Freelancing During an Illness

Freelancing Through IllnessThe problem with freelancing is that we don’t have paid sick days! When we get sick, we risk missing deadlines, having unhappy clients or even losing income altogether.

As a number of us joked on Twitter, we freelance writers have to keep writing, even from our graves.

We’re only human… which means illness and death are inevitable.

What’s a freelancer to do?

How to Cope with an Illness

When we get sick, it’s a big inconvenience. We resent it and wish the illness would just go away.

However, when you’re sick, you have to realize that getting well is your number one priority. This means you need to take time off to:

  • Rest–An illness is your body’s way of saying it needs to slow down. Listen to your body.
  • Get medical attention–You’ll get well much more quickly if you know what’s causing your symptoms and what treatments are right for it.
  • Recover and regain your strength–Even if you’re getting the right treatments, you’ll need time to recover from your illness and get your strength and energy back.

That said, you still have deadlines to meet and clients to take care of. Get these deadlines out of your way first, or you won’t be able to rest effectively.

Some Options When You Become Sick

If you become sick, try following these steps:

  1. Review your deadlines and make a worst-case scenario. If you absolutely cannot do any work for three to five days, which deadlines will you miss?
  2. Identify which of your deadlines can be moved without detrimental effects to your clients’ businesses. Call or email your clients to explain your situation and request a deadline extension. Give a specific and realistic date for when you think you will be able to complete the project. Make this a conservative estimate. It’s better to pleasantly surprise your client by finishing the project earlier than you promised, than to request another extension.
  3. Identify which of your deadlines are non-negotiable, and make arrangements to get the job done. Contact your client, explain the situation, and tell him or her how the deadline will be met in spite of your illness.

In you’re faced with a non-negotiable deadline, you have two options. You can either get the project completed under your supervision, or you can hand it off completely to somebody else.

Your first option is to sub-contract with another freelancer to complete the project for you. You need to find somebody you can trust to get the job done within the deadline and with the quality that’s comparable to your work. Remember, though, that you will still need to supervise the work.

Therefore, this option is for you if you’re not too sick to give instructions, and go over your sub-contractor’s work.

If you’re very ill, the second option is probably better for you. In this option, you refund your client’s deposit and point him in the direction of another freelancer who can complete the project within the deadline. You can even give your client a number of service providers to choose from.

This is the least desirable option for both you and your client. It means your client will have to go through the recruitment process all over again, and select a new person to work with.

However, under some circumstances, this may be the only possible solution.

Guiding Principles

However you choose to cope with your illness, keep these guiding principles in mind. These principles will keep the work and income disruption to a minimum, while giving you time to take care of your physical needs.

  • Client communication is key. Your clients don’t like surprises. Keep your clients informed of your condition and the status of their projects–especially if your illness will mean delays. Most of the time, they won’t mind extending your deadlines, as long as you give them ample warning so they can adjust their own expectations and time tables.
  • Put yourself in your client’s shoes. Look at the situation from your client’s perspective. While they don’t want to be slave drivers and force you to work while you’re ill, they have their own deadlines as well. Don’t expect them to move deadlines for you. Find ways to protect their investment of time and money in the project when they chose to work with you, and minimize their own losses because of your illness.
  • Shift your priorities. Getting sick means you have to shift your priorities. Previously, you probably always put your clients first–which could be why you got ill in the first place. Now, you have to put the focus on yourself, but without dropping the ball on your obligations.
  • When you are feeling under the weather, don’t ignore your symptoms. Sometimes an illness gets worse if it isn’t treated properly and promptly. Take the time to get a proper diagnosis, so you can get the correct treatment and get back on track as quickly as possible.

    Take care of your clients’ needs and then focus on getting well.

    Be Prepared

    You no longer have paid sick days or co-workers who can cover for you at a moment’s notice when you’re sick. However, you can be prepared for emergencies. Here’s how:

  • When estimating project deadlines, give yourself plenty of breathing space that will cushion the impact of delays, whether they’re caused by illness, family emergencies, natural disasters or other unexpected disruptions.
  • Have an emergency fund for times when you won’t be able to work. Set aside even as little as 10% of your monthly income, and you’ll soon have a good buffer when your income dips for whatever reason. This way, you can pay yourself during your sick days.
  • Network and keep a list of back-up service providers who can take on overflow work, or emergency work when you’re incapacitated. You never know when you’ll be unable to meet deadlines, so make sure you know enough freelancers whom you trust to take over temporarily during emergencies.
  • Take care of yourself! The best thing is to avoid getting sick altogether. Get enough rest, eat healthy, and exercise regularly.

How About You?

Have you ever gotten too ill to work before? How did you cope?

Image by rocknroll_guitar