Opinion

Why entrepreneurs should take time away from the front line

5 min read

23 July 2018

It’s the start of the school summer holidays and the world, for a short while, slows down as "out-of-office" emails outweigh the amount of people at their desks. But while many bosses stress about this period, they should actually be taking leave as well, says columnist Charlie Mullins.

It’s not just the business world that revolves around the school holidays. Public bodies, especially the government, has an extended recess – although this year needs to be different as the Brexit doomsday clock continues to tick down.

For a number of business owners and entrepreneurs though, particularly in SMEs, it is often the opposite. The last thing on their minds is a holiday.

According to a statistic from a Hitachi Capital Business Finance survey, almost a quarter of small business owners took fewer than five days’ holiday in the last year. Some 15% take no leave at all. Among the startup community the figure rose to 31%, with 19% taking no leave at all.

Remembering my days as a fledgling entrepreneur in the late 70s, early 80s, I know how tough it is to take a break from the business. It’s most difficult, of course, for one-man-bands as every second they aren’t at work costs them the chance of making money.

But they, and those who have people working for them, should take the opportunity when they can. This really isn’t about sunning yourself on a tropical beach or cruising around the Caribbean, although for many that’s the aspiration.

It’s about taking time away from the business and, subsequently, benefiting the business.

Last week I caught the brilliant Gordon Ramsay’s new show on Channel 4, 24 Hours to Hell and Back, where he has a day to turn around failing restaurants in America.

The first programme was about a family-owned Italian in upstate New York and one of its owners, Vinny, was spiralling into despair and causing a world of problems for the business, its staff and the customers.

There was a million and one things wrong with this restaurant that Ramsay had to sort out. However, the root cause of Vinny’s disastrous efforts could be attributed to him not taking a step back and looking at the strategy of the restaurant and what it needs to do to appeal to customers.

Instead, he was getting bogged down by daily issues. Once Ramsay had transformed the menu, the styling and how the restaurant operates, it gave Vinny the chance to have a long hard look at himself and the business to consider how best to take it forward.

Of course, not every business gets Ramsay and a truck full of free cash and expertise. The point is, business owners have their noses to the grindstone so much they often forget to lift their eyes to look at the bigger picture.

That’s why holidays are so important. We all know entrepreneurs never switch off, but they can use their holidays to direct their energies into new ideas and strategies that can be put in place when they return to the business.

It’s also a good time to learn from others. There are some brilliant business books and autobiographies out there – Bog Standard Business by Charlie Mullins OBE available now, by the way! – and holidays can provide that rare moment where business owners actually get their head stuck in a book.

They can discover ideas and experiences that can be applied to their enterprises. 

By seeing a holiday as an investment in the future of the business, entrepreneurs should be taking time away from the front line. It will allow them to be far more prepared for the battles ahead.



A look at the eclectic plans SME bosses have for summer holidays

It’s peak season for the summer holidays, but it’s been reported SME leaders don’t know how to take time off – Real Business found out if that’s true.