Everything you need to know to holiday-proof your business
With the end of the year in sight, many people are looking forward to taking a well-earned break over Christmas and New Year. But for many business owners, relaxing and taking a holiday is a dream that’s never quite achieved.

A 2015 study by accounting software firm Xero showed more than half of the 500 small business owners it surveyed found it difficult to take time off, with almost 40% preferring to work through the summer holidays.

Most business owners go into business because they want to create more freedom in their lives, says Jacqui Jones, the founder of Way We Do, a cloud-based solution for businesses. “Holiday-proofing your business is the ultimate goal and it is something all owners can achieve by applying the right strategies,” she says.

Key strategies to take time away from the business

“Everything tends to be in the business owner’s head so when they stop work, their business stops too,” says Jones. “My main advice is to document the way you do things including the systems used, train the team on how to manage the business while you are away and have practice runs leading up to the time you leave.”

Other strategies Jones recommends:

  • Cross train the team in each other’s roles, so if an employee leaves or becomes sick while you are away, others can handle the situation.
  • Create products and services that provide the business with recurring revenue (e.g. subscription or maintenance fees). This will keep the business running during low periods.
  • Transfer a percentage of revenue to a separate bank account each month to cover wages and expenses during low times such as holidays.
  • Run your business in the cloud.  By moving all systems to the cloud including workflow data, accounting software and timesheets, business owners can still access key information while absent.

How Michael Szubanski took his first holiday in eight years

Overhauling his electrical contracting business was the key for Michael Szubanski to take his first holiday. When he first went into business, Szubanski says he was a “typical tradie with pen and paper” but now runs a paperless organisation. “You have to use technology to the best of your advantage,” he says. “I have been in business for eight years but have only been able to take a holiday in the past 12 months. The best thing we did was to get a cloud-based customer relationship management and scheduling system.” This means Szubanski can take a holiday and as long as he has Internet access he can check on how the business is running.

In the lead up to his first holiday, Szubanski created and tested workflows for each role in the business. “We created graphical workflows that step employees through each process in the business, from how to answer the phone, through to creating a new client profile and invoicing the job,” he says. “This enabled our employees to confidently complete the tasks that we would normally take care of on a day-to-day basis without having to disturb our holiday.”

Despite the time and effort spent creating a “dummy-proof” system, the benefit is undeniable for Szubanski, who is just about to go on another holiday. “It’s been hard, but it’s well worth it,” he says. “Not only did our business keep running while we were overseas for over a month, but even better - we still turned a profit!”

Holiday-proofing your business is not just about taking a break

For business owner and adviser Jason Cunningham, the secret to holiday-proofing a business is to build an enterprise that is highly attractive to buyers. “You don’t actually need to sell it,” he says, “but by building a business that others want to buy, you’ll build a business you’ll want to hang onto.”

According to Cunningham, one of the most important attributes for a potential buyer is whether the business relies on the owner. “A ‘self-sufficient’ business is a lot more attractive and valuable to a potential buyer,” he says. “They can then choose to run it themselves, or employ someone to do it for them.”

Cunningham says prospective owners will ask questions like ‘Can the business still function effectively when the current owner/s go on holidays?’ If the answer is no, then developing a holiday plan is one of the best things owners can do.

Top tips to take a stress free holiday from your business

Practice being out of the business – let team members run it for several days per month

  • Be proactive and let big clients know that you will be on holidays and who they can contact in your absence
  • Do a ‘pre-mortem’ where you brainstorm what could go wrong and plan for it
  • Set up systems and test them
  • Book a holiday every year
  • Consider using scheduling software such as Ximble, which streamlines roster creation and management, shift swapping, time tracking and attendance