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Client Expectations for the Holidays: Step-by-Step Guide to Going on Break

Struggling with managing your client expectations (and your own) over the holidays? This video is for you! Hit play to learn about running a small business during the holidays, how to manage customer expectations, and my best advice to entrepreneurs to survive Christmas. #clientexpectations #holiday #Christmas #branding

Dec 17

Struggling with managing your client expectations (and your own) over the holidays? This video is for you! Hit play to learn about running a small business during the holidays, how to manage customer expectations, and my best advice to entrepreneurs to survive Christmas. #clientexpectations #holiday #chritsmas #branding

Wondering how to manage your clients’ expectations for the holidays—so you actually get to ENJOY time with your family… and even get to take a break? It might sound too good to be true—but by the end of this post you’ll know exactly how to set your small business up for a stress-free holiday break!

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1.  Manage Client Expectations by Planning Your Holiday Season

Before you can start managing your clients’ expectations you have to manage your own.

I know all to well the disappointment of a holiday season that passes by too quickly—without enough family time—or barely any break at all—because you’re so wrapped up in catering to your clients.

After one too many of these whirlwind holiday letdowns—I took a stand and said, “no more.” 

Christmas is by far my favorite time of year—and I wasn’t going to let another one go by as I scrambled to do client work while the rest of my family reveled in our favorite holiday traditions!

That’s why, for the last 3 years, I’ve taken a non-negotiable multi-week break from my business, over the Christmas holiday. It’s always a minimum of 2 weeks—and one year I even took a full month off!

Two thoughts are probably running through your head right now:

  1. “OMG. I’d love to take a couple weeks off from my business! But…”
  2. “That’s impossible! I could never close up shop for two or more weeks during busy season!”

And you’re probably also thinking, “Moriah. You. Are. Crazy.”

Well, the truth is, I was thinking all those things myself—before I figured out a fail-safe system for taking a real break in my business. And by real I mean…

  • No client work
  • No work emails
  • No meetings

That’s right. When my holiday break begins, I shut down my computer, close my office door, and don’t return until the new year. (And just in case you’re wondering, that also means, no cheating by constantly checking the email app on my iPhone).

Nope, I officially make it my job to RELAX, enjoy the holidays, and spend real quality time with my family—with ZERO distraction from my business.

And you can do it too!

The Secret is Scheduling Your Christmas Break

As I mentioned, the first step in having a successful holiday break is to plan it out ahead of time. And the further out you plan, the better.

I’ll actually decide on the dates of my holiday break up to 12 months ahead of time—then I plug those dates into my calendar. That way, I know when I’m taking my break and can’t add any work during those days.

Before I started doing this, I always intended to take a few weeks off over Christmas. But I never “made it official” by adding the dates to my calendar—so my weeks-long vacation would slowly get whittled down to only a few days, as I regularly bent to client requests, and kept scheduling meetings and projects.

Now I make sure that doesn’t happen. I put the dates into my calendar—and everything needs to get scheduled AROUND those days. It’s non-negotiable.

ACTION STEP: Plan your own holiday break schedule. Select the dates you want to be out of the office—and make it official by adding them to your calendar. 

2. Give Your Clients a Heads-up and Set Clear Boundaries

Now that you’ve officially set the dates of your holiday break, it’s time to tell your clients. It’s important to be upfront with them and let them know in plenty of time—so that they or you can make accommodations leading up to your holiday break.

You also need to set clear boundaries with your clients—in order to manage their expectations for your holiday break, and avoid any disappointment.

Here’s how I like to handle this in my own business:

Limit New Client Projects in December

Since I know that I’ll be out of the office for a decent portion of the month, I plan in advance to limit the amount of client work I’ll do.

That means I don’t book any new brand or website design clients for the month of December. Instead, I book these clients through November, and then pick up again at the beginning of January.

Proactively Schedule Recurring Client Hours Around Holiday Break

In my business, I have an exclusive VIP program for select clients.

These are clients that I regularly work with each month for a predetermined number of hours—on brand design and strategy or content marketing. 

Because I have an ongoing relationship and commitment to my VIP clients, they are the only ones that I work with in December. 

To meet their needs (and still enjoy an ‘unplugged’ holiday break) it’s super important to plan their projects in advance during my limited office hours. This means, for the few days or weeks that I am working in December, I’m probably working much longer hours—to get everything wrapped up before I head out of the office.

It also means that I communicate with them in advance—letting them know about my upcoming break, how I plan to accommodate them, and what I need or expect from them to make the process run smoothly.

Now, I’ll be honest—this wouldn’t work if I hadn’t already established very clear expectations and set boundaries for the program in general.

In fact, my VIP program is by invitation only—and my hand-picked client roster includes my absolute favorite clients. These are the ones that communicate clearly, regularly meet deadlines, and are basically drama-free.

If that doesn’t sound like your current clientele—first of all, I’m so sorry. I totally know how difficult clients can cause heart burn and sleepless nights.

But don’t worry, there is hope. I did not get here overnight.

It took me years to learn how to set and manage client expectations, set boundaries with my clients, and eventually get the courage to say ‘no’ to ‘red flag’ clients who I knew would be way more stress than profit.

How To Manage Client Expectations in Your Own Business

Here’s the thing, every entrepreneur’s business is different—and every client is different.  But regardless of who or how many are on your client roster, the most important step in managing their expectations and setting clear boundaries around your holiday break is open communication.

Be sure to email your clients in advance about your upcoming break and include the following information:

  • Dates of when your break will begin and when they can expect to hear from you after.
  • How you will be taking care of them leading up to your break.
  • A request for anything you need from them to work on their projects—and include deadlines for when you need those.
  • What will happen if they don’t get back to you in time (i.e. project will get bumped to January, etc.)

3. Set Up Systems to Manage Client Expectations

Now that you’ve figured out and scheduled your holiday break, and you’ve given your fabulous clients a good heads up, letting them know what to expect—it’s time to put systems in place to ensure everything runs smoothly while you’re away!

Now, I know for me, the term ‘systems’ can sound daunting. And it conjures images of gears spinning outta control or some elusive tech code that I’ll never crack.

But truly, systems = simplification.

And couldn’t we all just use a little more simple in our lives?

Here’s what your Simple (with a capital “S”) holiday break system is going to involve:

  1. Email “out of office” auto responder
  2. Out of office website banner
  3. [Optional] Contact form thank you message

Manage Client Expectations with an Email “Out of Office” Auto Responder

Hopefully you’ve already fully embraced the auto responder for your out of office days. But if not, now is the time, my friend!

You want to know a really good way to lose potential clients and lose the trust of your current ones? How about going on a 2-week break and not responding to a single email?

If you’re anything like me, you probably have a fairly healthy fear of your inbox and the amount of time it takes to manage it. So the thought of an email-free vacay is more relaxing than a spa getaway.

But you can’t simply ignore your inbox.

The solution? A well crafted email auto-response.

Your out-of-office message should include the following:

  • A friendly greeting and genuine gratitude for their inquiry
  • Dates of your absence
  • How often (if at all) you’ll be responding to emails during your break
  • Reassurance that their message is important and will receive a response
  • BONUS: Call to action

Since I’m usually on break for several weeks over Christmas, I know that people are impatient to connect with me. So to keep them interested in my brand, I usually include a call to action in my auto-response with links to a few of my most popular blog posts and YouTube videos.

This way, my content is building rapport for my brand on auto—while I’m sleeping in, watching Home Alone for the dozenth time, and over indulging on sugar cookies—you know, basically living my best life. 

If you’re stumped on what to include in your Out-of-office response message [or you’re like yours truly, and prefer to pay a little to get a lot of time back] hop on over to my shop where I’m selling my Out-of-office email template series—with not just one, but 5 different messages, that I use to keep my clients in the loop, while I maintain my sanity anytime I’m on extended leave.

Struggling with managing your client expectations (and your own) over the holidays? This video is for you! Hit play to learn about running a small business during the holidays, how to manage customer expectations, and my best advice to entrepreneurs to survive Christmas. #clientexpectations #holiday #chritsmas #branding

Manage Client Expectations with a Holiday Break Announcement Website Banner

After I get my email auto response queued up, the next thing I do is pop on over to to add an announcement banner to the top of my website. 

Now, I’m not going to walk you through a step-by-step tutorial of how to add a banner to your Showit website (but if that’s something you’d like to see in a future blog post, leave me a comment below!).

It’s fairly simple to figure out—and most website platforms have some way to add a top-of page banner/announcement.

It’s just a nice, unobtrusive way to get your audience ‘in the know.

Now, the first year I implemented this, I went a little crazy—adding an announcement banner to (wait for it…) Every. Single. Page. of my website.

And I have got a lot of pages y’all. 

But no. This is so unnecessary.

Because honestly, the majority of your audience is not going to enter your website on some random page.

Most visitors are getting in on one of three pages:

  1. Homepage
  2. Blog feed page
  3. Blog post page

Now, after they’ve visited one of those, hopefully you’ve got an expertly designed website that inspires them to dig deeper to those “other pages” But by that point they’ll have already seen your very cute, very informative banner announcement.

So, what to include in your banner announcement?

My advice: keep it short and sweet. 

Just let your website visitors know that you’ll be on break and the specific dates, so they know when they can expect to connect with you.

Manage Client Expectations with a Contact Form Thank You Message

Now, this last piece is optional, but I’ve found it very helpful for my business. 

For my contact form on my website, I create a special “thank you/message received” message during my holiday break.

The thing is, most new leads and new clients reach out to me initially through my website’s contact form, instead of email.

So if a new client fills out the form, while I’m on my holiday break, they won’t get my out-of-office auto responder. So you’ve really got two options here.

First, you can update your “thank you” page message (the page or canvas that your site goes to when someone fills out the contact form) to include information about your holiday break and when this new lead can expect to hear back from you.

Or, alternatively, if you use a CRM [Client Relationship Management software] like Dubsado—which I use and absolutely loveyou can set up a separate auto response email that is sent to a new lead as soon as they submit your contact form.

[Save 20% on your Dubsado subscription with code: moriahriona]

4. [Bonus Tip] Keep Your Word and Have a Fabulous Holiday Break

You’ve done it! If you’ve been following along step-by-step you should now have…

  1. Planned it all out by choosing the dates of your holiday vacation and scheduling it into your calendar
  2. Sent an email that gives your clients a heads-up and sets clear boundaries for your break
  3. Set up my simple 3-part systems to manage client expectations while you’re away

The only thing left is to keep your word—not to your clients, but to yourself.

Listen, I know how easy it is to get caught up in the thrill of possibly booking a last minute client, or making one more sale before the holidays.

But remember why you’re planning a holiday break in the first place: to spend quality time with your loved ones and be fully-present during that time.

You can always book more clients and you can always make more money, but you can’t get more time.

It’s okay to unplug, unwind, and take an actual break from your business. It will be there when you get back.

So have a fabulous holiday, friend. You deserve it! 

Now you know how to effectively manage client expectations for the holidays—but how do you create a cohesive customer experience the rest of the year? I’ve created a 20-page guide to help you do just that!

Grab your FREE copy of my Brand Blueprint workbook!

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