executive director Scott Gardiner gives some ideas for sole traders wanting to take a break at Christmas.

Sole traders - why they do it

New Zealand could be described as a nation of sole-traders, with the vast majority of New Zealand businesses run by a sole owner-operator. Sole traders make up a vital part of the business community, providing both a range of essential services and specialist expertise.

According to our latest MYOB Business Monitor, which included over 700 sole traders from around the country, most self-employed people started their business to enjoy a total lifestyle change, while a further 22 per cent see their business as an investment strategy for the future. Around 18 per cent started their business to make money from a hobby or interest, nine per cent took redundancy to start their business and seven per cent wanted to keep working after retirement.


Having the resources to take a break

But while lifestyle choices feature strongly in the decision to go into business as a sole-trader, the demands of running a business on your own can mean it is tough to find the time and resources to take a break, especially over Christmas.
For most sole traders, adding extra staff to cover the Christmas season simply isn't an option. Over 40 per cent of owners told us that they were happy the size they were, while more than a quarter didn't have enough money in the business to pay additional staff and 18 per cent said cash flow was too uncertain to invest in staff.

Options for one woman/ man bands to relax over Christmas
Close down - the Christmas close down has become far more common for businesses of all sizes since the advent of the four-week leave period. For sole traders, closing the business altogether over the Christmas period can be the best option, provided you give your clients and customers plenty of notice and ensure you communicate clearly about your closing and re-opening times. Of course, if you sell your wares online, an automated e-commerce system plus a note that you'll be back after "X" days, will allow you to continue sales through the period with very little effort.

Provide essential services - if your business is providing a service that some of your customers just can't do without, it might be worth considering negotiating an essential services agreement, where you work on call for an agreed time or provide reduced hours over Christmas. It's not quite a complete break, but could mean you get to enjoy a few days at the beach with the family.

Work at reduced hours - people expect businesses to operate under some sort of holiday timetable over Christmas, so you should find that your customers are fairly understanding if you want to operate under reduced hours over the holidays. Again, the key is communication, making it essential that you provide your holiday schedule as visibly as possible - preferably online, on your answer-phone and at your premises.

Sharing the burden - if you work in a sector where you share some common skills and you have other suppliers or contractors that trust to work to your standards and not poach clients, you might also consider job sharing over the period. Covering each others' work for an agreed period is a good way to get a block of time off without worrying about having to close the business altogether. Just be sure you have a very clear agreement in place for who does what and when.

Temporary management - if you have a contractor you can trust to take over your business for a few days, this may be a good option to get some time off. Because so much of your business is likely to be based on personal relationships, it is very important to ensure your replacement is both skilled in your business and the standards of service you expect.

Sometimes, it's just not possible to take any more time off than just the "stats" over Christmas. If that's the case for you this year, identify a time in 2014 when demand is likely to be low, and plan early to give yourself and your family an off-season Christmas holiday. Having something to look forward to will likely make getting through the hectic holiday sales season a little easier.