Holidays and the freelance writer

For the first couple of years of my freelance writing career, I just didn’t take holidays at all.

To be fair, that wasn’t just because of  work: my husband was on kidney dialysis at the time (this was the reason I started freelancing in the first place – so that I could be at home with him but still work and earn money to support us), which made travel very difficult, but even without the health issues, we just wouldn’t have been able to afford it, or to deal very effectively with shutting up shop for a week or so.

Vacations are difficult for freelancers. When you work for someone else, it’s easy: you normally get a certain amount of paid vacation time, and while you’re gone, someone else in the office is there to pick up the tasks you’d normally be doing. Sure, you return to a bit of a backlog, but trust, me it’s nothing compared to what you’ll be dealing with as a freelancer!

When you work for yourself, the biggest obstacle to holidays is the fact that you won’t be getting paid while you’re away. There’s also no one there to pick up your jobs, so you’ll come home to a bulging inbox, an empty bank account, and while you’re gone you’ll be beset with worries: what if that commission you’ve been dreaming of finally lands in your inbox while you’re gone? What if your regular clients are forced to find someone else to replace you while you’re gone, and end up liking that person better? What if new clients don’t want to wait for you to return and go to someone else?

You’re never going to be able to get rid of these worries completely, but there are lots of things you can do to make holidays easier. Tomorrow we’re off on our second foreign holiday of this year, and will be gone for two weeks – so it can be done! Here are a few hints to help you:

1. Set up an email autoresponder or ‘out of office’ message
Existing/potential clients will understand that you’re on vacation, but they won’t understand two weeks of radio silence. A simple autoresponder message stating that you’re out of the office but will be back on ‘X’ date will let them know that you haven’t just disappeared off the face of the planet. You’ll also want to change the message on your answerphone to let callers know when they can expect to hear back from you.

2. Consider employing a virtual assistant service if you tend to get a lot of calls and emails
Autoresponders and answerphones are all well and good, but if you get lots of enquiries and prefer the personal touch for your clients, a virtual assistant will be able to take care of them for you.

3. Give regular clients plenty of advance warning about your plans
No one expects you to work 365 days per year, but your regular clients will appreciate advance warning if you’re going away, so that they can arrange to have someone cover for you if necessary. If you’re really worried about the impact your absence might have, you may also be able to arrange to do some work in advance for them rather than leave it to a temp.

4. Take the laptop – but only if you must!
Personally, when I go on holiday I like to be able to completely forget about work: as a freelancer, there’s a temptation to work every hour that God sends, and to spend vacations hunched over your laptop. Try to resist this impulse: it’s good to get a complete break every so often, and you’ll come back from it with a renewed energy for your freelance career. That said, this isn’t advice I’ve been able to take myself, so when I leave for Florida tomorrow morning, my laptop will be coming with me!

Do you have any other tips for taking holidays when you’re a freelance writer? Tell me about them!