When your income is tied to freelancing, you don’t have built-in vacation days where you still get paid. Taking time off means you don’t make money. Not only that, but being unavailable means you can potentially miss lucrative opportunities for work.
So, how do you get that much needed time off? Here are some ways I’ve managed to make it work without worrying that my freelancing career is suffering.
Snag a long weekend
After seven months freelancing without taking a day off, I was in desperate need of a break, but I was busy and still newly working with most of my clients. Going radio-silent didn’t sound like a good idea, so I did the next best thing to taking a proper vacation - I snuck away for a long weekend. I stayed connected to my email, just in case, but otherwise spent a weekend visiting friends at a women’s retreat at my old summer camp. We spent the weekend eating way too much food, being outside, doing art projects, and drinking wine. We didn’t talk about work, we talked about each other and how life was going. It was a complete detox from my daily routine and it gave me the energy I needed to stay motivated, when I got back home, to continue to build my new career.
Working full-time, it wouldn’t have occurred to me to take a weekend away. It would have been harder to leave my family, since being busy 9-5, five days a week left little time to hang out at home, not to mention get all those chores and errands done during the week. However now, as a freelancer, weekends have become the ideal time for me to take a break or get away. My clients work during the week, so it stands to reason, in order to make money, I should be available as often as I can on weekdays. Conversely, most of my clients do not work on weekends, so checking out and signing off to get a little respite then won’t necessarily negatively impact my freelance opportunities.
Bring your computer along on a trip
I realize this option doesn’t sound ideal, but it’s amazing how just a few minutes a day, or every other day on your computer, can keep you connected and productive while you’re on a vacation. I actually began my freelance career while vacationing in Charleston, South Carolina over Spring Break. I was there with my family and some friends to have a week of beach, pool, and sunshine - to relax. I had also lost my job just a month before and had put out feelers to see if freelancing would work. My very first client contacted me a few days into vacation to get to “meet” me and talk about opportunity. They had me write my very first product email for them that week, which I gladly did while listening to my kids play in the pool. It was the first of many pieces that I spent the next five months writing, and I still work with this client a year later. Without having my computer on vacation, and being willing to work a little, this long-term opportunity would not have happened.
Knowing the benefits of working a little on vacation, I brought my computer with me on my next long trip, this time to Sarasota, Florida. Although I was fairly certain no new work would come in, there were ongoing projects I could chip away at when I had some down time. I planned ahead in order to make a little money the week I was on vacation, working less than 30 minutes each day during the natural quiet time my family and I needed each afternoon. I only missed out on one trip to the pool in order to work outside in the Florida sunshine. I didn’t inconvenience anyone, including myself, or put any pressure on myself to work the same number of hours I would at home. And, I kept the flow of money coming in to avoid having a week with no income.
Use popular vacation time to your advantage
This is perhaps my best tip and has been the most lucrative one to date. Most people will tell you that December is a slow month for work. The year is winding down, people are checking out, taking large chunks of time off. If you’re a freelancer though, and you’re working when all these other people aren’t, you may be called upon to pick up their slack. This is the strategy I employed since my family doesn’t traditionally travel for the December holidays. When I worked full-time, I used to take two weeks off to be with my kids over winter break and spend time with my husband who closes his office for a week. However, as a freelancer, I was already home and able to spend time with them, do fun wintery activities, celebrate the holidays, and take on a ton of extra work. I was busier the last two weeks of December than I had been for two month previous and the extra work I picked up not only helped me show value to my clients, it helped me start the new year off with one of my largest paychecks to date.
Remember, being a freelancer means you have flexibility. Use this to your advantage and note the times of year when people most often take vacation, and don’t go anywhere! Having availability when nobody else does or when companies are looking for temporary coverage means more opportunity for you. December is an easy time to stay available, but don’t forget about summer too. I’ve had clients even ask me upfront if I’m around in the summers (which I most certainly am) due to past experiences they’d had with freelancers bring unavailable at this sometimes crucial time.
Strategize your vacation time
Not having paid time off means every vacation you plan is a compromise between earning money and spending money, but it’s important to take a step back every now and again in order to rejuvenate and enjoy time that isn’t crowded with deadlines, errands, chores, and obligations. It has been an adjustment to not have a given set of paid vacation days to take advantage of, but remembering to take a little time away is definitely a key component to being a successful freelancer.