I’m behind. Way behind. I’ve been sick almost continuously the last month – the result of my adorable daughter bringing home every bug in the county. I’m recovering, but several iterations of the flu (and a cold, and a wave of power outages) clearly don’t respect a deadline.

What happens when you simply can't keep up?

In simple terms, I’m well and truly behind the 8-ball. Deadlines loom, and clients are waiting.

It’s an uncomfortable place for any freelance copywriter – especially given that my marketing consultant business continues to grow.

What’s a freelance copywriter to do when circumstances put you way, way behind the curve?

#1: Pare Down

This is the blatantly obvious – yet wholly painful – step where you stop investing energy in the things that can wait (the personal or vanity projects, speculative ventures, test sites, new technology, etc).

Instead, you focus on keeping your paying clients happy.

It sounds simple, but frankly, it’s not.

Because I’m trying to meet my clients’ needs, I’m in the embarrassing position of finishing my third project for my “marketing” company – yet my marketing Web site is only half completed.

And it will stay that way – at least until I catch up on my other commitments.

Painful? You bet.

Necessary? I think so.

#2: Stay In Touch With Your Clients!

I rarely sprinkle exclamation points in my copy, but made an exception for #2.

Sadly, I have to admit I’m not always great at keeping my clients in the loop when I’m struggling – usually the result of delusional, “I’ll pull a couple all-nighters and get caught up” thinking.

Or worse, I’ll embrace what I call embarrassing thinking like: “For several days – despite being sick and tired – I’ll be just as productive as I was when I wrote that entire ad campaign in two hours.”

Never mind your most productive day ever occurred over ten years ago, and you’ve not come close since.

As writers, we tend to remember the high points more readily than the daily slogs, and sometimes, fate doesn’t tap you on the shoulder and hand you a project after ten minutes work.

Sometimes you can pull all-nighters and catch up – your client none the wiser – but as I approach the half-century mark and now raise a little daughter, those all-nighters hurt a lot more.

And truthfully, are you really doing the best work you can for a client when you’re exhausted from working all night?

The moral? Tell your clients about your problem. See if you can’t buy a little more time (you do this by uncovering their real deadlines, or if there’s wriggle room left in the schedule).

If you don’t keep in touch, you run the risk of blindsiding your clients, which is where the real trouble begins – both now, and in the future.

#3: Don’t Make Things Worse

In the midst of my second brush with the flu, my Web host – which had been experiencing increasing problems with a server, but hadn’t addressed them – crashed spectacularly, losing several days worth of data for me and my clients.

When the dust settled (after a couple of long nights), I decided to switch to a new host. Immediately.

Good decision, but bad timing.

The move cost me several more all-nighters, a week’s worth of hassle, and yes – I got sicker in a hurry.

Simply put, I should have waited until I was better, and my deadlines weren’t so pressing.

If you’re sick, working on three hours sleep promises to make you sicker, creating a cascade which will put you even farther behind.

Don’t do it.

Other Strategies?

I outlined three critical strategies, but life’s never really simple enough to boil down to three bullet points. That’s why (absolutely free of charge) I’m including a few other useful strategies:

  • Hire help (Find another writer who can help you out of the jungle.)
  • Telescope existing projects (Find out which project bits must be finished now, and what can wait until later.)
  • Look for productivity gains (Grinding along on a ten year-old laptop? Maybe it’s time to upgrade. Write long, detailed emails? Time to shorten them.)

Freelance long enough, and you’ll find yourself the victim of circumstance – whether through sickness, accident, natural disaster or other calamity.

Some things can’t be avoided, but your response to those moments is always in your hands.

What will it be?

Keep writing (despite disease, power outage, etc), Tom Chandler.