Planning for holidays -email tips and tricks for your out-of-office strategy


Are you irritating clients with your out-of-office messages?

Now is a great time to plan what you are going to do.

We were renewing our professional indemnity insurance this week and had some trouble with the forms. Having phoned and got some help we then sent them back with a few days to spare only to get an out of office message from the chap we were dealing with saying he was away until a date that fell due after the deadline expired! There was nothing on the out of the office message to suggest who we should contact or what to do instead or even whether anyone was reading his emails while he was away.

It felt like a bit of a slap in the face to be trying to spend so much money with someone we had been talking to the day before who could not even be bothered to mention that he was going to be away. And of course, we now have to waste time (and time for us is money) phoning the organising, resending the information and doing their job for them.

We started talking about how we handle impending leave and out of office messages and making sure clients are OK with what is going on.

Before you go away change your email signature

Two weeks before you go away change your email signature and let people know that you are going to be away, the dates, and who is covering your role when you are gone. This is a great opportunity to offer to introduce clients to your substitute (and you know you need one if you are self-employed for all sorts of reasons) and to make sure the substitute and client and properly briefed.

If you are setting up a signature for this, take the time to review whether your signature includes a statement about who reads your email and a link to your data privacy policy. It is always good to double-check you are OK for GDPR.

Click here for how to do this in Office

Click here for how to do this in Gmail

No-one who is talking to you today should have no idea you are going away tomorrow! Tell people your plans.

If you have multiple emails or delegate access to multiple emails you will need to talk to your clients about what your ‘about to be out of office’ should say. If you have lots you may want to use an email template manager to make sure the right messages are on the right account.

Don’t forget, if you are accessing client’s emails it is important that their data privacy policy says their email is shared with external VAs, and your email signature makes it plain you are not an employee. Acting like an employee can bring you into difficulties with IR35 amongst other things.

Use out of office intelligently

Some of the most boring and useless messages in the world must be generated by automated out-of-office replies. Try to think about it from the point of view of the person getting the message. They need to know:

Planning for holidays -email tips and tricks for your out-of-office strategy 1

  • When you will be able to respond to them
  • What do to if they can’t wait
  • Who is monitoring the email
  • What they can expect to happen if they take no action
  • Whether you will be answering emails whilst travelling and if so what the pattern is
  • Whether you will then be accessing data outside the EU

I am gone for two weeks”  is just irritating.

If you are going to be accessing emails while you are travelling outside the EU, you should be aware that you are processing personal data outside the EU. Not only do you need to secure your access to wifi via VPNs etc but you should also make sure people know since not everyone will want their health data for example viewed in Thailand.

Click here for how to do this in Office

Click here for how to do this in Gmail

If you have multiple email signatures to take care of you may want to use an email template manager to save time.

Your out-of-office message does not have to be dull

Depending on what type of business you are in and how you like to represent your brand, you can use humour, videos and visuals in your out of office messages.

If you don’t mind giving them your email address Hubspot have some great templates with videos you could use as a starting point. It’s a great lead magnet. Click here

You may prefer something more sedate. But don’t forget you can use images and video on your own business signatures – or link to them. If you are a web designer, graphics designer, or a VA handling social media, this is a great opportunity to show a little of what you can do.

With the holiday season approaching, having a plan for who is covering your role, who needs to be told, and how you are going to let people know, is going to keep your customers satisfied and not banging their heads against the wall as we were this morning!

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