How to prepare your freelance business for an extended leave

One of the benefits that draw so many people to freelancing is the ability to work when you want.

Freelancers have complete control of their schedules — which means you also have autonomy over how and when you take a leave. 

When you don’t have the benefits of PTO, you’re in charge of setting yourself and your business up for success for an extended leave, parental leave, or an unexpected break from work. 

If you’re considering pressing pause on work this year, here are a few ways to prepare your freelance business for an extended leave.

Plan (and communicate) early

Life happens and sometimes your extended leave is the result of an unexpected situation. But if you’re taking a planned leave, it’s never too early to plan and communicate the details with anyone it may affect. 

First, plan how long your leave will be. The standard parental leave in the US is around 12 weeks, for example. You can use this as a baseline if it’s helpful, or choose a duration that makes the most sense for your leave. 

Then, make a list of everyone you need to notify. This includes your clients and anyone else you work with on a regular basis like subcontractors and teammates. Let them know when you’re taking your leave and what they can expect as far as your work responsibilities (more on that below). The earlier you communicate your plans, the easier it will be for everyone to prepare.

Make a game plan

Next, decide how you’re going to approach work during your leave. Are you going to completely put your business on pause, or do you want it to continue running while you’re away? Your approach depends on the type of work you do and may even be different for each of your clients. 

If you work on a project basis, you can choose not to take on any new clients or bookings leading up to and throughout your leave. Or, perhaps you work with retainer clients. If you contribute deliverables on a regular basis, let’s say as a social media manager, then you have a few options. You can A) create and schedule enough content to cover your leave ahead of time, or B) hand over the responsibilities to a subcontractor or another freelancer. Or, you can simply pause client work completely (in which case your clients can choose to wait for you or find someone else themselves). 

The approach you take is entirely up to you. Either way, give yourself enough time to communicate your plan, connect with fellow freelancers if necessary, or get your work done ahead of your leave.

Review your finances

Financial anxiety is a very real thing for freelancers. Add to that the fact that you don’t get PTO, and taking an extended leave may feel out of reach. 

But with enough planning, you can take a leave and still make sure you and your business are taken care of even if you aren’t working. 

As you’re preparing for your extended leave, review your finances and get honest with yourself. Consider these questions: 

  • How much money do I need to feel comfortable during my leave?
  • Do I have enough set aside in my savings to cover expenses?
  • How many more projects do I need to take on to get my savings where I want it to be?

If you want to bring in more revenue while you’re away, you could set up a passive income generator before you head out on leave. For example, some website designers design website templates that they sell on their websites. Digital products are a great way to generate revenue for your business while you’re away, whether you’re a designer, strategist, or consultant. All you have to do is set aside time to create products ahead of time. Creating a passive income channel is a great option to consider if you want to pad your income a bit while you’re on leave and give yourself a little more security.

Automate your business

To make your return from leave as seamless and stress-free as possible, set up processes that help your business run seamlessly while you’re away. 

This can include scheduling invoices, making automated payments for monthly expenses or bills, scheduling promotional social media posts or newsletters, and setting up automated emails in response to new client inquiries. 

By taking the time to automate everything before you leave, you can maintain a presence for your business and reduce the catch-up items on your to-do list when you return — which your future self will thank you for.

Use your return as an opportunity to hit refresh

Taking an extended break can help you gain clarity on what you do and don’t want out of your freelance business (and life). If there are things you want to change, use your leave as an opportunity to “rebuild your business” as freelance writer Kat Boogaard framed it in her newsletter for freelancers.

Boogaard shared that when she returned from her maternity leave, she took a look at her business to see how she could improve it. This included auditing her clients to decide who she wanted to continue working with, reviewing her current systems, and getting rid of things that no longer worked for her. 

This is an especially smart idea if your leave is the result of extreme burnout. Spending time away from your business is crucial for your mental health. It can also help you assess the areas in your business that need to change in order to prevent burnout going forward, such as better boundaries, fewer working hours, or bringing on more support.

Considering taking a leave?