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Can a busy small business close shop for 3 weeks?

A tweet from former colleague from our "corporate" days in The Netherlands caught my eye this morning

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Translation:

Can you as hard working small business close shop for 3 weeks? No. Will I do it? Yes! We're closed the 1st 3 weeks of August..

It made me think (which I told her and then she made the bold statement I was always on holiday - I can't help it my work turned into a hobby ;-)). Joking aside - my "hobby" takes up so much of our time we haven't been away for more than a long weekend for years - it is a good and valid question and somehow I don't really agree with the straight NO answer.

If you employ others also your employees are entitled to holidays, no matter what you as owner do with your own holiday entitlement.

Stretched out "pain" or short "pain"?

When Rahma and I both worked for a manufacturing company most departments during the summer months used the following system: only one or two could be away at one time, the rest had already been on holiday or were going later. Meaning spreading the work load, normally carried by the whole team, over fewer persons for many weeks in a row.
Stretched out holiday planning regularly produced "stressed-out" employees and managers. 'Cos the demands on the department stayed the same, no matter how many or few employees were available to fulfil the tasks. This can have/had a ripple effect on other departments too, which in the end can/will effect the clients.

Other (smaller) factories (and even the above mentioned company we worked for in its earlier days) use a different system: the whole caboodle closed for 3 weeks. Meaning, nothing coming in - no new orders too - and nothing going out. Short pain.
But no stressed-out employees either (not counting the bookkeeper worrying about his cash-flow). And clarity to existing clients too: if you need our product before this or that day, make sure you get your order in on time otherwise you'll have to wait until we're all back from our well deserved 3 weeks break.

One, two up to five "men" bands

Above two systems (stretched out or short) are more for larger businesses, employing over 10 - 15 people (or at least, that's my guess). How about what both Rahma and we are now "running": small businesses with a small number of employees.

Would stretching out be easier to handle or not? The owner/manager could decide not to take a holiday at all (been there, doing it - again), which leaves the "executors" of the work. Like in our case our fitters (conveniently forgetting that one of these fitters is my own partner who does not go on holiday without me!). One could not do the jobs normally carried out by two, so spreading the weeks does not help, clients/orders will have to wait anyway. And what about the bookkeeper? Who will do his/her task in between the normal other tasks?
Stressed out employees, stressed out owner, stressed out clients again.

So, the short pain system would be better here? Closing the "shop" for everyone for 2 - 3 weeks. Everyone away at the same time, clients know you're away for this specific period of time (do tell them way upfront and not the week before - seen it!)

Many small business owners (us among them) will worry about lost sales when the "shop" is closed for this x period of time. And what about new enquiries? For most, times are hard enough as it is.

Break out the system - double meaning

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Every single one of us needs a break from the system once in a while. Refuel the engine, step away from the daily grind, exposing yourself to new views, new experiences and new impressions or just simply to relax and only do those things you want to do (reading a book, taking a stroll over a beach, visiting musea or castle gardens). Revitalise, both for your own health as in fact your business health.

But closing shop does not have to mean the enquiries or sales have to "close" too.

  • Phone answering services are one option to redirect your business phone to if you know your prospects/clients won't leave a message on your own answering machine.
  • Some service offices can even take care of more than just answering your phone on your behalf, I know of one who posts your marketing material in answer of specific enquiries.
  • Online shops can use fulfilment businesses - they pack and dispatch your products to your clients.

Takes some upfront logistics of course, but hey, that's keeping the business going during your own break for you.

In our case it would mean

  • not booking installation work for those two or three weeks holiday, not that much of a problem logistically or frustrating for clients - we're normally looking 1.5 -2 months ahead anyway in busier times.
  • Online orders for small products could be handled using drop-shipping (as we often do now) in combination with a fulfillment service.
  • Phone would be redirected to an answering service, who we would "stock" with marketing materials.
  • And for all the enquiries through our website the CRM program will come into its own. Octane HQ will keep doing what it does now, as soon as someone fills in one of our webforms it will email the requested leaflet or access details to the Full Colour Online Wooden Floor Ranges Brochure and email the follow-up messages in the same automated sequence it does now.
  • Even our most popular webform: "Ask Personal Advice on Wood" could keep functioning by redirecting the notification email containing the question to a service office - which will have access to our online ScreenSteps Live database of FAQ to find the correct answer.

Of course not everything will go as smoothly as you would be on stand-bye but, hey relax, you're on your well deserved holiday. This means letting go, delegating the control too. It's only for 2 - 3 weeks. And besides, you still got your smart phone to read your daily emails from the answering and/or fulfillment service in case of emergencies.

Systems to allow you to break out your system. That's modern business life for you.

Hmm, where did I leave that holiday brochure?

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