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I'm a single web designer / developer freelance and I work in a home office, my target clients are small to medium local businesses, shops, hotels, etc.

I have several clients and I am available to them for any maintenance, updates or problem solving, in working hours, I also have a schedule of works to complete with certain deadlines.

Two weeks ago I had a sudden unexpected and very debilitating health problem, I was hospitalized for a few days and being treated with strong I.V. painkillers and other medicines. Later when I came back home I was very weak and totally unable to do anything for almost a week.

During this time my wife answered the client's calls and informed them about my temporary inability to work for health reasons. Although I have managed to solve a few minor things with the help of one other freelance-collegue, that had consequences:

  • A client moved suddenly to another freelance because he needed the work done, probably I will not see him again.

  • A company (my client since 3 years) had a problem with the website due to a provider change of settings, I couldn't do anything... they expressed me their concern about possible future similar problems, they said probably they will move to a bigger web agency to avoid to be dependent to a single person.

  • I had some calls and emails for jobs to do that I had not even answered and declined.

  • I am in a terrible delay with deadlines, I should work days and nights but I am not physically able to stay at work more than a few hours a day since I am still in therapy with many medicines.

Please note that this never happened to me before, this is the first time I had such problem and totally unexpected...

How to be "ready" for such events? Do you arrange your work in some way to grant your client's business continuity? Do you arrange anything to minimize the effects of unplanned similar events?

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Get the help ASAP! A help that you can monitor and see (ideally in the same town as yours). Let this guy handles urgent work until you are better. If need-be, pay him so much that your margin is at the positive zero.

However, talk to your clients and try to postpone those with non-urgent requests. For others, use your help mate.

Aside of this, this has proven that your clients are a****les. You are good just as long as you can deliver. When you are out of order, they replace her. So this has proven you that you need more reliable clients, those that will treat you as a human.

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I would agree that your clients are pretty bad if they drop you that fast over health issues.

My work doesn't involve anything which could possibly be seen as a real "emergency" such as a web site not functioning or payment processing being broken. So, that may offer me a tad more breathing room overall. If you are involved in matters which would be a financial emergency for your clients, you need to find someone that can step in and at least deal with emergencies. Someone capable of understanding a web site's control panel or settings, etc. Heck you may even be able to teach your wife to follow specific instructions when needed.

I sympathize with your situation. In my field there's literally no one I can pass off work too. I've searched for years to find an assistant or employee or even another freelancer to take over client work when needed. I can't find one when I'm healthy, let alone when I'm medicated and unwell. In addition, passing off some of my work (to anyone) would involve transferring tens of GBs of files for some projects which is no easy task and would take as much brain-power to stay organized as completing the work would take.


What I do is...

First my contract states that I am not liable for unavoidable and unpredictable "acts of God". This would include, but not be limited to, natural disasters and health related issues which are unforeseeable.

As soon as possible I inform the clients that [project X] will be delayed by an estimated [x] days due to unexpected and unavoidable health issues. In addition, a 10%/20% discount will be applied to the pricing to hopefully compensate for the delay. If this delay is untenable, I am happy to invoice for work up to the current state and provide anything necessary, within the scope of the contract, so another worker can take over the project.


Beyond this, I'm kind of stuck. There's not much more I can do. I have measures in place should I die, such as providing a backup hard drive to a colleague (in another field) so he can disperse files to my clients, etc. But as much as I've searched, there doesn't appear to be a way to implement a temporary safety net for my work. I just have to hope my clients understand and work around the issue with me.

Overall, what I found is the clients which are unsympathetic or unwilling to accept that there is a delay I can not avoid, are the clients I needed to replace. Life happens and any client who is unwilling to accept that, on rare occasions, is really expressing that they have little or no loyalty to me and my services.


I did have issues in Q1 of both 2016 and 2017 (related to the same health issue) which caused delays of a few weeks each time. I was working as much as I could but at a snail's pace when compared to regular performance. My clients were annoyed by the delays this caused, but they understood overall. (Assuming these types of delays are few and very far between) I lost money. I lost a few projects. But overall my clients were just wanting me to get back up to speed as soon as possible. Good clients seem to understand, bad clients just want their work done and don't care why there's a delay.

Again, I stress if these are very few and far between. If they tend to happen monthly, well then you've either got much more important things going on or you are using health as an excuse for other things. Clients will pick up on either of those and fond someone to replace you.

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I've been on my own for a long time, working with clients from all over the world, did fine until some years ago.

In the past, I used to work with several associates and they helped me out when I was not able to work at top speed, for whatever reason. I also outsourced to some of them when I had too much work on my desk to handle all by myself; they saved me time, sometimes because they were in a different time zone, enabling me to do projects in a shorter amount of time. In addition, I worked with people who were simply better at certain things than I, or faster or better equipped or when it made more sense for me to work on something else.

However, I found that while outsourcing was not possible with all work, that usually also meant that the client really appreciated what I did. Good business relationships are a matter of give and take. Clients who know that you will usually do what you can for them even if they contact you at very short notice or on weekends usually are also able to cut you some slack when things are not going as planned on your end.

(Yes, there are good clients and bad clients and it's not good to hang on to bad clients, but most of us also know that in lean times, you're still happy enough with those "bad" clients. To some extent, you can and should educate clients.)

That said, I too have worked with clients (two) who dropped me when I was dealing with all sorts of practical problems after a relocation. Although one of those clients had on occasion even offered - and paid - me more money to secure my time for a project, generally speaking, my contribution simply was not specific enough for them to value me more.

enter image description hereOffering a discount in the event of a hiccup often works really well, I have found. Particularly if you're (very) generous, the client will come away with a very positive feeling that can amazingly quickly wipe out any negative feelings he, she or they initially had and make them think of you or keep them thinking of you in a very positive way.

(One person actually later told me that my discount offer had had a huge impact and I had previously noticed that someone else suddenly turned highly cooperative after I offered a substantial discount.)

See the situation from the client's side. What would make you happy if you were on the other side? Sometimes, you can even simply ask that and then do it. Finally, don't be too apologetic and don't get drawn into useless arguments, because that too can create negative feelings on the other side.

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