Intro by Skip Cohen

This is a little longer than the regular posts we share. Still, my good buddy Bryan Caporicci, founder of Sprout Studio, wrote some of the best advice I’ve ever read for photographers and business owners. While we shared his post many years ago, it’s even more relevant today.

The two years we were hunkered down with the pandemic changed everything in business. Now, as things start to return to a more normal pace, most of us are over-focused. We go nonstop, failing to recognize when we need a break. After all, we don’t want to miss one opportunity for business!

My appreciation for what Bryan wrote comes from personal experience of trip after trip going off-track. While I left town on vacation, I took the “monkey on my back” with us. It’s important to unplug, recharge your battery, and get things back in perspective.

A few weeks ago, I went off the grid almost completely. We took a short vacation, and I left my laptop at home, stopped nearly everything on social media, and simply unplugged. The result was phenomenal. Plus, I utilized the most inner circle of my network for my contact information – they knew they could call me if something genuinely urgent cropped up.

You’ll never be away from the responsibility that comes with running your own business, but you can manage it, so you don’t neglect your needs, families, or friends. It’s so easy to do when you have a little guidance, but sadly we rush the process, and the day-in-day-out stress takes over.

Well, it’s just about summertime, and whenever you take a break, let’s make it the most relaxing time possible. You deserve time to appreciate why you’re working so hard – your family, friends, lifestyle, and most important of all, your own happiness.

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As a photographer, you have the luxury of being your own boss and setting your own schedule. But with great freedom comes great responsibility, and it can be a challenge to balance work, leisure, and vacation time.

With today’s technology making us accessible 24/7, it can be difficult to truly unplug and get away. It’s essential for photographers to plan ahead in order to have a stress-free vacation.

That’s why we wrote the ultimate guide to stress-free vacation planning for photographers.

We’re going to outline how to take a vacation as a busy entrepreneur by giving you a complete out-of-office plan with step-by-step instructions that will teach you:

  1. How to confidently and comfortably leave for vacation.
  2. Tips for truly relaxing and enjoying your vacation.
  3. How to smoothly transition back to work and avoid being overwhelmed.

The 5-Week Plan:

The saying goes “failure to plan is a plan to fail”, and it’s true, so a bit of organization can go a long way. In order to have a relaxing vacation and not feel stressed about work or overwhelmed upon your return, the key is a 5-Week plan, broken down as such:

  • 3 weeks leading up to vacation
  • The week before vacation
  • 2 days before vacation
  • The week of vacation
  • 2 days upon returning from vacation

Other articles and blogs often give suggestions for entrepreneurs as to how to go on vacation. Many of them suggest going away in the “off” season, answering emails only once a day while away and screening your phone calls while out of the office. Personally, I don’t see that as a vacation, it just seems like a limited work week.

I believe that as entrepreneurs, we should be able to enjoy the freedom of vacation whenever we want, and we should be able to do so while not worrying about work at all. This isn’t to say that you have to go completely unplugged (although you should try it), but instead, the key here is that you have the choice.

This article is not about how you balance your time while on vacation, nor is it about when you should go on vacation. These choices are yours, and the ability to choose is the ultimate luxury of being an entrepreneur.

Step #1: “3 Weeks Before Vacation”

You wouldn’t start planning your vacation the day before you leave, so similarly, you should take time to create your out-of-the-office plan that ensures you don’t get stressed, feel anxious or come back to a pile of work.

My suggestion is to start planning 3 weeks before you actually leave.

  • Let people know you’ll be away:
    • Before leaving for vacation, it’s important to inform people you’re currently in talks with about your unavailability. This includes clients, colleagues, and anyone else you’re communicating with regularly.
  • Set your out-of-office dates:
    • It’s also important to set clear out-of-office dates, so people know exactly when you’ll be away and when you’ll be back. To ensure a smooth transition, it’s recommended to set your “out” and “return” dates to be 2 days before you leave and 2 days after you return, respectively.
  • Make hard cutoff dates for sessions and appointments:
    • To ensure that you don’t have any unfinished tasks looming over you while you’re on vacation, it’s important to set hard-cut-off dates for all the appointments you have before leaving. Each type of appointment comes with its own set of tasks that need to be completed afterward, and it’s important to ensure that these are finished before you leave.

The point here is to set your cutoff dates in such a way that you can get these associated tasks done before you leave. The goal is to leave for vacation without any outstanding work to be done.

Furthermore, my advice is: don’t book any appointments the week before your vacation that will potentially add more tasks to your list! Give yourself that buffer week to get caught up and prepare for being away.

Step #2: “The Week Before Vacation”

The week before you leave for vacation is when you should exclusively focus on getting completely caught up. You want to get all projects, deliverables and tasks off your plate, which means either just getting them done or deferring them.

Tasks for this week should include:

  • Order all outstanding prints and books.
  • Book any viewing/ordering appointments that haven’t been booked yet (for when you return).
  • Send all outstanding galleries to clients.
  • Arrange pick-ups for all packaged orders.
  • Complete any other tasks on your to-do list.

Sometimes we have ongoing tasks on our list that aren’t necessarily time-sensitive, such as “update website” or “look into new products”.  I suggest taking a careful look at your task list the week before you leave for vacation and prioritizing your tasks based on how time sensitive the matters are. Deferring any tasks that aren’t time sensitive to be done when you get back.

It is important to remember the week before you leave is all about getting things off your plate. You’re in productivity mode now and your time is sensitive. This may mean you have to do the less enjoyable tasks that you have been procrastinating, but it’s worth it if that means being able to enjoy a stress-free vacation.

Step #3: “2 Days Before Vacation”

The 2 days before you leave for vacation should be focused on getting last-minute things done and getting your office prepared for being away. Don’t take any appointments during these 2 days.

Some tasks to do in those last 2 days include:

  • Emptying your email inbox.
  • Returning all phone messages.
  • Cleaning up and tidying your office.
  • Making sure that your backup hard drives are completely up-to-date.
  • Bringing a backup of your hard drives offsite.
  • Setting up a vacation email autoresponder.
  • Changing voicemail messages to let clients know that you’re out of the office.
  • Scheduling social media messages.
  • Giving your cell number or contact info while away only to a select few; those who really might need it.
  • Reminding all “ongoing project” partners and current conversations that you’ll be away.

When it comes to out-of-office emails, I like to keep it simple, here’s what I might suggest:

Thanks for getting in touch. We are currently out of the office on holidays, and will be returning 

on [date]. We’ll be getting back to all emails and phone calls as soon as we’re back.

Thanks for your patience.

[Your Name]

Similarly, here’s what I might suggest using as your voicemail message:

Thanks for calling [Your Business Name]. 

We are currently out of the office on holidays, and will be returning on [date]. We’ll be returning all phone messages as soon as we’re back.

Thanks for your patience. Have a great day.

Step #4: “Week of Vacation”

The whole point of being on vacation is to be on vacation!

Enjoy your time; rest, relax and have fun! Be assured knowing that your work is completely caught up, and that you have a plan to tackle any outstanding tasks upon your return.

You may want to consider going completely unplugged for an ultimate stress-free time away. I know this can be one of the hardest things to do now because of our cell phones and social media. But changing your notification settings can be a good step towards unplugging for some of those who can’t commit to fully unplugging from their devices during their time away.

Step #5: “2 Days After Vacation”

Just like the 2 days before you left were reserved for getting caught up, my suggestion is to plan on having a couple of “catch-up” days when you get back as well. Don’t schedule any appointments or sessions during these days. Just take your time to return all phone calls, emails and messages.

Making a Plan

Going on vacation doesn’t have to be a stressful event; it is intended to be the opposite, in fact. When you take the time to prepare and plan for being out of the office, you can “shut off” work and enjoy the much-needed rest and relaxation that we all need from time to time.

It’s all about making a plan, because remember… a “failure to plan is a plan to fail.”

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