A few weeks ago, I was sick. Taylor was sick. Everyone was sick. There are times when you can power through sickness and get your work done. But then there are those other times…
The times when your head has been aching vaguely for three days and every bone in your body feels like you have early-onset arthritis. The times when you’ve forgone the boxes of Kleenex for 70 rolls of toilet paper. The times when summoning the energy to pour a glass of orange juice feels about as easy as lifting a small mountain.
Those are not good times to keep working. Even if you get the work done, it’s going to turn out lousy. Even if you technically manage to do a good job, it’s not going to be the best work you can produce. It’s also going to exhaust you physically and mentally, and that just keeps you sick for longer than you have to be.
How do you tell your clients that you need an extension on a project because you’re sick?
Warn Them of Impending Storm Clouds
If you feel like you might be getting sick (you get that vague sore throat and you seem to be more tired than usual), let your clients know immediately. Right away.
“I think I have a cold coming on… I’m feeling under the weather since yesterday…” Slip it into conversation. Mention it. You don’t have to panic and stop the presses, but you do have to point out the storm clouds looming on the horizon.
If you warn clients in advance that you might be getting ill, they’ll be able to take that into consideration and plan for it. They won’t be shocked and dismayed when you finally do announce there’s no way in hell you can get out of bed and that their project is going to be late.
You also won’t accidentally be rude to them because everything hurts and you haven’t slept. It’s really easy to sound snippy or short, or say something less than tactful when you’re right in the middle of a week-long virus. If you tell them in advance, you’ll have politeness to spare and you’ll get their sympathy instead of their shock at your bad manners.
And the worst that happens if you’re not actually sick and you recover? It was a false alarm – that’s great news.
Give Yourself a Reasonable Extension
If you’re already on your way to being sick, you know that you won’t be able to jump right back in and start producing high-quality work the day you start feeling a little bit better. Most of us take a day or two to recuperate.
Factor that in when you ask to push the deadline back. Ask the client for enough time that you feel confident you can meet the new deadline. If you shortchange yourself and have ask for a second extension because you aren’t quite up to snuff yet, your clients aren’t going to be nearly as nice about it.
Err on the side of caution.
Let Them Say No
Most clients, on hearing the news, will be more flexible and say it’s just fine to deliver a week later than expected. But some clients really do need you to deliver on time to avoid some serious repercussions for their business.
So, let them know it’s absolutely all right to say no to an extended deadline, and that you will take care of it. Explain that you’re feeling lousy and you’re not producing your best work, so it would be nice if you could have an extension – but if you can’t, you understand.
That makes the client think that he doesn’t need to run out and hire another freelancer to take your place. The client will probably also be glad he has a freelancer who meets deadlines come hell or high flu season.
Once you know what you have to do and what you can set aside until you feel better, ask yourself if you can actually get the work done. If you can, great. If you can’t, hire someone who can help you. It’s much better to keep that client on your side and get a next assignment than to lose the person entirely.
I’ll add a caution, though: Be transparent with your client. Let the person know that you’re working with someone else to get the job done. That conveys honesty, integrity, solution-minded thinking and proactive attention. It’s a win all around.
Your Clients Know You’re Human
Everyone has been sick at some point, and especially at this time of year, it’s entirely possible that your clients have recently been sick or had to deal with a loved one who was feeling ill.
They’re sympathetic to your plight. They know there’s nothing you can do about being sick. It’s not like you’re having some sort of emotional trauma because your girlfriend just broke up with you and you wish you could just curl up into a ball. No client is going to feel like they should give you an extension for that.
But they do know that you can’t do anything about being slung over a toilet bowl with the flu or having your sinuses plugged so tight that the compression might explode your head. And their reaction is going to reflect that.
So go ahead. Ask for a little sympathy. And then go back to bed and sleep as much as you can, so you can get better and get back to kicking ass a little sooner.