You became your own boss because you wanted to call your own shots.

One of the big reasons you wanted to call your own shots? TIME FREEDOM! A huge advantage of being your own boss means that nobody is imposing a timetable on you. Your schedule is entirely up to you and you may even have the luxury of choosing where you want to work from. #workfromanywhere

Until you don’t! 😵 Let’s be honest :: you put in WAY MORE HOURS than most of your traditionally-employed friends. That feeling of NO HAVING MUCH SECURITY or safety net plagues you. And when it comes to NON-EXISTENT VACATION TIME, you kinda-sorta-totally envy your corporate counterparts and their two week’s vacation to use whenever they damned well choose.

Here’s a little secret for the self-employed :: you can totally have your own much-needed and well-deserved vacation time.

And before we get into the “how”, I wanna address the big fat “but” that I know is sitting in your mind.
“But, Lanie, if I log off for a whole week, my prospective clients are just going to go ahead and book with someone else who got back to them right away.”

To this, yes, I agree 100%. However, that’s exactly what this post is all about :: show you how to set up the necessary systems to make your people feel like they’re getting the red carpet treatment and keep the sales rolling in for your service-based business. Yes, even if you’re hanging out on a beach that’s so far off the grid that you can actually hear the sigh of relief coming from your smartphone.

NECESSITY #1 :: AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL FOR YOUR INBOX

Auto-responders are great. 👉 For the uninitiated, auto-responders are emails that are set up to automatically respond to anyone who sends you an email. This will usually let them know that you’re out of the office or that they can anticipate 2-4 days before getting a reply. They’re a lot like an answering machine – for the digital age! – explaining that you’re out and when you’ll get back to them.

Since MacGyver is my spirit animal, I’m a big fan of taking existing technology to make it serve my own uses and interests.
In this case, I suggest that instead of using auto-responders to say you’re not available, use them to direct those prospective clients like air traffic control TOWARDS THE SALE. I mean, these people didn’t write you to find out if you’re sitting at your desk, did they? Nope! They wrote to you because they’re interested in what you do and part of your job is to make that as easy for them to do as humanly and professionally possible.

Let’s see how that works.

If you’ve been in business for any length of time, you’re all-too-familiar with the Frequently Asked Questions that people have before they hit the BUY NOW button. Feel free to address those at the hop or – if there are just too many to cover in a single email – you should provide a link to your FAQs page where the most common questions about your services are addressed.

Likewise, make sure to include an option for people to sign up right away. If someone is ready to buy, make that easy for them to do by putting the link for the sale right in front of them. Have you ever been on a website where you want to buy something and they make it difficult for you to complete the purchase by not making their checkout options easy enough to find? Or worse, they make you jump through a bunch of hoops before you can give them your money? Don’t be that person! Just because you aren’t there doesn’t mean you can’t provide a way for your people to pay you.

This begs the question :: “how do you include the sales pitch in a cold email without looking pushy?”
I put together an example of how you can use an auto-responder that isn’t icky or sales-y. Rather, it acts as a welcome mat to people who like you and may be reaching out to hire you.

The template

       Hi there!
I’m currently enjoying some much-deserved beach time with the family – {insert link} to check out my Instagram for splashy updates!
At the time of my departure, I was booking for {insert when your first available appointments would be} and I am still allowing clients to pick up their desired spots during my absence. Availability is first come, first serve. Unless you have secured your spot, I can’t guarantee these earlier spots will still be available when I return. To secure your spot in my queue, you can {insert link} make sure we are confirmed by booking here.
If you have any questions about my services, please {insert link} visit my Frequently Asked Questions. For anything that isn’t addressed here, I will happy to help you when I’m back on {insert return date}.
      Thanks for reaching out and I hope you’re enjoying your summer as much as I am!

See? You can be personable, informative and sell, all at once. The key is to writing an email like this is to be human about it. Make it clear that you value their connection. You may be away, but you’re not leaving them hanging.  You’re a professional, goddamnit, and you act like one. Even when you’re on vacay!

NECESSITY #2 :: ONE WORKFLOW TO RULE THEM ALL

You’ll notice that the above sample auto-responder included a link for people to book with you. Providing an easy booking method is one of the steps towards hiring you to perform a service. When you line all those steps that goes into seeing a service through – from beginning to end – you have what is called a WORKFLOW.

A workflow acts as a kind of checklist for all the items that go into each and every project you perform. Establishing those steps is the first step towards doing yourself the biggest favor any service provider can make. Not only does it save your sanity but you can also save yourself a heckload of time once you automate your workflow (which we will talk about a little later.)

First, let’s look at what a simplified workflow may look like for a photographer ::

CLIENT BOOKS APPOINTMENT 👉 MAKES DEPOSIT 👉 SIGNS CONTRACT 👉 PAYS BALANCE DAY OF SHOOT 👉 ACCESSES GALLERY

Meanwhile, another photographer may prefer to work like this ::

CLIENT FILLS QUESTIONNAIRE 👉 SIGNS CONTRACT 👉 MAKES DEPOSIT 👉 BOOKS APPOINTMENT 👉 HAS SHOOT 👉 ACCESSES GALLERY 👉 PAYS BALANCE

#PROTIP :: There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to workflows and there is no cookie-cutter formula; each workflow is as individual as the service provider it is designed to serve.

However, in order to automate the way you work so that you can keep accepting clients – even if you’re off somewhere sipping on pina coladas! – you have to start by establishing this series of steps that each and every project will go through. Not only will this save you the time it takes to repeatedly do this, but you’ll wonder how you ever managed constantly having to second-guess yourself. Moving forward, every client is getting the same gold-star treatment – without missing a beat – because you set it up that way.

Because you created a workflow designed to roll out the red carpet in the same manner, each and every time.

NECESSITY #3 :: WE HAVE THE TECHNOLOGY

So you’ve settled on a workflow that reflects the way you want to work. Now, it’s time to make that workflow work (hella hard!) for you. With the help of technology, you can set each step up of your workflow to move into the next step, like a set of perfectly lined-up dominoes.

Here’s how it works, using our first photography example ::

📆 The Client books appointment online. 💪 An email is automagically sent to the client with a link to make a deposit. This secures their desired appointment time.
💰The Client makes a deposit. 💪  Another email is sent including the contract to be signed electronically prior to the shoot.
📃 The Client signs the contract. 💪  An email is sent 48 hours prior to the appointment time. This reminds them of their shoot with the required details, such as where to show up, what to bring, etc.
📷 The Client pays in full at the photo shoot. 💪  An email is sent a week later with a link to their photo gallery.

You have to write these emails exactly once – not every time you have a new client but once and only once! – because you will use automations to set-it-and-forget-it. That’s right! After you have all your scripts down, you can walk away from ever having to write these emails again. Walk away like they’re a burning car in a Quentin Tarantino movie – in slow motion, looking fiiiiiine. Now, you’ll never have to write those emails again.

And how are you going to track that?

You have 2 options :: you can use a CRM (aka :: a Client Relationship Manager) or you can use a project management system.
My suggestion? Combine the two by using Airtable to collect data, track “where you’re at” and did I mention it’s free? Lemme show you how I do this ::

NECESSITY #4 :: GET OVER YOURSELF

If you’re feeling like you can’t take a break or that automations will make your business impersonal? The official term for this is “cock-blocking one’s self”.  Realize that this is a self-imposed limitation. Burnt out freelancers aren’t doing anyone any above-and-beyond favors. If we’re being honest, your personality is always the same and how different are your emails from client to client, really? Get out of your own way. Things will still be done exactly the way you would have done it. Only better, faster and more reliably than you ever could.

As far as vacay goes, clients who are told ahead of time aren’t generally offended. All it takes is a “heads up – I’m taking a week off at the end of next month”.

Few people will see this as the big deal you’re imagining it to be. In fact, they’ll appreciate that you were straight-forward about it. They’ll respect that you had this planned and you should probably expect questions about whether you’re doing anything special!

Meanwhile, prospective clients aren’t turned off of your services just because you’re out of the office. Quite to the contrary, someone that’s prepared as a Boy Scout to provide – even when they’re not around! – comes off as being a boss with their freaking act together!

P.S. Your biz doesn’t need you to do everything. In fact, you are likely to be doing a whole lot more than you need to be doing. All YOU have to do is set your business up to handle itself!