Getting Sick for the First Time as a Freelancer: What I Learned

November 15, 2022

White person laying under a blanker on a couch, with only a hand and their legs showing. Photo by Pixabay on

Hey folks!

Last month, I was sick for the first time as a freelancer (with Covid, no less). While I was properly sick for a week, I felt the impact of it for a few weeks after; that meant work was impacted for about three weeks or so. All of it sucked, but I did learn (and relearn) some things about freelancing that I want to share with you.

Lesson #1: Being open with clients is a good thing

Now, this doesn’t mean you need to provide background information and details about every reason you need to cancel or move deadlines, but being honest is a good thing. As soon as I tested positive, I contacted my client and told her I was sick, and that the upcoming deadline for me to return edits might need to be shifted.

She said she understood, and that I needed to take care of myself. Then she said, “hopefully it isn’t Covid,” to which I gave her an honest answer. It was. She understood my need to rest even more.

Then I thought I’d recovered, and told her I’d get her edits back to her a week after the initial deadline.

Then the post-Covid fatigue set in, and I had to reduce my hours so drastically that it pushed the deadline back by yet another week. But I told her, and she once again said my health was more important.

Plus, I’d tried editing on a fatigued brain. It wasn’t pretty.

Now, there’s always a chance that your client won’t be understanding, or a deadline won’t be flexible. In the second case, that’s when it’s good to refer to another freelancer or suggest places to find one, should the need be that urgent. The first case . . . I’ve been lucky and haven’t had a bad relationship with a client, so I can’t say exactly what I’d do. But I might consider gracefully bowing out of that project.

All that to say, if you’re sick, tell your client. If possible, don’t try and work in conditions that won’t provide said client with a good product and that will push your recovery back. We’re all human – clients will get that.

Lesson #2: Plan sick days into your pricing

In one of my earlier blog posts, I talked about a formula I found through Women Who Freelance’s Instagram page on how to determine your hourly rate (which I then use to help determine what I’ll charge for a given project).

The formula basically starts with how much you want to earn in a year, and how many weeks in a year you’ll work. This is where you include sick time. For me, I budgeted two weeks. By budgeting it in, you don’t have to worry (or worry as much, at least) about money lost, since you’ve worked in a few weeks without pay. It’s a little added cushion of comfort that can allow you to take those rest days as you need them.

I’m rather happy I budgeted those in.

Lesson #3: What you think you need to prioritize isn’t always actually a necessity

It can be hard to find a good groove for freelancing. You’re often your own marketing and promotions team on top of boss, primary worker, finance department, etc. And when I say hard, I mean I’ve been at this for almost two years and I’m still playing around with what works best for me.

Let me tell you, taking a step back and only focusing on top priorities for a month or so really puts things into perspective.

When I worked reduced hours, I made sure I was only doing what I had to – client work, emails, budgeting, and course work (I was taking two courses through the Editors Freelance Association). Everything else could wait.

Then, when I stepped back into full time, I did some analysis.

Thanks to having this blog already established, the traffic to my website while I was sick was comparable to previous months; and Instagram was pretty steady, again thanks to my existing posts that were still generating likes and follows.

So what did I learn?
– I don’t have to post a blog once a week to get engagement. Posting once a month has roughly the same results.
– I don’t need to post to Instagram three times a week if I don’t feel like it. As long as I post occasionally, it’ll keep bringing people in.

This was actually great news for me. I enjoy writing blogs and posting to Instagram, but only when I actually have something to say. I was forcing the content because I thought it was necessary – not every part of this job is going to be 100% fun – but now I can experiment with using the platforms in a more enjoyable way for me. I’m excited to see how that goes! Crossing my fingers it works.

This lesson was the biggest takeaway for me. Every business is going to be different. Starting out with what people tell you will bring in the most engagement is a great way to kickstart things, but it’s important to see if it’s actually working for you.

Hopefully you follow my pivot with me 😊

I’m hoping I won’t need to take sick time again any time soon, but I do feel more prepared because I learned and experienced these three lessons. There’s definitely a stress taken off from the third one. My business won’t go under if I need to shift or drop priorities for a bit!

[And please: if at all possible, stay home when you’re sick.]

Published by Kaila Desjardins

Freelance editor, fiction writer, proud nerd.

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