FREELANCE: What to do when you’re unable to work?

Freelance: What to do when you're unable to work?

Becky Ann said,

Hi Sarah! I would like to know how you go about explaining to your clients about delays or when unpredictable things come up which effect your work.

I recently feel ill with a chest infection, which resulted in a hospital stay. During this time I was unable to access the net to respond to any emails and consequently lost a client who had emailed me three days in a row. I was dropped due to “poor communication” despite me explaining my absence as soon as I was able to. As I work mainly via word or mouth this worries me as it’s my reputation on the line.

What I am asking is how do you explain such circumstances to your clients clearly, without sounding like you are giving them a whole heap of excuses and without getting too personal? I know (hope) this isn’t something that is going to come up a lot but I’d like to be better prepared next time it happens. Thanks again.

As a freelancer, no matter how hard you work to keep on schedule and stay healthy, this will inevitably happen. I caught a terrible cold during the winter and was completely knocked out for almost a week and a few days ago twisted my ankle, which lost me two days worth of performing. When you’re the only one behind your business it’s a good idea to have a game plan for unexpected time off. Here are the three things I recommend…

1. Let your clients know immediately, whether you or family member/friend sends out the email, that you’re unable to work and do your best to give them and idea of when you’ll be back.

2. If you’re going to unavailable for more than a week give your client the option to wait or cancel the project with a full or partial refund. If they’re going to cancel I’d recommend sending them a few people they can contact to do/finish the work, so they still feel you care about their project even if you aren’t able to complete it.

3. If they choose to stick with you, keep them updated. Let them know you’ll be in touch in a week, then make sure to do so even if it’s to say you’re still not available.

Any time I’ve had to put a project on hold for a few days or a week my clients have been very understanding. They realize I’m the only person behind the scenes and if I end up sick things come to a halt.

I think it’s important to not feel guilty or beat yourself up for taking time off or losing a client. Sickness, injury and personal issues come up for everyone and when you’re self-employed it’s critical to stop and make time to care of yourself. You are allowed to completely stop all for for a few days while you heal. (That’s what you built up your savings account for, right??)

As long as you’re clear with how serious things are and how long you may be unavailable your clients will respect the fact that you’re doing your best to make sure their project gets finished.

Any other freelancers care to weigh-in? Have you had to unexpectedly take time off? What did you tell your clients and how did they respond?

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  1. says

    Not to be sarcastic, but I only WISH i had this problem. I’m still at the “trying to find clients in the first place” stage. Lol. Still, this is great advice that hopefully I will need to implement at some point in time. ;)

    • says

      Hi jennifer!
      I’m Becky who wrote in the question. To get my name out there and scored some proper clients I started off by offering a few freebies (twitter images, headers etc.) to bloggers with a decant following in exchange for a shout out/link on their blogs.
      it really surprised me how well this worked and I have even managed to score some gigs with some business websites as well as numerous Blogger commissions who found me via such Bloggers Tweets.
      Worth a shot and the extra designs only add to your portfolio if it doesn’t
      Becky :)

  2. says

    This is almost a month old, however, I wanted to add my own experiences in case someone is reading it later like I am.

    I had a miscarriage this spring and was out of commission for both physical and emotional reasons. As soon as I found out, I emailed current clients and gave them a heads up that I’d be unable to work for a week. For some clients, I was open and others I just said “I am experiencing medical problems.”

    Everyone was BEYOND wonderful and understanding – some even sharing their own stories.

    I was so nervous about it all and wanted to hide everything at first (which would have been a bit impossible) – but it turned out that being honest with my clients was the best choice.