Nellie Akalp is the CEO of CorpNet.com, an online legal document filing service, where she helps entrepreneurs incorporate or form an LLC for their new businesses. Connect with Nellie on Twitter or visit her free resource center.
Taking time off is critical to refresh and recharge yourself. However, when it comes to vacation time, considerations are quite different for those who are self-employed versus company employees with paid vacation time.
For starters, when you’re self-employed, you’re typically paid based on your productivity. Taking one week off means no pay check. That cost needs to be factored into any vacation budget.
Perhaps more importantly, when you’re running a business of one, there’s no one who can assist your clients and customers while you’re enjoying a well-deserved respite. Many freelancers worry about leaving their clients in the lurch, and then losing clients altogether. If you’re self-employed and dreaming of taking that vacation to the beach, here are a few things to consider.
The Importance of a Vacation
Vacations are one of the world’s best stress busters. In fact, an annual vacation cuts the risk of heart attacks in men by 30% and by 50% in women.
If you’re living in America, chances are you’ll take less vacation than your counterparts in other countries. Most of Europe requires four to five weeks off by law (in addition to extra weeks by agreement with employers), as do Australians and Brazilians, among others. The U.S. is one of the few developed countries that has no federal law mandating employee vacation time. That’s why the Center for Economic and Policy Research dubbed it “No Vacation Nation.”
Consider Some Work
Many freelancers choose to do some level of work while on vacation, particularly when faced with the choice between working a few hours on vacation or no vacation at all. If you work from home or in the cloud, then you can likely bring your work along with you on any trip. However, just because you can take a working vacation doesn’t necessarily mean you should.
You should determine just how grueling the work demands will be. If you’re going to be stuck in an internet cafe all day while everyone is at the beach, that’s hardly a vacation. Likewise, one could also argue that if you’re tied to client emails all day at the beach, that’s not a vacation either. Remember, a critical part of any vacation is leisure and rest. It’s hard to tell the brain to rest when all your tech tools are constantly tempting you to stay in contact.
However, you might be able to strike a healthy balance if you can take care of business matters for an hour in the morning or at night (and put work aside for the rest of the day). Another successful strategy is to tell clients that you’ll be available for limited hours on certain days, and then reserve a few days to be completely offline. Of course, you need to decide if you’d rather have five days off with no contact or ten days of vacation where you put in a little work each day.
Give as Much Advanced Notice as Possible
Everyone is expected to take time off now and then, and any reasonable client shouldn’t bat an eye if you want to take a vacation. The key then is finding a suitable arrangement where your much-needed time off impacts your clients as little as possible. This usually requires thoughtful collaboration and planning well in advance.
If you’d like to be considered a valued member of your client’s team, try to avoid taking vacation during peak times when your involvement is critical. A bad time would be right before a product launch, trade show, or big software release. Again, sharing your vacation plans as early as possible is the best way to ensure a trouble-free time off.
One way to free yourself from the day-to-day demands is to hire a virtual office or freelance assistant to take care of basic tasks like fielding calls from clients. Of course, unless you’ve already built a long-term relationship with an individual, you probably shouldn’t trust them to completely take control of the reins while you’re gone. That said, you should think creatively about how others can help while you’re away.
Deduct the Summer Vacation
Tax breaks are available for those who can combine a little pleasure with their business travel. In short, travel expenses related to your trade or business are deductible. If you’re self-employed they go on your Schedule C.
To deduct any travel expenses, the trip needs to be primarily for business. You can include a few days of “pleasure” in a business trip, but the primary reason for the trip needs to be work. For example, a client meeting or trade conference. In this case, you can deduct any transportation costs (plane tickets, taxis, airport parking, etc.). You can also deduct hotel and meal costs for any of the business days. Refer to IRS Pub 463 for all the details on which expenses can be deducted.
Consider Vacation an Inspiration
Once you stop fretting about what’s happening without you, you’ll be amazed at the impact a vacation can have on your business. Time off can open the flood gates to fresh perspectives and inspiration. For example, while traveling in Mexico, Eric Stumberg hatched the idea for TengoInternet, now the largest wireless Internet provider to campgrounds and RV parks. When you least expect it, you might dream up a brilliant idea, a new way to deal with a troublesome client, or the perfect tagline for your client’s new launch.