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  • San Chima

How to plan a sabbatical: the self-employed professional

Updated: Nov 5, 2023

This second part of my series on taking a sabbatical looks at the 5 steps the self-employed professional needs to take when planning their sabbatical. The needs of the self-employed professional differ substantially from an employed professional. They also differ from other types of self-employed individuals looking for extended absence, which I discuss in part 3 of this series.

Taking a sabbatical when self-employed: the professional

1. Why?

Before you get carried away with the thought of kicking back in the Seychelles with drink in hand, think about why you are considering a sabbatical.

Usually there are several reasons motivating you, but you need to be clear on these.

Typically you’ll need to think of this in terms of three core reasons: how it benefits you personally; how it will benefit you professionally; and how it will benefit your business.

Typical reasons will include things such as: a better work-life balance; an opportunity to recharge; thinking about taking the business in a new direction or gaining perspective; a chance to pursue a passion; or, an opportunity to develop new skills.

It is vital to be certain of your reasons why. When you are stuck in complex planning then your reasons why will motivate and encourage.

2. Practicalities and timing

As a professional, there will be certain times of year and certain times in the business cycle, when an extended absence will have less impact.

If you are an accountant, avoid Year End. If you’re a lawyer then avoid case culminations. If you have one or two main clients, when are crucial times of year for them?

Also think about the practicalities of maintaining your professional standing. Most notably, if you are required to complete CPD as part of your professional membership, how will you ensure this is done?

3. Money, money, money

Many employers now offer paid sabbaticals. Not only is this not an option when you are self-employed, you will likely have to burden the costs of ensuring your business continues in your absence and the running costs.

Therefore, well in advance of when you hope to take the sabbatical, think about the financial reality. Do some sums, add in some contingency, and bring some harsh reality to the idea.

You can then budget accordingly.

4. Plan and then plan some more

With a clear idea of why, when and money, you can now plan.

Consider clear dates to start and return. Then consider how the professional services you provide will be covered in the meantime. You may need to speak to a competitor about taking on some clients in the short term, or bring in cover. You may also need to realise that absolute time off isn’t realistic or practical. Will there be times when you will check-in with clients and the business? Have a clear plan.

Then work your actual sabbatical plans around this. Be confident that your plans are clear and watertight.

5. Your clients

Finally it’s time to speak to your clients. With clear plans, cover and contingencies in place, it should be possible to navigate this in a way in which you can keep clients.

Demonstrate clearly how you have approached this with their likely concerns in mind. Don’t focus on how this benefits you, but how the impact of it will be minimal on them. Give them as much notice as possible.

Follow up with your clients in writing. This should include clear processes for what they should do if they need your professional services whilst you are away. It is also a good idea to pre-book a meeting with them for your return.

Sabbaticals are invaluable and can help you to develop as a professional and as an individual. However, they can be difficult to plan as a self-employed professional. Through transformational coaching, I enable professionals to benefit from a sabbatical without hindering their professional standing.

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