How to Survive the Holidays and Prepare for 2017 as a Freelance Writer

December 7, 2016 Erin Ollila

freelance writer

You became a freelance writer so you could take off whatever time you wanted whenever you wanted to. Gone are the days of putting in a request to use your hard-earned vacation time just to have it sit in your manager’s inbox while you wait to book a hotel and flight to see your family on the other side of the country for the holidays, only to have the travel deal disappear while you respectfully wait for updates. Well, I’m sure there are other reasons you became a freelancer, but planning your own schedule has to be one of the big ones, right?

The holiday season is here and in full swing. Snow is falling, people are traveling, egg nog is being consumed by the gallons (not by me), and families are singling out the writers in their lives to try to convince them to take a “real” job over holiday dinners. And us freelancers? We’re just trying to survive it all. Between dashing from store to store in an attempt to nab the best deals, to attending your child’s middle-of-the-day chorus concert (which the school only told you about two days beforehand), to trying to complete the 15 extra assignments you agreed to finish ahead of schedule so you can take a much-needed holiday vacation, let’s just say you’re feeling overwhelmed. In fact, it’s starting to appear that instead of relaxing with your toes in the sand and a margarita in your hand, you’ll be staring at a computer screen in your hotel room drinking faucet water. Cheers!

Is this a scenario you’re all too familiar with? According to Project: Time Off, “the inability to take time off has become one of America’s greatest work culture failings,” and this sentiment is especially true for freelancers. When you’re self-employed, you’re always hustling between completing your client work or pitching and marketing yourself to potential clients. When you try to schedule some downtime into the mix, it can get downright overwhelming. Freelance writer Tara Bosler agreed: “As a work-from-home mom, I feel like I’m always working—and I am—so taking a vacation from work is extremely important to me. When I’m not getting paid for that time off, it’s hard to commit to going off the grid for downtime.”

woman in the snow

No matter how hard it is to take time away from work, it’s important you do so. As Dr. Eric Schadt, senior author of a recent study on the benefits of taking vacation, said, “On a relaxing vacation, you allow your body to get out of that defensive posture, reduce your levels of stress, which in turn affects the state of cells that are involved in your immune system.” Need any more reason to take vacation? Just remind yourself that you’re body is begging you to.

Managing Time Off with Your Clients

Great! You’ve decided to take time off. Now you need to tell your clients. Before you begin to stress about how you’ll approach them, know this: your clients want you to take time off when you need it. Of course they consider you an integral part of their success, but they also know that for you to be at your prime, you need to practice some self-care.

The best thing you can do for your clients is give them advanced notice of your holiday downtime. Be honest with how much you’re taking. Just because you’re working on a contract basis as a freelance writer, doesn’t mean anyone will act like Ebenezer Scrooge and expect you to work the holidays. Plus, they’re likely taking time off themselves. Bosler said, “The great thing about my business is that I work almost 100 percent with other mompreneurs, which means we all plan to take off around the same time, like holidays. So I think a big-picture goal is to work with people who have a similar idea of time structure/schedule.”

While most of your clients are happy to see you unwind at year’s end, some may turn out to be less-than easygoing about your holiday hours. If this happens, set clear boundaries. Decide whether you can be on call for emergencies only, parcel out a few hours in the week to be available for contact, or if you’ll stick to your guns and go unplugged.

Surviving the holidays really happens when you outsource any emergency work. One of the smartest tools a freelance writer can have is a working relationship with another freelancer writer in his/her field. Reach out to your network to see if anyone can cover for you in your time off, and let your clients know you can connect them with another writer if you can’t meet their needs.

After you’ve informed your clients that you’ll be taking time away, let them know how you plan on keeping their business on track even if you’re not around. The key to doing this is working ahead. “Frontloading October and November are great ways to schedule time off, but also backloading January. Build that vacation time in by letting any clients know that you can either work on their stuff before December 22, or it will go on the January calendar,” says Bosler. Also, “I have about 80/20 clients…80 percent of my clients want their stuff yesterday and 20 percent are not in a rush. So I schedule those clients out a little further, but always make sure to invoice them for half upfront to keep their spot on the calendar.”

There’s one more thing you should do before vacation starts. Put up an autoresponder message on your email and change your voicemail. This step is so often forgotten by professionals, but as a freelancer, it’s even more important to stay in contact with current and potential clients, even if it’s a computer system letting them know your availability and when they can expect to hear back from you.

She Works Hard for the Money / So Hard for It, Honey

The toughest part of taking a vacation is not getting paid for it. So, don’t let that happen! Work ahead to get your holiday-season writing complete before your vacation starts. Procrastination will get you nowhere—other than a packed suitcase and an empty wallet—so it’s time to hustle. The easiest way to do it is asking your clients if you can get your December (or even January) content written early. Then, type, type, type those pretty little fingers until it’s done!

But that’s not it. I’m going to add a task to your to-do list. Before you hop on a plane, sail away on a cruise, or hit the open road, now is the perfect time to employ some marketing strategies to benefit you in 2017. Send cards to your current and previous clients thanking them for the opportunity to work with them this year. My choice would be Happy New Year cards, as you don’t know always know what holidays your clients celebrate.

woman in a city pillow fight

Do you have passive income channels built into your business plan? If you offer an eBook or course, it’s time to market it and do so heavily. Schedule social media posts in advance, send newsletters galore; basically, upgrade your communications strategy so it works hard for you while you’re out of the office.

You’ll also want to plan your autoresponder to work as your virtual assistant. Before relying on passively income while away, think about what questions potential buyers normally ask. This means you’ll likely need to include links to your FAQ page, refund policy, and also your shop so they can actually purchase. Also, use a tool like Calendly to allow prospects to schedule an appointment with you on their own schedule. You’ll be the one in control of available dates and times, so you won’t have to worry that someone is proposing a time to which you can’t commit.

Finally, always have a savings buffer for your life. Yes, planning for retirement and having emergency savings is so important, but once you’ve built those, it’s also smart to put money aside from your irregular payments toward life experiences. $60 one month, $100 another, and the random $5s and $10s you find in your pockets or purse add up over time. This money can be used to pay for excursions on your vacation, or it can be treated as a backup fund if your overall earnings for the month is lower than you expected. If you’re going away in December, you might not notice the dip in income until January or even February, depending on your payment terms, and the lack of work billed will be felt hard at that time. A buffer helps cushion this monetary blow.

Happy holidays, fellow writers. Whether you’re traveling this season or spending your time snuggled at home with your dog, I hope the end of the year is kind to you, and 2017 is the most prosperous and educational year of your business.

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