While work-life balance is a widely touted perk when you freelance, many solopreneurs are actually terrified of taking time off. Whether they fear that the work will run out, clients will forget they exist, or they won’t earn enough to get through the year, taking a vacation can be tough.
That was me when I first started freelancing full-time a few years ago. I was afraid to take a break — even a short one. I said “yes” to all assignments that came my way, and constantly felt like I was running on a hamster wheel that I had built for myself.
Reality check: When you work for yourself, you always have the option to turn down work. But of course, there’s a trade-off: that’s money you won’t earn. How can you make sure the bills get paid? Here’s how to take a vacation when you freelance without suffering a hard financial hit or other freelancer money woes:
Give Your Clients Advance Notice
The earlier you give your clients notice that you’ll be on vacation, the better. I try to let my clients know at least a month ahead. That way you can work out arrangements as necessary. Will you be submitting your work ahead of time, and will you be available to answer any questions while you’re away?
There’s also the possibility that you’ll receive revisions or feedback on an assignment while you’re on vacation. If a client knows you’ll be away, they might prioritize wrapping up assignments that are in progress before you leave.
In my own experience, companies who work frequently with freelancers understand that they might take time off, or go on sabbatical. By giving clients a heads-up well in advance, you’ll help them stay on track with their projects and deadlines while you’re away.
While it requires ramping up your workload for a few weeks, front-loading deliverables can keep the cash flow steady. Talk with your clients to see if they’re open to you turning in assignments before you leave. For instance, if you have deliverables due the week after you return, see if you can submit them before vacation.
Or if you have a client that you typically submit two articles or a batch of images for Instagram a week for, instead of skipping a week — and not getting paid — see if you can double up the week prior. Of course, it depends on the clients’ preferences.
Budget in Vacation Time
If you’d like to take four weeks off for vacation, holidays, and sick time, divvy up that number by 11 months. So if your yearly income goal is $40,000, that breaks down to $3,636 a month before taxes. If you need $60,000 a year to comfortably live, you’ll need to rake in $5,455 a month. If your annual income goal is $80,000, you’ll need to earn about $7,272 for month for 11 months out of the year.
Or, focus on big and easy wins when you’re working on cutting back on your monthly living expenses. That way you can potentially lower how much you need to make each year and might not have to hustle as hard.
Another way you can go about it is by setting up a savings fund for your vacation and sick days. Let’s say you need about $5,000 a month to cover your living expenses. If you’re having a flush month and earning more than your monthly goal, you can squirrel some of that money away so you can take some time off.
Consider the 2/6 Work Schedule
The first year or so as a solopreneur, it was tough for me to pry myself away from deadlines and the slog of work emails. While on vacation with family, I opted to wake up a few hours earlier than my traveling companions, and trekked over to the nearby coffee shop to catch up on e-correspondence and get some work done. I aimed to work no more than two hours a day. In a typical eight-hour day, that left six hours to enjoy my vacation.
You can make your own variation of the schedule: Maybe work one hour a day, three hours a day — whatever fits your situation. You can also make the most of your time while en route. Many airport terminals and airlines have wi-fi you can use either for free or for a fee.
Do a Workcation
Nervous about setting an auto-responder when you’re traveling? Consider the workcation. While not exactly a vacation, a workcation allows you to travel and squeeze in some sightseeing and restauranteering and maintain a regular workload. I’ve done this a number of times — in Chicago, Minneapolis, New Orleans, and Marfa, Texas. Just remember: You’ll need to factor in transit time.
Start With a Shorter Break
I’ve had freelancing colleagues who haven’t gone on vacation for three years straight (sad but true). If you’re nervous about cavorting on a getaway for an extended period of time, test out the waters with a long weekend. That way you can get comfortable with the idea of taking time off, figure out a process that works best for you, and not worry about taking too hard of a financial hit.
To avoid stressing over your earnings when you freelance, it just takes a bit of strategy and planning ahead. You’ll come up with some tactics to help you stay afloat financially so you can take that well-deserved vacation.