As I’ve explained before, I spent a lot of time prepping before I launched my business. I tried to follow every bit of advice people gave: get your LLC, track your finances, read How to Win Friends and Influence People, have a business plan. I’m proud to say that because of it, my transition into entrepreneur has been relatively smooth. Even then, I still hit one, true sideswiping surprise that derailed my business completely: the stomach flu. And I was NOT prepared.
It hit me at 3 AM on a Sunday, the night before our one year wedding anniversary. I’ll spare you the details, but leave you with this: After six hours of throwing up, I couldn’t even keep a Gatorade down. My husband ushered me to the emergency room where I was so dehydrated they couldn’t even start an IV. I was sent home with nausea medicine that would have me essentially knocked out for 24 hours while the stomach flu passed. Needless to say, I was completely out of commission.
Somewhere between hours 4 and 5 in the bathroom, I realized something that made me even more sick. What was I supposed to do with my clients in the morning? I’ve had small colds or sicknesses that had me working slower than usual, but nothing that completely knocked me out like this. How was I supposed to give them the work they’re promised? After all, there are no sick days in freelancing.
I realized then, laying on the cold bathroom floor, that I had never even CONSIDERED what I would do if this situation arose. I don’t have any employees or interns yet, and I couldn’t exactly call in sick. There’s no clear path telling you what to do, but I thought I would share what I figured out, navigating those 48 hours of sickness and 72 that followed.
Be Honest with Your Clients
If you’re truly out of commission, the best thing you can do is be honest with your clients about it. More than likely, they would rather you wait until you feel better and can produce better work anyways. I wouldn’t just shoot a “I’m sick. Sorry.” text, though. There’s a few more things I would include in that initial message.
Be Equipped with a Solution
Anytime I approach a client with a potential snag in the plan, I always come equipped with a solution in the same message. That “BUT” is critical to showing them that you’re dedicated to fixing the problem. Consider this:
Unfortunately, I’ve fallen very sick overnight. I am going to be unable to complete any work today and possibly tomorrow as I recover. (honest statement of situation to client)
However, I’m heading to the doctor today so I can get back in tip-top shape ASAP. Are you okay with postponing the deadline on this project a day or two? I would prefer to complete the project when I’m feeling better so I can give you the best work possible! I'll let you know what the doctor says, but I'm hoping I can have it to you instead by (new due date). (proposed solution A)
If you would prefer to stay on-deadline, please let me know. Although I am likely too sick to complete it in time, I would be happy to jump on a call to brainstorm solutions that will have us both satisfied. (proposed solution B)
Be Realistic About Your Recovery
If you feel awful enough to be Googling how to handle a situation like this, it’s probably really bad. So be realistic about how long it’s going to take you to get up-and-running again. This isn’t always to predict, but ask the doctor, read up online and look back at past illnesses. Were you back at it in 24 hours? Do you need more like 72? Nothing is worse than pushing a deadline back TWICE, so better to be upfront initially than dragging your feet later. If you feel better sooner, you can always surprise your client with a quicker turn-around.
Be Diligent About Follow-Up
When I was sick last week, I was OUT. For almost 24 hours, I was all but unconscious. To stay in touch, I gave my phone to my husband so he could follow up with any calls or emails I may miss that needed to be answered ASAP. I told my clients about the situation and still tried to check in every morning to make sure there wasn’t anything immediate they needed in my absence. (Likely, they’ll be too courteous to ask).
When you’re better, knock that project out of the park. Meet the new deadline, and try to throw in a little something extra. Consider this:
I hope you’re having a great day! Judging on my check-in yesterday, it sounds like everything was running smoothly in my absence. I'm so glad!
Your completed project is attached. Again, thank you so much for your understanding while I was sick. I’m feeling much better now, and I hope you’ll see that reflected in the work here. As an extra thank you for being so understanding, I’ve tacked on a couple of extra blog post ideas for you as a little freebie!
Be Kind to Yourself
At the end of the day, be kind to yourself. I was consumed with guilt last week, and it was the last thing I needed to be balancing on top of the stomach flu. We aren’t robots, and these things happen. All you can do is let yourself be human and prepare for the hiccups best you can.
What are your tips for taking a sick day when you work alone? I want to know!