As a small business owner, the thought of missing an important sale or phone call can be distressing, let alone kicking up the feet, turning off the phone and taking an actual holiday.

In fact, new Prospa research shows that roughly half of all Australian small business owners feel guilty about the idea of taking a holiday. So guilty, in fact, that 2 in 5 haven’t had a break of more than a few days in over a year or since starting their business.

The reason? Many felt they couldn’t afford to not be working and would be too worried about business cash flow.

The findings of this research came as no surprise for employment lawyer Melanie Thorley, director at MJT Law.

“I went three and a half years without a holiday – I found leaving my clients really hard because at first it was only me,” Thorley says.

“To be able to get any type of break, I actually had to shut my business and that caused a fair amount of distress. Not only did it cost money to go on a holiday, but I also wasn’t earning any money during that time, so it was a double whammy.”

So, what’s the secret to taking a holiday and actually being able to enjoy it?

Begin with baby steps

Thorley’s first ‘holiday’ was a long weekend.

“I only went away for Friday to Monday. It was nice to be away from my business, but it was also a bit stressful wondering if anything horrible was going to happen while I was gone,” she recalls.

Spoiler: nothing horrible happened. So, by September last year, she was confident enough to take a one-week break, and at the end of the year Thorley took the step of shutting the office for two weeks.

“This Christmas I’m shutting the office and actually going overseas to a country that doesn’t have reliable internet,” Thorley says.

In doing so she’s bucking the trend – our research shows that most small businesses (57%) will be working either more, or the same, hours this holiday season.

Get support, prepare

One of the secrets to Thorley’s growing confidence was having someone she trusted on hand.

“By the time I did take a holiday I had a fairly experienced team member to batten down the hatches,” she says.

Just having someone there makes a difference – someone who can watch what’s happening and touch base with you every now and then to update you.”

Steven Thomas, Managing Director at business consultancy Thomas Services, also stresses the importance of good preparation.

“Make sure all the necessary systems, people and help are in place beforehand – it’s going to be a crying shame to take a break with the wrong people helping you,” he says.

“Take a lesson in losing control for a day by going on a day trip, automating your administration or outsourcing non-core activities to contractors or other small business.”

He recommends implementing accounting software such as Xero to help automate your processes so you’re not spending your holiday time catching up on paperwork.

Keep an eye out for warning signs

Finally, Thomas urges small business owners to remember that they should prioritise any physical or mental health issues that arise from overworking.

“It is important to protect your health and wellness,” he says.

“You must ask for help if you have struggled with any health issues. Never suffer needlessly because life is too short for that.”