Flu-lancing: How to Prepare for Medical Emergencies as a Freelancer

Flu-lancing: How to Prepare for Medical Emergencies as a Freelancer

By Erin Griggs


Full disclosure: I had this blog post about freelancing and unexpected medical emergencies drafted a few weeks ago, based upon an experience I had earlier this spring…and then I broke my left wrist the very next week.

So the advice I am giving you has been truly put to the test and reinforces the main thrust of this article:

(1) Be prepared for unforeseen circumstances

(2) The show must go on when you are a freelancer

Upon discovering on May 27th that I had indeed broken my arm on the evening of May 26th and not merely sprained it, I immediately knew that, one-handed, I would not be able to make my June 3rd novel editing deadline with the degree of thoroughness required by my professional ethics. So I contacted my editor-in-chief with the protocols I have set in place, as detailed later in this post. Despite needing the income more than ever (since I will need surgery to repair my wrist to restore full mobility), I refused to try and deliver what I knew what would be sub-standard work and, instead, took the financial hit.

I am writing this post one-handed the morning of my surgery and will give myself one and one-half days to recover before returning to work on a different manuscript with a deadline I can manage. I confide these details to you, not to pat myself (metaphorically) on the back, but to illustrate that emergencies will occur and as a freelancer/small business owner, one must be prepared to deal with them. Many times, a freelancer must continue working in spite of situations that, in most full-time positions with a company, would entail time off to recover. There are many pros to being your own boss; this is one of the cons.

And so, my advice. . .

Freelancing when one is in the grips of a truly incapacitating death-flu or similar sudden illness is not conducive to great work, or even work at all. When you can’t even make it from the bedroom into the office, which in my case is three long, torturous feet away from my bedroom, you know there aren’t going to be any staggering works of genius (to paraphrase from Dave Eggers) being produced. Heck, during my bout with the Illness O’ Doom, I couldn’t even e-mail clients to let them know I was ill. And therein lies the problem.

I’d tried. I staggered to the laptop, stared blankly at it for 15 minutes, then crawled to the bathroom and cried like a cranky toddler for an hour before collapsing, shaking and nauseated, back into my bed of pain.

I did try again to write an e-mail to a client. It took 20 minutes to figure out how to get into e-mail, and 15 more minutes for my eyes to focus, and then I came up with this:

Deer Clent.

I m srry.

And then I had to fight my way past the growling pink rabbits in my office (they were there, I swear) to go be violently ill again, and I gave it up for a lost cause.

So, Tip 1 —

Do not be stoic and ignore the fact that you are coming down with the bubonic plague. Nor should you overreact and plead inability to work if you just feel a wee bit ill. (This may be difficult for some for whom an amputated arm causes them to declaim, “But it’s only a flesh wound!” or, conversely, those for whom a hangnail is cause for panic and an immediate dash to an urgent care center.)

But when you start to experience the onset of delusions caused by illness, before full-fledged Ebola of the brain sets in, do contact your clients. Have a good friend or freelancing colleague proof your messages before you hit “Send.” You can return the favor if they get bitten by an itinerant rat and develop the Hanta virus.

You may also wish to change your phone message to reflect the time at which you will be again able to respond to phone calls, and set up your work e-mail with an “Out of Office” auto-response message with a brief explanation as to your inability to communicate and the estimated date at which you expect to be returning to work.

Tip 2 —

Have a template ready for emergencies because they sneak up on you, usually when you have multiple projects going—thank you (not), Murphy’s Law. When your brain is jelly, you simply don’t have the neurons firing adequately enough to come up with a professional, suitably non-TMI (Too Much Information) plea for a deadline extension.

This can be an e-mail template and/or a text template, depending on how you communicate with your various clients. I would have liked something like a Bat Signal — “Cusp of Death! Deadline Extension! Have Pity!”—but I couldn’t figure out how to make it from a colander and a Maglite (well, actually, I couldn’t figure out how to walk in a straight line) not to mention being unable to set my erstwhile signal up to flash in multiple cities around the country.

If you are lucky to have a live-in partner or roommate, please have the person bring the laptop/iPad/phone gently to you, along with a nice cuppa of Scottish breakfast tea and some dry toast, and send off this pre-written message to your clients.

Your accomplice may need to ruthlessly prod you into consciousness and ignore your piteous whines, occasional blackouts and/or Linda Blairesque-pea soup impression. If you don’t have a partner, perhaps a suitably sadistic friend will help, or a pet. (Although your cat, dog or ferret may not compose the best messages, at least your clients will know you have tried.) Seriously, though, if you live alone, set an alarm if need be; prop yourself up and SEND THE MESSAGE(S).

Tip 3 —

If, like me, you are a newish freelancer and have failed to set these emergency plans in place, prepare to grovel and offer concessions to your clients for their inconvenience. There’s nothing more unprofessional than a freelancer seemingly disappearing off the face of the earth for days.

Tip 4 —

If you haven’t implemented the tips listed above, once you recover sufficiently not to be a drooling idiot, and have had a shower and made sure your home and self are no longer biohazards, begin the spin. Grovel—politely. Explain briefly, without going into any disgusting details, and, if appropriate, you may wish to offer some type of recompense. The recompense is dependent upon you and your client – you might offer a freebie for a small job, but a discount is usually something to which most clients will be amenable.

Tip 5 —

I am a strong proponent for sending handwritten thank-you notes to clients once a project is completed; in the case of clients with whom you communicated while out of commission, a promptly written and sent thank-you note is a courtesy most clients appreciate. The personal touch is too often lacking in this modern world; going the extra mile like this will only benefit you, your business and your reputation as both a professional and as a decent human being. It takes but a few moments, and is time and postage well-spent.

If you don’t have an emergency plan in place, you may lose clients and damage your professional reputation, especially if they are new clients. I lost a client and it was a HARSH lesson. And that’s why I’m begging you to learn from my mistakes.

Having learned from my own newbie freelancer mistake with my first major illness, when I broke my arm, I had these fail-safes in place and was able to contact my clients ASAP. And in two cases, clients were able to say, “I understand; let’s extend the deadline for X project to Y date.”

Circumstances will differ, of course, depending on the nature of your freelancing business; since I am a writer and editor, I have carefully estimated how many hours per day I will need to work on my projects post-surgery to meet deadlines, and will inform potential clients who query me with additional job proposals as to my inability to take on assignments with urgent deadlines. I will, in these cases, suggest alternative freelancers whom I know are competent if a client cannot wait for a job to be completed before I am back at normal speed. This is why establishing good relationships with other freelancers in your field is a good idea; sure, you may occasionally compete for the same gigs, but a fellow freelancer with whom you have a good relationship is an advantage, not an enemy.

What thoughts do you have about this subject? What experiences have you had in similar circumstances, and what advice or tips do you have to add to the ones I have listed?


Erin Griggs owns and runs Erin Griggs: Wordslinger. She is a multifaceted writer (articles, resumes, copywriting and much more) and provides editorial services for authors, businesses and individuals. In addition to this, she is a proud geek, organizational genius and take-charge kinda woman. You can check out her LinkedIn profile  or contact her at wordslinger@eringriggs.com or as @Wordslingeuse on Twitter.


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