by Robyn Roste
As a freelancer, taking time off from work can be a scary thought.
What if an inquiry comes in while you’re away and you miss out on a great opportunity?
What if there’s a client emergency and you let them down?
And what if you go on vacation and then have no work to come back to because you stopped prospecting?
These fears are all possible scenarios so they’re important to think through. However, rest is necessary to fuel creativity and avoid burnout. So how does a freelancer take breaks without losing money, clients or opportunities? Here are a few ideas.
Calculate vacation time into your rate.
When you’re a traditional employee you receive either vacation time or vacation pay so you can take time off to rest and recuperate without the burden of financial loss. As a self-employed freelancer, you can plan for this as well.
Calculating for vacation time could be simple or complex but it all begins with the end in mind. Set your annual goal wage, add in your business and life expenses (including taxes) and add an amount for vacation.
Why yes, this does sound like a budget.
Once you know your goal income and expected expenses, you can estimate what your hourly or project rate needs to be in order for you to meet your targets.
When you have a financial plan, even if it’s a skeleton plan, you prepare yourself and your business for stability. By building vacation pay into your rate—and putting it aside for your time off—this means you can afford to take a well-deserved break from time to time.
Of course even if you prepare financially for a vacation you still have to actually take the time off.
Manage holidays around deadlines by setting boundaries.
Blocking out vacation dates will help you plan for taking time off by avoiding booking work or agreeing to deadlines during your time away. Where possible, get ahead on client work. For those clients who come with one-off or last-minute projects, address those on a case-by-case basis. Can you get things started before your vacation and pick it up again when you’re back? Can you outsource part of the task to another freelancer while you’re away to keep it moving? Are you able to delay the project until you’re back? Explore creative options and avoid a working holiday as much as possible.
Over on Twitter I saw an interesting conversation between freelancers wondering how to take time off within the chaos of a deadline-driven work life. Although they started the year by blocking time off in their calendars they found themselves booking work for those dates anyway. While allowing the odd project or two to sneak into time off may not seem like a big deal, it means you’re now working when you’re supposed to be relaxing.
Here are a few ways to implement boundaries with existing clients:
- As soon as you know what days you’re unavailable, let your clients know. Some freelancers are nervous that their clients will be unhappy if they are away for any period of time. However, if you give enough notice, many clients will work with you and book work around your vacation
- Remind your clients about your vacation in case there are last-minute fires to put out. Checking in before your holiday allows you to wrap up or pause projects and reassure clients that everything will be fine while you’re away
- Develop a communication plan for your days off. Decide ahead of time if you’ll be reachable and if so, when and how. Let your clients know the plan ahead of time and what to do if they have a work emergency while you’re away
Here are a few ways to maintain your boundaries while you’re taking time off:
- Create a communication plan and stick to it. Unplugging may be difficult, but if you’ve developed a check-in schedule then do your best to avoid responding to emails or answering texts outside of that window
- Set an out-of-office email reply. Even if you are checking your email, having an auto-response to incoming emails reinforces your boundaries
- Snooze your inbox. Some email providers allow you to postpone email delivery so you don’t see them in real time. Turning off notifications doesn’t hurt either
Maintain momentum by working ahead on marketing.
Being away doesn’t mean you need to drop off the face of the digital landscape. But it also doesn’t mean you need to be live streaming or keeping up with your network. Scheduling your blogs, podcasts and social media posts ahead of time allows your marketing machine to keep running so you can jump back in when you return.
If you’re worried about missing leads while on vacation, consider hiring a friend, freelancer or virtual assistant to check your email and DMs while you’re away. They can either forward you important messages or respond to inquiries on your behalf, letting them know you’ll get back to them upon your return.
Speaking of outsourcing, I’m listed as a fellow freelancer’s emergency contact for those times when she’s unavailable. I think it’s brilliant. The week before her vacation she emails her clients, reminding them of the dates she’ll be away and reassuring them their work will be finished by deadline.
She also gives them my contact information and encourages them to reach out to me if anything comes up during her vacation. Finding fellow freelancers who have your back can help with the stress of taking time off.
Robyn Roste is a freelance writer in Abbotsford BC. She co-created a free pricing template to help freelancers and makers calculate and set their rates.