Leaving Work Behind

3 Tips for Handling an Unexpected Life Event as a Freelancer

Written by Gina Horkey on April 7, 2016. 21 Comments

Two plastic figures looking frightened.On Monday, August 24th, 2015 at just after midnight I awoke with abdominal pain.

Pain that wouldn’t go away no matter how I tried to lay, sit or stand. Pain that reminded me of birthing contractions, but which didn’t offer any reprieve in between.

Halfway through a phone call to the hospital’s nursing line (during which my husband was frantically googling symptoms), I decided I’d be going to the emergency room no matter what they told me. The nurse agreed, my mom arrived to care for our young children, and Wade whisked me off to our local hospital.

Not five hours later I was in recovery, sans appendix. As the anesthesia started to wear off, I briefly wondered if it was all a dream? All it took was a glance down at my hospital gown to confirm it was definitely not.

I sit here typing just over a week out from surgery, three new scars on my abdomen, feeling about as normal as I can. I’m sharing my story not for sympathy, but to hopefully better equip you in handling unexpected life events as a freelancer.

Here are my three best tips!

1. Work Ahead

Let’s face it, emergencies are…emergencies. They are not planned life events. They’re unexpected and often occur at the least opportune time.

But here’s the thing: If you practice working ahead as part of your normal freelance routine, it can provide a lot of grace (or wiggle room) during an unexpected life event.

Honestly, this is what saved me during my emergency!

I actually try to get the majority of my writing work (client and my own blog/projects) done in the first half of the month. So when I unexpectedly checked into the hospital, writing deadlines were the furthest thing from my mind.

Bonus tip: if you don’t have an unexpected life event crop up in the last two weeks of your month, you can use the extra time to market for new clients, pitch new ideas to existing clients, or work on your own passion projects (that you probably never find time for).

Trust me, it’s a great feeling when you have a week or two of lead time on client work!

2. Communicate

I run a diversified freelance business. I’m a writer, virtual assistant, and business coach – and I offer a course that has an active Facebook group.

So even though I was caught up on my writing work, I still had tasks and appointments on my calendar that needed attention or rescheduling. Luckily, I make it a point to be in regular contact with all of my VA and coaching clients, making this situation a bit easier.

I sent out a text to my two VA clients and posted a message in the course’s Facebook group (which my coaching clients are also a part of). I was able to use technology and social media to my advantage and communicate my unavailability in less than five minutes.

I would recommend that you keep in regular contact with your freelancing clients, too. Form a bit of a personal relationship (when it makes sense) and have multiple methods of contact for them (phone, email, and social media).

Most people are buried in email, but if you direct tweet them or tag them in a Facebook post or message, they’re pretty likely to see it.

3. Subcontract

The last tip I have for you is to connect with other freelancers in your niche. You never know when you might need to help each other out. If you’ve partnered on projects already, it’s easier to trust them with your client load should you fall behind.

It could be your goal to grow your business from a one-person show to that of an agency, or you might want to stay small. Regardless, making friends with fellow ‘webpreneurs’ makes good business sense.

I didn’t have to subcontract any work out (luckily my hospital stay was less than 24 hours, and my work isn’t very physical), but if I had to I’d know exactly who to get in contact with depending on the client. That makes me feel pretty good about my business and planning for the unexpected.

I also love having a network in place that provides me work or client referrals – a favor I try to pay forward as much as possible.


Unexpected life events are bound to happen. It could be a medical emergency, relationship stress or something else. Heck, you might just really need a break from freelancing every once in awhile!

Do your best to plan for the unexpected by working ahead, staying in constant communication with your clients, and forging relationships with other relevant freelancers. You never know when one of these (or all three) could save your freelancing butt in the future.

Have you ever had an unexpected life event pull you away from client work for a period of time? Tell us about it in the comments section below!

Photo Credit: ErikaWittleib.

This Isn't Just Another "Make Money Online" Blog.

I'm sure you've had enough of hollow promises and get-rich-quick schemes.

I don't buy into that stuff; it's never worked for me. Instead, I create profitable online businesses through nothing other than hard work and persistence.

Here on Leaving Work Behind I share it all: both my successes and my failures.

Enter your email address below and hit "Sign Me Up!" to join us.

21 Responses to “3 Tips for Handling an Unexpected Life Event as a Freelancer”

  1. Heather Bloomer
    April 8, 2016 at 4:57 pm

    Great post Gina! I hope your feeling better now. I’ll definately be keeping these tips in mind and putting them into action.

    • Gina Horkey
      April 8, 2016 at 5:51 pm

      Yep, all that’s left are shrinking scars, thanks so much! It was fun to read – all of the advice still sticks! 🙂

  2. Robert
    April 8, 2016 at 7:02 pm

    These are wonderful tips. I find that the unexpected can give the best inspiration for your business. We all have life events that get in the way sometimes. Communication is key.

    • Tom Ewer
      April 11, 2016 at 8:37 am

      Great insight, Robert! If all we had was the expected, life would be pretty boring 🙂

      • Martin
        April 16, 2016 at 12:08 pm

        I just sent a message through your contact form and it has bounced back?

        I just wanted to ask a few questions about freelancing.

        What’s the best way to contact you?


  3. Liesha Petrovich
    April 8, 2016 at 7:06 pm

    Good advice Gina. I’ve been preaching the same stuff, as you just never know what will happen. And when you’re self-employed, taking unexpected time off can be extremely challenging. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Akinde Hafiz
    April 8, 2016 at 10:51 pm

    Collaboration is the key to a successful career as a freelancer.

    The first writing gig I got was from a fellow freelancer who did not want to get overwhelmed with a heavy workload.

    This approach helps you deliver top-notch content that’s timely and consistent.

    • Tom Ewer
      April 11, 2016 at 8:39 am

      Sometimes, Akinde, it’s important to pop the bubble we’re in, and realise there are others around to lend a hand! Thanks for your comment 🙂

  5. Yogiraj Mishra
    April 9, 2016 at 6:29 am

    I always prefer to work for a week ahead for handling any fluctuating situations.

  6. Robert Andrew
    April 13, 2016 at 8:07 pm

    Hey Tom,
    I totally agree about ‘the Working Ahead’ part.
    I try to do this myself.

    Instead of getting your work done and hitting FB or Youtube for a little R&R, it will behoove you to put a little extra time in. Just so you can account for future emergencies and things like your kids being sick from school etc..etc..
    It makes Life a lot easier 🙂

    P.S. glad you appendix surgery went well

  7. Debadeep Biswas
    April 20, 2016 at 7:01 am

    Hello Gina,
    All your above-mentioned tips are helpful for a freelancer like me in many situations. Unexpected events can arise at any moment but we cannot back off. Communication with clients are the key here.
    And also, I am happy to know your surgery went well.

  8. Simons
    April 23, 2016 at 12:47 pm

    Lovely post, great work

  9. Chiranjit
    May 24, 2016 at 5:25 am

    Great post, hope your health is improving. I will follow your tips, as a freelancer we all may face many problems. Thank you for your suggestions.

  10. Rachel
    July 15, 2016 at 5:46 pm

    While I wish we really could expect the unexpected, I understand that that’s not possible. Nevertheless, these are some good tips that will definitely help in the case of an emergency, so thank you for sharing!

  11. Emily Stone
    November 24, 2016 at 4:15 pm

    Some great advice, you can never plan for the unexpected so it’s always best to be prepared!

  12. Szymon
    January 15, 2017 at 3:47 pm

    I see that tips work pretty well in my environment of Project Management as well, as almost every day is unpredictable! 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *