No, you can’t take a holiday, I’m running a business!

Every Small Business owner dreads those famous words ‘can I book annual leave please’. It’s hard enough running a small business without the added pressure of having staff take holidays, especially if you are very small company. Having just one person on annual leave can mean that you have lost a third, or even half of your workforce, and to top it all off, they want two weeks’ holiday not one!!

Joking aside, running a small business and managing the holiday season can be difficult. Of course you want your staff to take their annual leave, they’ve certainly earned it, and you want your staff to spend quality time relaxing and enjoying life, but business doesn’t stop so what do you do?

I have been in this position more than once, as a partner in a business and since growing my team and taking on staff. I have come up with a few little hints and tips that I hope may help, happy reading!

1. Plan, plan and then plan some more!

Knowing when a person is taking their annual leave puts you in a strong position. It means you can plan accordingly. What meetings/appointments do we have in that period? Can we change any appointments to the week/s before or after? Who can cover the telephones? How many customers do we plan on engaging with? How can we meet deadlines? etc… If you know what you are expecting in the time when an employee is on leave, you can better plan your duties and responsibilities.

2. Work out what is urgent, what is important and what can wait

When you are planning, use the urgent and important task matrix. If something is urgent and important, prioritise that and work out how you will manage it over the holiday period. If something is important but not urgent, can you dedicate certain times of the holiday period to work on it so it doesn’t lose momentum but frees you up to manage other aspects of the business? If something is unimportant and not urgent ask yourself, does it need to be done at all? If the answer is yes, move it until you are back to 100% capacity and look at it then, if the answer is no, bin it!

3. See who can help you for a short period of time

What support networks do you have that can step in and offer additional help and support if you need it? When I was setting up my business and my business partner went on holiday for a family wedding, my Mum (who is retired) helped me to answer the telephone and did my book keeping. This was support was invaluable, and while it seems like a small thing, the pressure it took off me was immense, it freed me up to run the business and concentrate on the most important thing, my customers. If you do not have a support mechanism, contact your local volunteer centre. They often have volunteers looking for short term placements while they look for paid work.

4. Look at where other people in the business can help

I now have two young apprentices who both have very clear roles. This does not mean however that when one is on annual leave, the other can’t take on elements of their role. One of my apprentices does instructional design for e-learning, while the other apprentice can’t do that job, what he can do is support with the testing of the e-learning design. My apprentice that was going on holiday started to make a list of jobs that the other apprentice could support with two weeks before his annual leave. We then used the matrix in point two to work out what jobs were important but not urgent and then changed the apprentice’s role for the week the other apprentice was on leave to incorporate some of the testing.

5. Make use of the free tools that are out there

My other apprentice is studying digital marketing and one of the things that he is really good at is helping to raise our profile on social media. What we realised very early on in the apprenticeship is that to have a presence on social media you have to be active! This does not mean posting on face book once a week, tweeting once a day, posting a blog here and there, it takes time, dedication and a tremendous amount of research to get the messages just right, it really can be very time consuming. When he was going on holiday earlier in the year, this caused quite a dilemma, as a small business myself and my partner did not have the time to do all of the social media but we also recognised that we couldn’t just stop doing it as we were so active on a daily basis. Our apprentice looked into this and came across Hootsuite. This is a fantastic tool for any business owner as it keeps all of your social media in one place, it allows you to ‘bulk upload’ which means you can schedule social media updates for weeks in advance, it also allows you to schedule updates at set times on set days or Hootsuite can auto schedule updates when the social media channel you are uploading to is at its busiest time. We also use a free CRM system so that all of our customer information is in one place, this makes it easier for anyone in the company to speak to customers and know where they are in the buying cycle. I can’t recommend these tools enough.

While you can’t stop your staff taking annual leave, and deep down, I know you wouldn’t want to, I hope that by reading this blog you will be able to manage it better and still run your business!