When you work for someone else, you know that things will continue moving right along even if you take some time off of work.
Even small business owners with a full staff can take time off and leave one of their employees temporarily in charge. When you’re self-employed, however, things are a little different. Most of the time there will be no one around to do the work except for you, meaning that there’s no one that you can delegate responsibility to. So how are you supposed to take a vacation?
It’s possible to take some time off when you’re self-employed, it just takes a little bit of planning. Fortunately, that’s one of the big benefits of self-employment … you have the control to plan out your vacation time without having to get it cleared by anyone in advance.
Start Planning Early
Because you can’t just hand over the reigns to someone else, you need to make sure that you plan your vacation well in advance.
This foresight will ensure that you aren’t swamped with work when the time for vacation rolls around. If you operate in an industry where the amount of available work can vary significantly throughout the year, planning early can also help you know how much to put aside during the work-heavy times to fund your vacation.
Aim for Your Low Period
Even if you have fairly consistent amounts of work throughout the year, some parts of the year may be a bit slower than others.
You probably already know when your “low” period is, and that’s the ideal time to schedule your vacation. Because workloads are lower then anyway, you won’t miss out on nearly as much work as you would during a “high” period. Taking a vacation during this time can also let you come back refreshed and ready to tackle things as work amounts improve.
Give Advanced Notice
As the time for your vacation approaches, let your clients or customers know that you’ll be unavailable during that time.
Reassure them that you’ll get any work that would be due during that time done in advance, and start warning them early enough that none of your assignments are likely to come due while you’re away. Give notice the month before your vacation, and a reminder the month of. Once orders start coming in for the month of the vacation, delivery dates should be shifted as needed to allow for the time you’ll be away. Schedule due dates before your vacation as much as possible, since that will let you get away without having deadlines looming as soon as you come back.
Plan for Catching Up
Add two or three days to your vacation time off when scheduling appointments, due dates and other matters that need to be taken care of when you get back.
This doesn’t mean that you should stay a few extra days, of course; this time will allow you to catch up on any emails you missed and give you a window to get back in the swing of things. If you get done with all of your catch-up material early then you can always use the extra time to get ahead on some of your work. Just don’t try to dive into the thick of things the day you get back or it won’t end well.
Hire an Assistant
Most of the time, setting up auto-responders for your email, changing your voicemail message and giving plenty of advanced notice should be enough to keep things in a holding pattern while you’re on vacation.
If you worry that you might miss something that’s important, though, you can temporarily hire a virtual assistant to check email and field calls. It will be another expense, but it will help to put your mind at ease while you’re away from work.
Actually Take a Vacation
One trap that the self-employed often fall into is taking work with them on vacation.
It may be so they can claim their travel expenses as a work-related deduction or justified by saying that it’s only a “little bit” of work, but it can still undo the positive benefits of going on vacation. As much as possible you should unplug and leave work behind you, as it will still be there when you get back. You don’t get much vacation time when you’re self-employed, so it’s important that you make it count.