How to take a vacation as a freelancer (without taking a hit to your bank account!)
“Your life is a vacation!”
I’ll always remember the irony of a friend saying that to me before she went on a trip in August 2015. I had agreed to house sit for her while she was away, but while she was taking time off from her retail business to relax with family in Ireland, I would be working on freelance projects from my laptop in her living room.
Little did she know, I had actually never taken a vacation since starting my business two years prior.
Sound like you? If so—fear not! This story has a happy ending. That November I ended up going on my first vacation as a freelancer to Paris, and for the first time since starting my business, I didn’t do any work for an entire week. (Okay, so I did have horrible jet lag my first night in France and ended up catching up on email at 2:30 a.m.)
Since I know I’m not alone in this, I wanted to share my tried-and-true tips on how to take a vacation as a freelancer. And keep in mind I’m talking about a real vacation. You know, the type where don’t do any work while you’re gone!
Realize why it’s important for you to take a vacation.
For many freelancers, guilt over being away from clients and fear of losing business can hold us back from taking time off. And with the ongoing costs of running a business, vacations seem like something frivolous we can cut. But there’s plenty of scientific research to back the claim that vacations are good for your health—and if your health suffers, your business will suffer too.
A 5-year study of women in rural Wisconsin found that women who took more frequent vacations had lower rates of depression and tension. A 9-year study of middle-aged men at high risk of coronary heart disease found that men who took more frequent vacations were less likely to die of any cause, especially one attributed to heart disease. The conclusion drawn by the authors of this study? “Vacationing may be good for your health.”
Additionally, the University of Pittsburgh’s Mind-Body Center found that people who took more leisure time, including vacations, “reported more life satisfaction, finding more meaning in life.”
Convinced you need a vacation? Great! The last hurdle may be that you simply have no idea how to take a vacation as a freelancer. So let’s tackle those steps now.
Here’s how to take a vacation as a freelancer without taking a huge hit to your income.
Plan ahead. Because freelancers don’t get paid time off like employees do, you’ll have to do some juggling to make sure you earn the income you need.
You basically have three options:
- Increase your amount of freelance work before taking a vacation. This means you may have to double up on projects before your time off to make up for the income you’ll lose by not doing work while you’re on your trip.
- Increase your freelance work after taking a vacation. Book out more client projects for the weeks after you return from your trip. This may even work better since you’ll feel recharged after your vacation.
- Hire help to take over client work during your vacation. Subcontract another freelancer to take over work while you’re gone, so you don’t have to completely pause client projects. This is a great option if you’re worried about losing income.
Whichever option you choose, it will require planning far in advance.
Let your clients know ahead of time in writing.
The sooner you can prepare your clients for your absence, the better. I usually tell my clients about one month in advance. My situation is unique because my work consists almost entirely of retainer contracts with long-time clients.
This means I can’t just finish a one-time project and be done with it. I have to either hand off my recurring work to someone else, or I have to do the work ahead of time. For example, if I manage social media for a client on a retainer basis, then before I leave for vacation, I have to make sure all social media posts are already scheduled for the days I’m on vacation. Additionally, I have to have someone monitor the social media accounts for any comments while I’m gone.
Because of the nature of retainer work, it may even be necessary to check in while you’re on vacation to ensure everything’s running smoothly. An alternative to this is to hand off that task for the days you’ll be gone to someone else at the company (this depends on the type of relationship and the level of comfort you have with the employees there) or you’ll have to outsource the work to a subcontractor or virtual assistant, which I’ll detail in the next section.
Here’s an email template you can use:
“Hi [CLIENT NAME],
I wanted to let you know I’ll be taking a vacation from [DATE] to [DATE]. During this time, I’ll [have limited Internet connectivity/be unplugging completely], so I will make sure I have all your projects completed before I head out. I’ll also make sure to lay out a plan so you know what to expect while I’m away.
While I’m gone, I’ll be checking email [once a day/once a week/etc.] to check for any urgent matters. If you have something that needs immediate attention, please send an email with ‘Urgent’ at the beginning of the subject line, and I will get back to you as soon as I can.
Please let me know if you have any questions.”
Outsource your work to another freelancer while you’re gone.
If you don’t want to have zero income or leave your clients’ work untouched while you’re away, a great solution is to hire another freelancer to take over during your vacation. This requires a lot of pre-planning and training. Be sure to let your clients know who will be taking over while you’re gone and what they can expect.
“You’ve got to get people up and running and familiar with your business before you even think about going away,” Marr advises. “That way, while you’re gone, you can trust that they know how to handle all the in’s and out’s, that you’ve seen and can trust the quality of their work, and, in turn, that your clients are well taken care of. I always give my clients and my freelancers about a week heads up that I’ll be away from my ‘virtual’ office and lay out the processes and expectations for while I’m away.”
Complete work ahead of time and schedule any posts.
If you’re doing a one-time project for a client, schedule the completion date well before your vacation, so you don’t end up working while you’re away.
If you’re on retainer and don’t plan to outsource your work, then you’ll need to do the work ahead of time. For example, if you contribute four blog posts a month for a client and plan to take the month of September off, complete all your blog posts in August and then schedule them to publish in September while you’re on vacation. WordPress blogs come with a scheduling tool built right in. To schedule social media posts, you can use a tool like Buffer or HootSuite, both of which come with free (but limited) versions.
A few days before you depart, send a reminder email to your clients.
Remind your clients of your vacation and send them a recap before you head out, so they know what to expect while you’re gone.
Here’s a template for you:
“Hi [CLIENT NAME],
In a few days I’ll be on vacation, and I wanted to send you a quick reminder that I’ll be unavailable from [DATE] to [DATE]. All your pending projects have been completed, so please let me know if there is anything else you need before I head out.
While I’m gone, I will be checking email [once a day/once a week/etc.]. If you have something that needs immediate attention, please send an email with ‘Urgent’ in the subject line, and I will get back to you as soon as I can.
Please let me know if you have any questions. I look forward to coming back to work for you on [DATE]!”
Set up a vacation email responder.
This is simple to do. In Gmail, click the gear icon on the upper right, select “Settings,” scroll down to where it says “Vacation responder.”
In your out-of-office message, be sure to include
- The dates you’ll be on vacation
- Whether you will be checking or replying to email during that time
- Other ways your clients can reach you (if any)
- The email address and/or phone number of an alternate contact
Here’s a template you can use:
I’m away on vacation from [DATE] to [DATE] and will have limited access to Internet. I will have my assistant checking my email once a day. If this is an urgent matter, please contact [ALTERNATE CONTACT] directly. I will get back to you as soon as possible.”
Ask your virtual assistant or a friend to check your email for any urgent issues.
When I went to Paris, I had a friend check my inbox once per day and notify me via text message if she saw any emails that had “Urgent” in the subject line. I never ended up getting any urgent emails, but it gave me peace of mind to know someone would be on the lookout for emergencies. You can also hire a virtual assistant to do this for you. If you’re stuck on how to do that, check out this post on how to hire a virtual assistant for your freelance business.
Depending on the nature of your work, you may want to give certain clients direct access to your phone number while you’re gone.
Enjoy your vacation!
Last but not least, sit back and relax! You’ve planned out your freelance work, alerted your clients, scheduled any posts, prepared any subcontractors or virtual assistants, and set up your out-of-office email. Now your only job is to recharge and refresh, so you can come back to work feeling better than ever.
All right—now that you know how to take a vacation as a freelancer, it’s time to plan your trip! Where are you headed? Tell us in the comments below!
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