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Sole Practitioners and holidays

Do you completely switch off or still deal with client calls and emails?

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Fellow sole practitioners, when you go on holiday, do you switch off completely or do you still deal with client calls and emails and let them know you will respond when you get back?

Whilst I go on a holiday every now and then, I never completely switch off and still field answer calls and emails but defer actual work. We have a family holiday planned for August this year (Covid permitting) and I’d like to completely switch off - no emails or calls. I thought if I sent an email to clients in Feb explaining that’ll be gone for a week and that nothing is ever so urgent it can’t wait a week.  If I give them a lot of notice I think it should be fine.

Any advice from other sole practitioners on how you deal with it would be much appreciated. The only other person in the company is my wife and so far I have been unable to leave her here whilst I go on holiday.

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By Matrix
10th Jan 2022 22:03

Just put on your OOO and have a great time.

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By Hugo Fair
10th Jan 2022 23:00

I'll pass no comment on why you should/shouldn't contemplate being "unable to leave her (your wife) here whilst I go on holiday"!
But there are both practical and emotional elements to your overall question:

* At the practical level - you know your clients and their individual deadline plans (hopefully already agreed with them), so you schedule your holiday around those ... taking care to try avoiding being too optimistic (and so avoiding those last few pre-holiday late nights of trying to meet those deadlines).

* You also have a fair idea of when non-client activities are scheduled (whether these are legislative announcements or administrative duties or personal/family needs) ... so those too get added into your schedule around which you plan your holidays.

* At the more emotional level you'll be aware that not everything can be planned and, even when it is, things have a habit of jumping out and requiring changes to those plans ... and this hurts most when the changes are demanded by clients.

So the most important, but hardest part, is having a methodology (call it a policy if you prefer) for dealing with the unexpected. It's not for me to tell you what that policy should be (there's no one-size-fits-all), but you can evolve it over time.

Finally what you need is a 'communications plan' which is a bit more than sending "an email to clients in Feb explaining that’ll you'll be gone for a week in August".
It's a good idea to give plenty of warning like that (for those clients who are good at planning), but you'll also need a reminder much nearer the time (say 3 weeks before your holiday) ... and some sort of auto-message on your email and phone number (for when you're actually on holiday).
It's an even better idea if you can personalise those reminders (so that each client gets a reminder pertinent to their next deadline) - but that depends on how many clients you've got and how much time is worth investing in the extra effort.

Actually, I shouldn't have said 'finally' earlier on here. The real final task is to stick to your guns (the plans / the deadlines / the communications - and most importantly the switching off of your mobile and email).
Nobody gains anything from you "still fielding/answering calls and emails" whilst you're on holiday AND it ensures you don't enjoy the holiday.

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By Cylhia66
11th Jan 2022 08:02

I seem to only ever get a break on Sundays, bank holidays and Christmas. Because when it's Christmas no one wants to do any work, which is bliss. Best time of the year as far as I am concerned.

If I wanted to completely switch off one week during the summer, I'd make sure I plough through as much as possible beforehand. Once on holiday I'd set up an out of office agent warning that I am away and will get back to them on my return, unless their query is urgent. I'd probably keep an eye on my emails to be able to determine whether an urgent reply is required. Not perfect as I might end up doing a little bit of work but there would be at least some sort of selection.

I'm not saying this is what you should do though. But this is what I would do.

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By SXGuy
11th Jan 2022 08:30

Depends who the client is. If it's Mr X who rings literally every week to let me know his woes, I'll ignore it.

If it's a client I haven't had contact with for a while I'll prob answer and tell them I'll get back to them when I'm back.

The odd reply to an email when I'm not busy with the family might happen.

The cons of having a voip phone service diverted to your mobile means your always obtainable.

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By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
11th Jan 2022 09:26

Firstly I never tell clients I am going unless in the middle of something with them, and always go the same time so clients know I am generally away just after the schools break up end July/start of August.

Before I had a no.2, I just had someone read my emails and pick up my redirected phone line (essentially a PA, it cost about £20 a day money well spent) and contact me for anything genuinely urgent (eg talk someone down from the ceiling on a tax investigation or the xxxing mortgage references on the first day away). This got me down to 1 or 2 contacts all holiday and mostly those are resolved inside of 30 minutes.

Now I have a no.2, they just deal with it, but I normally call in every 3-4 days when I am kicking around between things and as I am relaxed it doesn't really bother me to talk over something with them. I don't have them call me as they might be interrupting as nice lunch or similar. I probably don't need to do that, but I feel better knowing there are no problems.

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By Leywood
11th Jan 2022 10:09

I used to be available for urgnet bits, but clients version of urgent is generally not urgent at all, or just because they have left something to the last mnute.

Now, I warn them I will be away on x date, as you are proposing albeit not so far in advance. # Then just put my out of office on saying I will deal with matters upon my return. I do keep an eye on my email every couple of days to ensure there is nothing dire. There never has been. I ignore the phone, let it go to voicemail.

# suggets you also remind them nearer the time.

Life is too short and lets face it very few/none of them give the same damn about you when they go off for their holidays without a word, or indeed most of the rest of the time!

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Replying to Leywood:
Red Leader
By Red Leader
11th Jan 2022 11:10

Very similar to what I do.

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By cathygrimmer
11th Jan 2022 11:08

We all need a break. I take my holiday in my quieter time of year (which is, fortunately, Spring and Summer!) but I tell clients some weeks in advance and encourage them to get any queries in before I go. As there's just me, I do look at emails and listent to phone messages while I'm away. I would deal with anything that was genuinely urgent but I don't think that's ever happened yet. The client who wanted me to deal with a tax return issue (deadline 31 January the following year) when I was on holiday in August because he wanted it dealt with before he went on holiday the following week got short shrift!

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Slim
By Slim
11th Jan 2022 12:28

never answer calls but do respond to emails if required and only when it suits me

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By exceljockey
11th Jan 2022 14:58

Thanks all for the useful advice. Most of my clients are longstanding so I know their accounting cycles and what they will need and when so it shouldn't be too difficult to prepare.

Thankfully, apart from the odd tax investigation, the only urgent stuff seems to those clients that need a mortgage cert signed immediately because they are in the estate agents office, whilst they have their mortgage broker on the line, etc etc

I think what I am going to do is send clients an email shortly with a list of what needs to get done and when to give them comfort that all is under control and update it before I go so that there is nothing outstanding. I will let them know that if they are planning anything like moving etc then they need to give notice that they will need certs signing etc. If they do get a letter from HMRC I will tell them we usually have a month or so to respond and that I will be back in time to deal with it.

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By johnny fartpants
11th Jan 2022 18:10

If convenient, I answer calls & remind the client that I'm on holiday. If not convenient then I let the call go to answerphone & text the client to let them know I'm on holiday.

I also look at emails every two or three days to make sure there is nothing urgent.

Clients all (or all good ones anyway) all understand that everyone needs a holiday. Thankfully most clients have been with me for around 10 years so one missed call isn't going to worry them too much. They trust that the work will be done on my return.

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By AdShawBPR
14th Jan 2022 09:43

Apart form sensible suggestions already made, and avoiding going away in the first and last weeks of the month (avoiding VAT and payroll deadlines) about 4 weeks before I go away I add a line in my email signature to say I will be away. Obviously not all clients will get to see this but quite a lot will.

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By minkie
14th Jan 2022 09:47

I put an automated response on my e-mail to say that I am away and an answerphone message saying that unless it is extremely urgent please phone when I am back on x date but I never go away for more than a week. The whole point of my 1 week away twice a year is to escape the madness that occurs for the rest of the year. If they don't like it, tough, they can go elsewhere, my sanity is important to me and if they are reasonable people (which they seem to be), they won't mind.

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By paulcolman
14th Jan 2022 10:12

I need a clean break from work to fully relax and sleep well. So I completely switch off everything work related, every evening, weekend, and holiday, leaving my out of office on for holidays, and only warning clients about the Christmas break because that's over a deadline.

I usually time the holidays so that they are taken when there are no deadlines (except 31st Dec) or scheduled work (monthly payroll), and request at least 10 days notice to do any returns etc.

If something is so urgent that it suddenly needs to be done within two weeks' notice, that's bad planning by someone else so I won't be worrying about it or spoiling my holiday for it.

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