I’m not talking about writing for free. But instead the free as in the freedom that we have as freelancers.
One of the biggest benefits we have is the freedom to set our own schedules, which means working when we want as well taking time off when we want – in theory, anyway. It’s easy to get so caught up in meeting client deadlines and finding new clients that we do not always take advantage of the flexibility. Yes, it takes planning. Yes, it takes sticking to your guns. But if you don’t do this, then you will find yourself reacting to your clients’ needs and getting burned out.
Building Time Off Into Your Income Goals
The most common reasons freelancers tell me that they can’t take time off is that they can’t afford the time without income and that they can’t simply shut down their business because their clients depend on them. The secret to being able to afford to take the time off is to build it into your weekly and monthly income goals.
For example, at the beginning of each year, I decide how much money I want to make that year and then break it down into monthly and weekly goals so I can stay on track. Instead of dividing the annual goal by 52 weeks in the year, I divide it by 44 or 46 weeks off depending on how long I plan to take off. You can then put the extra money earned each month into a separate account if needed so that you can ‘pay yourself’ during your vacation weeks. It is stressful to try to make up an entire week or two income in a month or two, but it is hardly noticeable when you spread it over the entire year.
Here are three different ways to make use of the flexibility of being a freelancer:
Taking Set Hours off Each Day
One of the main reasons that I freelance is so that I can spend time with my kids after school. For the past nine years I’ve been freelancing, I’ve taken them to and from school so I have several hours in the afternoon that I’m unavailable for work. Once they are home, I will work if they are doing homework or hanging out with friends but I try to be available to hang out or take them somewhere. I know other freelancers who take time off from work most mornings to work out as well. They simply block this time out as they would a standing meeting with a client.
Whenever I sent out requests for interviews or a potential client asks my availability I respond with the sentence “I am unable to speak every day from 2 to 4 pm EST, but can be available after 4 pm EST, if needed.” This sentence has worked well and also keeps people from scheduling after 4 pm unless there is a reason. Yes, most people know that this means I’m picking up kids and I am fine with that. If a client becomes a long-term client, then I always eventually share that I really try to not have calls during that time, but if there is no other way that I can arrange to have my kids ride the bus. I’ve always had positive reaction to sharing this and honestly, if someone isn’t OK with that, then they really aren’t the type of person I want to work with regularly anyway.
Taking a Day off Each Week
This has never worked for me, but I know other writers who have done this with great success. I think that this could work pretty well during the summer since it’s relatively common to take Friday off. For me, I find taking one day off almost harder than taking two weeks off, but that might be my own issues at play. I think if you take this approach, then you have to either work more hours the other days or take on less client work.
The trick is simply saying that you are unavailable if someone suggests meeting on a Friday. You don’t have to say why and you don’t have to explain your reasons. “I have a conflict,” “I am booked,” or “How about Monday?” are all good answers to keep the day open. The less you say, the better. And the less exceptions you make, the easier I am betting it is to make this happen week after week.
Taking an Extended Vacation
This is what works for me and I will shut my business down typically twice a year for at least two weeks. For me, it’s the only way to truly relax and I am pretty selfish about these vacations. After writing a whitepaper while my family explored Kauai, I no longer do any new work—no exceptions—while on vacation. No matter the money. No matter how much the client asks. No matter anything. Yes, it means that I have to turn down assignments and yes, it means that the week before I leave is usually filled with many early mornings spent writing and late nights spent finishing things up.
I’ve taken an extended vacation about 10 times now and have learned a lot of lessons the hard way:
Decide ahead of time how plugged in you will be and if you will work while on vacation. I tell clients that I will not be doing any writing on the projects and that I will “try” to check email every few days, but that sometimes connectivity is a problem. I share that I am willing to answer any questions or do any light, but urgent revisions if needed on vacation. I only work with sane clients that are typically very nice, so if they ever ask me a question on vacation it is usually something that only I can answer.
Start talking about your vacation about two months ahead of time. By sharing your vacation dates with your existing clients WAY ahead of time, they have plenty of notice and are usually very accommodating. I also start telling any new clients that I take within two months of my trip about my planned time off as well so that there are no surprises later. I usually send a reminder to clients about three weeks before the trip and then about a week before I leave.
Just say no. The only way to really take a vacation is to turn down work. If a client (either new or old) offers me work before a vacation, I ask if it is something that can wait until I get back. Sometimes it is. Sometimes it isn’t. But if I can’t REASONABLY fit it into my schedule before I leave and it can’t wait, then I have learned that I have to decline the project. And when I waiver on this, which I always do, then I just remember how I awful I felt that day in Hawaii sitting alone in the condo. When possible, I try to refer the gig to a fellow freelancer because I feel less guilty turning it down if I am helping someone else.
Take your vacation adjacent to a holiday. The past two years I have taken the first two weeks of December off. So basically when I get on the plane, I have shut my business down for the year because when I return most people are heading out of town. Both years, I have worked a little bit when I got back, but usually it was because I wanted to or the money was too good to turn down. This worked fabulously and gave me about four weeks of much needed down time. I have also had success vacationing around Easter and July 4th, mainly because many of my clients take time off around these dates so work tends to be slower.
Give your clients fake vacation dates. The first time I shut my business down to go to Costa Rica for 10 days, I told everyone that my last day of work was the day before I left on vacation. This was a terrible idea. I ended up writing posts on creating effective webinars on the flight to Costa Rica and having to find Wi-Fi as soon as we landed to send in the copy. Never again. I now give myself a buffer of a few days before I depart and a few days after I arrive back home. This way I have a buffer for the last minute “client emergencies” as well as getting myself (and family) ready to leave.
Tell your client where you are going. Yes, some writers will say this is too much information. But I have found that clients are much more likely to respect my vacation if I share that I am going somewhere far away. My long term clients almost always turn into friends, so it seems natural to share as well. So I tell them “I’m going to Hawaii” or “I’m going to Italy” or “I’m going to Australia.” I have had much better luck taking vacations that sound expensive and exotic than taking time off to go to the beach closer to home. You know, next time I go to the beach for a week, I might just tell everyone I am going to Antarctica or New Zealand instead, so no one contacts me.
(P.S. I wrote this post because I’m taking three weeks off. I have blog posts scheduled, but if I don’t reply to comments quickly, it’s not because I’m ignoring you.)
How do actually take time off? What are your tips?