Reed Hastings, Netflix CEO, takes six weeks of vacation a year and gives his staff unlimited vacation days.

Oprah Winfrey prioritises time off after experiencing the perils of burn-out in her twenties. These ‘kingpins’ have got it right, but they’re part of a minority who feel comfortable taking a break from their businesses.

Kobus Engelbrecht, Marketing Head at Sanlam Business Market says the situation is different for owners of small and medium sized businesses because they are usually involved in every aspect of the business.

However, he says, if your business can’t operate without you, you may, arguably, be self-employed rather than a business owner.

“The mark of a successful business owner is the ability of the business to run profitably in his or her absence.  Every year, some of the world’s most successful CEOs leave their work behind for a well-earned break. You should be able to do so as well.”

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A 2016 survey from global insurance group Zurich’s found that only 29% of SME owners had taken a break of five days or more from their businesses in the previous 12 months – and 8% hadn’t taken any holiday at all.

Engelbrecht adds that a business is unlikely to realise its true potential if the MD, CEO or founder works ‘in the business’ rather than ‘on the business’. Excellent leaders are able to remove themselves from daily operations to focus on bigger-picture strategy and growth. But, importantly, there are critical matters that you need to bed down to get to this stage:

  • Empower your employees: Let employees own key business functions as early in the business’ lifespan as possible. This way, you can hand over the operational side to a trusted team, so if you take a holiday or have to take a leave of absence due to illness, the business can continue.
  • Plan for every stage of your business’s lifespan: Plot out the key financial risks for every phase of your business’ lifespan and ensure that adequate financial cover is in place. In the early stage, try not to make the mistake of cancelling vital protection solutions– like medical aid – to plough more funds into your business. If you do get sick and have no cover, exorbitant medical bills can be catastrophic for your business.

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  • Keep your personal finances separate: Your personal finances need to be separate from your business entity. Invest in sound financial advice so your financial health is not impacted by your business’s risks.
  • Cover yourself in case you can’t earn: This applies to the owners of businesses of all sizes. Make sure you have income protection to cover you in the event of an illness or injury preventing you from working. You should also have disability cover, if you are permanently unable to work for whatever reason.
  • Protect your most valuable assets: The most important asset in every business is its people. Cover your team. Extend key person cover to your important employees who are critical to your business’ success.
  • Don’t view your business as your retirement fund: Save as much as you can, as early as you can for retirement. Believing that your business will be able to support you in your golden years is very problematic. You cannot see into the future and don’t know if your business will be sustained and whether it will remain profitable in the long term.


Engelbrecht says every business owner should aim to achieve an annual two-week holiday with no connectivity.

You should be able to return, rejuvenated, to a happy, thriving business that barely noticed you were gone. So be like Richard Branson and build something from which you can truly take a break.

When you bounce back with bright ideas and a fresh approach, your business will thank you for it.