Taking a vacation as a freelancer sounds easy. You don’t have limited vacation days, a boss to convince it’s okay to take a day off or set times to travel. But the reality is often very different. There’s no one to cover your workload when you’re out of the office and no accrued vacation pay to cover those adventures.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that one in three workers freelance — what are they doing for time off? Here’s a closer look at how to systematically plan your business to support regular vacations.
Launch a Freelance Career From the Road
Early on, I learned how critical advanced planning is for a vacation. I spent my first week as a freelancer on vacation in a foreign country. It wasn’t truly a vacation; it was more of a hybrid work and sightseeing trip. Time differences, spotty internet connections and clients who needed to check in frequently by phone left me frustrated and missing that “freedom of the road” feel I expected.
From there, I committed to developing clear vacation plans to ensure optimum client service — while also maximizing my chance to disconnect, get away and enjoy life.
Develop an Active Vacation Plan
Vacations should be spontaneous and reinvigorate the soul. While, in theory, it’s easy to take off at a moment’s notice for a long weekend, it’s actually challenging to do it — or, at least, do it reliably — as a freelancer. That’s why you should have a vacation plan, which is the least adventurous idea ever, admittedly. Here’s how you can build one:
- Plan your vacations in advance
- Communicate with clients
- Manage your workflow
- Budget to cover time off
- Have contingency plans
Plan Vacations in Advance
Running your own business requires yearly planning, from tax time to evaluating your goals and client load at the beginning of each new year. As part of your yearly planning, think about what time you’d like to take off. Do you have a big foreign escape on the docket, Fridays off to spend summer with the kids or the desire for more breathing room during the holidays?
The more specifically you map it out, the easier it will be to figure out the aspects around communication, budget and workload. Scheduling it ahead of time will also help you avoid vacation drift, where it’s suddenly November and you realize you’ve been too busy to take time off.
Communicate With Clients
Determine which clients will be impacted by the vacation. A Friday out of the office for a long weekend may require no more communication than an away message. Two weeks at the other end of the world, however, likely requires working ahead, juggling deadlines or finding coverage for your time.
Communicate big vacations a few weeks or months in advance, along with a clear plan of how you propose to cover the workload, such as writing or designing ahead of time. Circle back two weeks before your departure, and do a final check-in 48 hours before you hit the road.
You’ll also want to make sure key clients with ongoing projects know how to reach you. If you need to be connected during your trip, consider setting “office hours” when you’ll be reachable. I often let clients know I check email each morning before I head out and respond to what I can before starting the day when I’m traveling.
Balance Your Workflow
Working ahead, if you can arrange it, provides the best balance for many freelancers. If your clients will let you turn in work early on recurring projects, for example, that allows you to capture the income and meet the client’s needs without working on vacation or handing off work to another freelancer.
Working ahead often requires more time than you anticipate. Whether you sacrifice a weekend or add a deliverable a day on top of your existing commitments, don’t underestimate the time it will take to get things done.
Manage the Financial Aspects
One of the biggest challenges for anyone taking a vacation is finances, which compound for freelancers who don’t get paid for vacation time. As part of your business plan, think about how to save for vacation.
- Figure out how much the time off you want will cost. A two-week jaunt to Europe requires more aggressive saving than a week camping in the woods in Maine. Set aside what you’ll need on a weekly or monthly basis, so your vacation will be funded and stress-free.
- Determine what your budget will look like, and factor in the loss of income you’ll have during the time you’re out. Unless you’re on retainer projects, not working means not getting paid. One way to minimize the impact on your finances is to set your annual financial targets based on working weeks. If your annual income goal is $75,000 and you plan to take two weeks off during the year, you need to earn an average of $1,500 each of the 50 weeks you work.
Take a Working Vacation
Sometimes, emergencies come up, or you can’t cover all your work while you’re out. If you need to work during vacations, it helps to do three things:
- Set expectations. When will you be available and working?
- Decide how to parse your time. Working in the mornings while my family is asleep or taking one dedicated day out of the vacation to knock everything off the list works best for me.
- Know when to say no. It’s possible to decline last-minute assignments without losing clients.
It can prove challenging for freelancers to take time off — but with advanced planning and a strategy for managing budgets, clients and emergencies, it’s definitely possible. Recharging your batteries is critical to the long-term success of your business. Make it a priority.