It Will Happen to You

“That will never happen to me.”

Have you ever heard another freelancer say those words? Have you said them yourself?

Over the years, I’ve heard other freelancers use those words to describe situations ranging from family emergencies, to getting too busy, to getting sick, to missing a deadline. Regrettably, I’ve also heard some of those same freelancers take back words when the very thing that they never planned for happens.

It’s no secret that I’m a big advocate of having a Plan B (and maybe even a Plan C) for dealing with common setbacks.

The odds of lightening striking you are pretty slim. From what I’ve read, fewer than 500 people are injured by lightening each year in the U.S. It does happen, though. I once hired an attorney who actually had been struck by lightening.

Other setbacks are much more likely to happen. The truth is that no one is immune from life’s troubles. The very thing that you think will never happen to you may also be the thing that puts you out of business if you’re not ready for it.

In this post, I’ll share ten common problems that most freelancers eventually face and talk about how to deal with each of them.

10 Problems Freelancers Face

Here are ten problems that many freelancers face, although few like to think about them.

  1. Family emergency. Nobody wants to think about this, but family emergencies can happen to freelancers just like they happen to everyone else. However, unlike many other jobs, freelancing does not provide you with paid personal time to handle family emergencies. Make sure that you know at least one top-notch freelancer who could pinch hit for you if you needed them to. Also, make a draft of a note you would send to a client if you had to.
  2. Illness. Getting sick is no fun. Not only do you feel bad physically, but as freelancer illness can mean loss of income and added expense of medical bills. Don’t ever take your health for granted. Make sure that you have an insurance policy. Believe me, the expense of health insurance is well worth it when you need to use it. There are also some other practical steps that you can take when you are sick.
  3. Work slowdown. No matter how busy you are, a work slowdown is always a possibility. Everyone knows that freelancing work has its peaks and valleys. There some real truth behind the famous freelancing Feast or Famine cycle. Make things easier by saving for the slow periods and keeping up with your marketing when you are busy.
  4. Unhappy client. No matter how great a freelancer you are or how much you like your clients, sooner or later you may find yourself facing an unhappy client. Fortunately, an unhappy client doesn’t always mean that it’s time to cut ties with them. Many client/freelancer disagreements can be worked out. If you find yourself dealing with an unhappy client, try these seven steps.
  5. Payment issues. One of the biggest frustrations freelancers face is getting paid in a timely fashion. Sadly, payment issues are fairly common for freelancer. One of the first steps you can take to prevent payment problems is preventative. Make sure that you have a contract in place that clearly outlines your terms. Here’s a complete list of steps you can take to encourage prompt payment. If worst comes to worst, you may have to turn to a collections agency.
  6. You’re bored with your work or become burnt out. Let’s face it, over the years you change. Something that you once loved you no longer find to be so enjoyable. It’s unfortunate, but it’s often a fact of life. If this happens to you, there’s some good news–you’re a freelancer. You’re not stuck in a dead end job. You can change your niche and rebrand yourself.
  7. You make a mistake or miss a deadline. No matter how careful you are, you may one day find that you’ve made a mistake and it’s your fault. What’s a freelancer to do in such a situation? I think the best thing to do in such a situation is to ‘fess up and try to make things right for your client. As a freelancer you’ve got to protect your reputation.
  8. You can’t get along with a client or colleague. Let’s face it, your clients may pay you, but that doesn’t mean that they’re all easy to get along with. In fact, the truth is that your clients may be quite difficult to get along with, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to fire them. Do everything you can to make them happy customers. Firing a client can be a last resort after you’ve exhausted all other options.
  9. Your equipment breaks or becomes outdated. The tools you use to work with are very important. Outdated tools can cause you to spend additional time on a project and ultimately cost you money. Set aside a small amount of money each month to upgrade your equipment. (Note: this should NOT be the same money as your emergency fund.)
  10. A client disappears. Sadly, some clients don’t refuse to pay–they just go away. The best way to deal with this problem is to take preventative measures. Your clients are careful to pick a freelancer that they can trust. You need to be careful to pick a client that you can trust.

Your Turn

Have I missed any unforeseen circumstances that are likely to happen to a freelancer? How do you handle problems like these?

Share your answers in the comments.

Image by SK-y Photography


  1. says

    One I’d like to add is the pressure from family and friends to “stop playing around on your computer” especially during the holiday season. Freelance work tends to take even more of your time than a regular 9 to 5 job and we can’t afford to walk away from it for days at a stretch. Unfortunately, family members often don’t see it that way. They only see that you’re at home and constantly available.

  2. says

    Hi Chantel–That IS a common freelancing problem. Sometimes it can be helpful to think a few things up front to say to friends and family. I actually wrote a tongue-in-cheek post with some answers (

    Hi Gold, Well, I guess the Grim Reaper could affect your freelancing business if your client died before the project was complete or before you got paid. I’ve never had this happen in ten years of freelancing, but I suppose it is possible. That’s why have a contract can help. I suppose if your client died you could join the other creditors and petition the estate for your money. Another way, might be if someone you loved passed on and you wanted to take time off.

  3. says

    Laura, I had 5 of the 10 points you made happen this year alone. The most difficult one was #10 — the client didn’t disappear, but they suddenly changed the ground rules and I realized I needed to move on.

    Turns out that #10 did me a big favor as I was able to get new work almost immediately and set aside some cash just in case a crisis were to hit.

  4. says

    Great article (as usual!), Laura!

    I’ve already had to deal with a few of the “unfortunate events” on your list. Ugh. And, you’re right–I, and every other freelancer out there, will have to deal with the rest sooner or later.

    It’s good to be prepared!

  5. Jason says

    #6 You’re bored with your work or become burnt out.

    Anyone have any tips to overcome this issue apart from finding a niche (which can actually take some time to shift to)? I’ve already changed my niche and it’s helped with some things but not energy.

    I’ve tried exercising to increase energy but it’s not working, I’m not out of shape at all, infact I’ve put on a good amount of muscle but I still lack energy. I’ve changed diet and get more sleep. I’ve tried giving up coffee… and drinking more coffee. I’m healthy and I can summon energy for short periods but… then focus becomes the issue.

    Anyone have any tips for getting more engery? I feel like I’ved tried it all.

  6. says

    Here’s one that happened to me: burglary. I got my laptop stolen. That’s why it’s important to back up your work. I use Dropbox so I can access my files anywhere.

    Another one is fire or flood. A fellow freelancer had her house flooded when a nearby river burst its banks. She was office-less for weeks. But luckily, Regus is one of her clients so she had a ready-and-waiting place to go and work from. Begs the question: where would you work if your home got flooded or burnt?

  7. says

    Lauren–I’m sorry for your unfortunate events, but yes, it’s best to be prepared.

    Jason, Sometimes it just means you need a break, or it could mean it’s time to shift your niche.

    Carole–Yikes! I hope you had insurance.

  8. says

    It’s tough living in the US as far as health is concerned. Where I am from (Costa Rica) it’s free of charge.

    I think this is the way it should be. Health is health, it should be free.

  9. says

    Laura – These things happen! Any day that I survive them to tell the tale, I consider a “win.” ;)

    Jason – If you’ve been to doctors and no physical problems have been discovered to make you feel so tired, you might want to look into your mental health. Depression can make you feel tired for “no reason.” Or, if it’s come on just since the Winter months, you may want to consider Seasonal Affective Disorder. Linda Formichelli, The Renegade Writer, has SAD and describes what it’s like pretty well in many of her articles (in particular her interview with Julie Fast, author of Get It Done When You’re Depressed). You might also want to get a Glucose Tolerance Test done to see if you’re Hypoglycemic (that’s what’s wrong with me, personally). Hypoglycemia can mimic MANY mental disorders (most prominently Depression and Bi-Polar Disorder) and can cause those “tired for no reason” feelings. Best of luck and I hope you feel better soon!!

  10. says

    I thought this post is about something good that will happen to freelancers in 2012.. But, it makes perfect sense though. Even solo/entrepreneurs are facing these problems and you may not want to think of the bad stuff, but it helps to have some recovery plan…just in case. If I were to add one more on top of this list, it’s the item you’ll see in the force majeure clause of your contract – like acts of god, war, and so on.. But hey, it’s the holidays, so may everyone be blessed with all things great. Happy Holidays and more success in 2012!

  11. says

    Great list, Laura, and practical tips. I love the drafting of a note – so simple, but I never thought of it.

    It probably has to do with my age (as most things do) :-), but family emergencies are something that is all too familiar as loved ones age.

    And clients leave – even the good ones – new management comes in – they cut budgets, whatever. Bur, my philosophy on life has always been everything happens for a reason. You may not know what it is at the time, but it will work out – especially with a contingency plan. Great post, Laura. Happy holidays!

  12. says

    Hi Marco, Bad health can definitely cause problems for a freelancer.

    Shaleen Shah–I actually did write out some predictions for freelancers in 2012, but this post was not it. :) Not sure when the predictions post will be published.

    Cathy Miller, I thank that it’s a stereotype that these things mostly happen as you get older. The truth is that family emergencies can happen to us at any age. I like your philosophy that it will all work out, because usually it does. That’s a great thing to remember while you are in the midst of one of these situations.

  13. says

    I wasn’t attempting to perpetuate a myth that family emergencies happen only as you get older. I have way too many family and other examples to prove that wrong.

    For myself, however, I like to think as I get older, I understand better that it can happen and probably will, so it’s a good idea to have that contingency plan.

  14. says

    Thanks Cathy–I knew that you weren’t trying to deliberately perpetuate the myth. I just didn’t want to think that emergencies were always linked to age. :)

    You’re definitely right that as we get older (and have experienced some of these emergencies), we are more likely to prepare for the next one.

  15. says

    Great post, Laura! I went through Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, and he’s a big proponent of having an emergency fund for those “unforeseeable” situations which are bound to happen. I think it’s even more important for a freelancer. My husband and I have been working to save up a 3-6 month emergency fund—it sounds like a lot, but we had one before that is gone because of (you guessed it) an unforeseeable situation.

  16. says

    I’m a big advocate of setting up an emergency fund—I went through Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University and that was one of his major points. Emergencies will happen. Cars will break down. You could lose major clients. My husband and I saved up 3-6 month’s worth, and it came in very handy as we ended up needing all of it for unexpected emergencies. Great article, Laura!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>