Karen Haywood Queen is a freelance tech journalist. Karen has suffered two detached retinas, the first in 2006 and the second in 2018. Both required at least one major operation.
When Karen discovered something was wrong the second time, she was finishing a huge, twice-a-year project for an agency. Her eyesight in one eye had begun to deteriorate.
Karen stated, "I emailed my agency contact and informed her of the incident." "I delegated the back-and-forth revisions and final proofreading to her." Her agency partners were "extremely understanding" in this scenario, but she admits she might have been in a worse situation if the project hadn't been so close to completion.
Karen's situation exemplifies a typical problem. As freelancers, we normally work alone. As humans, we all get sick. But it sometimes feels as if we aren't allowed to.
After some years of freelancing, I've learned that we are allowed sick days, and clients will understand if you manage the matter professionally. If they don't, it might be time to reconsider your relationship.
Include a safety net.
Kelly K. James is a ghostwriter, content producer, and author of Six-Figure Freelancing: The Writer's Guide to Increasing Income. She has been a freelancer for 22 years and continues to do so part-time, although working full-time as a copywriter.
She said, "I rarely inform clients when I'm sick. As a freelancer, I feel like I have complete control over my time." The purpose of the lifestyle, she pointed out, is the flexibility. She could attend her children's school festivities without having to justify the time off when she was a full-time freelancer.
However, problems do develop. When James has no choice but to request a deadline extension, she "proactively informs the editor," according to James. She said that as soon as freelancers discover they need to push a project due to illness, they should provide their clients a realistic timeline for deliverables—with a couple of extra days built-in as a buffer.
There's no need to discuss health information with consumers, according to James, unless it's an emergency. "I don't think your editor or client needs to know unless it's going to prevent you from turning in your work on time or completing specific tasks," she added.
In general, if it appears like you'll have to abandon a project totally, offer your clients alternatives, such as recommending them to another freelancer in your network who could be interested in the task. Create an emergency folder with all of your clients' contact information as well as vital log-in details in case you need to delegate a job.
If you know you'll be absent, be proactive.
A novelist, freelance writer, and writing instructor for physicians, Jack El-Hai, recalls a period when he needed hip joint replacement surgery. He was able to plan his calendar around the procedure because he was informed four months in advance. He was working on two commissioned publications at the time. Both were intended for first-time customers.
"I was able to explain my surgery to the groups that commissioned the books, and we revised the manufacturing schedule," he stated. "They were not just understanding but also caring. When I was recovering, they contacted me and inquired about my well-being."
El-Hai stated the hardest thing to turn down was an invitation to speak at a huge book festival, despite having to reject down short-term employment on multiple articles. He wasn't sure he'd be able to make it from the parking lot to the top level on foot. "It's better to be careful than not cautious," he remarked. "I felt a lot better about declining it straight immediately and not having to worry about it."
Choose clientele who value your time and well-being.
Not all illnesses, of course, are predictable. COVID-19, the flu, and mental health issues can strike without warning, and freelancers may have no choice but to send out an out-of-office notice at the last minute. Remember that your health is more important than any task in this situation.
It was nerve-wracking for Haywood Queen at first to notify her client about the eye surgery because the project accounted for a significant portion of her annual salary. Instead of panicking, she took a business approach to the situation and began prioritizing right away.
"My goal was to complete as many of [my] responsibilities as possible while ignoring the rest," she explained. "I understood, for example, that others could help me find photos for my pieces. But I was the only one who could finish the last few paragraphs of a piece in which I conducted the interviews."
Haywood Queen prepared a list of important action measures to assist other freelancers who find themselves in similar situations:
1. Finish the portions of the project that only you can perform before passing it off to the client, if at all possible.
2. Inform important stakeholders as soon as possible, and let them know which tasks you won't be able to do.
3. Keep your clients up to date on your recovery.
4. Consider enlisting the help of a third party, such as a copyeditor or proofreader, until you're back to 100 percent. Be open and honest with your clients about the additional support you're getting.
5. Clients that are understanding of the circumstance should be thanked.
6. Don't go back to work until you're ready.
While these situations might be difficult, they can also reveal a client's true colors, which can help you decide which ones are worth keeping.
"Some clients were really understanding and asked/cared about my well-being when I had my second eye surgery; others weren't," she stated. "At the moment, it stung, but it also motivated me to seek out better clients."