Thursday, October 09, 2014

For Freelancers: 3 Steps to Plan for Your Vacation

Planning to be on vacation is a reality for many types of work. Not everyone can just walk out of a workplace and say, “See you when I get back!” without any advance prep. Projects must not slip past deadlines, day-to-day needs must not go unmet—and who wants to come back to a mammoth pile of deferred work if they can help it? 

If you are a freelancer who wants to keep in good standing with clients and not miss being offered projects you could have accepted, some planning can be all the more important. Especially because you probably have no one to whom you can delegate.  

Here are three steps you can take that don’t cover everything, but I think they are worthy of consideration.

1.       Determine if you can check your work email once a day though you are not working (but only once a day). Unless you subscribe to the idea of totally unplugging on vacation or will be someplace where smartphones or laptops are useless, I suggest you consider checking your email once a day. I prefer not asking clients to calculate what projects I can take just because I am on vacation. Not only might mega-busy clients simply dismiss the thought of contacting me for a project with a “I think she said she is on vacation” if I announce I will be away, but I am the one with all the information necessary for determining what projects and deadlines I can fit into my schedule. In addition, I do not want to miss responding to a new potential client.

Note: If you will not be reachable, either by circumstance or intention, be sure to leave an Out of Office message for your email. The worst thing you can do is not respond at all to a client or potential client for more than a day unless some dire personal circumstance can be explained later.

2.       Give a heads up to the clients most likely to contact you during your time off. Even regular clients who think you are great are more interested in knowing what you can do for them than what you cannot. Try to let them know what they can expect, tailored, of course, to how your working relationship with each client.   
       “Please note I’ll be on vacation next month, but I will return in time for any projects you have with a deadline as early as September 1."

       "I will be on vacation February 1 – 15, but I will be checking email once a day and will have access to my project schedule so I can give you an answer about an assignment you’d like me to take." 

       "I'm going to be on vacation next week, but I will be sure to respond to all your email queries as soon as I return."
3.      Preserve enough energy to enjoy your vacation. Plan so you don't work so unreasonably hard before vacation that you could be too exhausted to enjoy it. Gauging how many projects you can accept and complete on time without working nonstop is always a challenge. But it’s particularly hard if you are trying to keep your income steady as a freelancer with no paid vacation—a vacation you probably need because you work hard just like someone who works outside the home every day. (Or some of us might be a bit of a workaholic—not that I would, uh, know what that is like).

I just experienced a fail in this area; I accepted one too many big projects to “make up for the time I would not be working,” and ended up with almost three weeks of pretty much nonstop work when it wasn't really necessary. Fortunately, I will have a couple of days to recover before heading out. But next time I will be more cautious. I know I still delivered quality work, but it would have been better—for me and my family—to have erred on the side of one too few lengthy projects than to have accepted one too many. Maybe you can give yourself some more breathing room before a vacation as well.

Did I mention I am about to take a vacation? Well, I am. Yes, I could write some blog posts ahead of time and schedule them for release, but I’m not going to. See you when I get back!

For freelancers, do you have vacation planning ideas you are willing to share?

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