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The Perils of Freelancing

March 19th, 2007 by Bob Bly

One of the dangers of being — as well as using — a freelancer is that if something happens to the freelancer, the work doesn’t get done.

Case in point: within the last week, my 75-year-old mother was rushed to the hospital emergency room, diagnosed as having had several small strokes, lost vision in her left eye (possibly permanently), and had surgery to remove a benign tumor — believed to be the cause of the stroke — behind her heart.

You can imagine how stressful — and disruptive — all this is to my life and my work.

But like any freelancer, I have multiple projects under contract — projects clients are counting on me to deliver, at a high level of quality and on time.

What would you do if you were me? How would you handle this emergency situation?

Am I bound to let clients know about it? I did. Was that wise or foolish?

Do you think businesspeople understand and allow for “Acts of God” in their dealings with their vendors?

Or is a catastrophic illness or other similar event simply not the client’s problem or concern — a circumstance that should in no way effect what they are buying from you?


This entry was posted on Monday, March 19th, 2007 at 2:42 pm and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

38 responses about “The Perils of Freelancing”

  1. Dan Kubb said:

    I think a business person should be understanding of this situation when it comes to their vendors. As a vendor I try to form a good relationship with the people I work with, and if the same situation happened with me I would be surprised if anyone had a problem with it. I would not continue working with them if they did. I want my clients to succeed in thier business, but if they stop treating me with a reasonable level of respect and understanding, then I know I wouldn’t (either consciously or subconsciously) perform at the same level as before, so I’d stop working with them immediately.

    If I continued to work with a jerk I’d feel I was “selling out”. I think situations like this are a good way to separate the good clients from the bad.

    Now it’s a different story if the vendor is regularly having problems, but I think its reasonable to for business people to understand when a vendor (who previously produced high quality work) has something outside of their control happen that pushes back a project a bit.

  2. Michael A. Stelzner said:

    Hey Bob;

    I had my entire family get struck with a very serious and contagious illness at the same time.

    Took me out for at least a week.

    I think it is best to inform your clients.

    You did amazingly well on our teleclass.



  3. Mordechai (Morty) Schiller said:

    Bob–Any client who doesn’t understand that is a client you don’t want!

  4. Chris Lake said:

    I think most people will be accommodating to freelancers in dire straights–once. The distinction between a freelancer and a small business is important. An ad agency had better be struck by lightning and burn down if they can’t make a deadline; a freelancer can ask for a little slack in an emergency.

    I try to go above and beyond not to let my personal life interfere with work but the world has its own ideas now and then…!

  5. Suzanne Ryan said:

    I am glad you brought this up because I really have no idea how self employed people manage personal crisis, or what the reaction is.

    Bob, I think you did the right thing in being straightfoward with your clients. Here is why:

    I was recently involved in a reverse situation. The marketing consultant/graphic designer team (a married couple) whom I brought in on a project became inaccessible for a number of weeks. No explanations.

    It turned out they are splitting up. They apparently explained this to the client who is as flaky as they had been, so he was ok with the long delay.

    I was more forgiving once I found out the reason, but until that point I was livid. I can’t afford that kind of delay, for both professional and financial reasons.

    This marketing/design team does great work but their lack of communication turned me off.

  6. Kim Isaacs said:

    Bob – I’m sorry to hear about your mother and I hope she’s doing okay. You did the right thing by letting your clients know about your emergency. I do think businesspeople should understand that “Acts of God” can happen to vendors, too. One of the benefits of hiring a freelancer is knowing the quality you will get. I would rather get quality services delivered late (as long as I was informed about the emergency) than have my project passed to a less-experienced, less-skilled worker.

  7. Jodi Kaplan said:

    Bob, you did the right thing. Any client who doesn’t understand that you are a person as well as a professional is a client you don’t want.

  8. Bob Bly said:

    Kim, that quality is what I believe we sell. If the clients wants more customer service, an ad agency has the staff to cater to them 24/7. But their copy will be assigned to a $25K a year communications major right out of college who hasn’t sold squat in her life — or someone just as bad.

  9. Ted Demopoulos said:

    This happens to me about once a decade, most recently 2 1/2 weeks ago.
    I ended up in the cardiac ward for a few days (mock heart attack — I’m fine).
    Two clients had slight inconveniences, and were understanding. If they were not understanding, I’d fire them!
    Things happen, we deal with them. People who can’t deal with reality make poor clients!

  10. Bob Bly said:

    Ted, I didn’t know, and am so glad you are OK! Feel good!

  11. Richard Pelletier said:

    You did the right thing. Last year when my mother was dying from pancreatic cancer, I was in the middle of a great project with a new startup. My clients could easily be described as nearly “perfect.” But I told them. And they moved on. We completed the piece we were working on and that was the end. They were nice guys and sympathetic but didn’t want to imperil their project. It really made me think long and hard about whether I would tell again. Thanks for this blog.

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