The summer is quickly coming to a close, I hope you were able to take some well earned time off, or that you’ll still be able to squeeze in a vacation. But when you run your own business, especially if you’re a freelance creative, you might find it difficult to take time off. After all, if you shut off your phone and close your laptop, there’s no one else to take over. And if you charge by the hour, taking a day off means no revenue. It can feel like the cost of taking time off is equal to your own hourly rate, on top of the hard costs associated with travel and leisure. But everyone needs to rest. So if you find it hard to take time off, let me make some suggestions to help you free yourself up for a much needed vacation.
Do you find it difficult to relax when you take time off? When you’re away from the studio do you worry about mounting emails, or missing out on opportunities? Does the loss of revenue stress you out? It’s true that it’s harder for an entrepreneur to disengage from work, but if you don’t take a break, in the long run you’re going to burn out.
There are challenges to taking vacations when you’re a solopreneur, but you need to overcome them, because the stresses of business ownership require recharging even more than work a staff job does. And yet, so often, we take less time off to refuel our tanks.
Time off is a necessity, you don’t have to be chained to your desk, just because you’re in business for yourself. But freeing yourself up does require you to manage your business well, so that time off can become a normal part of your year.
The first thing you need, if you’re going to take stress free vacations, is strong profits and cash flow. Strong profits give you the freedom to stop working without obsessing on opportunity costs. They also provide the wherewithal to take really great vacations!
There’s one key managerial metric that must be in place for you to gain the financial freedom you need to take time off. Namely, factoring overhead time, including vacation time, into your utilization rate from the start. When you calculate your target hourly rate you have to account for your downtime. No one works steadily 40 hours a week 52 weeks a year. When you run your projections, to establish your rates and fees, never count on being able to capture more than 60% of all total work hours. Between planned time off, and overhead time for marketing, finances, communication, and other administration tasks, it’s extremely difficult to sustain an average utilization rate of more than 60% over the course of a year.
But if you do set your rates with that limitation in mind, you can build strong profits so that taking time off won’t be such a worry.
That said, it’s not just money that can stress us when we’re trying to relax on vacation. You can have millions in the bank, but that doesn’t change the fact that your clients may need you at a moment’s notice. And they might get peeved if they reach out and don’t hear back for days or weeks.
And so when you plan your vacations send your planned time off schedule to any active clients well in advance. And then send a reminder a few days before. This won’t entirely insulate you from all interruptions, but it will set the stage for a more enjoyable break.
It would be nice to completely leave the phone and laptop behind when you take time off, but that might not be feasible. Personally, I do check my email while on vacation. I prefer that to facing a mountain of emails when I get back. But when, and if, I respond to any emails, I always start with the fact that I’m on vacation, letting them know when I’ll be back in the office—and then I provide a quick answer if possible. But I always keep communications short, something just a bit more personal than an autoresponder.
As a creative entrepreneur you work hard, and you face a lot of stress. You need to take time off. But if you don’t plan your time well, and manage your money properly, you could end up cutting yourself off from the very rest you need most.
Until next week: don’t let the business of creativity overwhelm your creative business.