Written by Tom Ewer on 31 March 2014
Working as a freelance web designer has many benefits over working in-house on a salaried position: flexible working hours, freedom to take on jobs you enjoy, and the ability to set your own rates. Unfortunately, freelancing also has its downsides. One of the biggest disadvantages to working as a freelancer is that you only get paid for the hours you spend working. This can come to quite a shock to anyone used to the sick pay and holiday pay that comes with working for a company.
It's important to take breaks from work to recharge your batteries and avoid burnout. It's all too easy when you're working for yourself to fall into the trap of working long hours with no day off. This may seem like the best way to maximize your earnings but you could be heading for a disaster if you neglect your physical and mental health to try and make more money.
If you do regular client work you'll find it even harder to take more than a day or two off work. There's nobody to fill in for you, like there would be in a studio situation, and you don't want to risk losing clients.
So how can freelancers plan for that much-needed holiday without losing their clients and ending up in the poor house?
It's not only freelancers who suffer from the effects of insufficient planning. The Christmas season is notorious for being expensive. After buying presents, food and alcohol and extra spending on nights out, the average person will spend several times what they would in a normal month. Sadly this results in a lot of people getting into unnecessary debt. Christmas comes as a surprise to nobody -- we all have 12 months to spread out the cost and yet very few people think to plan ahead in this way. The same principle applies to your freelance business.
It's important to plan your holiday away from work with plenty of time to prepare. This allows you to both give ample warning to your clients and to organise your work so that you can get more projects done over the course of several months, to give yourself a buffer.
If you're planning a two week holiday, you'll need to add two weeks' worth of work on top of your normal workload in the months prior to going away if you don't want to be out of pocket. The longer you allow yourself to plan for this, the less painful it will be.
Most clients are reasonable people and don't expect their freelancers to work 365 days a year but if you disappear without giving them notice, you'll make things difficult for them and risk your business relationship. Make sure you tell your clients that you're taking a holiday with plenty of time in advance so they can either help you to get ahead on your projects or arrange cover for while you're away.
Nobody wants to be chained to their laptop while on holiday (which defeats the point of taking a break in the first place) but it can be very reassuring for clients to know you're available in an emergency.
Rather than ignoring work completely, it's wise to continue checking your emails and provide a contact number so that your clients can contact you if they need to.
In some cases, especially if you have a lot of small regular jobs, it may be less hassle to simply work for a day or two per week while you're away. If you're planning a long holiday or you're likely to get stressed about work piling up while you're gone, this can be a good way to keep your business ticking over while still getting in some decent rest and recreation.
Another effective solution is to have a list of contacts who you can outsource work to when you're ill or planning a holiday. This allows you to continue your normal workload (albeit without pay or at a much reduced rate) even when you're away for an extended period.
If you choose this method it's important to spend some time before you go away finding other freelancers who can work to your standards and don't have too many other commitments. Cheap outsourcing to third world countries is probably not the best solution here if you don't want to risk losing your clients.
Freelancer forums and groups on social networks are a great place for finding contacts and sharing workload with each other when needed.
One caveat: make sure you get approval from your clients before outsourcing any work. They probably won't be too happy if they find out someone else is doing your work if you haven't discussed it first.
Enjoy Your Holiday
If you've planned appropriately and given your clients good notice of your break, there's no reason they should have a problem with you taking some time of work. Remember that some clients just like to be awkward, so be firm but fair if they're trying to twist your arm into working while you're on holiday.
After a decent break you'll return to work feeling refreshed and rejuvenated, ready to get back to work with added enthusiasm and productivity. Enjoy your time away without guilt -- you've earned it!