Like it or not, Christmas is coming. The shops are decked out in sparkly lights and festive tinsel, and you're contemplating when to put up the tree. But have you considered how you'll down tools and take a break from work, without jeopardising your business?
Whether you're selling handmade items online or freelancing to a range of clients, there are many things you need to consider before you escape. We'll try to get you ready for the holidays with these handy tips:
1. Give notice on your festive plans
Use either a newsletter or simple email to communicate your plans to your customers. Inform them of when you'll be shutting up shop for Christmas, and when they can expect to see you resurface. If you sell physical things online, make it clear when you're accepting your last orders before the break, and bear in mind delivery schedules.
Give them plenty of notice to avoid any issues, and be confident about your plans. If you like, why not wrap things up with a friendly: "I'd like to take this opportunity to thank you for your business this year, and wish you a Happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year!"
2. Offer emergency cover
Many of you won't be able to fully escape this Christmas, as clients might have something crop up. Particularly if you're looking after their website. In which case, offer 'emergency cover' to those who might need it – and make it clear that they must leave a voicemail to your work mobile if they need you for anything. Otherwise, you won't check or get back to them.
If you're established and have repeat business, you could consider increasing your rates during the festive period to cover emergencies, and to encourage clients to really think about whether their need can wait. You want to hit home that you're on holiday, but if clients desperately need you – you'll be available to bail them out... at extra cost.
3. Consider your annual review
December is often a good time to review all your clients and see whether you should raise your rates with any of them – or, in fact, get rid of them amicably. The crucial tip is to give them plenty of notice – and to not tackle everyone at the same time. You want to spread the risk, and gauge the response from one or two clients that you'd love to keep, before contacting anyone else.
If there are clients you're not so keen on, and you can afford to lose them, then send a rate increase notice anyway – because if they go, it doesn't matter; if they stay – you've successfully gained more money for the hassle.
For extra tips on raising rates, read our guide.
4. Prepare gifts or cards for clients
If you've had a successful year, and you're feeling generous – why not treat your clients to a special card and/or festive gift? It doesn't have to be expensive. The thought will definitely count. Just keep things simple with chocolates or a nice wine. Be professional with what you write in the card, and use the opportunity to say how you're looking forward to working with them in the New Year.
5. Shout about your achievements
Whether you send out a newsletter, publish a blog post, add updates to social media or all of the above – make sure you celebrate and share the highlights of the last 12 months, reminding your existing clients of why they hire you. You could talk about favourite projects, and how your support has helped other businesses. You could highlight an office move or the employment of new staff. Or perhaps a milestone in your social following.
Whatever you do, don't worry about showing off. Clients love seeing what you're up to elsewhere, and will be impressed with your achievements.
6. Use the right 'out of office' tools
Now that you're fully prepped to escape, you should take advantage of all available tools to keep things running smoothly while you're away from your desk. Aside from the obvious – your email responder and a separate work mobile that directs calls straight to voicemail – the following should cover all bases:
Buffer is a wonderful app for desktop and mobile that lets you connect Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn and then create queues of content that get sent at the times and days of your choosing.
There’s even a super powerful Buffer browser extension, so you can share and queue content directly from other websites. This also has a particularly helpful function where you can click on any image within a web page and Buffer will include that in the update you wish to share or schedule. Great for keeping your social media accounts sharing content, while you're away.
Similar to Buffer, we recommend SproutSocial for all the things that Buffer doesn’t yet provide, like the ability to track the conversation, follow and respond to people, and pretty much have everything all in one place. Available for both desktop and mobile.
Much like Buffer, SproutSocial allows you to connect Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn, and schedule updates by choosing your own times or you can make use of its ViralPost feature, where it will post optimally based on analytics. Just add your own content to the schedule and everything will automatically get published.
There’s also a SproutSocial browser extension where you can schedule content that you discover whilst browsing the web. And we particularly love the ‘Feeds’ aspect of the software, as it allows you to connect your Feedly account and find great content to share what’s relevant to your audience.
A superb automation tool, IFTTT stands for If This, Then That and allows you to create recipes that connect apps to one another, sparking some kind of action. For example, you can hook your blog’s RSS feed up to your Twitter account, so that every time you post something new – IFTTT is alerted and automatically shares to Twitter.
There are hundreds of ready-to-use recipes to choose from, and you can create and share your own. We recommend IFTTT’s collection of 40 recipes to streamline your social media to get started.
Bitly isn’t just a very helpful URL shortening service, it gives you complete ownership of all your links, allowing you to capture data and track the effectiveness of your tweets and updates. Even better, it also stops people from knowing where you’re automating your social media activity because you don’t want people to see ‘Buffer’ or ‘IFTTT’ in your updates. That would be giving the game away.
With the above tips, you should be fully prepared to enjoy your best Christmas yet. However, if a client gets in touch during the break and it's something you can't ignore, you might have to bite the bullet, roll your sleeves up and get back to work. Yes, it's a pain. But running a business sometimes calls for a little sacrifice – to make up for all the advantages of being your own boss for the rest of the year.