Vacation as a Solopreneur? What’s that?

April 22, 2024  | 

Picture this: a car winding through the Alps, occupied by a young family going to Liechtenstein for the day. It’s a magical place, a place out of fairy tales. The car stops high in the Alps, at an ice cold stream that’s runoff from the mountain glaciers. After a quick change into swimsuits, the family enjoys an hour playing in the stream. Next stop: a centuries old castle, surrounded by vineyards, with no one else as far as the eye can see. Picture perfect.

Except that mom has a client in distress. As a solopreneur, she is alone in her business, and if she is not available then there is no one to help her client. So there isn’t much choice. Instead of enjoying the idyllic scenery and being present with her family, she is constantly checking her phone, hoping to stumble upon a signal.

This was me, last summer, on what was the highlight of a four week trip to Europe. It was a day that will stand out in my memory for the rest of my life, not so much for the experience with my family but more for the stress I felt for my client. With less than a year in business as a travel consultant, and the biggest client I had booked to date, I felt enormous pressure to be available while he was traveling. On top of it all, a natural disaster struck at the client’s destination, a situation unlike any I had faced before.

If you have launched a business, then this might be a familiar scene. Your business relies solely on you, and it’s difficult, if not impossible, for you to step away completely. Especially in the early days of your venture, there is pressure to keep every client, make every sale, and keep the momentum going, often in the face of entirely new situations. As entrepreneurs, many of us already have a blurred line between our personal lives and our professional lives. Our business bleeds into everything else, we are what we do. This doesn’t change when we are on a leisure trip.

And if you have an employer, you might also recognize this scene. In a post-Covid world, we all have a more fluid understanding of a workplace. We feel pressure, at times, to always be available.

So vacation, for many of us, has become simply working in a different place. For the entrepreneur in particular, there are no built-in paid vacation days, and if you don’t work, you don’t have billable hours. When you’re not available, your business basically shuts down.

The whole point of vacation is to get away, with the hope of returning refreshed, clear-headed, and full of new ideas and energy. It’s important for everyone, but especially for entrepreneurs who base their business on innovation and unique offerings. Sometimes the best ideas are born after being disconnected and returning with a fresh perspective.

That begs the question: how can you even take a vacation? How can you take a break and a breath, and enjoy time on your own or with your family? How can you separate enough from your job to get the rest and relaxation you need so that you can return with a renewed sense of purpose?

Fortunately there are some concrete actions you can take to make sure that your vacation is actually a vacation.

1) Set your rates to include paid vacation days.

There’s a lot of considerations that go into setting prices. But what many entrepreneurs do not include is paid vacation days!

Before you set your rates, you should decide how many paid vacation days you’d like to have. Simple math says that if you want 2 weeks paid vacation, that’s almost 4% of your earnings. And since you won’t have billable work during those 2 weeks, you need to increase your fees by 4% across the board if you’d like to have the funds to pay yourself while on vacation.

2) Put aside funds.

If you’ve ever read Profit First by Mike Michalowicz, and even if you haven’t, you probably know that you should regularly set aside operating costs and owner’s compensation. Decide on a percentage, and consistently put that portion away regularly. By setting aside these funds, you will ensure that your business has enough to cover normal operations and overhead while you are away. And if your rates include paid vacation time, then you will already have enough in owner’s compensation to ensure a paid vacation.

3) Block out your calendar ahead of time.

From the moment you’ve selected your travel dates or booked flights, block your calendar. Be sure that any important deadlines are set before you leave or delayed a few days past your return to work. Update your hours on any business listings and scheduling apps to show that you will not be available for appointments.

4) Finalize any individual projects and retainer work before you go.

Wrap up your work with clients before you are unavailable. If everything is finished and all your projects are taken care of, you will likely get fewer client requests while you are away.

5) Establish clear boundaries.

Ask yourself some important questions. Will you be available to work, and if so, when? Will you set aside some time each day to check in on the business? Are there any tasks you will do, like responding to emails? Or will you completely disconnect? Have clear answers not just for your colleagues and clients, but for yourself. As for your clients, 99% of them will understand that you are taking a vacation, and will not want to disturb you while you are away.

6) Offer premium pricing for off hours.

In some cases, you may want to offer service to your client even while you are on vacation. As long as you clearly outline what you will and will not do and are upfront about the additional charge, you can certainly provide services. Then it’s up to the client to decide whether the matter is time sensitive or not, and you’ve offered a solution that’s also worth your time.

7) Outsource.

Find someone you trust, who is willing and able to cover for you in emergencies. I’ve spoken to many entrepreneurs who have formed a partnership just for this. If a client will absolutely need service while you are away, you can temporarily hand them off to a colleague or trusted partner in your industry.

8) Automate as much as possible.

Set up out of office replies and schedule social media posts in advance. Be sure invoices are automatic or scheduled to go out as usual.

One of the great secrets of being a successful entrepreneur is figuring out how to make your business sustainable in the long term. Unfortunately there is no one size fits all. You have to find a balance that works for you and your industry, and that includes regular time to step away from your business. Using these strategies will help you prepare for those times and allow you to place your business on pause without causing an interruption for any of your clients.

This is a contributed post by Noreen Hughes, who has been an entrepreneur since 2011. She launched her current business, Little Bunny Traveler, in 2022. Having spent 80 days traveling with her family just in 2023, and being married to a fellow solopreneur, she is well-versed with the challenges of running a business while on the road.

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