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Holidays when self-employed: can you get away with getting away?

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For many people, the summer is the perfect opportunity to get away, recharge the batteries, and enjoy some R&R with friends and family.

But if you're one of the UK's 4.6 million self-employed people, can you really afford to take a break? Or will time away simply lead to you losing regular work?

Can you afford to take a break?

After taking months, even years, to build up a good reputation and solid client base, stepping away from the coal face can be tough. Plus, there's the added fear that for medium or longer-term projects, by taking a break you are seen as unreliable and short-changing the person you have spent ages winning over.

But by far the biggest issue is finance. For most freelancers, if you don't work, you don't get paid. Taking a holiday also risks taking you out of the marketplace temporarily, so you also lose out on future commissions.

For that reason, it's no surprise that a UK-based study shows one in four freelance workers take no annual holiday at all. Of those who do, 45% take their work with them.

Why should I take a break?

While there are many benefits to being a freelancer, most also work more than full-time employees. A recent report showed 40% of UK freelancers working more than the average 41 hours a week, while 15% put in more than 51 hours.

Taking a holiday isn't for everyone. Some are quite happy working 52 weeks a year. That's fine - you're a freelancer, you can do what you want.

But equally, the health benefits of a well-planned break are numerous - lower blood pressure, improved sleep, refresh the mind, reduce stress. The getaway may even give you a chance to reflect on your career and time to dream up a new avenue of work.

Am I entitled to "paid for" holiday?

The legal interpretation of the UK Working Time Regulations is a little woolly. But just because you're a freelance or contract worker does not mean that you do not qualify for paid holiday.

Some people, especially on longer-term contracts, are legally allowed to at least ask. Most would rather not for fear of rocking the boat - or worse, losing business.

For those on good working terms with a longstanding client, there's no reason why you shouldn't mention it. You may be surprised at the outcome. The simple way round any potential conflict is to ask about holiday before you sign the deal.

"I want to take a holiday, but just don't know how"

So after weeks of mulling it over you've finally decided to book that fortnight away from it all. But you just can't tear yourself away from the desk. Here are some tips to make it easier.

Make time

When you're freelance it's very easy to say "yes" to everything for fear of losing out. But, to get a break, you need to make time for it. Block out the days in your diary like you would do for an important contract.

Plan ahead

Just because you're a free agent does not mean you can't plan ahead like any other employee. If you have a long-standing client, then try and get their work done in advance. If you have any important meetings, move them to either side of your break. For those with an online presence, maybe schedule blogs and social media posts so you don't lose visibility.

Do the maths

Most freelancers do not have the luxury of a set monthly income. So if you know you want to take a break, maybe put some money aside regularly to pay for it. Or take on extra work either side of the holiday to ensure you are not caught short.

Don't just disappear

It may seem obvious, but an out of office message on your phone and email is vital. Maybe say you'll have limited access to emails rather than telling the world you are on holiday. For key contacts or clients, don't be afraid of letting them know in advance you are taking a break - they will appreciate the heads up, especially if they can't get hold of you in an emergency.

For those with deeper pockets, a virtual assistant can field phone calls and emails while you're away. If you can't afford this then maybe ask a friend (and return the favour when they go away).

Outsource

You're due to head to the airport tomorrow and a well paid urgent job comes in from a client. Rather than stressing about taking it on yourself, call a friend to see if they can help you out. That way you don't let anyone down - plus, you may get some return business out of it.

Take the work with you

It's not ideal but sometimes you just can't shrug the "w" word. If you really must work while away then plan for it. For instance, a quick 30 minutes every morning before breakfast to answer important emails means you can focus on enjoying yourself for the rest of the day.

Don't feel guilty

After all that time and effort, it would be a shame to get stressed on your holiday. Remember it's a time to recharge your batteries. Don't worry about what you may have left at home. After all, everyone who works hard deserves a break.

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Ross Bramble
Content Executive
Updated on
October 8, 2020

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