One of the upsides of working a “regular 9-5” is the paid time off (PTO) you accumulate. When freelancer’s make the jump to full-time self-employment, they sometimes forget to factor in saving money to take time off.
Everyone Needs Time Off
No matter how much you love your work, eventually everyone needs time off and a weekend does not always do the job. You might need time off to recover from being sick, go out of town for a friends wedding, or just a break in general. You may not know why you’ll want or need some time off work. One thing is for sure, at some point, you will need to take time off. Do not be a workaholic trying to prove you can do everything.
Given that freelancers typically have control over their schedules, planning the time is not the biggest problem. The problem is that as a freelancer if you are not working you are not getting paid. In my previous 9-5 job I earned one paid day off for each pay period (every two weeks). Moving to full-time freelancing I’ve made the conscious decision to set up a PTO fund.
How to Build a PTO Fund
To determine how much you want to set aside each month as paid time off, you need to determine how much each day of work is worth. You likely have a set amount of how much you strive to earn each day. Use that number to determine how many days you have saved when looking at your PTO fund.
Since most new jobs start with two weeks of PTO, personally, I’ve decided to set aside just over one day’s worth of income into my PTO account each month. I set aside that money the same way I set aside money for taxes, expenses, and my salary. Making the ability to take time off has to be a priority. It’s not healthy to work non-stop.
Having a PTO Plan
Having the money set aside to take time off is only one part that freelancers have to think about when taking a break. They also need a system set in place so that their business is not neglected in their absence. Having a plan is especially necessary when needing to take time off because you are sick. Just as teachers have a default lesson plan for substitutes, freelancers need a plan they can fall back on.
Depending on your business what your time off system includes could vary. Though most freelancers should at least include an autoresponder for email. Beyond that, you might have a virtual assistant that can temporarily take on more work in your absence. If you regularly receive calls from clients a new voicemail explaining the reason you are not answering and when they can expect a callback. Setting that expectation will go a long way to keeping clients and customers happy.
No matter what the reason is that you are taking time off, you must set expectations for yourself and your clients. Be sure to include what will or will not be accomplished while you are away. If they submit a new request when you are gone, make sure they can get an answer on when you’ll be back and able to respond fully.
Finally, if you are going to take time off, actually take time off. Be assured that your system means a client is receiving a timely response informing them of your absence. Don’t spend your time off constantly checking emails and worrying. Turn off email notifications if you must. Just make sure to enjoy the time off, you scheduled it for a reason.