Before I boarded my flight to Germany for my three-week vacation, I heard the same question over and over: “How can you take off work if you are the only person running your business?”
OK, to be honest, I never completely take time off. I always have my iPhone with me, and this time, I even splurged on Verizon’s ridiculously expensive overseas data plan ($25 for every 100 MB!). That way, I was able to check my emails and ensure that I didn’t miss any important inquiries from existing or potential clients. However, I limited the time I devoted to work to checking my emails once in the morning and once again before bed. Anything pressing got answered right away, the rest either got deleted, filed, or marked with a star for follow-up upon my return to the US. I also kept up with my duties as social media editor for the Colorado Translators Association, but limited myself to maintaining our social media accounts (thanks to HootSuite‘s scheduling option, this only required about half an hour every night) and writing one blog article for CTA’s website. All in all, I spent about an hour a day on work-related matters, which was enough to put my type A personality at ease but not so much that it interfered with my vacation.
Of course, for a German/English translator, annual visits to the Land of Sweet Chocolate could be considered as “work” in and of themselves. After all, you have to immerse yourself in the language you translate in order to stay up to date with current developments. (On this trip, for example, I learned that the word “Pfosten” (post/pole) has become a slang term along the lines of “moron” – at least in our neck of the woods of Upper-Palatinate.) Language is a living thing, and in order to master its nuances, you need to live and breathe it regularly. Technically, you could say I was working the whole time I was in Germany, but luckily, it didn’t feel that way.
At times like this, I love my job as a freelance translator. Being able to schedule your own vacation days is undoubtedly one of the greatest perks of being your own boss. As long as you are able to meet your income goals and keep your clients happy, you are free to take as many days off as you want. Back in my days as a reporter for the Omaha World-Herald, I was lucky to get 2 weeks of vacation every year. I envied my husband, who was serving in the USAF at the time, for his 4 weeks of annual leave. These days, we can enjoy our time off together, as the only limitation to my vacation time is my own work ethic.
Thorough preparation is key
To prepare for my absence, I started about a month before I left, making sure I would have no translation deadlines falling into my vacation time and not accepting any new projects I couldn’t complete before hopping on the plane. I notified my clients of my limited availability about a week ahead of time, telling them they would still be able to reach me via email in case of an emergency. Luckily, I don’t have a lot of clients who depend on me right now, as I am purposely keeping my work load low this year in order to focus on continuing education, networking, marketing and growing my translation business.
My clients have been very understanding, and except for one email exchange about an upcoming project and a few requests for quotes, I was able to enjoy my time in Germany without work interruptions. Granted, I will have to make up for my time off now that I am back in Colorado, but I can do so at my own pace. After working as a freelancer for seven years, I wouldn’t give up this flexibility for an employee position if you paid me!
A few more tips if you plan on taking time off from your job as a solopreneur:
1. Set an out-of-office notification for your email, even if you will be checking your messages frequently. You never know what fun outing might keep you from your computer for a long time, so don’t make your (potential) clients wait and wonder.
2. Refer clients to a trusted colleague for urgent translation needs.
3. Take time off when other’s don’t – if everyone is going on vacation around the Fourth of July, consider taking your vacation early in June. That way, clients won’t have such a hard time trying to find someone who can fill in for you during your absence.
4. Schedule a time to keep up with work-related matters if you must, and stick to it – hold yourself accountable or ask someone else (a family member) to do it for you.
5. Set your availability status online if you are a member of online communities such as ProZ.com. Some translation agencies with online platforms allow translators to make a note of their availability in their accounts, others might use calendars on Google Drive. Make sure your availability is always up to date.
6. Enjoy your well-deserved break!