Someone asked me this summer, “How many vacation days do you get?”
The question stopped me in my tracks. Ever since I went full-time with my Virtual Assistant business, I have not kept track of the vacation days I take. It filled me with doubt. I began thinking, “Should I set a limit for myself? Should I have a minimum amount that I should take each year?”
How do you handle vacation days when you run your own business?
Here are some tips that I have learned along the way that should help anyone who is starting out as a single business owner:
- Try to give all clients 30 days of notice before vacation time. I like to look at my schedule in seasons. What weddings or family events do I have that I may need to take time off for? What does the holiday season/winter look like? Do I want to travel anywhere in the summer? Sometimes things come up unexpectedly (like when we moved this past summer) but I try to plan out by season and give my clients at least 60 to 90 days of notice. Even if something is unexpected, I will give them a heads up if I have a feeling something might come up.
- Time off without pay. Are you okay with taking off time and not getting paid? Or do you feel like you deserve a paid vacation? I find this to be a heated topic among some freelancers and business owners. I know someone who only takes one week of vacation a year in the summer and because it’s only one week, she writes into her contract that she gets paid during that week. She works all other days, including some holidays. If I take vacation, I don’t get paid. That’s how I look at it – I want a mental break, so I’m going to step away and not work. I have some WONDERFUL clients and a few of them have even paid me when I go on break and for that, I am so humbled (you know who you are – thank you!).
- Backup support. Depending on the business you run, your clients may want you to have some kind of backup support in place if you step away. Do you have that planned out? I offer that as an option if clients are willing to pay an extra fee. The extra fee is because I will have to train my backup and get them up to speed and running with my client, even if I’m only gone a week, which takes a bit of time. If you are new to owning a business – you may want to look into having a solution to someone who asks what will happen if you step out.
- Sick days. Unfortunately, this is not vacation by any means, but if you DO take sick days, it’s something to keep in mind with other time you might be taking off. I have rarely taken a sick day when running my business. I have taken time off for minor surgeries, but not for colds/flus. I usually sit in bed and do emergency/urgent tasks only. That’s my choice – some people cannot function at all when they are sick so it’s something to keep on your radar.
- To work or not to work when on vacation? I know a Virtual Assistant who does not take vacation, per se. She has set up her business so that whenever she goes anywhere, she works in the morning or evening and no one knows she is traveling or taking it easy. All her tasks are project-based and can be done when needed. Because I love Executive Assistant work, my business is not set up like that. I have tried to take a vacation and work morning/evenings, but it doesn’t make sense and is not fair to my clients. If I am not available during standard business hours, I have to take the time off. Can your business operate with you only working mornings and evenings? Then perhaps you do not have to tell clients you are taking time off.
I never did come to an answer on if I should set a limit on how many vacation days I take or have a minimum. I decided that one of the reasons I set up my business was so that I would not have to ask anyone when I could take time off, even if for simple doctor’s appointments. I hold by that philosophy now and I look at my calendar and plan well in advance. I know when I’ll need some R&R and plan for that (usually sometime in the summer, plus after Christmas) along with keeping track of any weddings or events we may need to attend.
Interestingly, I realized that as my child (and future children, if I’m lucky) grows up, my vacation time will usually revolve around school vacations and my options will be a lot more limited. But for now, I will continue take time when I want, making sure not to become unreasonable with how much I take off.