One thing that challenges new entrepreneurs in service-based businesses is how to handle taking time off.  What happens to your clients when you go on vacation or on medical leave?  Do they just do without you for a while, or do you have someone cover them?  Do you check your email while you’re gone?  What happens if there’s an emergency?  In this article, I’m addressing some of the FAQs we hear on this topic.

So you’re going to be out of the office…

How far in advance do you tell your clients?

Don’t be afraid to tell your clients you are taking time off. Just don’t leave them high and dry. Remember, a lot of our clients are new business owners, just like us.  Uncertainty breeds frustration.  Helping them plan ahead will help instill trust and confidence.

I have a one-page document that lists all holidays and out-of-service days for the calendar year. This is part of my onboarding package so my clients know what dates I’ll be out when they sign to work with me.  For longer periods like vacations or conferences travel, I give my clients at least 30 days’ notice whenever possible.  When I notify them of these types of events, I let them know what to do and who to contact if they have a need while I’m out.

Do you arrange for coverage?

Although I plan ahead, I always have a team member available for urgent requests and immediate needs. If you don’t have a team or an assistant of your own, I highly suggest building a partnership with another virtual professional to support you. Make sure your clients always know who your back-up person is and how to reach him/her directly.

Do you check and respond to email while on vacation?

I do, but I shouldn’t.  I am a workaholic, and I don’t recommend my own habits to anyone else.  Rest is important, and you need time to be totally unplugged from your business.  If you do check email while you’re “out”, make sure to set your auto responder in your email system to let clients know when you will be checking email and when they can expect a response.

Do I need a back-up plan for emergencies or unforeseen circumstances?

Everyone needs a back-up plan in place before the need for it arises.  If 2020 taught us anything, it was that we needed a back-up plan for our back-up plan!  The emergence of a pandemic taught us that everything can come to a stop quickly and without warning.  That’s why it’s critical that you have a documented plan in place at all times, and that the people who are part of it know their role and what will cue them to step in and get to work on it.

I recommend writing an SOP for the work you do with each client and make sure your back-up support knows how to access it.  Make sure your clients know about it, too, so they know they won’t have to scramble if something happens that takes you out of action for a while.

This may seem like a lot of work, but it’s necessary.  Knowing you have these plans will give your clients more confidence in you, and it will make any disruptions easier and less stressful for both of you.

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Dionne ThomasDionne Thomas is IVAA’s Membership Director and Founder of The Zeva Group.
Learn more about Dionne at zevagroup.com