Besides being your own boss, one of the biggest advantages to being a freelancer (versus a full-time employee) is having the ability to make your own schedule. If the gigs you get are remote and don't require you to physically report to an office, there's the added bonus of being able to work from anywhere--or at least anywhere with a strong internet connection.
That's the upside. On the other hand, if you have clients who rely on you for ongoing projects and are used to you being "always on," taking off on an extended vacation (or even a work-cation in a different time zone, or a move abroad) without notice or preparation can do a real number on your business.
At my company, Masthead Media, we have long-term relationships with many incredible freelancers who do an excellent job of keeping our professional relationships and projects chugging even when they're on the road. These are some key strategies I've learned from them for doing the same.
Give plenty of advance notice
Don't wait until the day--or even the week--before your flight to tell your clients about your upcoming trip. After all, just because you're pressing pause or shifting your schedule, doesn't mean your client is.
Instead, loop them in as soon as you know your plans, giving both them and you time to prepare and adjust as needed. "If you plan to take a complete offline break, start the conversation early," says Shannon O'Donnell, a content strategist and travel writer who regularly works with Masthead. "Discussing anything important on their horizon addresses your client's biggest concern: things falling through the cracks.
By planning your time with them, you may be able to front-load work and send important deliverables over before your trip, or simply structure project timelines to perfectly accommodate your offline time.
Present a "Plan B" if you can't complete the work yourself
If you're going to be completely unavailable and unable to handle ongoing assignments, present your client with an alternate solution so they're not left scrambling in your absence.
Some of the star freelancers who work with us on Masthead Media projects negotiate to have a portion of their fee revert to another freelancer who can cover their work. I've even had freelancers recommend and connect me with trustworthy stand-ins, in case I don't already have someone in my network who I know can handle the job.
Don't worry that recommending a person to cover your role will make you replaceable. It actually makes you more invaluable--because you're making the bigger picture and the company your priority.
Embrace compromise when it comes to scheduling
If you are going to be working while traveling, plan a schedule in advance that will let you enjoy your trip and keep your clients happy. "It's imperative to create a smooth transition for clients," O'Donnell says. "I am careful to always see my overseas freelance lifestyle as a gift, and to think ahead about how I can plan my own travel dates and offline time around our existing relationship. That meant that while backpacking across Africa, I agreed to a weekly Monday meeting, and planned my five-day safari to end on Sunday. Careful planning means you can actually often keep your deliverables consistent--your client might not even realize you've left to travel."
Carve out regular time to work
Rather than assume you'll find time to work between activities and excursions, proactively schedule time when you know you'll be able to get to your client deliverables.
"Time zones can often work in your favor when traveling, so use them to your advantage," O'Donnell says. "That may mean you can carve out daily time to work with clients in early mornings or late evenings, and still have entire chunks of the day to explore and be present in your destination."
To figure out what works best, she suggests assessing your current habits--are you a morning person or a night owl?--and then building that schedule into your travels so that you're spending your most productive hours plowing through work, and all the other ones exploring. The key is to communicate with your clients and ensure the schedule you create jives with their schedule and needs.
"I've worked full time while traveling through 60-plus countries and never missed key deadlines because I jump through hoops before and after offline time to keep things running smoothly for [my clients]," O'Donnell says. "It's all about remembering the client doesn't have to hire a remote worker, so it's on you to make juggling travel and work look seamless."