Holidays for freelancers

in Working Guides

Between negotiating your rate, chasing up unpaid invoices and answering emails at 11 pm on a Friday - at some point in your freelance career, you'll wonder about taking a holiday. 

Holidays are a very different situation when you're a freelancer. You have neither a co-worker for your out of office, nor the perk of paid annual leave. Any vacation you take will chip a hole into your finances, and may even cost you a client. 

So, can you take a holiday? Whether you're a seasoned freelancer looking to take your first longer holiday, or you're new to the game, here are some steps to prepare for your trip.

Examine your finances 

The employed are paid for any time spent on the beach. They can order a second bottle of wine and book an impromptu jet-skiing excursion - it doesn't matter if they chew through their holiday budget because a paycheque is waiting back at home. 

As a freelancer - any time that you are not working, you are not earning. Perhaps this is why one out of four freelancers in the UK don't take a holiday.

As you plan your holiday, examine your finances with a fine-toothed comb. Are you on top of all outgoings - rent, bills, etc? Commit to a daily budget for your trip. Note down all expenses including insurance, injections and suncream. 

Send all invoices for completed work promptly, so payments don't go astray. The bane of freelance life is overdue payment for your services, so allow time for chasing. Will you have work waiting for you as soon as you return from holiday to jump back into, or will you come back and need to hustle? 

Prepare your clients for your holiday. 

Besides the temporary loss of income, you will fret over the impact your holiday might have on your relationships with clients. All freelancers fear their expendability; what if you are replaced? 

Losing a client is a risk when you're away. Building that on-going working relationship is a challenge. If you have been collaborating for a while and have a rapport, your client will probably retain your services once you return. Clarify deadlines and deliver early to allow time for any amends.

Be transparent - give clients plenty of notice before your holiday and communicate exactly what you can and cannot deliver.

Consider any issues that might arise while you're away. If you're in business support, do your clients have all the log-ins they will need? Is the software you're developing likely to be presented to an investor while you're away?

Use a platform such as Airtable to get everything in order.

You could arrange for another freelancer within the same industry as cover, particularly for a long trip. A network of freelancers in your field of expertise is a valuable tool - so make connections and form a trusted pool, whether via co-working spaces or online communities. 

Establish a communication protocol

You need to unwind on holiday. However, as a freelancer, it is more likely that any work woes will follow you to your destination, and you may prefer to stay connected. There is debate over checking emails while on holiday, but you will need to make the call on exactly how close an eye you keep on your inbox.

Good practice is to agree a set time every day or two when you will check in and respond to messages from clients. You can request that clients should only contact you if the work is urgent, it pays to be assertive and set this boundary. 

Do prepare for flexibility - you're on holiday, and you need a degree of spontaneity. Do not feel guilty about any times you are uncontactable, but communicate when it is the case. 

New and prospective clients

If you have recently begun work with a new client who you are keen to keep on your books, again, transparency is key. Tell them early that you have a holiday in the pipeline. Shooting over an email as you buckle your seatbelt on the plane will ring alarm bells about whether they can trust you. 

Use the time before your holiday to truly shine - give your client a reason to remember you. Add a little extra value to your pilot project, or deliver earlier than they requested. 

In case a prospective client reaches out, indicate on your bounceback that you will be checking emails at set times of the day. You might not be able to respond to their query in full, but at least you can send them an acknowledgement and that you'll be in touch once home.

Travelling and working

If you work remotely, it might be tempting to think you could put aside a few hours a day to keep on top of things. This could be an option for a longer trip. Bear in mind practicalities like interference from a new time zone and patchy Wi-fi. You need to allow yourself to be spontaneous and let your holiday surprise you. Those two hours a day will probably escalate. 

Digital nomads travel and work, but they stay in one place for a longer time and have routines, including using co-working spaces. A short holiday is different. You have a limited time at your destination, you'll want to squeeze in as much as possible.

Do carry a notebook and jot down any ideas that might strike while travelling. 'Going on vacation provides a wealth of novelty to spur creativity,' writes behavioural scientist Jon Levy.

Should you book that flight?

If you don't give yourself time to unplug and recharge your batteries, then you won't function at full capacity. Everyone needs a break, says Dr Jenny Leeser of BUPA, to protect our mental health. You might put yourself at greater risk of losing work if your standards slip.

Experts confirm that taking a rest has important benefits which include improved mental power, greater well-being and are at less risk of burnout.

Remember, everyone is human - clients will understand.

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