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Wednesday, December 5, 2012
Freelance Toolbox

Freelancer's dilemma: coping with crisis

By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

It's going to happen to all and any of us: a crisis that interferes with getting work done. I’ll be back with a few insights and tips as soon as I catch up on a deadline that had to be renegotiated due to exactly that ...

… As I was saying, one assumption is safe for every freelancer to make: Crises will hit when you have the most work to do and the least flexibility for getting it done.

I just weathered such a perfect storm in my freelance life. I was immersed in the final planning for a conference for freelancers that I manage (communication-central.com) and my husband was feeling increasingly crummy.

"Crises will hit when you have the most work to do and the least flexibility for getting it done."

I dragged him to the doctor on the Monday of the week I was scheduled to leave town for my conference. The result: off to the emergency room, immediate hospital admission and spending the first three days of the week with him at the hospital. The time I had set aside to finalize conference details, finish an article and wrap up a big editing assignment was drastically reduced. Thanks to Wi-Fi, I could write, edit and email from his room, but it was hard to concentrate.

I felt that I had to at least get to the conference and set up everything, even if I didn’t stay for the whole event. I left early that Thursday morning with my beloved still in the hospital. He was expected to be sent home that day or the next, and we had someone to keep him company at the hospital and at home, but leaving him there was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

If he had needed major surgery, or if I had been the one in the hospital, there would have been fewer choices to make, but you don’t often get such stark moments of conflict between your work and family lives.

It all turned out OK: I got to the conference site (where I did, indeed, have to cope with several matters that no one else could have handled); my husband was discharged from the hospital later that day and gave me the go-ahead to stay put as planned; and my clients gave me a few extra days to finish my assignments. But it was an important reminder of my version of Murphy’s Law: Crises will hit at the worst possible times — when you have the most work to do and the least flexibility for getting it done.

What can freelancers do to head off such crises at the pass? Sometimes not much, but there are ways to reduce the likelihood of total meltdown.

ASSUME THE WORST

Expect to be hit with a personal crisis just when you’re under the most deadline pressure.

PLAN AHEAD

Tell yourself that deadlines are a week earlier than the client/editor has set. Start assignments the moment they arrive. Think about how you’ll respond if something comes up to interfere with meeting any of those deadlines. The Boy Scouts have it right: Be prepared.

COMMUNICATE WITH CLIENTS

Let your client(s) know the moment there’s even the hint of a potential delay — don’t tell someone you’re running late on the day the assignment is due.

BUILD YOUR NETWORK

Start connecting now with colleagues you can trust to take over or finish a project for you in an emergency. Keep detailed notes about projects in progress, whom to contact (and how) for remaining interviews, the structure of your story, etc.

SAVE MONEY

Try to put together a stash so you can turn down an assignment and still pay the bills.

GET HEALTH INSURANCE!

I don’t care how young and/or healthy you are, anyone — and anyone’s significant others — can be felled by a health crisis.

PACE YOURSELF

We all need the money, but try not to automatically say “yes” to every single assignment. When you’re juggling a dozen deadlines and projects at once is when things are likely to fall apart. On the other hand, it’s not a bad practice to take on as much as you can comfortably manage when you’re hale and healthy, so you can afford the occasional downtime as either an indulgence or a refuge.

KEEP EQUIPMENT AND PROGRAMS UP TO DATE

It’s embarrassing to tell a client you can’t submit that article on time because your computer just crashed. Have backup systems in place and a backup computer, and check supplies regularly — paper, printer ink, etc.

If you’ve weathered such a storm, let us know how you did it. Email ruth@writerruth.com.

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