Freelance Holidays: How to Take Time Off

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Freelance holidays are a bit of a minefield. You don’t get paid, and you may not have anyone to keep your clients happy while you’re off. It can almost feel like taking time away is more trouble than it’s worth.

But it’s really not. Freelance holidays are incredibly important if you want to avoid burning out and losing your enthusiasm. Some time distancing yourself from the day to day running of your small business also gives you space to think. The best business ideas often come to you when you’re making a point of NOT thinking about work.

This article provides you with some essential tips for handling your holiday dilemmas, and will help you ensure you get the rest and recuperation you need.

A Quick Reality Check

In some respects, the freedom of freelancing means you have way more flexibility than employees when it comes to organising your time off. It’s not like you need a “boss” to authorise leave if you want an extended break. Nor do you have to forego time with your family because it’s “not your turn” or because you didn’t ask quickly enough.

However, like so many things in life, it’s not really that simple. If you sell services to other businesses, you may end up having to organise your time off around the needs of their companies.

Some companies go quiet over the summer, and July and August are typically “lean” months for freelancers. However, you could find that things are very different for you if your main client sells beach holidays or ice cream. On top of that, you have cultural differences, which often mean clients in different countries have vastly different expectations of when people will be available at different times of the year.

Like I said, it’s a minefield, so here’s now to get through it.

Decide what YOU Want

If you work for yourself, it’s entirely up to you how you handle holidays. This is one of the big plusses of self employment, so it would be an awful shame not to take advantage of it.

Christmas Calendar

So, long before the time comes to actually take the time off, work out what YOU want.

If you have children who are off school, perhaps you want a long, extended break? Or perhaps you’re getting “the fear” about things being quiet over the summer, and would be perfectly happy to take on as much work as you are offered?

Work all this stuff out in advance, because everything else depends on it.

Speak to your Clients Early

If you have lots of clients, especially businesses, you’ll need to find out what their plans are for holiday seasons, because theirs will impact yours.

When I did lots of IT consultancy, I had about ten primary clients whose office networks I was responsible for. At Christmas time, I’d often find eight were happily shutting down for a week, while an annoying two still required cover from me. This was extremely inconvenient!

You may find that you are obliged to accommodate certain clients and be available for them. However, the earlier you tackle the issue head on, armed with knowledge of what YOU want, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to make compromises.

Plenty of freelance jobs don’t involve anything like having to be on call if a server stops working; If you’re a writer, for example, you may well be able to take a long spell of time off by getting ahead on regular articles first. I personally do that a lot!

The key thing is that you ask, with plenty of time to spare, what your clients will be expecting of you, and align it to your plans. This means understanding how your clients’ businesses work, as well as your own.

Get Ahead

It’s always good practice to “clear the decks” before taking any time off as a freelancer.

Clearing the decks

This can mean various things; We’ve touched on doing work ahead of time to get ahead, but you will probably also need to do some routine tasks that would otherwise need doing during the time you plan to be off.

For me, this means things like using my social media tools to pre-load Twitter and Pinterest with posts, getting invoices issued, cueing up newsletters to send out while I’m off, and various other things.

It’s all very well thinking “I can just do that on the day,” but it only takes the smallest of tasks to kill the relaxation vibe and flip you back into work mode. It’s well-documented that time to unwind is crucial.

I often have some of my best ideas and inspirations once I’ve allowed myself NOT to think about work for several days. Sometimes it’s a good thing to “turn your hustle off.”

Manage Expectations

Part of managing expectations is ensuring your clients know, in plenty of time, when you are working and when you will be “back to normal,” but it doesn’t end there.

It makes sense to share your plans as transparently as possible. For example, if you have a busy social media presence and usually reply quickly, post a pinned message to explain that that’s going to change for a couple of weeks.

The same goes for email; You don’t want clients to think you’re ignoring them, so make sure that they will receive an auto-response telling them when to expect a reply from you. This is basic professionalism, but it’s surprising how many people don’t make the effort.

Prepare for the Financial Impact

It’s not true for absolutely every freelance business, but for many the summer holidays and the Christmas season both mean a drop in income.

One trend I’ve also noticed over the years is that it often seems to take longer for things to pick up in January and September than one might expect or like. My theory around this is that many of the workaholic types finally slow down enough on holiday to rediscover relaxation and family life – and don’t want it to end!

Money jigsaw

It’s one of the inevitable ups and downs of freelancing that there are quiet periods like this. It’s easy to get “the fear,” but it’s far better to accept reality and enjoy the downtime. Things do pick up, and the likelihood is you’ll soon be wishing for a day off again!

This is a good time to do some of the tasks you’ve been putting off, to take a training course, or to work out your big plans for busy times ahead ahead. Depending on your business’ financial position, you may have to make use of your overdraft or cut your expenses back. Thankfully it always seems (to me at least) far easier to do this after the excesses of the holidays.

However your time off impacts your finances, just remember it’s only temporary, and don’t let it spoil what should be a special time.

So there you have it – the strategies for freelance holidays that I’ve developed after over 15 years of freelancing. If you have any of your own to share, I’d be delighted to hear about them in the comments.

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Founder of HomeWorkingClub.com - Ben is a long-established freelancer with a passion for helping other people take control of their destiny and break away from "working for the man." Prone to outbursts of bluntness and realism.

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