updated 4/26/2006 7:42:41 PM ET 2006-04-26T23:42:41

Summer can turn into the least relaxing time of the year for some small business owners. They find themselves dealing with a variety of vacation issues — resolving conflicts when several employees all want the same week off and finding ways to get all the work done while staffers are away.

Company owners who are parents of school-age children can have another set of problems, trying to run the business while also keeping their kids occupied and safe. Luckily, there's a solution to all these problems: planning right now, before vacation season arrives.

With employee vacations, the answer is to formulate a vacation policy. Although this is a task that's best done at the start of the year, it's not too late to put one in place for the summer, said Bonnie Beirne, director of service operations for Administaff, a Houston-based human resources firm.

A policy about vacation — or any other time off — needs to let employees know what's expected of them, and what they can expect from you.

"They'll understand when they can take it, what the process is, when are they eligible," Beirne said.

So, your policy needs to address issues such as how many workers can be off at the same time, how far in advance vacation requests need to be made and how conflicts can be resolved. Eligibility for time off and the number of days staffers are entitled to also should be part of the policy, although it's likely that you've already discussed that with employees at the time they were hired.

If you're not sure about how much time off to give staffers — or any other aspects of a vacation policy — ask other small business owners what their policies are. Beirne noted that your location, industry, the market you serve and your business cycle can all be factors to be considered. For example, if other companies in your industry tend to give workers four weeks off, you should probably consider giving the same amount of time so you can be competitive in attracting new hires.

Beirne said planning for vacation season also means knowing how the work will get done while staffers are away. It's very likely that employees will need to cover for each other. If you need more help, Beirne noted that many companies hire interns or college students for the summer to supplement their work force.

Business owners who are parents also need to be thinking now of how their children will be cared for and entertained during the summer. If you put off this kind of planning too long, you might find there's no space for your kids in a summer camp or other activities program.

Bear Brandegee, who has a Doncaster fashion consulting business in Pittsburgh, said she leaves nothing to chance when it comes to what her 5-year-old daughter will do during the summer.

"I have that planned in January. I want to make sure she has access to all the fabulous things in Pittsburgh," she said.

Brandegee, who's sending her child to camp, has also figured out what she'll do in the weeks between school and camp.

Many business owners structure their work so they can spend more time with their children during the summer. Brandegee, for example, will get most of her work done before her daughter comes home in the afternoon.

Some parents find that even the best-laid plans can fall through. Leslie Head, co-owner of Georgia-based Tee Pee For Me, no longer tries to plan the whole summer in advance for her two children, ages 4 and 10.

"I found out that never works," said Head, "I do a couple of weeks at a time."

Head is fortunate in that she has a partner in the business, which creates play space for stores and private clients. They'll divide their work so that "sometimes she does a little more work and sometimes I do," allowing each of them to devote time to their children.

Parents with children in their early teens or older have it a little easier — their kids can start working in the business. Still, you might want some back-up plans, in case a child doesn't want to work the whole summer.

Even owners who have child care throughout the year have to deal with summertime vacation issues.

Caitlin Friedman, co-owner of YC Media, a New York-based public relations firm, has a nanny to care for her 2-year-old twins. But when summer comes, her nanny takes a vacation, so Friedman has to juggle her company and looking after her children.

"The options are limited," Friedman said. "You can't just go get another nanny, and it's not like they're old enough to do summer camp."

So Friedman and her husband, who is a writer, split the days between them. He'll take the kids for the morning, and "I'll come back from work and do the afternoon."

"The saving grace is the BlackBerry," she said. "It makes it better to be out of the office — people can constantly reach me."

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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