Avoid festive season chaos  

Gary Turner, co-founder and managing director EMEA, Xero, offers some advice on how best to manage the seasonal shutdown…

Christmas is a mixed blessing for business owners. A recent study from Xero and World Wide Worx asked a number of South African entrepreneurs about their most important factors for success. At 27%, just over a quarter counted taking time off as a crucial factor.  However, exactly the same number report that they work every day throughout the year, and 98% say that they can’t switch off completely when they do take time off.

Prepare for the December shutdown ahead of time, and you can enjoy some well-deserved festive downtime without working longer than you have to – or scrambling to get things done.

A little Christmas downtime is necessary for business owners: even if they’d prefer to keep working (and many would), their clients won’t be accessible, so there’s limited value in carrying on if you don’t strictly have to. Prepare for the December shutdown ahead of time, and you can enjoy some well-deserved festive downtime without working longer than you have to – or scrambling to get things done. Here’s how:

Salaries, overtime, and holiday payChristmas decoration

The holiday period tends to be fairly hectic: you may be taking time off, but so are your employees. Schedules will become far more erratic than usual: some staff members will be on leave; others will be working overtime to compensate, and all of them will expect to be paid in full, regardless of how busy you are.

Keeping track of who worked for how long, who went where for how long, and how many leave days are remaining can be tricky. If your payroll software isn’t built to accommodate these things, you could run into trouble when December rolls around – so make sure you’re tracking these things well in advance of the Christmas season.

Calculate bonuses

If you offer holiday bonuses, it’s important that they’re paid in a timely, legal, and tax-compliant manner. If the money arrives after Christmas, it could derail their plans; if it arrives without the right tax deducted, they could overspend (and consequently have to repay money they don’t have).

A robust, reliable payroll system is essential, and as the festive period draws closer, you may find yourself spending a disproportionate amount of time on sorting out these payments. Outside of a regular bonus system, this can become something of an annual chore: manually adjusting rates for full-time and part-time staff, determining who gets paid what, and complying with employment law can eat into your would-be downtime and distract you from business-critical tasks.

If there are any points of confusion about deductions or tax, it’s worth soliciting financial advice from an accountant or bookkeeper. Whatever you do, do it early: it’s much easier to tackle these problems when you’ve got a couple of months of wiggle room.

Technology and automationfestive season

Finally, don’t spend any more time doing these things than you strictly have to – and certainly don’t dwell on it during your downtime. Technology can automate many of these processes before you leave, during your absence, and upon your return: good payroll software can pay salaries when you’re not there, track holiday and annual leave, and calculate and deliver bonuses. Online accounting software can even integrate these payroll functions so that you can manage everything in one place, within the cloud, and get a complete view of your cashflow.

That said, the benefits of technology aren’t limited to finance. There are some brilliant apps that enable you to keep up to date during your absence from the office: cloud services such as Dropbox give you easy access to your files and folders; Google Hangouts or Skype let you ‘attend’ meetings from anywhere in the world – the cloud offers unbridled access to whatever you need, from wherever you are.

That said, don’t check in too often: if you’re obsessively checking your emails and holding meetings, you’ve not really ‘shutting down’ in any meaningful sense. It’s the festive season – enjoy it!