One of the main reasons I decided to quit my 9-to-5 job and become a freelancer was so that I could take more time to myself, mainly to travel. Asking for time off from my boss was literally my least favorite thing to do – there was no avoiding it and I felt guilt every time. It always felt like I was taking more time than everyone else and I could just feel their eyes on me every time I left the office prior to a vacation.
Fast-forward a year and I’m taking pretty much all of the time off that I want. What I didn’t realize though was that vacation/free time has a whole new meaning when you’re self-employed.
Time off at my 9-to-5:
2 weeks + 7 sick days
Pre-approved, scheduled dates where I am FREE from all things job-related.
Time off as a freelancer:
Unknown, often un-scheduled time where I may or may not need to take a phone call/email.
Unlike working for the big man, I now can take time off sans approval! With that freedom, however, also comes a bit of responsibility.
Throughout my time freelancing I’ve kept an important business goal: keep your clients happy. I can attribute a lot of my success to my willingness to provide what my clients need. Being self-employed, a happy client often eventually converts to referral business (the best kind of business), which is what has kept me quite busy.
Since I place such an emphasis on pleasing my clients, I’ll admit it’s difficult to take time away from my work. They need me to meet deadlines, take phone calls, answer emails, and project manage; and it all feels like they need it RIGHT NOW! How can I possibly take time away when there is so much to be done to achieve my goal?
It’s SO easy to get sucked into your business and forget why you started it in the first place. If this is a fear of yours, or you find yourself in the same situation, here are a few pointers:
1. Don’t take time off just when you’re slow
Just like life itself, your business will have up’s and down’s, busy times and slow times. My natural instinct going into my freelancing career was to simply wait for a slow time and then give myself time off. Fortunate for me, there wasn’t a slow time in sight for a good few months into my freelancing career. About a month in, it became painstakingly apparent I had forgotten why I had started all of this in the first place; for the freedom to take time off. Slowly, I started to learn to schedule my projects accurately and set boundaries with my clients that allowed for more freedoms. I started to take time off during weekdays to do random things – go to the store at 10:30am and avoid the checkout lines, go for a run at the gym while everyone else is at work, or take a 2 hour lunch break because I felt like it. It was then that I also noticed my quality of work increasing! The happier I was with my work/life balance, the easier it became to produce phenomenal work. So my note of advice is this: take time off consistently each and every week regardless of your workload and schedule your timelines with clients accordingly.
2. Time off doesn’t necessarily mean vacationing
One of the things I love most about freelancing is being able to get out of the office at random times of the day – and without any need for an excuse. For me, I had to use ALL of my vacation time at my 9-to-5 for vacation and left no free days to just take for myself. I regret this now that I’ve experienced life with free time to spend – it’s hard to realize that you need it if you never give yourself the chance.
3. Set boundaries with your clients
As a general rule of thumb, I always try to have my clients schedule calls with me rather than calling me out of the blue. I certainly reserve the right to ignore an un-scheduled call – and you should learn to do the same. Although that may sound a bit harsh, the phone will still be there after your lunch break (and there’s also a thing called voicemail). It’s also fair for you to ask your clients to be up-front about any harsh deadlines. If the deadline seems too soon, tell them! Being honest from the start is much better than missing the deadline in the end.
4. Stick to your calendar
If you’re in the middle of busy season and you’re dying for a vacation, set the dates for one in your calendar a few weeks out. Next, notify all of your current clients. What’s nice is that there’s not much they can say that will stop you from going – you are your own boss now! When a client asks for a deadline during your vacation dates you can then say “no” without hesitation.
5. Take advantage of the weekdays
Another awesome part of freelancing is the ability to beat the weekend crowds. When I find I have a Monday deadline, for example, sometimes I’ll switch my Friday for a Saturday so that I can enjoy a park or hike in the peaceful serenity of a weekday. Nothing’s better than enjoying an area to yourself!
If there’s one thing to take from this all, it’s to make sure you remember why you chose freelancing to begin with – and never forget it!