Whether you celebrate the Christmas holiday or not, there's no way around the fact that, in many parts of the West, things slow down--or stop completely--around the Christmas and New Year holidays. That makes it a perfect time to either get more stuff done for your business, or take time away.
I rarely hear from the people who want to use the time to get more stuff done, but the people who want to take time away often write to ask me a variety of questions about how to make it work. Given that we're heading into that period, I thought I'd share the three questions I'm asked the most, with my answers.
1. I want to be away from my practice from 12/24 through Jan 2. My clients, on the other hand, whose own clients aren't needing them during that time, want to use the time between Christmas and the New Year to do strategy meetings and get ready to hit the ground running in January. Should I be a trooper and work to help them out rather than take the time off?
The first thing out of your mouth (or fingertips, since you were typing to me!) was that you want to be away during that time. Given that--you shouldn't be a trooper and work. Very few people on the planet are deserving of any sacrifice on your part, and your clients are not among the few.
If you haven't told them yet that you won't be working, this late notice could be jarring to them, and feel like a breach of trust. Only you know your clients and how they're likely to take the news less than a week in advance. If you think it's going to damage your relationship, you might consider a compromise...take a few days, and work a few days. Whether a compromise or you decide you want to just be off, regardless of how they feel about the late notice, let them know today.
If you're going to be flat-out away, let them know that over the next several days you're happy to kick in anything you can in advance to help them nail whatever they decide to work on while you're away, and that you look very much forward to hearing about the direction you guys are going to take when you return to your office on Jan 3.
No justification, no explanations, just say what's so, and wish them well in their work. They have the right to work, and you have as much right to take time off. Next time, though, give them a lot more notice. :)
2. My clients are a-ok with my being away, but they want me to find someone to help them while I'm gone. I'm not sure why this bothers me so much, but it does. Any ideas for me?
It probably bothers you because it's not your job to find someone to cover their work while you're away. If a client wants someone to be available, it's the clients responsibility to find that person.
Part of that is because the client is paying that person, not you. Part of it is that the client needs to specify what s/he needs a stand-in to do…not you. Part of that is that the person is covering the client's work… not your business. And part of it is likely that you know there's no one with the exact knowledge of the client's business or the skill set that you have, and it befuddles you as to how to find someone to really "cover" what you do. I get that's not ego--that's real befuddlement.
For 16 years, I've been teaching that, in my view, the most simple way to handle things is, from day one, to tell clients that you will not provide coverage, but you will make sure that they have complete procedure manuals for all that you do, so that either they can do whatever needs to be done, or find someone else to pinch hit in your absence.
If you've not had such a conversation, there's no time like the present. :) And if you've not created procedure manuals, you might consider making that the #1 agenda item in the New Year to make this easier for you (and the client) next time.
3. I want to work between Christmas and the New Year, but on my own business--not for my clients. How do I tell them I'm not working and then work?
Your responsibility is to tell your clients what's so. You have no responsibility to justify it or even explain it. So, it's as easy as sending an email that says something like, "I'm not available between Christmas and the New Year. I'll be back in my office on _______."
If a client asks you where you're going, feel free to tell if you want to. You have nothing to hide and no reason to hide. Just because you'll be at home, in your office, doesn't mean you have to read or answer email from clients, or be available if they need something. And they should have enough respect for you to not ask when you've said you're unavailable. If they don't respect you appropriately, there's a different conversation you need to have with them. ;)
So there you have it... the top three things I'm asked about.
But this goes deeper, doesn't it. It goes to how you feel about taking time away, and on some level, how clients feel about your being gone. Maybe you don't struggle at all with this, but if you do, the core element you need to really embrace is that you deserve and need time away and you deserve (and probably need!) clients who want you to go.
Taking time away from your business isn't a luxury. It's important for your self-care, and it's important for the well-being of your business. And, if you prepare for it and have high standards around how it will happen, you can actually go easily when you need or want to. The problems really only creep up when you've not planned, or you've taken on more responsibility for your clients' businesses than you should.
So if you do take time off at the year end, maybe take a half day and think through next year. Here are some things to do:
1. Create standards for how much time you'll take off for vacation, sick time, personal days, and holidays (I recommend a minimum of four weeks vacation, five sick days, ten personal days, and, as holidays--in the US--New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving and the day after, and Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and the day after. If you feel moved by other holidays, be sure to add them in, too!) .
2. Rework your fee formula to make sure that, given that time away, you're still profitable at your current fee (and if not, create a plan for raising your fee!).
3. Create standards for how/when you'll let your clients know when you'll be gone.
4. Create a standard around how you'll deal with money if your clients pay you with a retainer. Will you work more before you go and after you come back to make sure all the retainer hours are used? Pro-rate retainer if you're gone a week or more at a clip? You need a plan.
5. Create standards around providing coverage, or not providing coverage, and how all of that will work so that you can have a conversation about it with your clients. If you decide, against my best advice, to find coverage for your clients, identify who those people will likely be now so you won't have as big a hunt when you need them.
In other words, think through and create standards around all pieces of taking time away, so that next year, you'll know exactly what you're doing, as well as how and when to discuss it with clients.
I hope some of that helped, and that you get to have whatever time away would make you happy--you absolutely deserve it.
As for me, I'm away from my work (including VMoxie!) from the end of today till the 7th of January. I hope you and all those you love have holidays full of love and fun. See you next year!!