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The Freelancer’s Strategy for a Personal Crisis

In late 2017, my father fell ill suddenly and died a week later. To say we were shocked is an understatement. A few weeks earlier, he had been camping with family and friends. He rode his bike daily when he snowbirded in Florida. He regularly did yard work when he was home in the Northeast. He was apparently healthy and able-bodied and he was alive.

I’m sharing this with you so you understand why for the two months that followed my father’s death I could barely keep my businesses running. All of my thoughts were on my dad and what my family was going through. How could I think about work?

Freelancers don’t have the option of a paid leave that isn’t self-funded. To maintain our businesses, we need a strategy for getting through a personal crisis.

Plan Ahead

The odds are good that at some point you will experience a crisis that takes you away from your business. Planning for such an event can make surviving it much easier.

Build and maintain emergency savings. My financial adviser suggests having $10,000—or as he thinks of it, two furnaces—in a savings account that you can access immediately.

Build and maintain an investment account. While you should have a retirement account, borrowing from such an account isn’t always the best move. Talk with a financial adviser about what kind of investment account will earn you decent returns while letting you access the money on short notice. Setting aside large amounts of money can be challenging for freelancers; it could take years (it has for me). But if you can put aside even a little bit, you can buy yourself time to walk away from work when you really need to.

Coordinate with colleagues to step into your business so you can be absent. My mastermind group, the Quad, helped me out when my dad was sick. I have heard several similar stories from other editors about how their peers supported them through unexpected crises. Editors are special that way: we willingly help one another out.

Talk to trusted colleagues or family about what you could do for one another should any of you suddenly need help. It might be as simple as having someone email your clients about what’s going on. It could be editors taking on your scheduled work (you want to pay them for this, of course). What would help you most if you had to walk away for a bit?

Create guides for edibuddies and family members to use. Lori Paximadis recommends creating a business manual and a client reference manual for your business. These resources will guide anyone who steps into your business on what your processes are and how to handle the work.

During the Crisis

The hardest part of being in a crisis is recognizing that it is a crisis. The situation may seem minor at first and, of course, you don’t want anyone to panic. But once it’s clear that you need to pull your attention away from your business, take action swiftly.

Let your clients know. If you have time, let your clients know what’s going on. Share only as much as you’re comfortable with. In my experience, most people are understanding and will be there when you get back.

Ask for help. Don’t wait to put your emergency plan into motion; it will get harder to do so as the crisis continues. If you aren’t able to let your clients know what’s happening, ask for your clients to be contacted first.

Take care of you. Dealing with a crisis is physically and emotionally draining—even when you’re not the one who’s ill. Eat healthy. Sleep. Exercise, even if it’s just walking hospital corridors. Talk to someone you trust about what you’re going through. Take a break from both your crisis and your business life, if you can.

Getting Back to Work

It can seem impossible in the moment, but at some point most crises do end. The longer the period or the more intense the crisis, the more you want to plan your return.

Take stock of what you can and can’t do. Everyone is different, but jumping in right away could be more than you’re ready to handle. I took some time off immediately after my father’s death. But even when I came back, I wasn’t ready to write. Being able to put my weekly column on an extended hiatus helped me a great deal.

Don’t wait too long. The longer you’re away, the harder it is to come back. Returning to work was a good thing for me: it got me out of my own head. But I didn’t have the energy or focus to do full days, and some days I couldn’t write or edit. I did what I could, even if it was just filing some papers, to get back into the work mindset.

Continue to listen to your needs. Be forgiving of yourself. You will eventually get back to real life, 24/7. It just may take some time. Allow yourself that time.

I hope you never have a crisis that knocks you flat. But if you can prepare for a worst-case scenario and remember to be good to yourself, you’ll come out the other side sooner and healthier.

A version of this article originally published on February 9, 2018 on


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