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Does running a small business during the holidays make you feel more like a grinch than someone who spreads holiday cheer? If so, you're not alone. One survey found that a little over one-third of business owners consider the holiday season to be a stressful time for the business. Added to the normal stresses of running a business are worries about year-end profitability, decisions about year-end bonuses, the cost and time involved in planning a business holiday party, and the desire to keep employees focused and motivated when they'd rather not be working. On top of all of that, business owners often spend more hours working during the holiday season, reducing the time they have available to get ready for and enjoy their own family holiday.
Unfortunately, there is no way to completely avoid the holiday pressure-cooker effect when you are a business owner. However there are things you can do to lessen seaonal stress and give yourself more time to enjoy the holiday season. Here are things to consider:
Manage Your Own Expectations
Like it or not, you're not invisible. You can't be everywhere, and can't do everything that your or everyone else would like you to do. And, even though the holiday season may be critical to your business, your family and friends matter, too. So, too, does your health. To avoid driving yourself crazy, alienating family, or making yourself sick, be reasonable when estimating what you'll be able to accomplish during the holidays.
Set More Reasonable Holiday Hours
If you run a retail establishment and are able to set your own hours of operation, make those hours reasonable. Will you really make enough sales between 9PM and Midnight to warrant staying open those extra hours the week before Christmas? Before deciding, consider the extra salary, and utility costs, plus any potential hazards (ie., robbery, icy or snowy roads)you or your employees would face by staying open late.
If your business is in an office that doesn't rely on walk-in traffic, consider closing early for the holidays. Change your voicemail to indicate what your holiday hours are. The voice mail should tell customers to leave a message or send an email to a special email address to reach your business if they absolutely must.
Schedule Time Off For Yourself...
Then, stick to your schedule. Yes, that can be difficult to do if this is your busy season, but working 70 hours a week to run the business and get everything done for your family holiday will wear you down physically and emotionally. Believe it or not, your business won't come crashing down around you if you take a little personal time off. If you have employees, be sure they know under what conditions they should contact you, and what situations they should handle on their own.
RELATED: How to Find Work-Life Balance
Go Shopping During Business Hours
Schedule some of that time off so you can handle some of your personal holiday shopping, early in the day when other people are working. You shouldn't feel guilty about giving yourself this perk, but if you do, remember all the times you worked far more than 40 hours a week, and consider your day-time shopping time payback.
Give Employees Needed Information
Employees won't be able to manage in your absence if they don't have the needed resources to do so. Be sure they know where supplies such as register tape, staples, paper bags,or other consumables are. Distribute and post information about what to do in case of emergencies, such as fire, in-store injuries or medical emergencies involving employees or customers, plumbing or other leaks, Internet outages, computer breakdowns, etc. Be sure they know what to do and who to call in the event of a robbery or if they see packages left unattended or other suspicious activity.
Make Your Employees' Holidays Brighter
Your employees are likely to be time-pressed and stressed during the holidays, too. That can cause them to make mistakes, or try to surf the Internet looking for gifts when they should be working. If at all possible, help relieve your employees' stress (and keep them focused on work while they're in the office) by letting them take a few hours of paid time-off to do their shopping or other chores during the workday. To make this work, decide on the number of hours you'll allow, whether the time away from the office has to be scheduled in advance, and whether they can take the hours off all in one day, or split them up over several days(i.e., one extra hour at lunch for 4 days). If you can't afford to give each employee paid time-off, consider offering them flex-time arrangements, so they still work the same number of hours but can shift the time of day they work.
RELATED: Small Business Owner's Guide to the Holiday Bonus
Team Up with Trustworthy Competitors
If your service business typically deals with service emergencies (ie, plumbing, heating, electric, etc.) team up with a reputable competitor for handling emergency service calls during the holidays. Decide which days and hours you'll each cover for the other. Agree in advance about who will "own" any brand new customers for future marketing purposes.
Publish Your Holiday Business Hours
Customers, for the most part, will be respectful of you and your employees' desire to spend quality time with family and loved ones during the holidays, provided you let them know what those hours are. If you're a service business and will be closing the business for a holiday break, send an email to your customers stating your holiday hours, and post the information on your website. If you have an emergency contact number or email address to use, include that in your announcement. If you have an online storefront, be sure it includes realistic estimations about shipping times.
Don’t Give Clients Your Cell Phone Number
Or, if you already have, warn them in advance that you won’t be taking routine business calls during the time you will be off for the holidays. Tell them if they have an emergency to send you an email marked urgent, and to explain in detail what the emergency is so you can decide how to handle it – without initially talking to the client.
Skip the Off-Site Holiday Party
Your off-site holiday party may be a tradition, but there's a good chance it's greeted with mixed feelings by your employees. On one hand, they may enjoy a free meal and a chance to socialize with their coworkers, but on the other hand, they may feel pressured to show up when they'd rather be doing something else because, "the boss" is throwing the party and expects them to attend.
Instead of the expensive off-site party (and any potential liability resulting from employees party too much), consider having an on-site catered buffet lunch as a holiday perk, or giving every employee a gift card in addition to any regular holiday bonus you distribute.
RELATED: How to Plan a Low Cost Holiday Party Your Employees Will Love
Remember What the Holidays Are All About
No matter what your religious beliefs, what makes this time of year special, is that it's a time for spreading peace, joy and love, and for sharing experiences and memories with family and friends.
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