Business Advice

Vacations are an essential ingredient to business success

Ian Whitworth /

entrepreneurs holiday

Richard Branson taking a long walk on the beach. Source: Virgin.

Let’s talk about holidays. Or vacations, if you prefer. (Don’t say vacay though, or you and I are finished.)

When you’re starting a new business, you don’t take holidays, because you’re krushin’ it as an entrepreneur and holidays are for the weak.

You can survive three or four years of this sergeant-major mindset, because hard work never killed anyone, especially when you’re young.

What’s that line people always roll out? Nobody ever looked back on their deathbed and wished they’d spent more time at work?

Not sure about that one.

You could also look back on your deathbed and consider the great education and opportunities your children and grandchildren had because your hard work allowed that to happen, plus you helped a bunch of employees build a worthy career, and you got to do a tonne of interesting, fulfilling stuff yourself because you could afford it.

Watch less Netflix, do the work, and your deathbed arrangements will look after themselves.

Anyway, holidays. After you’ve been trading for more than four years, I will judge the success of your business by how often you can get away from it.

If you take no holidays, you have a low-quality business, which isn’t going to get any bigger or better, and you have poor delegation skills.

If you take at least one annual holiday where you only contact work once a week or so, you are well-organised and your business is a success.

Why so? Three main reasons.

1. Holidays force you to sort out your growth obstacles

If you can’t trust people to run the business while you’re away, you need to take a hard look at your paranoid mindset.

It seems super-obvious, but the whole point of a business is to employ people to do things, rather than doing it all yourself.

If none of your current staff are up to running the biz for a few weeks, you need better staff.

If you can’t afford to hire better staff to cover for you, you need to lift your prices.

If you’re the only one who knows the processes that run the business, your cat-lady hoarder mentality will keep your business capped at its current size forever.

The act of being able to take a holiday shows that you’re on top of a whole nest of issues that will allow your business to grow.

Cat lady

“My skills are too indispensable to take a holiday.”

2. It’s a great opportunity for your staff to lift

How are they going to learn and show their skills if you never give them the chance to rise above their current gig?

If they do a great job… great. You’re on your way to some succession planning. Worst-case scenario, they do a bad job, and you know more about those staff than you did before. And, you had a holiday.

3. Your no-holiday brain is useless

If you never take a break, your brain shrinks down to a mental shoebox filled with receipts.

Cruelly, that brain tricks you into thinking you’re doing a great job holding everything together in that special way only you can do because you are the star of your own business-action-hero movie.

Bruce WIllis Die hard

John McLane hunts down his last tax receipt on Xmas Eve.

You use those ‘I’m so busy’ phrases all the time to show people how important you are. No rest for the wicked! In fact, your business is plateauing at best, because your energy is at iPhone-at-4pm levels.

And your only sources of inspiration are your lunchtime trips to Subway, and scanning Steve Jobs quotes on LinkedIn that he probably didn’t even say. You’re just like every other water-treading business martyr.

Ideas come to you when you’re doing nothing. Great ideas can be stolen from other industries, in other places, and feel free to do it because of that ‘great artists steal’ quote from Picasso that he probably didn’t say either.

You don’t need to move to Cuba or hit the absinthe, but you will need to leave the office. All the business owners I know come back from holidays absolutely pulsating with energy and ideas, desperate to get back and get some cool shit happening.

Even aggressive motivator maniac Gary Vaynerchuk, whose stylings I have been sceptical of, takes seven weeks away with his family each year, and that’s a much better definition of success than a Ferrari or 20 pairs of Louboutins in the wardrobe.

If I had a business in America, where everyone gets about three-and-a-half-days of vacation a year, I’d force staff to take three weeks’ vacation a year like the Australian system (Europe swings too far the other way). Because they’ll get much more done in their time at work, rather than just filling in their time with brain-dead activity like two-hour phone conferences.

Anyway, enough writing. During last night’s air traffic control delays I did this handy flow chart for you to diagnose your holiday situation.

Why not pass it on to someone you know who needs to back away from the business for a bit?

Business holiday flowchart

Get it as a PDF if you want.

This article was first published on Motivation for Sceptics.

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Ian Whitworth

Ian Whitworth is a reformed branding and advertising creative director turned entrepreneur, who co-founded corporate audiovisual company Scene Change.