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How to take a break from your business without losing customers

You need a break ASAP -- and you deserve one. Here's how to take a break from your business without things falling apart while you're gone.

December 18, 2020 by Rachel Burns

You need a vacation, like, yesterday.

You're stressed, frustrated, and feeling run down. Your body and mind are telling you that it's time to take a break ASAP if there's any hope of avoiding burnout.

But as a small business owner or solopreneur, it often feels like your business is your whole world -- and if you were to take some time away, you're worried that everything would burn to the ground in your absence. 

That’s the thing: By not taking a break, you might actually be hurting yourself and your work. In fact, taking a break and taking care of yourself can be one of the best things you do for your business.

Here’s how to keep your customers happy and your business running smoothly while you're away.

5 tips for taking time off without losing your customers

1. Figure out how long of a break you need

Before you can plan for your break, you need to figure out how long you'll be away. 

For some people, taking a break might mean a long weekend, while others may think of a month-long vacation. The length of your break depends on a few things:

  • How much time you need to recharge. If you're dealing with the mental or physical effects of burnout, you may need some extra time to take care of your body and mind.
  • How long you can realistically be away from your business (and what resources you have to keep it going while you're away).
  • Who (and where) your customers are.

For example, at least three weeks of paid vacation time is standard in Europe. So even though you're self-employed, if you have a mostly European audience, they'll be less likely to bat an eye if you take more than a few days off.

The length of your break may depend on the time of year, too. While there's no "perfect time" to take a break, if your business or industry has seasonal lulls, those are the easiest targets for some time off.

If you've been running your business for a while now and are considering taking (or need) a longer break, you could choose to take a sabbatical, which typically lasts anywhere from one month to two years. 

People who take sabbaticals do so for a variety of reasons, but the most common include getting away from work stress and improving their health -- mental and physical. 

Here's the caveat: If you do decide that a longer sabbatical -- over two months, for example -- is the right choice for you, and you don't have a team to delegate work to, it may make sense to completely shut down your business operations during that time.

Otherwise, you may be tempted to constantly check your email, take client calls, or even abandon your break altogether.

For the rest of this article, we'll focus on how to take a shorter break from your business without feeling like everything will implode while you're gone. The first step: Communicate with your customers.

2. Communicate with your customers

Once you decide how long and when your break will be, start communicating with your customers.

As we talked about earlier, there's a ton of pressure on entrepreneurs to live a no-days-off, always-grinding lifestyle. 

That pressure is likely why 43% of freelancers have felt the need to hide their vacation from their clients.

You might be tempted to disappear without letting your customers know where you've gone, leaving them in the hands of your autoresponder, marketing automation tools, and virtual assistant -- but that's a surefire way to lose trust (and customers).  

Instead, communicate your plans early and often. You don't have to share the exact reasons you're taking time off, but you also don't need to shy away from admitting you need a break. 

You're human, and your customers shouldn't hold that against you. They might even appreciate you more for it.

86% of Americans believe transparency from businesses is more important than ever before, and when brands develop a history of transparency, nearly nine in ten people are more likely to give them second chances after a bad experience. 

When it comes to how you communicate with your customers, use the same channels that your customers regularly use to contact you, and err on the side of over-communication.

If you run a pretty hands-off business -- selling info products for passive income, for example -- an email autoresponder, pinned posts at the top of your social media channels, and a note on your website should be enough.

But if you work directly with clients, they'll need a bit more heads-up and hand-holding before you take off. As soon as you know your vacation dates, let your clients know, too.

This freelancer stops pitching clients at least a week before going on vacation. They also notify regular clients of their break at least a few weeks before going away. 

As for what to say in your emails, planning coach Debbie Orwat recommends the following to set your clients up for success:  

"Tell them the date you will leave, the date you return to the office and whether or not you will be reachable. If you have an assistant or associate who will be answering calls and email while you are away, introduce this person to your clients at this time.

Send a ‘last call’ email the week before you leave. Are there any last minute tasks they need help with or have questions on? This email is also a great final reminder that you will soon be gone."

If you have a loyal blog readership, you can also announce your break via blog post, as Cristina Silvia at Elan Creative Co. did in 2018. Cristina is open and honest with her audience about her decision to take a break.

If you're looking for some more inspiration, here are three great out-of-office autoresponders from successful freelancers, including this one from marketing writer Robin Catalano:

Subject: I’m on vacation.

Body: Dear clients,

I will be on vacation from July 1 through July 15. To avoid dirty looks from my family, the frustration of finding a good WiFi connection while on a backroad to Sorrento, and, well, working when I should be taking a big mental nap, I will not be checking email. In order to prevent my inbox from melting down in my absence, I ask that you hold additional emails until July 16.

I look forward to coming back, refreshed and ready to hit the ground running on your projects, and will touch base with you after I return.

Email autoresponders aren't the only piece of technology that can keep things running smoothly in your absence, though. Let me explain.

3. Automate what you can

Your business doesn't have to grind to a halt just because you're on vacation.

These days, there's so much technology available to keep your business running while you're away, you can more or less build a self-running business.

Email and marketing automation tools can help you stay in contact with your potential and current customers while you're away -- and they can be a big help even when you're not on vacation, too.

Marketing automation can increase sales productivity by 14.5% and decrease your marketing costs by 12.2%. 

In the same vein, social media management tools let you schedule social media posts ahead of time, so your profiles won't lie barren during your time away.

You can even take a break without having to shut down your online course.

Here's how: Drip course content.

The drip feature in Podia's online course builder delivers your course content to your students on a set schedule, section-by-section.

When a new section unlocks, your customers will automatically receive an email notification with a link to the section -- no manual work needed on your end. 

Podia also lets you create, host, and sell your online courses -- and all of your digital products -- from one platform, for one flat fee. Try Podia out today with a 14-day free trial.

As you can probably tell, automation is your best friend when it comes to stepping away from your business. Zapier is another tool that lets you automate almost anything.  

Zapier lets you connect apps you use everyday to automate workflows with "zaps". And with 2000+ apps in their App Directory, chances are you’ll be able to connect just about every app you use. 

Imagine you sell digital downloads on your Podia site and want to automate some of your workflows while you're away. You can set up zaps to:

  • Store new signups in Trello, Airtable, or Google Sheets
  • Tweet when a new customer signs up
  • Record new Podia sales as paid invoices in FreshBooks

For even more ways to use Zapier, check out the best zaps for running an online business.

Okay, now that you've got your automations in place, it's time for the hardest part of the whole process -- actually stepping away from work. 

4. Actually take a break

This tip is straightforward, but it also might be the trickiest one to master: Take real, actual time off.

For your break to truly help you recharge, you have to commit to stepping away from work.

This can be hard for anyone, let alone a business owner or solopreneur. 92% of freelancers work on vacation, and 60% feel they must work while vacationing. 

Give yourself a real break. If you can swing it, try to unplug from technology, too. Take some time off of social media, don't check your email, and give your eyes a break from staring at screens (what feels like) 24/7.

As an entrepreneur, learning how to stop being busy can be a real challenge -- but it can have real benefits long after your break ends. Relaxation and detaching from work have been proven to positively influence our health and wellness even after we return from vacation. 

And speaking of what happens after vacation . . . how do you stop the cycle of burnout and desperately needing a break from repeating itself?

5. Set yourself up for success moving forward

After your break is over, it's time to set yourself up for success going forward, so you don't end up burnt out or buried under work. 

To build a good work-life balance, you need to figure out why you're feeling burnt out and in need of a break. Taking a break can help you refocus and refresh, but if you don't address the root cause, your vacation will just be a bandaid fix.

That's likely why 40% of workers said the positive effects of vacation lasted for only a few days after returning to work, and 24% said those effects dissipated immediately.

Are you working too many hours? Taking on too many clients? Stuck doing tasks you hate? 

Luckily, there are tools and techniques to help you handle all of the above, from productivity tools to hiring help. If you find yourself buried under tasks that take up too much time, consider hiring a freelancer or working with a virtual assistant to take on tasks you can outsource.

Outsourcing might seem like an unnecessary expense, but the benefits can outweigh the costs:

  • Bring in an expert to tackle the tasks you don't have time for (or really don't enjoy doing)
  • Free up your time to focus on growing your business
  • Have someone on your team who can handle things when you're away

There's no shame in bringing on outside help. 70% of small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) have hired a freelancer, and 81% of those SMBs plan on working with one again.

Outsourcing can shorten your to-do list, but it can't change your mentality. That's where self-care and accountability come into play. 

In addition to being good for your mind and body, taking care of yourself can make you more productive.

According to Dr. Russell Thackeray, a licensed clinical psychologist: "People that look after themselves [and practice self-care] do have better cognitive ability. They do have better focus, and they do have better concentration . . .They tend to actually produce more.”

When you're protecting yourself from burnout, self-care also means holding yourself accountable to deadlines and goals.

Minessa Konecky, who runs a thriving hustle-free business, Direct to Success, explains:

“In order to have a hustle-free life, you've got to have a sort of a disciplined life. You need to know what you want to do with your time, and you have to be intentional about it.”

Here's the bottom line: 

Set a schedule for yourself that prioritizes self-care and taking regular breaks, even if that's just a day off every once in a while. 

When you take care of yourself, your business will thrive, too.

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How to take a well-deserved break from your business

If you feel yourself careening toward the edge of burnout, it's time to give yourself the break you need to recharge and recalibrate your work-life balance.

And you can do that without upsetting your customers or shutting your whole business down. Here's how:

  • Figure out how long of a break you need based on how you're feeling and what's realistic for your business.
  • Let your customers know when you'll be away. Give them plenty of notice so you can square away any last-minute questions.
  • Automate what you can to keep things running while you're away, from emails to your course content.
  • Take your break. Do your best to unplug.
  • Put plans and practices in place to avoid burnout moving forward -- including (of course) taking plenty of breaks. 

Take care of yourself and take a break from your business. Your mental and physical well-being deserve it.

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