As a solopreneur, one of the things I struggle with most is taking time off.
Unlike when I was on someone else’s payroll, now when I’m not actively on the job, there’s no one there to pick up the slack. There’s also no money coming in.
For instance, I just moved. Not across town either, but 1,500 miles to an entirely new state. Though I would’ve loved to take the entire time off, I tried to juggle work with packing and moving. Fortunately, I was able to get everything done. But there was a fair bit of stress involved because, even when I didn’t have a pressing deadline, I worried that a new project would soon come in and I’d have more to juggle.
Plus, with every hour that I spent working on the move, that was one less hour I spent earning money. Now, not only did I have all of the expenses associated with a move—the utility start-up costs, getting new driver’s licenses and vehicle tabs, etc.—but less money was coming in to cover them. Ugh.
Time off extends beyond these types of situations too. And while some solopreneurs boast that they never take time off, that they work every day of their life, I don’t want to be that kind of person. When I have a big event, a doctor’s appointment, or just need a day to unwind, I want to be able to take that time off without guilt, and without regret.
Admittedly, this was extremely hard for me at the beginning, when I first started out as a freelance writer. Now I do find it a bit easier, and here are some tips that I use that may help you find taking some time away from work a little easier too.
Factor Days Off Into Your Pricing Model
No, I’m not suggesting that you charge clients for times when you didn’t actually work. However, when creating your pricing model, take into consideration how many days (and hours) you want to work per year. Use that to calculate your price per job so you can take time off guilt-free.
For example, if your goal is to make $100k per year, yet you also want to take two one-week vacations annually, you know you only have 50 weeks to make that kind of income. Don’t forget to also factor in holidays you want off, time off for your kid’s school events, sick days, doctor’s appointments, and anything else you may need to take care of during your typical work day.
Some of these you can make up for by starting your work day earlier or ending it later if need be. Others will be half or full days off, requiring that you calculate them when coming up with the number of days you have to work per year to earn the type of money you want to make.
Let’s say, after adding all of these up, you determine that you’ll have to take approximately four weeks off, on average. That gives you 48 weeks to make $100k, which means that you must earn roughly $2,083 per week that you work. Break this down into days and it is just under $350 per day for a six day work week.
Think about this when pricing your jobs. Based on the amount of time it takes you to do what it is you do, how can you charge in a way that helps support your days off? Of course, you still have to be competitive within your field, but this is a good starting point.
Schedule In Advance
Have you ever called for a service, only to learn that the technician was off and couldn’t come to your home for quite a few days? This can be maddening. It’s also a good way to lose loyal customers.
That’s why, if you plan to take time off, you should always communicate this with your clients well in advance (when you can). For instance, I send my clients emails 4 to 6 weeks before taking a week or more off. I also typically remind them of the time I will be unavailable as it draws near.
This gives them enough time to think about what they may need while I’m off, enabling me to complete the work sooner and reduce any interruptions on their side. It also allows me to enjoy my off time, complete in the knowledge that I didn’t hurt my relationships with my clients by not being immediately available.
What do you do if your time off wasn’t pre-planned? Like when you suddenly get sick or some other type of emergency occurs?
Give Your Jobs Some Breathing Room
The one thing I do that helps me in situations where I didn’t plan on taking the time off is that I give my jobs some breathing room. What I mean by this is that I always allow myself some wiggle room when telling my clients how long I need to get a certain project back to them. This offers a couple of benefits.
First, because my schedule isn’t super tight, I can move things around if I need to should something come up in my schedule. Second, because I don’t run across many emergencies that require me to take time off, I usually wind up under-promising and over-delivering.
This tends to make my clients very happy. Also, in the unlikely event that I do run into a major issue that could compromise my ability to hit my deadline, my clients are a bit more understanding because they know that it isn’t my norm.
For example, if I know that I can complete a job in 1-2 days, I allow for 3-4. It’s also not uncommon for me to tell clients that I can get a piece back to them “early next week.” That way, even if I have it on my calendar to take care of Monday, if something comes up and I can’t get to it until Tuesday, I’ve still delivered my work on time.
Just Accept It
Finally, if you’re going to run a one-person business, you simply need to accept that taking unpaid days off comes with the territory.
Sure, you could always hire someone to do things for you while away, but if you’re like me (a bit of a control freak and untrusting that someone else would do things the way you want them done), you’d rather not.
This means understanding that there are going to be times when, like it or not, you’re not going to be able to work. Let it be what it is and move on. It will be okay in the end.