15 Tips to Keep Your Freelance Business Going While on Vacation

on-vacationVacations represent all that’s good and bad about being a freelancer. On the one hand, you’re free to go away whenever you like, without asking the permission of a reluctant boss or desperately trying to squeeze a short break into the few days left of your allowance. On the other hand, you’re never completely free of your professional responsibilities, even when you’re on the other side of the world.

To avoid the risk of freelance burnout, it’s vital that you get away from it all on a regular basis. While some people advocate simply switching off your computer and ridding your mind of all work-related thoughts while you’re away, I vehemently disagree with this. As a freelancer, you need to maintain an air of professionalism at all times and suddenly disappearing for a fortnight is not the best way to gain the trust and respect of your clients.

Doing some work while you’re away is important, but you mustn’t lose sight of why you went on holiday in the first place: for a proper break (in case you’ve forgotten already). Follow the 15 tips below to keep your career ticking while on vacation, simultaneously maximizing your free time and making your trip a little bit more relaxing.


Planning

Planning is an important part of preparing your freelancing business for vacation. Here are some planning tips:

  1. Work in Advance–For a freelancer, going on vacation is doubly expensive. Not only do you have to fork out on flights, accommodation and spending money like everybody else, you have to account for the money you’re not making while you’re away. If you want to maintain a steady income, spread extra work out over the weeks prior to your departure.
  2. Choose Your Dates Carefully–An obvious one, but very important nonetheless–make sure you book your vacation for a time when you have relatively little work to do. If you have seasonal downtime in your industry, identifying the best time for a vacation is easy. If you don’t, try and line up your trip to coincide with the completion of several big projects.
  3. Inform All Clients–There’s no use just sticking an Out of Office auto-reply into your email the night before you go away. An auto-reply is essential, sure, but you need to inform your clients well in advance of your departure. Important clients should be informed personally–don’t be scared, they’ll understand. Make sure they know that you’re contactable in an emergency. A short message should be added to your email signature, months before you leave, to inform everybody else.
  4. Prepare Email Responses–Whether or not you intend to work while on vacation, you need to be sure that you still have jobs coming in while you’re away, to do on your return. To save time, you should prepare some canned responses for any potential new clients that might get in touch. Something like–I’m traveling until the 25th December, but I’d love to take a closer look at this on my return, please send over all the details and I’ll contact you as soon as I get back--would be suitable.
  5. Outsource–If you really can’t fit all the work you need to do into the weeks prior to your vacation, consider outsourcing it to a trusted colleague. You might lose money in the short-term, but they’re bound to send work your way when they go on holiday themselves. Furthermore, it’s better to take on work offered by a client and give it somebody else you trust than it is to turn it down. Turn a client away once and you might never hear from them again.

What to Take With You

Packing is as important as planning. Here are some tips on what to pack:

  1. Smart phone–Haven’t got a smart phone? Get one–they offer numerous benefits to the traveling freelancer. You can check/send emails on the sly without your partner noticing; you can handle small tasks without breaking out the big guns (by which I mean a laptop); you can access your diary or calendar; and, crucially, you can watch videos and listen to music on the plane!
  2. Laptop–Your smart phone should be up to most professional tasks while you’re away, depending on your industry, but it’s a good idea to bring a laptop too, with a suitably strong case to protect it from all the inevitable bumps and scrapes. If all goes well, you really shouldn’t have to use it at all, but it’s worth having with you, just in case of emergencies.
  3. 3G USB Dongle–If you want to stay in the loop while you’re away, you’re going to need an internet connection. A 3G USB dongle guarantees (pretty much) that you’ll always be able to access the internet, wherever you are, and it doesn’t take up much room in your suitcase. Roaming charges can be very expensive, however, so make sure you check these before you leave.
  4. USB Flash Drive–Any work that you do while you’re away must be backed up. Your laptop could be lost, stolen or damaged at any time, while a USB stick, carefully attached to your keys, should (in theory) be easier to keep hold of. If you’re worried about security, there are a number of flash drives that can be encrypted and/or password protected. Backing up your work onto the cloud, if you can, is also a good idea.
  5. Passwords–If you’re forgetful like me, make sure you’ve got all the necessary passwords you might need with you when you go on vacation. There’s nothing worse than suddenly remembering that you’ve changed your email password and it’s written on a scrap piece of paper floating around somewhere at home. If you don’t like the idea of writing your passwords out on paper, there are a number of useful apps that will keep your passwords safe. Mitto, a browser-based app, is a very good one.

What You Need When You Get There

You’ve arrived at your destination, what should you do now? Here are some more tips:

  1. Wireless Internet Access–As mentioned earlier, a USB dongle can provide internet access wherever you are, but it can be expensive and the signal is often patchy at best. To make sure you don’t spend half of your holiday in some run-down internet cafe, try to book a hotel with free wireless internet access. Not only will you be able to check your emails etc, you’ll be able to access maps, restaurant reviews and everything else you need for an amazing vacation.
  2. Power supply–When traveling in the western world, access to a power supply is rarely an issue, although packing a spare battery for your phone and laptop, as well as suitable adaptors, is recommended. If you’re going on a more adventurous trip, however, finding somewhere to plug in your electronics can be much trickier. What much of the developing world lacks in electricity, it makes up for in sunlight. Solar powered battery chargers are widely available in travel shops and can be a real lifesaver.
  3. Mobile Phone Coverage–Most of the communication we need to make while on vacation can be handled through a laptop, these days. If you’re not emailing, Skype is often the answer. Some people, however, simply must be accessible by phone at all times, and for these people, checking phone coverage in your holiday destination before you set off, is an absolute must.
  4. Time Management Skills–To make sure that you get the most from your vacation, you need to manage your time efficiently. If there’s a professional task that you need to perform regularly, do it at the same time each day, or each alternate day, so that you can maximize relaxation and fun. Don’t stop to check your emails whenever you get a bit of free time–you’re on holiday, you should have lots of free time, that’s the point! Check them every second day (maximum) and at a regular hour. It’s also a good idea to create a later folder for any non-urgent messages.
  5. A Strong Will–You’re not going on vacation to work, you’re going to relax, have fun and spend time with your loved ones. A constant preoccupation with your laptop or phone will not only ruin the holiday for you, it will ruin it for your partner, children, or whoever you’ve gone away with. As a freelancer, you’re used to working as much as possible, but to feel the full effect of your vacation and be completely refreshed on your return, you need to work as little as possible, preferably no more than half an hour every couple of days. For this, you’ll need a strong will and determination, but it’s well worth it.

What About You?

Are you taking a vacation this year? How do you plan to prepare?

Image by chiacomo

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Comments

  1. says

    These are good tips for when you do want to work on your vacation/time off. However, I think I have to disagree with the idea of having to be on call even on vacation. I do it sometimes, but it really needs to depend on what you are trying to achieve with your time off and the frequency of which you do it. For example, I tag along with my wife when she goes on work trips. She’s working, so I work as well. On our free time we get to take in the location that we are visiting. However, if we’re on a true vacation, one that we’ve worked hard to plan and save up for, then I’m going to leave work at home and not take it with me. Freelancers need to learn that it is still ok to get away from it all, and it’s an important way to prevent burn-out. Also, I think it trains your clients to think you are available whenever, which I don’t think is a reasonable expectation to set, after all you are only one person. With proper planning (and following your tips in the Planning section) you should be able to truly get away from it all. I’ve done it, and had to work my butt off leading up to my time off, but it’s all worth it. I really don’t think it’s unprofessional to take a vacation. And working on your vacation might please your clients, but what about the people you should value more, i.e. your family?

  2. says

    I agree with Carlos completely. During my first year freelancing, I spent half of my first vacation hunched over my laptop at a nearby coffee shop, mainly doing busy work to keep me from feeling guilty for being on vacation. In the 5 years since, I’ve learned it’s very rarely necessary to interrupt a well-planned vacation. Check email from your phone if you like, but leave the computer at home. When you get back, you’ll be relaxed, refreshed and better equipped to take on any “emergencies” that may have popped up while you were gone.

  3. says

    Carlos and Shariff have it right, mostly. I am for the unplugging both electronically and mentally from your business every once in a while. I don’t think this really hurts you nor does it push away clients, as they do the same thing on their vacations. Unplugging is hard to do after you have stopped working for the day, at least it is for me. I still want to check my email every five minutes, or think of one more design I could spin up. Most 9 to 5 ‘ers don’t worry with this, and so I don’t have a problem leaving my laptop, blackberry, and worries behind when I head to Destin this summer (oil spill providing).

  4. says

    Vacations are a MUST if you are a freelancer, period. Don’t put off getting away from work and taking a break, because it is a much needed thing to do!

    If you plan accordingly, you can take care of whatever work needs to be finished up before vacation.

    Obviously, while on vacation it is a good idea to check in on things, but only address MAJOR issues if needed. Your clients will fully understand it when you take a much needed vacation, just give them a heads up in advance!

  5. says

    Being a freelancer has helped me spend more time with my out-of-state family because I could pack up work and take it with me. I’ve done that on most of my visits and it was worth it because the few hours I spent working meant I cold travel too see them more often.

    However, I strongly believe that taking an unplugged vacation is necessary. It can help on so many levels. I always come back from a vacation refreshed and full of new ideas. This June, I’ll be away for 10 days, no phone and no email. All my clients know this already and have been completely supportive. One did ask if we could finish a project prior to the vacation, but not one person has complained. I don’t feel guilty.

  6. says

    Very good suggestions for freelnacers going on holidays for sure, thank you for sharing. We will be heading out of the country this September for a weeks vacation and I was starting to wonder what I would do with my business on those dates.

    These are good tips and ones I will work with while I am away from the office.

  7. says

    I’m going to Europe for the whole month of July to visit my relatives, so I’ll try and take a full week completely off. Otherwise, as I’m staying at my parents, I’ll be able to work on my laptop as usual.
    But I agree with Carlos, if I want to go trekking in Bolivia, or sailing round Cape Horn, I probably won’t bring my laptop, it’d be pretty useless anyway :)

  8. says

    yaa.. thats gr8,. I agree with Carlos 100%, Iam going to Saudi next week for 15 days or more. But I love to hate work in vacation time..lol. I probably follow some tips..haha

    Thanks Dear Carlos,
    Kareem Shaikh

  9. says

    I’ve never seen the use of a 3G USB Dongle, as with most smart phones you can tether than to a laptop and make the most of the 3G network that way.

    Having said that, when I freelance while away I tend try and get ahead of work before hand and inform clients I will be away, so they can expect slow response times.

  10. says

    I am currently working from my 6 month long vacation in the USA. Our friends invited us to stay with them in NY and for 2 Europeans, this was the chance of a lifetime. I have to agree with the tips you provide, since I am using most of them to still earn some bucks for all the spending here. Good article, as usual.

  11. says

    Great article, and another +1 for Carlos’ comment.

    Once you get past the first 12 hours of shakes and tremors after turning off your smart phone, real R&R is the best thing a freelancer can do for him/herself.

    Replenish thyself creatively!

  12. says

    I think these are excellent tips for if you’re planning on attending an out-of-town conference or event or plan on just decreasing your workload while on vacation.

    Finding that balance between being available for emergencies and soley taking time off is tough, but I think the beginning of your article definitely hit some helpful key points.

    Thanks!

  13. says

    Baby, you’ve hit the nail on the head. Just got back from 3 wks in Isla Mujeres where I did just that…all you need is a computer and an decent internet connection. Don’t even need a phone…I used Skype and Gtalk and was able to easily manage my outsourcers. Great article. Right on concept.

  14. says

    What’s the point in going on vacation if you’re doing the things you outlined here? This doesn’t make sense at all! Isn’t it simply swapping your office for a hotel room in a tropical country? Seems like rubbish to me. I always notify my clients that I’m going for a 2-week vacation and *IN CASE OF EMERGENCY* have them contacting me. Regards.

  15. says

    When I go on vacation, I let my clients know that I won’t be available at all. In fact, most of my clients don’t have my cell phone number for that specific reason. It’s not that I don’t want to help them, but as a freelancer working from home, I HAVE to be able to get completely away from work every once in a while.

    That said, I rarely take a vacation that is more than 4 business days. Maybe if I were gone longer, I’d reconsider that rule.

  16. says

    Good post.. if you are a traveling businessman/woman or traveling freelancer.

    My advice for those who want to go on a REAL vacation:

    I got 2 college interns to work with me for 3 months ahead of time (builds trust). When vacation day came, they were able to do their jobs and handle all accounts for 1 month with no headaches. All my clients were happy and had no problems.

    AND….

    When I went on vacation, I was able to do my job: be happy and worry free during my trip.

    Definition of a Vacation according to dictionary.com:

    1. a period of suspension of work, study, or other activity, usually used for rest, recreation, or travel; recess or holiday: Schoolchildren are on vacation now.

    2. a part of the year, regularly set aside, when normal activities of law courts, legislatures, etc., are suspended.

    3. freedom or release from duty, business, or activity.

    4. an act or instance of vacating.

  17. says

    I think the most important thing to consider is communication, If I’m going to be away on holiday i inform my freelance clients well in advance. I try to plan my holidays so that they do not clash with important projects deadlines or site launches.

    Thanks for the tips, very useful.

  18. says

    You don’t have to stop all operational processes while you’re at work! Just as Tom mentioned, the smartphone has been extremely useful while on the road. One of the things I don’t want to do is stop money from coming in. If my customers email or call me and ask for a quote, or if they agree to a contract, I want to send them the quote/invoice right away! I usually do this with the mobile version of Billing Boss (http://www.billingboss.com).

    Billing Boss is a free online invoicing tool which allows me to currently create unlimited invoices for unlimited customers. With their add-on option, customers can pay me immediately when I email them the invoice. I can use my existing merchant account while others invoicing software forces me to set up a new account with them – so i save money. These are some features that others tools don’t offer, and I’ve found them super useful.

    Now, whether I want to be working while I’m on vacation – that’s a different matter. =)

    Full Disclosure: This author has been compensated by Sage. I am their Social Media Consultant but I was using their product well before they contracted me. They found me when I sent them an email praising them about their product!

  19. says

    OMG! This article is really helpful because I’m go out of town for vacation on the second week of july after my birthday and I didnt know what else I need to bring on my vacation. Because I dont want my clients think that Im on vacation because vacation is like you have to pause the business because ur not available and clients calls, emails, text messages and IM messages are really unavoidable…so i still have to work but this time.. I will consume only 30% of the total time that i usually work.Cool!

Trackbacks

  1. [...] A Strong Will–You’re not going on vacation to work, you’re going to relax, have fun and spend time with your loved ones. A constant preoccupation with your laptop or phone will not only ruin the holiday for you, it will ruin it for your partner, children, or whoever you’ve gone away with. As a freelancer, you’re used to working as much as possible, but to feel the full effect of your vacation and be completely refreshed on your return, you need to work as little as possible, preferably no more than half an hour every couple of days. For this, you’ll need a strong will and determination, but it’s well worth it. via freelancefolder.com [...]

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