family at the beach
Running a business

The small business owner’s guide to balance during the holidays

As a small business owner, you sacrifice personal time for your business all year long — but especially during the busy holiday shopping season. This year, 45% of consumers plan to spend even more money on gifts than they did last year, and 37% plan to do most of their shopping at small businesses, according to data from QuickBooks. Which means you might be in the midst of your busiest season ever. 

Let’s take a moment to celebrate what this means for your business. After all, lots of small businesses rely on the year-end sales boost of the holiday shopping season to hit their financial goals for the year. “For small businesses — especially seasonal ones like ours — the holiday season can make or break your year,” says Anthony and Courtney Bui, the couple behind The Long Dog Clothing Company

Jewelry designer Shahla Karimi says it’s exciting to see her business grow and experience the holiday rush. “There was a time when we were hoping to be overwhelmed!” she says.

quote image
The holiday season can make or break your year.

But while an even busier holiday season is great for your small business, it might not be so great for your personal well-being. For small business owners, a busy season means even more late nights and even less time off (let’s face it, you’re not getting a lot of this to start with). 

You can’t put your business on the back burner, but you also can’t put your friends and family or personal well-being there either. Experienced small business owners say it’s all about balance — and they’ve got some advice to help you do it. Here are eight tips to help you balance work and life during the holiday season from small business owners who have been there, done that. 

1. Plan ahead

Across the board, these business owners had one important tip: Plan ahead. Way ahead. And if you think you’ve given yourself enough time to plan, add an extra month. 

“In years past, we put off holiday planning until October,” says Karimi. “This year, we’ve learned to take advantage of the downtime during the slower summer months to organize as much as possible before the big holiday rush.” 

Jamahl and Natalie Grace, owners of Grace+Love Candle Co., agree. “The biggest lesson we’ve learned is to prepare and plan as soon as possible,” they said. “We started our holiday planning back in June. Preparation is key for small businesses when it comes to the holiday season.” 

2. Embrace the chaos 

If you didn’t start your holiday planning six months ago, don’t panic. You’ll know what to do next year. And for now, Madhu Challa, creator of Pretty Pokets, suggests simply embracing the chaos. 

“To me, the word ‘balance’ implies perfection. In reality, one cannot achieve perfection. What we do have is the power of choice and prioritization,” she says. “I embraced the fact that life is going to be chaotic and challenging every single day — and if I want to do anything for myself, I have to do it amidst all the chaos.”

quote image
Everything will get done.

“Take everything one day at a time,” says Karimi. “It's easy to get overwhelmed when orders start piling up. I try to remind myself that everything will get done.” 

3. Show yourself some grace

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your business and guilty about the time spent away from your friends and family this holiday season, give yourself some grace. After all, you’re running a successful small business during the busiest time of the year! You can and should be proud. Your family and friends are, too. 

“The key is showing yourself some grace,” says the Buis. “Just do your best. Your family knows what you do for a living and they adjust.”

4. Get creative

Sometimes “adjusting” means coming up with new ways of celebrating or spending time with your loved ones. And that’s okay!

“As entrepreneurs, we might be forced into unconventional ways of celebrating and taking time off,” says the Buis. “Don’t get too hung up on traditional celebration. We make our own rules for our family, and we designate a time and place to make sure everyone is happy and the holidays are always acknowledged.”

“I always plan something special (at times over the top) on the weekend for my son,” says Karimi, “hoping to create core memories that will override ‘mommy working too much.’” 

5. Schedule downtime

As a small business owner (and, hopefully, a person with a personal life), you probably live and breathe by some sort of calendar or schedule. A place where you keep track of appointments and important meetings. Karimi recommends scheduling downtime the same way you would an important event — and sticking to it. 

“I find the easiest way to balance things out is by setting aside specific times to put my phone away and spend time with my son,” she says. “It may not be a full day, but even a couple of hours each morning or night goes a long way during this busy time.”

The Graces believe in the same system, and they build their schedule together as a family. “Everyone has a role to play, even our six-year-old twins,” they said. “We’re all coordinating and syncing up calendars to make sure we are very transparent and organized, so nothing slips through the cracks (although it happens from time to time!).” (When it does, remember step #3: Give yourself some grace). 

6. Automate your marketing 

Give yourself the gift of more time this holiday season by automating manual marketing tasks. “Create templates,” says Kelly Ison, owner of Einstein Pets. “Email templates, letter templates … this will help a lot!” That way, you’re not reinventing the wheel each time you need to communicate with your vendors or customers. 

“Map out your emails and graphics for your marketing,” the Graces said. “The preparation makes things run smoother because unexpected things are going to happen. You don't want to have things piling on.”

“Plan your deals, social media posts, and newsletters ahead of time,” says Challa. “Schedule them in advance.” While you’re busy making magic for your customers (and your family!), your marketing will be running itself in the background. 

7. Make some magic

While you’re busy helping customers, making sales, sending orders, and doing all the other tasks on your never-ending to-do list, don’t forget the reason for the season. Consumers are searching for the perfect gift for a special someone — you have the ability to make that experience a little more magical. 

“There is magic everywhere,” says Damia Frangie, owner of Ayounik. “The season brings a lot of joy, and people are looking for that special gift that can express what they feel. Everyone is looking for something to buy, and every company has something to sell. Make them choose you because you have something different and special to offer.” 

She recommends stocking up on a variety of options at multiple price points to meet the needs of gift-seekers. Add some extra magic with “a special something included with your product or service, just for the season. Sometimes the smallest details make the biggest difference.” 

Seeing a customer walk away with the perfect gift and a smile on their face makes all the extra hours and hard work worthwhile. 

8. Make connections

On that note, remember, even when it feels like your store is filled with grumpy shoppers, “The holidays are about warmth and connection,” says Challa. “Connect with your customers by adding a personalized note in the packaging. Send emails out to your previous customers with discounts and thank them for their support. Bring in positive energy and brighten up their day.” 

She believes you get what you give — if you’re stressed and anxious, it’s going to bring down the holiday mood both in and out of your business. Your customers will feel it, and your friends and family will, too. Focus on building meaningful connections with customers while you’re on the job — it makes your long days more tolerable and fulfilling (and goes a long way towards making spirits bright). When you give magic and joy, you’ll get it in return.

The business of balance

The holiday season is great for your business, but it can be hard on your personal life and well-being. Being a small business owner is a balancing act in the best of times, but especially during the busy shopping season. Giving yourself grace, scheduling downtime, and building positive experiences with customers can help you get through the season with your sanity and holiday spirit intact. Prepare for an even smoother holiday season next year by planning way, way ahead, automating your manual processes, and preparing for inevitable hiccups. 

Above all, “trust in yourself and in your team. Try to be better than you were the year before. And take the time to celebrate the small achievements — they will take you to the bigger ones,” says Frangie. 

Find more holiday season tips and tricks in the QuickBooks Holiday Hub and shop the small businesses featured here in the QuickBooks Small Business Gift Guide.

Recommended for you

Mail icon
Get the latest to your inbox
No Thanks

Get the latest to your inbox

Relevant resources to help start, run, and grow your business.

By clicking “Submit,” you agree to permit Intuit to contact you regarding QuickBooks and have read and acknowledge our Privacy Statement.

Thanks for subscribing.

Fresh business resources are headed your way!

Looking for something else?


From big jobs to small tasks, we've got your business covered.

Firm of the Future

Topical articles and news from top pros and Intuit product experts.

QuickBooks Support

Get help with QuickBooks. Find articles, video tutorials, and more.