Before I started working full time at Toy House, the staff used to dread when my parents would go on vacation. It seemed that every time they returned they fired a key employee. They only took a couple weeks off each year, one in the spring and one in the summer, but their return usually meant someone was on the chopping block.
If you’re a small business owner, you might already be saying to yourself, “That’s why I won’t go on vacation. When the cat is away, the mice will play.” Although mice playing was the cause of a couple of those firings, more often than not it was the chance to get a break, to think critically about the business, and to have a fresh perspective that caused most of the terminations.
Those breaks were critical to their success.
No, they didn’t stop thinking about the business while they were away. No business owner is ever fully “off the clock.” But they found ways to relax and enjoy themselves. The key was the surroundings.
By taking a vacation they got away from the day-to-day grind, the fires constantly needing their attention, and the phone calls, customers, and other interruptions that consume most of the day. Those breaks allowed them to spend some time thinking more about the big picture of the store.
YOU NEED A VACATION
Owning your own business is supposed to be fun. It usually is. Yeah, there are headaches. Yeah, there are long hours. Yeah, you have to wear too many hats, several of which you’ve never been properly trained to wear. Yeah, you rarely ever get chunks of time to accomplish the bigger goals.
If you never take a break, however, you’ll eventually feel like the business is a ball and chain holding you captive.
A vacation gives you a chance to recharge your batteries. That, alone, is worth its weight in gold. It also gives you that freedom to think the big thoughts, to look at your business from outside the bottle, to decide if you have the right people in the right seats on the bus.
HOW TO TAKE A VACATION
How do you take a vacation when there is only you and a handful of part-timers? How do you take it when you don’t have someone you trust to handle the money? How do you take it when you’re worried about the mice playing?
One way to help your employees handle things in your absence is to give them a system to follow. Spell it out. Do step A, B, and C in that order. Systems help you have consistency. Systems give you checks and balances so that you can quickly find errors and correct them. Systems also make training easier.
You don’t have to have a “manager” for you to leave the store, but you do need a go-to person, someone to make the final decision on any matter that should arise. You can even assign two go-to people, one to handle any customer issues such as complaints or questions about returns, and one to handle other issues such as problems with shipments or receiving.
Remember that not everything has to be handled right away. Requests for donations can be left behind until you return. So can advertising opportunities and sales reps. Be clear about what you want them to handle and what you want them to hold for your return.
Your biggest issue with your go-to people will be trust. If you know your business’s Core Values and have hired people who share those values, then you can always remind them to stick to the values and follow the mission of the store. While they won’t always do exactly what you would do, if it is consistent with your values, then it will be just fine in the end. I always left on vacation with this one goal for the team—make the customers smile!
There are certain tasks you might do that need to be done in your absence such as receiving merchandise, stocking shelves, or cleaning the store. Assign those responsibilities to your team. Give each person one area to be in charge. Then hold that person accountable for getting that particular task done. (Note: this is if you don’t already have a manager in place to handle and assign these tasks.)
Some of the areas to assign:
- Receiving Merchandise
- Stocking Shelves
- Cleaning Inside and Out (especially the bathroom)
- Counting Money/Making Deposits
Assignments not only help ensure things get done, they give your staff the chance to show off what they can do. Some of your team will step up in your absence and truly shine. They have been chomping at the bit for more responsibility and more to do. When you return from vacation, make sure you recognize and reward those people. I sometimes gave my key people time-and-a-half when they had to step it up. We called it “battle pay.”
Others might not step it up. They might shrivel at the daunting task before them. They might make excuses. They might become the mice you dread. At least now you know who they are and whether you want to keep them on the team.
Your vacation helps you separate the mice from the (wo)men.
If you are wondering whether you can afford to take a vacation or not, I will tell you that the benefits of taking a vacation are so great that you do your business a disservice by not taking one.
- It recharges your batteries
- It helps you see your business more clearly
- It helps you see who is ready to step it up to the next level on your team (and who needs to go)
- It pushes you to put the systems into place that you know you need anyway
- It teaches you how to delegate
- It removes the ball-and-chain
Like paying yourself a salary, this is something else all the owners of professional businesses do, too.
PS You don’t have to go on a two-week African Safari to get those benefits. If you’re scared about it, start with a long weekend or two. Take a Thursday and Friday off to make it a four-day jaunt. More of the back office business stuff happens Monday-Wednesday anyway. Just get far enough away that you won’t feel compelled to “pop in for a quick visit to check on things.”
PPS When you get back, there will be fires to put out. There will be situations to evaluate. There will be things left undone. You’ll put those fires out, evaluate the situations, and get everything done fairly quickly, in part because your batteries are recharged, and also because you just learned how to delegate.
When you evaluate your team and how they did, if they tried their best but it wasn’t how you would have handled it, give them the A for effort. Say something like, “I truly appreciate your effort in handling this. Good job. Next time, however, you should try doing this …” Think of it as a teachable moment that will make your next vacation even better.