Preparing for Maternity Leave (Or any other time off)... When you Freelance

(Cookie break, anyone?)

In just a week, I'll have brought child #5 into the world, and unlike past jobs (where I can just put in my request for sick leave and go), I really struggled with how to plan for time off as a freelancer.  On one hand, it's dependent entirely on when I feel like taking a break (no need for a doctor's note!)  On the other, if I don't work -- I don't get paid!  (So taking off too early will just kill me 30-60 days down the road.)

I've learned some valuable lessons from this experience, however, which have better prepared me for future life events that would warrant me taking weeks of from work (a vacation, maybe?)  Here are the important bits:

  • Have a good mix of A/R types in your client list.  What does this mean?  Essentially, your accounts receivables dictate how long you can go without work.  My major clients pay every 30 days, but pay 60 days after invoice.  I have some steady work that pays me (get this) within 4 days of submitting an invoice, however, and they ALWAYS need pieces.  It's been a perfect balance of stacking up my workflow so that 60 days from now I won't go broke, but also having the option to quickly churn out some work and get paid the same week if the well runs dry at that time.  I highly recommend mixing up your clients in this way, if you have the luxury.
  • Communicate (and then communicate a couple more times.) It never fails.  You send out an email letting clients know that you'll be on leave during a certain time, and they email you with assignments due during that time.  You email them again.  They acknowledge and then see if they can't get one last article from you.  This is one of those problems that many would be lucky to have, but the lesson is to tell everyone at least twice what your availability will be.  (And on that note, availability is not the same as deep, revealing personal info.  No one cares how high your fever is, when you'll expect your lab results to come back, or what time your divorce hearing will take place.)
  • Leave a buffer.  I'm unlike many Moms in that I know approximately when the baby will come (thanks, magical c-section.)  Even if you're not as certain as I can be, you should have a 7 day window of when you'll be taking off for most major life events.  Don't accept work that has to be done with 48 hours of your time off.  It will just cause you to stress about getting everything done, and you'll most likely not turn in your best work.  (Likewise, leave some time at the end of your time off.  I, for one, want to be completely off the Percocet before I start churning out blog posts.)
  • Keep looking for work.   I still spend a significant amount of my work week on networking and applying for bigger, better opportunities.  It's not that I'm not already terribly busy, but let's face it:  If I can snag a $1 per word gig, I'll MAKE the time.  Keep in mind that many job postings for freelancers come with the expectation that, if hired, you'll be able to work right away.  Be sure to communicate your schedule well in advance of accepting any new work, and let them know that you're worth the wait!
It's a bit scary not having paid time off, but if you're charging the right amount for your services, this should be included in your hourly rate.  Whether you've socked away actual cash for your time off, or (like me) just paid all your bills 60 days in advance and left a chunk in the bank, there is a way to ensure that the world won't crumble while your away from your desk.

What are you tips for prepping for time off of your freelance job?


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