Taking a holiday should be one of life’s pleasures, but as a small business owner it can be anything but a pleasure. Even if you manage to get away, the stress of worrying about what is going on back at the ranch can take the enjoyment out of your holiday.

Indeed, many small business owners don’t take any time off at all over the summer. Recent statistics showed that only 29% of small business owners had taken any holiday in the past year that lasted for more than a week, whilst 30% said it had been four or more years since they took a holiday at all.

However most of us recognise that taking some time off is beneficial in many ways – for health, for relaxation, to recalibrate and re-energise the body and mind. So what can you do as a small business owner to minimise the stress and maximise the benefits of your down time?
Firstly, don’t feel you necessarily need to take your break in the summer. If the summer is your busy period, it stands to reason you’ll be more anxious if you leave the business then. Plan ahead and schedule your holiday in the off-season when times are slower and when you might be able to get better deals – if you have children this becomes more complicated, of course. Also, if you want employees not to take holidays during your busy periods then be sure to communicate this well in advance with a clear explanation of why this is.

Secondly, outline a clear structure with a reliable second-in-command appointed to “mind the shop” whilst you’re away. The knack here is to pick the right person and to train them well in advance so they can cope with the majority of day-to-day decisions.

Set clear boundaries on what decisions they are and are not able to take in your absence, for example relating to purchasing and staffing issues that may arise. Practise delegation before you go away to see how they cope with taking responsibility and have some trial runs where you leave them in charge for a few hours. Make a list of important procedures and any information that they need to know to keep your business running efficiently whilst you’re gone. Furthermore, make it very clear what you want to be contacted about when on holiday – is it only if the office burns down, if someone resigns, or do you want daily updates on sales progress? Be clear about your expectations and plan ahead.
If you think this sounds like more hassle than the benefits of the holiday itself, then think again. If you were suddenly unable to work for a time, the planning you will have done around this will pay dividends.

Use technology to your advantage whilst on holiday. Although you don’t want to spend every waking hour on your BlackBerry, checking in for a half hour every day to clear emails and keep abreast of issues can help you relax for the rest of the time. Laptops, multifunctional mobile phones, dongles and clever software packages like Dropbox.co.uk or gotomypc.co.uk, through which you can access PCs and files remotely, can make life very easy for the well-connected business traveller. Your client need not know you are away at all if you don’t want them to. Making sure your technology is up to speed before you head off can give you enormous peace of mind as a small business owner – and check with your accommodation whether they have WIFI, broadband internet connections, a fax machine and so on.

If you need any more reasons to dust down your passport, then why not use your holiday to read some inspirational business books or those industry articles you’ve been promising yourself you need to cover? Although this is some people’s idea of holiday hell, others find using the down time to learn something new and beneficial for their work can give them a whole raft of fresh ideas to implement when they get home. With e-readers such as the Amazon Kindle you can take hundreds of interesting books to dip into, all on one device, as well as magazines and newspapers for extra inspiration.

Deborah Done, the author of our Big Ideas, is founder and director of Nab Communications, a freelance public relations agency which provides sensible and value for money PR advice to regional and national businesses. www.nabcommunications.co.uk