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Preparing for Emergencies as a Freelancer

This last August I found myself scheduled for emergency surgery – and quickly went into panic mode. How was I going to get enough work done to even be able to take the time off for surgery, let alone recovery? What if the worst happened, who would take over my business or even dissolve it? I was poorly prepared for emergencies as a freelancer, but thanks to that experience I knew what I needed to prepare for the next emergency. Preparing for emergencies as a freelancer is different for everyone, but these tips should guide you to come up with your own emergency plan.

Photo of a woman in a hospital gown and bed with a doctor standing next to them. Text overlay of Preparing for Emergencies as a Freelancer.

Preparing for Emergencies as a Freelancer

Every freelancer should have a basic outline of their business operations that anyone can use during an emergency. This outline should include:

  • What needs to be done on a daily basis
  • Details of your process and workflow
  • How to access the systems you use (billing, communication systems like email or Slack, login credentials, etc)
  • Client profiles and who to contact
  • List of any subcontractors, their contact information and current projects
  • List of your current projects
  • List of regular and upcoming bills, like estimated taxes
  • Emergency contact information
  • Instructions to execute during an emergency

The key to this outline is to ask yourself what would someone need if you weren’t around anymore. It doesn’t have to be step-by-step instructions of what you do every day, but at least enough information to settle your business affairs.

Always Be Working Ahead

With a conventional job you have sick days to use, but as freelancers, we don’t have that benefit. One of the best ways you can prepare for emergencies as a freelancer is to always be working ahead. That way when the unexpected hits, you have a cushion. At least, I try to be five days ahead of schedule – enough for a long weekend and then some. Working ahead also helps you to take time off for smaller things, like a cold virus or mental health day.

Every freelancer is different, some need to handle tasks that can only be done the day-of. But by working ahead on what you can work ahead on – you have less to do when a crisis hits. Or, you’ll be better able to hand off the daily tasks to someone filling in for you.

Have a Backup Person

Every freelancer should have someone they can rely on to fill in when an emergency hits. This can be hard for a lot of freelancers to consider because this other person could be considered their competition. I have a virtual assistant who is trained to fill in if needed, and my husband is trained as well. I do not rely on my husband to be my primary backup, because if something were to happen to me – I don’t want him to have to worry about my business.

With my surgery just a couple of weeks ago, my backup VA was due to have a baby! Because of those unique circumstances, I might set up another backup person just in case. You never know when your primary backup is having extreme circumstances at the same time as your own.

It’s important to have a contract with your backup freelancer and make sure it’s written into your contract with clients that you might use a backup freelancer. Some clients might not want someone else working on their projects, and rather wait until the crisis passes.

Maintain Client & Project Profiles

Keep a running list of every client and project, along with:

  • Client’s name and contact details
  • Billing cycle & details – is billing automated? is payment due on project completion?
  • Tasks or projects for that client
  • Any other relevant information needed to complete the work for them.

These details are invaluable for anyone filling in for you, and invaluable for your own record keeping. Having to search through email archives is NOT the way to maintain your client information. I use notebooks and notes within Evernote to keep this information up to date and share it with my husband to have when needed.

Communicating with Clients During an Emergency

Communication during an emergency is important, especially with clients. Even just a quick email that something has come up and work might be delayed goes a long way with client trust. After the initial email, put up a vacation autoresponder so incoming emails get the same notification. When your emergency begins to calm down, and you have an estimated time of returning to work, communicate that to your clients.

Returning to Freelance Work After an Emergency

When preparing for emergencies as a freelancer, also account for the fact that you need to ease back into work. Whether your emergency was a loss of a loved one or an emergency surgery, mentally and physically you need time to get back to your full workload. If you try to push yourself back to working full-time, mistakes are going to happen.

While communicating with clients about your return, let them know that it probably won’t be at full capacity. If you’re able to work ahead and give yourself a cushion, use that cushion to go back to work part-time. With my surgery a couple of weeks ago, I gave myself about four days to only work part-time on my return. It helped me regain my footing after not working for a week, and to recover from the surgery-induced brain-fog.

Preparation is Survival

When working as a freelancer, you aren’t paid for the time you aren’t working. Being prepared for emergencies as a freelancer protects your business and finances, saving you from dire straights. Even with insurance to cover times you aren’t working, it’s hard to recover a freelancing business after it’s gone stagnant. Emergencies for freelancers are harder to handle than with a conventional career, but with the right preparation, you’ll be better equipped than everyone else.

How do you prepare for emergencies as a freelancer?

About Meg Bateman

After many years working as a Virtual Assistant and Graphic Designer, I now exclusively work as a Social Media Strategist and serve all your web presence needs.


  1. Mandi says

    This was such a good article Meg! So many great points. Some of these ideas have crossed my mind but not all. I haven’t acted on any of them yet and need to make them more of a priority. Thank you!

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