I just got back from a wonderful 3 week vacation in Europe (photos). It was a much needed break, but it took a lot of planning upfront to ensure my freelance business could quickly pick up when I got back. Here’s some quick tips from my experience:
- Before your trip, give yourself a few weeks or a month in which you don’t take on any new work. This will give you the time to appropriately wind down existing work, even if it was supposed to be finished earlier (there’s always last minute requests). I only took on two new projects at the beginning of May, although they were pretty large ones. Even though I could have squeezed in a few smaller projects, I didn’t want to push it. My last week of work was hard, working from 8am-10pm finishing up the projects (Dans Hamptons and Eat Life Whole), but they came out great and I didn’t have to work on them while traveling.
- Use a CRM (TwentyTen CRM or Salesforce) and have your contact form connect to it. You should be doing this already, but coming back to 50 emails from prospective clients is unmanageable. Get everything in your CRM so you can work your way through it when you get back. I’ll be posting a tutorial soon on having a contact form update TwentyTen CRM, but here’s a quick summary.
- Make sure your contact form mentions that you’re on vacation, so they don’t expect an immediate response. Also update your voicemail. In my voicemail I said I’d be out of the country and wouldn’t be back until the end of June, and asked them to please use the contact form on my site or email me. When I got back I only had 2 voicemails that weren’t already in my CRM.
- Check in periodically to filter your email. I did about every 5 days. For projects that weren’t a good fit I sent a list of recommended developers, and those that were I reiterated that I’ll be back at the end of June and will get back to them as soon as possible. In my CRM I closed the ones I forwarded away and marked the ones I didn’t as “after trip followup”. I also added prospects that just emailed me to the CMS (30% of my inquiries come from email, 60% from email form, and 10% from phone).
- Give people a fuzzy date of when you’ll be back. I said “end of June” instead of June 21 so that I’m in control of my schedule when I get back. If everyone knows the date you’ll get back, you’ll get flooded with emails and phone calls that day.
- When you do get back, give yourself a few days to a week to catch up. I landed on a Tuesday but my first official day back in the office was the following Monday. During those extra days I went through my CRM and followed up with everyone, scheduling phone calls throughout the following week.
- Only let meetings and phone calls take up half your day when you get back. I scheduled phone calls from 8am to noon for the first few days I’m back. I was then able to work during the afternoon. During my “extra” days before I got back to work I was able to land a few small projects to do this week. This will keep me feeling productive because after a full day of phone calls I feel drained and unaccomplished. I love working, not talking about working, so I’m organizing my calendar accordingly.
And because of TwentyTen CRM I was able to keep it all organized and (relatively) stress-free.