How to keep your business running over the festive season

Taking time off is an important part of running a successful business. This is notoriously hard however without being glued to your smartphone or laptop.

As the key decision maker, almost 40 per cent of Australian small business owners say they work through the summer holidays. Many others are unable to relax if they don’t know what’s going on at all times with their business.

There are processes and procedures out there to make it easier. Hear from three business owners who have successfully implemented a skeleton team during the festive season.

Advantages of scaling back

Employing a small team between Christmas and New Year brings benefits to Eva Wintersberger’s baby equipment business, Tree Hut Village.

“We reset our priorities for the coming year, use the time to have a break, and for myself as the founder, I use the time for strategic planning,” she says.

The company employs 25 people, but will scale back to just two staff members during this quiet period.
Wintersberger says she selected the employees because they deal with customers directly and on a daily basis.

She also prepares for the Christmas and New Year lull by preparing clear process documents that empower her employees to run the business.

“We seek to have consistency in our processes which are well documented. We have themes for social media that allows us to plan and schedule content, automate emails to assist the users in their journey and we have enabled retail sales to be fulfilled by our customer experience team,” she says. “We even have created typical scenarios that depict 80 per cent of the scenarios our experience managers might come across.”

These scenarios include hypothetical customer complaints so employees are prepared to handle a range of issues. All of this planning makes it easier for team members to take over if need be, Wintersberger says.

“We have empowered our customer experience managers to have full control over their decision up to a specific escalation point, which means they can make a lot of the decisions without having to check back,” she explains.

Business as usual

The workspace of automated investment service Six Park may be deserted come Christmas, but chief executive Pat Garrett says the business will continue to be there for its customers.

“While some businesses, like those in retail, ramp up very clearly during the holiday period, businesses like ours might be perceived as quietening off – however, we need to keep ticking as we’re still managing people’s money and watching the market, so in many ways it’s business as usual,” he says.

Garrett encourages his employees to organise their leave during summer holidays as early as possible. Using data from previous years, he also forecasts how busy the business is likely to be and how many employees will be needed. About 60 per cent of the team remain on the job and can use flexible arrangements such as working from home, working reduced or varied hours.

Garrett also uses technology to keep in touch with clients, maintain client acquisition, and manage client support tasks.

“The important thing to remember is that clients often have more time to read when they’re on holidays, so it’s a great time to continue communicating with them,” he says.

“A lot of communications, from e-news to social media posts, and other simple business admin tasks can be automated ahead of time, making it a lot easier to navigate the Christmas period.”

Giving employees a break

Public relations agency Reymond Communications reduces its team of 10 to just two or three in the week leading up to Christmas day. Half the team return by the first week of January and the remainder are back on deck the week after.

After the hectic lead up to Christmas, it’s the perfect time for employees to refresh for the year ahead, says founder, Joanna Reymond-Burns.

“It gives everyone a rest after the busy period and before the new year starts, plus we love the sunshine and it’s a good time of year to be off in Melbourne,” she says.

Only senior team members are on call during the Christmas holidays, and all other employees can choose to come back in the first or second week of January.

“Asking the team what they’d prefer to do has worked well for us so far,” she explains.
“We usually find we have an even split between those who want to enjoy a longer vacation and those who are keen to bank holiday days for an extended trip during the winter months,” Reymond-Burns says.

Small business owners will want to reward their skeleton crew for manning the decks while most Australians enjoy the summer holidays. This may be with the option of flexible working hours, casual dress days or a team outing such as a lunch or fun activity.

Whether they experience quiet or busy days, an organised and effective skeleton team is responsible for keeping the business running so others can enjoy a well-deserved break.

Tips to help you plan for the holiday break

● Organise your skeleton team at least three months before the break to ensure everyone is aware of their responsibilities.

● Communicate your skeleton team or closure to clients and customers earlier, so you can come up with a plan to help prepare for what they might need.

● Place orders with suppliers ahead of time to ensure the team have everything they need.

● Setup auto payments or schedule any bills that need to be paid during the break.

● Where possible, encourage late starts, working from home, or a fun activity to keep morale high during the holidays.

● Encourage time off late January and February from your skeleton crew to avoid burn out.