t do a full video tutorial for that guest post but you can share an existing knitting pattern instead).
  • Say ‘No’ (or at least ‘Later’) to external projects if you don’t have time.
  • Scrap useless busy-work from your to-do list (do you really need to make yet another tweak to your Twitter background?)
  • Delay tasks that can wait until your return.
  • Don’t start any new projects!

Open or closed?

You’ll need to make the decision whether you would like to keep your online store open while you are away or whether it’s better to close it. Every business is different and it will depend on many factors including the type of product you sell, whether you have employees, and what time of year it is. For my stationery business, I have to close the custom invitations side of things and won’t be responding to quotes and enquiries, but I will have a trusted friend taking care of dispatching orders of readymade products such as prints and greeting cards (more on getting help in the next section).

You can also think about a fulfillment house, which will store your inventory in a shared warehouse and dispatch orders on your behalf using your own branding. I looked into this, and while ultimately I wasn’t going to have enough time to undertake all the setup in time, it is something to consider. This is a long-term commitment, though, not an occasional plan B while you are on holiday, so be sure you are ready before taking this step.

Your checklist:

  • Decide whether it is worthwhile and feasible to keep your store open.
  • If you plan to remain trading, work out how you’ll go about this.
  • Consider a fulfillment house (especially if you don’t have an employee to handle dispatch).
  • If you’re closing your store, set up a notice at the top of your website (try Hello Bar) or within each product page letting shoppers know when their goods will be dispatched on your return.
  • Log onto your third-party shopping site accounts such as Etsy and set them to Vacation Mode. Users may opt to be notified when you reopen.

Call in help

If you’re lucky enough to have employees, now is the time to delegate to your heart’s content. But make sure you allow time to train them; don’t just walk out and leave them to deal with the accounts or customer service if they’ve never had to do that before!

Even if you’re doing it solo like me, there are ways to share the burden. Have you considered outsourcing? Handballing your entire marketing strategy and management to a specialist could take a load off not just your schedule but also your mind.

How many times have people told you to ask them if there’s anything they can do to help? How many times have you actually said yes? They wouldn’t have said it if they didn’t mean it. If your mummy friend would quite happily combine her daily walk with taking your orders around to the post office or if your niece would love a summer job being the cashier at your brick & mortar gift shop, why not take up their offer?

Your checklist:

  • If you have an employee, train them in any tasks you want them to handle.
  • Consider outsourcing some of your regular business tasks such as bookkeeping, newsletter writing, and social media management.
  • If anyone has offered to lend a hand, accept their offer.
  • Approach other people you know who may be willing to help.

Make it self-serve

I bet you get the same type of email and phone call all the time, am I right? Do you do custom orders? Do you ship internationally? What’s your exchange policy? How much do you charge for…?

Sure, you pride yourself on excellent customer service, but there’s no reason why you need to be answering these kind of basic questions personally. Make the information readily available for customers to help themselves whenever it suits them, even if you’re not around. You should find you have far fewer emails and annoyed customers to deal with on your return. Best of all, setting this up will not just benefit you come holiday-time, it’s an investment that will streamline your processes and ease your workload well into the future.

Your checklist:

  • Write a comprehensive FAQ section. (Here’s mine – see, comprehensive, right?)
  • Make sure your prices and product information are clear.
  • Set up a Dropbox for your press kit and send the link to your press contacts so they can access images while you’re away.
  • Set up an email autoresponder series (I use MailChimp), so potential clients can be informed and may be ready to buy when you return.
  • If you’re having someone else looking after your emails, set up templates (I swear by Canned Responses in Gmail) for common responses.
  • Set up your ‘Out of office’ reply, but make it useful! State exactly when you will return their email and include links to your FAQ, pricing, about page, mailing list sign up, shop, or anything else that will be helpful.

Schedule, schedule, schedule

You’ve built up momentum with your blog, marketing, and social media efforts and you don’t want everything to grind to a halt because you’re not there for a few weeks. You can maintain momentum by scheduling some of your updates. Blogging software like WordPress allows you to schedule your posts at a specified date and time in future. Now’s not the time to publish your best new content — after all, you won’t be around to promote it and engage with readers — but it’s a great opportunity to pull out some hidden gems from your archives or do a write-up on some of your fave links elsewhere.

If you update daily or at least a few times a week, you may wish to ask some of your peers to contribute a guest post. I’ve done that with my own blog and was overwhelmed by the response. Start with people who you already have a relationship with, but don’t be afraid to ask some bigger fish — you never know, they might just say yes!

You can schedule social media updates using a platform such as HootSuite, but do be careful. An innocent update that you’ve scheduled in advance may seem insensitive or inappropriate in the current day’s context. Oh and if you are planning to close your shop, please don’t send people there! They will only end up frustrated. Instead, provide some inspiration or link to some of your favourite articles or products.

Your checklist:

  • Schedule your blog posts.
  • Request guest posters.
  • Schedule social media updates.

Go mobile

If you’re planning to do any work while on the road (or if you’d just like to ensure you have access in case of emergency), you’ll need to plan your tools carefully. Consider your equipment, software, apps, and also what your internet access will be like.

If you’re like me and are completely useless with remembering usernames and passwords, make sure you sign up for a password manager, too.

Your checklist:

  • If you don’t already, make sure you have web access to your email and calendar (I love Gmail and Google Calendar).
  • If you have time, consider moving other processes online, for example your accounting software, document management, or design software.
  • Set up Dropbox with any files you think you might need.
  • Download any apps you’ll need and practise using them (they may have limited functionality compared to the desktop version you’re used to, so check that it does what you need it to).
  • Sign up for a password manager such as LastPass so you can actually access everything!

Tie up loose ends

The final days before you leave should be reserved for finishing up last-minute jobs and making sure everything is taken care of.

If you’re leaving behind a helper/employee, make sure they have everything they need, know where to find it, and know how to use it. This could include preparing written instructions, doing a quick video tutorial, writing down passwords, ordering sufficient supplies, and showing them around the storeroom.

Your checklist:

  • Pay all of your bills (you may need to pre-pay an estimated amount to cover regular accounts that will come in while you’re gone).
  • Make sure all your emails have been responded to.
  • Dispatch all of your orders.
  • Ensure your helpers have everything they need.
  • Arrange how mail will be dealt with (e.g. set up a PO Box, redirect your mail, or have a friend collect it).
  • Tidy your studio so you can come home to a clean slate.

Note: I’ve written this guide with taking holidays in mind, but the same could apply if you need time off to care for a sick relative or if you’re having a baby.

I know it’s hard to go on holidays when you have your own business, but with a bit of planning you can (and in fact, should) take breaks from it.

I hope you can now make that dream holiday a reality!

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