We’re all been there: you’ve been busting your butt the entire wedding season and you’re so exhausted that you’ve started having nightmares about forgetting your DSLR at home, writing guest names wrong on the escort cards, or forgetting to move cocktail hour from the bar to outside. You need a vacation, my dear, and you need it now.
And whether you’re jonesing for a staycation or a wild-and-crazy trip to a sun-soaked beach somewhere, I have a few tips that can get you into vacation mode and back out again with relative ease.
Note: this post isn’t just for wedding calligraphers or stationers, this is for everyone who owns a small business. I can’t say that these tips will work for every small business ever, especially if you have more than one employee other than yourself, so take all of this advice with a nice little grain of salt.
Transitioning From #BOSSLIFE to Sipping-Margaritas-By-The-Pool Mode
For most of you, this is probably the easiest transition you’ll make. This part isn’t all fun and games though, because it requires much more preparation than you’d think. But if you follow my tips below, you’ll come back from vacation super relaxed and panic-free.
Tip #1: Away Messages
No, not the messages you customized every day on AIM (yeah, you remember those). I’m talking away messages for your business email, Etsy/Shopify/etc. shop, or any way that you communicate with clients.
My husband expressed his concern that I would work while we were celebrating our anniversary, so (after much back and forth with myself) I decided to put down the technology and restrict all of my access to Sablewood. ALL. OF. IT.
Was it hard to do? Yup. I didn’t like the idea of getting inquiries and not being able to respond to them right away, as I’ve always done. I thought it would make me look less professional. I considered asking a colleague to take over my emails and my social media accounts.
“What if a potential client emails me and gets my vacation message and then moves on to someone else because they don’t want to wait?” I mentally wringed my hands as I grappled with that question. As a small business, why would I willingly give clients the ability to take their business elsewhere? Ahh, what was I going to do?!
Then I realized: I’m a small business owner. I’m allowed to excuse myself from the office every once in a while, because I’m human…just like my clients. If a client can’t wait 3 or 4 days for me to get back from a pre-planned trip, do I really want them as clients? And wouldn’t my clients want me to be as refreshed and creative as possible? If you’re so burned out that you’re making mistakes costing your business money, or frustrating yourself and your clients, don’t you owe it to yourself to fix that in any way you can? Sometimes that fix comes in the form of a weekend getaway, or shutting down the office early one day, or an “out-of-the-office away message” vacation.
Go through all of the methods of communication you have with your clients and potential clients. I’ll go over the three that I think most of you have and that I think are most important, but you may have other avenues of communication
This is the easiest way to announce that you’re out of the office by far. In Gmail, you can set your “Vacation Responder” to automatically send an email reply on certain dates when you’re not in, which is the coolest feature ever. On a desktop, click the gear icon in the top right corner of your Gmail home screen. From there, click “Settings” and scroll down the page until you’re at the very bottom.
Here, you can turn your vacation responder on or off, set the dates you’d like for your automatic reply to be sent, and type a message letting your clients know why you’re not going to respond. Click “Save” and you’re all done! Pretty awesome, huh? You should definitely be doing this every time you’re out of the office, whether you’ll have no access or limited access to your email.
Many e-commerce platforms will have the option for you to turn on “Vacation Mode” and/or an auto-response. Etsy does this splendidly, putting your shop in vacation mode and hiding all of your listings from your storefront. What does that mean? It means that until you turn vacation mode off, no one can purchase listings from your shop. You’ll still be able to work on orders that have already been placed, so no worries there!
To activate Vacation Mode from a desktop, sign into your Etsy shop account and go to your Shop Manager. Click “Settings” > “Options” and click the tab that says “Vacation Mode”. You’ll be able to turn Vacation Mode on and off here (you can’t set specific times like you can in Gmail), write a message to your buyers, and compose an away message that is sent automatically to anyone who sends a message to your shop. Pretty handy, right? Just don’t forget to turn Vacation Mode off when you’re ready to start processing orders again!
(Note: Shopify doesn’t offer a vacation mode, but you can activate a password that would restrict customers from temporarily accessing your store unless they know the password.)
Obviously, you want your customers to know when your store will be closed. If you can’t get anyone to cover for you while you’re gone (I know so many of you are one-man/one-woman shows!), update your weekly hours of operation on Google, put up a sign on your door the day you leave explaining why you’re closed, and send out a mass email to your email subscribers. Put up a notice on your Facebook page and any other social media outlets you may be part of, and pin that baby to the top of your feed in any way you can. Many businesses with storefronts have a staff member or two to hold down the fort while they’re gone, but even solo-preneurs need some time off. If you can’t leave your storefront for a week (understandable!), take off for a Monday-Wednesday getaway. The biggest shopping days of the week for small businesses are the weekends, so try to book a vacation before or after those days!
How this helps you: Once you check this off your list, you can breathe easier while you’re out of the office. Your auto-reply or vacation mode will alert new clients to your vacation and won’t make it seem like you just don’t answer your emails…and it shows a level of care for your business. When clients see this premeditated action on your part, they’ll get the correct impression that you love what you do and care about your client experience.
Tip #2: Communicate With Your Current Clients
If I’m going to be anywhere without access to email, or if I’m going out of town at all, I make sure to let my current clients know. A lot of my business is local, so it’s important that they know that while I’m out, I won’t be able to meet with them in person or address their concerns as quickly as I might if I were home.
This is especially important if you’re getting close to deadlines. By close, I mean 3 weeks or less. This is around the time that the most problems occur (and brides worry about the most, if you’re working on day-of pieces). By letting your clients know that you’re taking a pre-planned vacation, you’re giving them peace of mind that you haven’t forgotten their project and that you have everything under control.
That’s an important distinction to make when you’re working in weddings, especially. Tensions are often so high and timelines can be extremely short and unpredictable that presenting a calm and organized front can really save your relationships a lot of stress.
I recommend letting your current clients know that you’re going to be out of the office and/or unreachable a couple of weeks out from your vacation. If your vacation is going to run alongside a big deliverable date (such as their wedding), make sure to reiterate that delivery dates won’t changes and alleviate any concerns your clients may have. You definitely don’t want them to be stressed out and sending you emails that will make you crazy, too!
How this helps you: By communicating with your clients about your vacation at least two weeks out from the day you set sail, you’ll have an idea of any problems you might encounter. You’ll (hopefully) be able to take care of them before you leave, which leaves your mind nice and clear to get your R & R before hitting the ground running again when you return.
Tip #3: Get To A Stopping Point In Your Projects
As much as possible, figure out a way to push through your projects so that you’ve arrived at a good stopping point. You’ll be smack in the middle of several projects at once, of course, but it’s important that you don’t shut down your office when you’re halfway through a checklist of changes for an invitation suite. You’ll just have to recheck your work when you get back to make sure you didn’t miss anything, and you don’t want to do that.
I have my own system for cataloging changes and updates, so it wouldn’t make sense to explain all of that in this post (that’s definitely for another day). I’m sure you have your own system, so think about what a good stopping point would be for each of your open projects. If you can make enough changes to send out a proof right before you hop on the plane, do it! If you’re swimming in edits, but they can sit tight for another week, let them lie for now.
But, for the love of all that’s holy, don’t go crazy trying to complete 1,000 projects before you leave. Repeat after me: your business will not tank in the next five/seven/fourteen days. Do what you can, but remember you’re not Wonder Woman.
How this helps you: Well, the more you get done before you leave to go on vacation, the less you have to do when you get back, and the less you’ll stress while you’re on vacation (because I know you’ll stress a little bit. I do.). That one’s pretty easy!
Tip #4: Make Lists, Lists, Baby
This is one of my favorite things to do on a daily basis, so doing it for my post-vacation tasks is just another normal thing for me.
If you’re not a list maker, or you haven’t thought of this, take a half sheet of paper and make a list of all of the things you need to do as soon as you get back to the office. List obvious tasks (like “Resend proofs to Client X if you haven’t heard back from them”), no matter how ridiculous it may seem.
Now go back through that list and do any of those tasks that are easy enough to take care of before you leave. While you’re packing, run through your mental to-do list and write those tasks on your list, too. Your goal is to empty your brain and make it easy to think about NOTHING while you’re on vacation. We’ll tackle what to do with that to-do list when you return in the next section, don’t worry!
Once you’ve made your post-vacation to-do list, put it somewhere obvious like on top of your keyboard. I tape mine to my monitor so that my cats don’t push it off the desk (they’re jerks when we leave them for more than a few hours). Then get out of your office and go enjoy your vacation. YOU EARNED IT!
How this helps you: This should be relatively self-explanatory, but making a list before you go on vacation should put your mind at ease while you’re gone: you’ll know that you’re not forgetting anything important. But the big reward that comes from this is that you’ll have an actionable list to work from when you return and your brain is fried from
disuse (ahem, vacation mode).
Pro Tip #1:
Unless you have a storefront with an alarm system and cameras, I don’t recommend posting on social media how long you’ll be on vacation, where you’re going, who’s going with you, and so on. I say this because if you don’t have a storefront, then you’ve likely used your home address as your business address on your official biz documents. That means they’re public record, which means any ol’ body can look them up. And I may sound paranoid, but this world has some crazies in it…and you don’t want to come back from vacation with your home burgled.
Pro Tip #2:
Another great tip is to put a hold on your mail/deliveries while you’re gone. This has benefits that are three-fold and works if you have a storefront or work from home: one, you don’t have to have someone come check your mail every day (BOOM). Two, you don’t have to worry about people stealing your packages/mail from your mailbox. Three, if you’re not checking your mail for at least 3 days, you’re kinda required to put a hold on it or the post office may assume that you don’t live/work there anymore and your mail will get returned to sender (yikes).
Transitioning From Happy Fun Times…Back To Reality
This is definitely the hard part. Your brain has been in “What activity should we do next?!” mode for days, you might be recovering from a sunburn (or tequila overindulgence), and you’ve probably been soaking up that the last vestiges of your vacation in the weirdest ways (like actually enjoying waiting in an airport…because once you land, vacation’s over).
But you’ve had your fun and you’re feeling good again, so it’s time to get back to your hustle.
First, it’s important to accept that vacation time is over. That will make this transition a lot easier. It’s always easier to switch from work to play, but how do you go the other way? Let me tell you: it’s difficult. It requires self-discipline and a lot of it, because we as human beings are hardwired to enjoy enjoying things more than working for them. So here, I have some tips to making sure you’re as prepared as possible to come back from vacation.
Tip #1: Refresh Yourself
You may be asking yourself, “Um, what is she talking about? Isn’t that what I was doing on vacation?” Just hear me out.
Chances are, not matter what kind of vacation you just went on (even if it was a staycation), you probably threw all of your normal routines out the window. We’re more inclined to change up our day-to-day preferences when we’re out of our normal environments, which can throw our bodies for a loop.
For example, on my last vacation to Mexico, we completely changed our habits. I typically drink a lot of Coke Zero during the day (it’s my coffee, so no judgement!), but in Mexico, I drank water almost exclusively. I did indulge in a few cocktails, but even those were different from any cocktail I would normally order (usually it’s just a mimosa, but in Mexico it was margaritas). I’m a super picky eater, but the lunch buffets at our all-inclusive resort afforded me a little more variety in my typical lunch meals. We spent more time outdoors than we ever do on a regular basis, and there was almost constant physical activity.
Let’s compare that with what I usually do on a day-to-day basis: wake up, shower and dress for the day, walk ten steps to my office, sit down in front of my computer, and putter around my little 11′ x 11′ square until about 6pm, when I pick up my husband from work, we eat dinner, take a walk around the block, and then he reads to me in bed or we watch a movie. That’s pretty standard for a weekday, but not on vacation.
So when you go on vacation, your body has to adjust to this new routine that you’re setting for it every day. By the time it’s used to it, you’re doing a 180 and you’re back to the same routine you’ve been perfecting for weeks/months/years. Your body is confused, because it liked the laid-back lifestyle you were leading on vacation. You need to remind it that vacation mode isn’t permanent, and you’ve got work to do.
Drink water. Eat power foods, not fatty foods. Drink a couple of immune-boosting shakes. Drink just enough caffeine to keep you alert, but don’t go overboard.
How this helps you: Even if you stayed home for vacation, you weren’t following your normal routine because you weren’t working. You may have overindulged in foods or drinks that you normally don’t, which can throw your body off-kilter. Head back in the opposite direction by nourishing your body, preparing it for the return to normalcy and your regularly scheduled program. If you take care of your body, it will be less painful (physically, at least) to get in the groove again.
Tip #2: Plan For A Bit Of Padding
And I don’t mean the extra pounds that you may pack on while on vacation.What I mean is this: add a couple of days onto the end of your vacation and bake that into your vacation time. If you’re taking a week off, tell your clients you’re taking 9 days. This is one of those tips that will Change Your Life, and you’ll probably email me to thank me for suggesting this.
Why do that? I’ll tell you: you’re going to need to do laundry. You’ll need to pick up your packages and mail from having your mail hold (maybe…my current mailman delivers mine when I get back, but my previous mailman didn’t). You’ll have to cuddle your furbabies and get your key back from whomever you asked to watch your pets (I’m coming for you, Katie!). Don’t forget to shower off the small of traveling and put on some fresh clothes. You’ve gotta unpack and bask in the glory of being home again…all before you even open your work email.
Once you’ve taken care of your personal life, you can move on to work. Now, your brain is bound to move a little slower because it’s just been on vacation for several days…so don’t be too hard on yourself. Sort your emails into easy, moderate, and hard emails:
Easy emails should take 1 minute or less to reply to (“Hey girl! Vacation was great, I’ll be in touch to give you a quote on your project by the end of the day tomorrow.”).
Medium emails may require a little more thought, but should really take less than 5 minutes to respond to. Any more than that and you’re getting into hard email territory. Medium emails are emails that require answering a couple of questions that you don’t have to research extensively, such as client inquiries about when their order will be shipped, vendor questions asking if you offer a particular service and what it costs, etc.
Hard emails are the ones that will take you anywhere from 5 minutes to 30 minutes to answer. This includes quoting clients for invitation suites or day-of pieces, outlining details for an upcoming workshop, or taking notes from a vendor email about a collaboration in the works.
How this helps you: You’ll need two days for this for your sanity, trust me. It will help you transition back into your working mode, and if you can power through some or most of your emails before you’re “officially” back in the office, you might earn some points from clients who weren’t expecting to hear back from you for another day or two. Under-promise, over-deliver ALWAYS.
Tip #3: Consult Your Pre-Vacation Lists
This might be a little life changing, too: when you look at that list Pre-Vacation You made, can you see anything there that can be removed or put off for later? Chances are, there’s one thing at least.
Vacation helps you gain some perspective on your life. You’re away from the daily grind of laser-focusing on your business and what other businesses are doing and taxes and bookkeeping and making sure your hairlines are perfect, and your worldview has just expanded significantly. It’s no surprise that some tasks that seemed so urgent and necessary before now seem trivial.
For example, I made a long list of tasks that needed to get done As Soon As I Got Back, no questions asked. It included things like, “First proofs for Client X”, “Website edits”, “File Bills”, “Quarterly taxes due 4/30”, and so on.
I knew creating proofs and paying my quarterly taxes were non-negotiable, but I could put off those minor website edits and filing a few weeks worth of bills for a few more days, until things quieted down again.
Your number one priority when you get back from vacation is to establish what needs your immediate attention and what can wait a day or more to be addressed. My priorities are:
- New clients (those are the first emails I reply to, mostly to let them know that I’ve seen their request and will send them more information by the end of the day or the next day)
- Answering current clients’ questions
- Addressing vendor needs
- Inquiring about project statuses (if I haven’t gotten an email from a vendor while on vacation)
- Making sure those absolute-must-do’s (like taxes) are taken care of
Everything else is just noise for the moment. That’s not to say that I won’t ever get to them, or that I’ve forgotten them altogether…but you’ve got to create some sort of hierarchy for important tasks when you return from vacation, just like you do on a day-to-day basis, right? You probably do that without even knowing you’re doing it.
How this helps you: You’ll sleep better your first night back if you take care of red flags on day one. Chances are, you felt super overwhelmed when you looked at your list of to-do’s and your unread emails. But if you tackle the big, scary projects right away, you’ll be able to breeze through the smaller tasks.
Life Goes On
That wasn’t so bad, was it? Sure, there may have been some mishaps to take care of when you got back, but that’s normal. Your email probably seemed a bit overwhelming at first, but you powered through it. And no one’s project tanked because you took a vacation, right? I call that a success.
As a small business owner, shutting down shop can be downright scary. What if I lose clients? What will happen when I’m gone? What if a client has a huge/amazing/once-in-a-lifetime project and I don’t want to lose the opportunity? The world will just collapse if I’m not there to prop it up with my bare hands!
These are all things I’ve said to myself every time I shut my computer down for more than a day…and more.
But you have to take some time for yourself…and I mean REALLY for yourself. Turn off your business Instagram (and you’ve gotta stop with the “how many followers/likes do I have?” game, anyway), shut your email down, and just relax. The world will be intact, even your little corner of it, when you get back into #bossmode. I promise.
Now, go plan your next getaway. You deserve it.