The holidays are some of the toughest times for small businesses, and not necessarily for the reasons you would think. When I made the switch from being an employee to a small business owner, I suddenly came up against the challenges that November and December bring. Long gone were the days of feeling that these months were actually a bit lighter than the rest of the year. Instead, they were crunch time, and I was in charge.
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Here are a few things I learned that can help any small business owner as they balance one of the busiest times of the year with all that holiday spirit (and fruitcake). 😉
Prepare All Year for November and December
One of the biggest things I learned as a small business owner was that the holidays are tough for management, and tougher still if a small business hasn’t been planning for months about how to best accommodate the busy time. Whether it’s understanding the vacation or reduced schedules of your employees and being able to work around them or predicting the potential last minute needs of clients when you’re short staffed, getting ahead of the holidays is the best thing you can do to ensure that November and December can be a time of profit and success – despite an understandably reduced workforce. It’s easy to forget this step in the height of summer, but the reality is that the holidays don’t just sneak up on you – they happen every year, year in and year out. Setting time to prepare months in advance – and doing so year in and year out – can save your business (and your mind).
Get into the Holiday Spirit – Even at the Cost of Work Productivity
During my five and a half years working at Twitter, one of the most surprising discoveries I made was how fun November and December were. The holiday parties, the decorations, and the cupcakes (oh, the cupcakes!) made for an atmosphere of fun that started right before Thanksgiving and continued into the New Year. That said, I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t say that work during that time suffered a bit from a lack of focus and concentration. (When everyone at the water cooler is talking about the big party last night, it’s hard to get too much done.) Some of that is natural and bound to happen, but as a small business owner you may struggle with feeling the need to fight against this and make sure your employees stay on track. My advice? Manage your expectations, and learn to keep folks in line while you still allow for some good old holiday fun. The holidays are for joy, camaraderie, and relaxation, and you want to make sure that your employees and contractors know that you value this in your own life as much as you value it in the lives of those who work for you. As a bonus, you’ll find that when employees know they will be able to celebrate as a team – and vacate the offices as well – they will come to work better prepared to bring their A-game, while still decking the halls with some holiday spirit.
Keep Your Vacation Mindset
One of the more curious December-related events that happened at Twitter during my time there has proven to actually be somewhat of a custom that decks the halls of some Silicon Valley companies in December: that of the surprise vacation week in December. During a couple of the years during my Twitter tenure, at some point in mid-December employees opened their email to find a particularly welcome surprise: we would all have the week between Christmas and New Year’s off! Everyone! Now, let’s be clear: everyone loves more time off, and no one turns their nose up at free vacation. But the fact that we didn’t know when or if it was coming was no less than a tiny bit problematic. I get that there are reasons why management may have come to the surprise decision late in the year, but for employees it can be a bit problematic to swallow. If you’re a small business owner considering surprising your employees with such a policy, here’s my advice: Don’t. To be clear – I want you to give them the holiday, but I want you to tell them in advance so they can best take advantage of it. An employee who is able to plan a restful vacation is going to come back to work far more energized in January than one who frittered away a surprise week off watching Netflix at home. Take this all a step further by setting an example for your employees. Don’t just announce a freebie vacation week (if that is your cup of tea), but share with employees what you’ll be doing to rest and recharge. Doing so will help everyone understand the power of time off to skyrocket results in the year to come.
Ultimately, the holidays can bring some fresh new challenges for the small business owner, and they aren’t all of the “choose what color napkins to use at the holiday party” variety. Additionally, don’t forget that the stress of the holidays isn’t just about problems that arise – angry customers, employees who take unexpected time off, or holiday sales that don’t skyrocket as planned. The positive stress of navigating the planning and execution of long-cherished holiday traditions in and out of work is also a factor. Preparing your mind and body for the busy season, and then finding as much time as possible in the midst of the holiday season to rest for a minute or two are going to be essential to making sure you get through this 6-week marathon. Finally, remember this: it’s a marathon, and not a sprint. Don’t go hog-wild for Black Friday if you won’t be able to sustain the pace until New Year’s Day.