Freelance Perks: Serious Time Off

Here is what it is like to be a mid-career freelance editor and writer. After building up subject expertise and reliable contacts and great clients, I get to take a month off. Like, a whole month. This month, to be exact.

How I Planned It

In the spring, Mr. KHG and I discussed taking time off. He has a regular job, the kind where you can accrue vacation time. Often that means he works way more than his 40 hours a week (it’s a social justice nonprofit type of gig), so he has accrued as many hours as they will allow. He can take an entire month off.

I looked at my schedule and my little stable of regular clients and said, “Yeah. I think I can do that too.” So I made sure to tell everyone months in advance — early and often — that I would be out of the office for August. All of it.

Being a mid-career freelancer, I have long had the emergency funds built up and ready to deploy if necessary. I have a business savings account, a personal savings account, and a retirement plan. The first years were rough, but as things smoothed out in about year five, I was able to build up these safety nets for myself. That means that now, 13 years after going freelance, I can plan to take a month off.

The Lead-Up

There is a lot of advice in the world for people who are new to freelancing and very little, I’ve found, for people who’ve been doing it a while. This is probably because we’ve made it through the scary years and have figured out how we work and why.

But sometimes, you want to see how someone else did a thing rather than inventing every, single, tiny process for yourself. Taking a month off probably won’t work for people who are just starting, but if you’re a few years in, it probably — surprisingly — will. Here’s how I did it.

  • I blocked off August in my calendar so I wouldn’t schedule a project start date or deadline during my month off.
  • I told everyone, my assigning editors for articles and my book editing clients, that I would be taking August off.
  • I planned all new projects to either end before August 2 (my last day in the office) or begin September 3 (my first day back in the office). I have enough new work coming in after vacation that I know I won’t be broke later in the year.
  • I communicated to all clients that I worked with in July that their deadlines for getting materials to me had to be met. If they didn’t get their manuscript back to me in time, I wouldn’t be able to finish editing it before I left the office. People were very cool with this! I did get one manuscript a day late with a lot of apologies and hopes that it wouldn’t wreck my vacation schedule (it didn’t; I’d built in a schedule buffer).
  • About two weeks in advance, I added a line to my email signature that included the days I would be out.
  • On my last day in the office, I set up a very bare-bones out of office response.

Freelance Freedom

The key here, my mid-career friends who may be reading this, is that no one will forget you after a month off. They’ll hardly notice you’re gone. They know and like your work and can survive with the other freelancers in their contacts list. Or if you’re the only one who can do what you do, by your giving them this much advance notice, your clients can plan around your absence.

A lot of us chose freelancing for the freedom (cue George Michael video). Then we found ourselves working in a near-constant panic in an effort to create a steady-ish income. But eventually that steady-ish income does arrive, and with comes that freedom you wanted in the first place. Don’t forget to use it!