When was the last time you took a whole week off from your business, switched off your emails, and relaxed?
We all need time off to recharge our batteries, but as freelancers, many of us find it really difficult to take a proper break.
In this solo episode, I share my tips for how to take time off without worrying that your business will disappear while you're gone, including;
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Louise Shanahan is a freelance health and medical copywriter and a big fan of finding your freelance niche. She's on a mission to help others build a freelance business that feels easy and works for them – in weekly snack-sized bites.
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Welcome to 15 Minute Freelancer, your snack-sized guide to being your own boss and building a business and life you love. I'm your host Louise Shanahan. My LinkedIn bio says I'm a freelance health copywriter. But for the next 15 minutes, I'll be tickling your ears with practical strategies, behind-the-scenes stories, and nuggets of wisdom so you can create a freelance business that works for you. Whether you're just starting out or you've been self-employed for a while, I'll be right here with you to help you navigate the ups and downs of freelancing life. So grab a coffee relax and join me for 15 minutes of freelancing fun. Don't forget to hit subscribe.
Hello, everyone, Louise here, I am just back from a lovely week in the Canary Islands where I spent the entire time lying by the pool reading, punctuated only by the occasional pina colada. It was bliss, I'm sorry to report. I read five whole books in a week! All this chat about how none of us know how to concentrate anymore, it has to be BS. Normally it takes me about three months to read a book at home. But as soon as I'm in the sun and my emails are but a distant memory, I can zoom through a pile of them and I have no problem focusing. It wasn't just trashy beach reads either, I read some proper thinky, science-y books too.
All of this is to say, sometimes we need a break, don't we? We need time off to recharge our batteries, escape the usual escapism on social media, put a pin in our to-do lists, and rest. The reason we're struggling to focus is probably that we're on the verge of burnout half the time. We need breaks. The only problem is taking a break can be really tough for freelancers can't it? And why is that? It shouldn't be that hard, after all, we don't have to ask our boss for approval, we don't have to stick to a limited amount of annual leave allowance, it should be easy for us to take time off. But for some reason, many of us still find ourselves feeling worried about letting clients down or telling them that we're going to be away for a week or two. Worrying about saying no to clients and missing opportunities while you're away. When you go on holiday, it means you're not getting paid for the time that you're not working because we don't get paid leave, of course. So holidays have double the financial hit. It probably also means being super busy for the week before and the week after you get back from your holiday.
So what's a freelancer to do? I'll be honest, I really struggle to take time off. I'm pretty good at integrating work and life on a day-to-day basis, and you know, week to week. But when it comes to taking a chunk of time off and not doing any work for that time, I really suck. I probably went a whole year last year without any more than a long weekend off, which is terrible. Of course, the pandemic was a factor, none of us could travel much and we had all of that going on. But still, I could have taken some time off. This year one of my goals is to take more time off and travel more. And I'm really lucky to have already been on a couple of trips to Iceland and Denmark this year, just a week or a long weekend here and there, but it just feels so good to be seeing the world again, meeting new people, having adventures, and or doing absolutely nothing by the pool. Covid safe and carbon neutral, of course. It just feels like such a luxury, but whatever you do with the time off, taking breaks is absolutely necessary.
So for today's episode, what with it being summer season and all, and I'm still holding on to this tan, I thought it would be a fun topic to dig into. So maybe we can all get a little bit better at planning our time off. Of course, it doesn't have to be for holidays. Maybe you want to take a longer chunk of time off for a particular project or a sabbatical or a course. Maybe you're planning to have kids and wondering how to plan for parental leave. Maybe you have surgery coming up and you need to plan for some time off. Maybe it's simply reducing your hours over the summer while your kids are off school. And I say simply, of course, it is far from simple, I know.
Whatever the reason, there are a few things that we can do to make it easier to take a break. I thought I would share my approach in case that's helpful, at least for the shorter-term breaks anyway. So here we go. Four tips for taking time off without worrying that your business will disappear while you're gone.
First of all, you need to plan for your break. At the start of the year, I think it's quite helpful to block out the time that you plan to take off and put it in your calendar so that you know when you'll be away or unavailable for work. You know the rules, once it's in Google Calendar there is no going back, it's happening. It will give you something to look forward to and ensure you actually do take the time off, and it will help you plan ahead. I'm all for spontaneous breaks but let's be realistic here. This should also help you see how much time off you're planning for the year, or the quarter if you're doing it quarterly. How does that look? Would you like to take more time off? Have you been a bit ambitious? There are no rules here, you can take as much time off as you want, as long as your bank balance agrees. There are plenty of freelancers who take a week off every month, or three months off per year, you can choose how much time you want to take off. You just need to plan ahead, plan around it, and make sure that you can generate the income that you want and need in the time remaining. Just as a side note, this is why it's always important when you're setting rates for your freelance projects, to make sure that you account for all the non-client work time that needs to be factored in.
The second step is to budget for your break. How much is your break going to cost? That could be the cost of the holiday or whatever activities you plan to do in the time off. But it will also be the income that you're not generating in that time. And probably because you won't be taking on any big projects just before you go or keeping up your lead generation activities during your break, your income is likely to dip just before and for a bit after your break too. But if you plan ahead you can get around this. Set some money aside throughout the year so you can keep paying yourself while you're away. If you use a business bank account that lets you put money into different pots, like Starling, which I use. I'm not sponsored by them, but Starling if you're listening and you would like to sponsor me, that would be very welcome. If you use an account like that, you can set a certain amount aside from each invoice towards your paid time off. So when an invoice is paid, you put a certain amount into one pot for your tax, you put a certain amount aside for expenses, how much you're going to pay yourself. Then you'll have a pot that you put aside for your holiday money. When it gets closer to the time, make sure all your invoices are up to date and paid in full before you go. You might also take on a couple of extra projects in the month before your break so that you can afford the upcoming quieter periods. So there are ways to make sure that your income is kind of evened out, whether you're working or not over that time.
The next step, of course, is to communicate with your clients in advance so that they can plan too. In some cases, it's not necessary to tell them. If you're going to be away for a couple of days or even a week, if you can deliver the work that's due before you go and they wouldn't expect you to be in touch the following week, there's no need to get in touch and tell them, hey, I'm going on holiday. Otherwise, you will probably want to make sure that they know the last day that they can commission work from you, when you’ll deliver that work, and when you'll be back. For example, last week when I was off, I told my regular clients about a month before that I was going to be away and if they had any urgent work asked them to get it to me the week before. Depending on your business and your clients if you're going to be away for a longer period of time you might arrange for another freelancer to hold the fort for you and cover any tasks that need to be continued while you're away. Find out if the client has any work that's likely to need to be done immediately on your return and ask to push back those deadlines too so that you're not rushing as soon as you get back.
Personally, I wouldn't bother telling prospective new clients that you're going to be away. If you get an inquiry from someone who's looking for a project to start that overlaps with your leave period, I would just say, I'm not available that week. I'm available to start your project on X date, where X is the week after I get back, there's no need to explain why you're not available at that time, unless you want to. While you might feel like it's inconvenient for the client, or you feel like you're letting them down by not being available, it's totally normal to take time off, let's remember this. They take time off too hopefully, they should understand. And if you're so crucial to their business that they panic at the thought of you being unavailable for a week or two, then that's kind of getting into employee territory, and or, they should probably be paying you more. But my point here really is that you're perfectly entitled to take whatever time off you want. You don't need to apologise or explain it. It's your business, you run it the way you want. But you know if you're friendly with your clients it's totally fine to say that you're going away or you're taking time off during the school holidays or whatever. That's obviously up to you how much you share with them. You don't have to is my point.
And the final step is to step away from the emails. Okay, this is a toughy. If you're on leave, and your out of office says you're unavailable you shouldn't be answering emails, set and stick to your boundaries. In practice, of course, it is easier said than done, isn't it? For me while I know there's not going to be any sort of copywriting emergency needing my attention while I'm away, it's not a massive burden for me to send a quick email if someone asks a question and I happen to spot the email. I don't really agree with the idea that if you break your own boundaries in this way, you can't expect other people to respect them. That's just not true really. Just because I answer an email on a Saturday doesn't mean I'm now beholden to a client every Saturday for evermore. I trust that they're adults, and they're able to manage their time and business and send emails when it works for them, and not necessarily expect me to match that. And the opposite is true as well, I assume they believe the same about me. We don't need to get bogged down in worrying that answering one piddly email, just to get it out of your mind, will somehow undermine your whole relationship with a client. It's easy enough to say I'm actually on leave at the moment but I spotted your email and here's a quick answer, happy to follow up when I'm back. But all that said, you are taking a break for a reason, so you shouldn't feel like you should be answering emails or getting sucked into back and forth with people. And just a little reminder here that yes, it is a good idea to set an out-of-office auto-responder, so that anyone you don't regularly contact gets that little note saying that you're away, and to expect you to get back to them later. And of course, for any regular contacts that have forgotten.
Those are the basics of planning for your leave. It doesn't have to be complicated. Just a few reminders to make sure everything's organised before you go. For longer or more frequent periods of leave, you might build in a bit more planning and a few more steps. For example, perhaps you would have a virtual assistant or you might subcontract to another freelancer, who can keep things ticking over when you're not around. These are good things to consider.
And a final tip, do yourself a favour and block out the day after you get back from your leave as well. You can get your feet back under your desk, catch up on emails, ease back into the swing of it, and can get your holiday washing done in the background without the stress of calls or looming deadlines. Future you will thank you.
That’s all I have for you today. I'd love to know if you have any other tips for planning time off, especially longer breaks. Otherwise, come and find me on Twitter and LinkedIn and tell me about your holiday plans this year. Until next time, happy freelancing.
You've been listening to 15 Minute Freelancer with me Louise Shanahan, freelance health copywriter and content marketer at thecopyprescription.com. If you enjoyed this, please hit subscribe, leave a review or share it with a freelance friend. And if you've got a freelancing question you want to be answered on the podcast, find me and say hi on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Instagram. Thanks, and until next time, happy freelancing.