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How to Handle Being Sick as a Freelancer

Posted on March 21st, 2016

If you’re a self-employed freelancer, you’ve likely come across one of the hardest parts of the job: having to work when you’re still sick. After all, if you gave up the 9-5, you also gave up your ability to get paid while you spend the day in bed recovering.

Sometimes, getting sick can be extremely challenging to a freelancer. Not only does being sick make it hard to focus and do normal tasks, but without the oversight of a supervisor, it can be easy to really indulge and sleep off your illness more than you should.

So, below are a few tips on how to handle an illness as a freelancer so that it doesn’t affect your professional life in a negative way:

Assume That Illness Will Happen

Unless you are literally super human, you will get sick. Freelancers are known for working strange hours and pushing themselves past normal limits, which means that you might be more susceptible to getting sick than you might think.  As such, you need to plan ahead for this type of situation. Make sure you have an emergency fund in case you are sick for a week or more and it affects your ability to get your work done. Also, make sure you have an assistant or at least someone who can step in and monitor your emails or phone calls to let people know you will get back to them shortly. Sometimes just having a plan can ease your anxiety.

Let Clients/Customers Know Right Away

If you’re sick, you need to let clients and/or customers know right away, but only if it will affect them. This means that you might be late shipping out a product or late turning in a project due to your illness. In my 6 years of freelancing, I’ve learned that people can be pretty understanding if this happens. After all, everyone has been sick before! Just be sure to let them know. The worst thing you can do is be late and not offer any explanation. It’s much better to come clean and explain why you’re running behind.

Give Yourself the Proper Time to Heal

Once you’re feeling a little bit more human, it can be tempting to jump right back into work. Then, once you realize how behind you are, it’s easy to overdo it and work at full speed right away. Try to avoid this. The key is to feel better and to prevent illness from affecting your work load again. So, get as much rest as possible, drink as much water as possible, and work at your own pace until you’re feeling completely well again.

Ultimately, no one can avoid being sick, not even the strongest of freelancers. It’s just something that happens from time to time, and when you don’t have a sick leave policy, you have to create your own. Take good care of yourself and remember that as long as you keep your clients in the loop, you should be able to keep your relationships strong and your work steady, despite the occasional illness.

Catherine Collins Alford

Catherine Collins Alford

Catherine Collins Alford is a nationally recognized author of the book Mom's Got Money, an award-winning freelance writer, and the co-founder of

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