One of the most appealing perks about freelancing is the flexibility to create your own schedule. There is no set number of vacation days and freelancers don’t have to ask a boss for permission to take time off. However, planning vacation time as a freelancer can actually be a challenge. It might seem easy on the surface, but the reality is that vacation time can be especially tricky for freelancers to plan.For one thing, freelancers don’t earn paid time off, which mean any days spent on vacation are days that don’t generate income. The impact of those lost wages can be significant. One of the most common complaints from freelancers is how unstable their finances can be. Workloads ebb and flow and even freelancers with steady work can struggle to get paid in a timely fashion. Every penny counts, and weeks of lost wages? That can be a big blow—the difference between affording rent and not.
The fluctuations in workloads also pose a challenge. When you have a ton of work to do, that’s not an ideal time to take off, but when you don’t have much work coming in, that also means money is low, which again, is not an ideal time to spend money on plane tickets or hotels. Furthermore, freelancers are sole practitioners, which means there is no-one to pick up the slack or cover for you when you are unavailable. Freelancers don’t want to leave their clients in the lurch or be unavailable when needed because of the concern that those clients will take their business elsewhere.
There are also personal barriers. Freelancers, many of whom work from home, often talk about that feeling of never being totally “on” or totally “off.” These blurred lines can make many freelancers feel that they don’t need or deserve a vacation in the same way as someone who goes into an office every day. The capacity to take time away whenever you want can actually decrease the likelihood that you will take time off, as Kickstarter (and other companies) discovered after implementing “unlimited” vacation policies. Employees take less time off when there are no clear guidelines about what is acceptable.
Everyone needs time off. Vacations are essential to maintaining productivity, motivation, and creativity. So how can freelancers work around these barriers, to take the time they need? Planning.
Step 1 - Figure out the Cost
Step one is financial planning. Sit down and figure out how much you need to make a month to cover all your expenses (if you haven’t already). Taking a vacation requires saving a bit of a nest egg to cover your non-working time, as well as any vacation expenses. Plan out how much of a nest egg you need to make a vacation viable and how long it will take you to save that much. You may need to take on more work ahead of time to compensate and careful budgeting can help you figure out just how much. And don’t forget to create a budget for your vacation, so costs don’t balloon.
Step 2 - Make a Plan
Secondly, make a plan with your clients. Look at your calendar and see if there are any times that seem better than others. If you tend to work on one, big project at a time, right after that project finishes can be ideal for a getaway. If you have ongoing relationships with clients, ask the employer if there are times of the year that are better than others. Planning far out is useful for both clients and for you. If you decide a few months in advance to take a vacation in April, your existing clients won’t feel blindsided and you can avoid scheduling future projects that conflict with your vacation plans.
Step 3 - Call on Your Network
Another smart move is to build a network of freelancers with similar skillsets who can fill in as needed. Create a list of trusted referrals that you can provide to clients to fill in any gaps made by your absence. When you pass on the referrals, make sure your clients know that you value their business and plan to resume the relationship as soon as you get back. They will be impressed by your professionalism and appreciate the effort, lessening the worry that a consistent gig won’t be waiting for you when you return.
The whole point of vacation is to relax and de-stress, but freelancers face the tough prospect of a vacation causing more stress. Freelancers deserve vacations, just like full-timers. With planning ahead and forethought, it’s possible to ensure you get the time off you need without compromising your financial stability.