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How to take a vacation without interrupting your ecommerce business

For small business owners, taking a vacation can be extremely difficult. A 2014 study by OnDeck found that only 57 percent of small-business owners planned to take a vacation that year, and only 61% of those vacationers planned to take as long as a week. American workers already take less time off than the rest of the industrialized world, and small business owners take less than half of what most workers are entitled to.

If business owners get away at all, it is usually for a short period of time. The demands of ecommerce often compound this problem. Websites are up and selling 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and merchandise has to get to customers in a timely manner. They don't know that you're on vacation, and they don't care.

Yet the benefits of taking time off are undeniable. A big way of battling burnout for the busy entrepreneur is to take some time away from the day-to-day operations. Small businesses, especially new ones, often demand long hours from owners. Twelve to 14 hour days and six or seven days a week are not uncommon.

Planning a vacation requires some work and forethought, but your preparations won't just benefit your sanity, they will also make your business stronger in the long run.

Determine what's possible

Sometimes, your vacation plans will be constrained by reality. Taking a week off one month after starting a new business where you are the only employee would be a poor decision. According to the OnDeck study, 63 percent of businesses owners with six or more employees plan to vacation, whereas 57 percent of owners with less than five employees, and 42 percent of self-employed owners will take time off.

Companies that have been in business for longer are generally more stable, which lends itself to delegating. Seventy percent of entrepreneurs who have been in business for 11 years or more will vacation, compared to only 47 percent who have been in business ten or fewer.

Nevertheless, it's good policy to take time off as often as possible - even if it's just a few days here and there. All businesses have rush times and slow times, even ecommerce. Determine a time of year when your absence will have the least impact (such as when your sales are at their lowest) and make a little getaway.

Plan for your absence

You've hired some employees and your business is stable, yet the idea of taking your hands off the wheel - even for a few days - gives you indigestion. Chances are that before you got big enough to bring on help, you ran the place by yourself for a long time and you're afraid it will fall apart without you. This fear is what keeps small-business owners from taking time off.

Learning to plan for your absence and delegating authority, however, don't just make vacation possible. They are skills that will benefit every aspect of your company. After all, if your store really will fall apart without your constant supervision, then you may need to reevaluate your command structure.

If anxiety is keeping you home, then having robust organization is the cure. Here are some small, concrete steps you should take to give you piece of mind when planning time away:

  • Pay outstanding bills

  • Contact important clients or customers, and let them know who to contact while you're gone

  • Contact suppliers and make sure that accounts are up to date

Of course, your most important assets are your employees - they'll be the ones minding the store while you're away.

Delegate tasks

Part of the planning process is making sure your duties are covered. Undoubtedly, you wear many hats, and there are always some decisions that no one but you is qualified to make. But learning to delegate is essential if a business is to grow. Vacation planning is a perfect reason to give your employees more responsibilities.

Make a list of all the tasks you perform in a day (it may be a long list). Determine which tasks can be put off for a week (for instance, long-term projects), which tasks can be done ahead of time and which can be given to your staff. Dole those tasks out to your employees. Write task lists for them so that everyone's duties and responsibilities are clearly defined. Then, before you leave, brief them as a group about your expectations.

The best part of this plan is that it doesn't have to end when you return from the beach. Think of it as a test run. If your employees can handle more responsibility for a week, then they can handle more responsibility on a permanent basis. And if you are sick or faced with another unforeseen emergency, you'll sleep better knowing that they won't fall apart without you.

Avoid long distance contact unless absolutely necessary

Stepping away from the workplace these days rarely means cutting off communication entirely. Only 15 percent of small-business owners on vacation have no contact with employees at all, while 67 percent will check in at least once a day.

What you decide to do depends on how comfortable you are not knowing. If getting a status update from your assistant manager one hour a day allows you to forget about work for the other twenty-three, then by all means, set aside a regular time each day for business.

Having regular updates provides other advantages as well. You won't require a huge information dump about what you missed while you were away, and you can steer the ship in small increments if it seems to be going off course.

Even if you decide you want no calls or emails, emergencies do happen. Make sure that your employees have a reliable way to contact you if problems arise. Make sure also that they have a clear understanding of what constitutes a genuine emergency. If they know that they have to solve certain types of problems without your advice, good employees will always step up.

Plan for your return

Every vacation ends - and if your vacation was particularly great, you may even forget the things you had to do before you left. Before you leave, make a list of what you wish to accomplish when you get back. It will prevent you from feeling unmoored and directionless.

Taking off allows you time to think. You may find that being away from the business gives you new ideas and inspiration.

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