One of the many things that people are told to consider when evaluating the life of a freelancer or independent contractor versus the life of someone with a good full-time job is the lack of paid vacation and paid sick leave. Typically, however, these factors are blown off by most workers considering quitting the day job to become a freelance writer. Most simply think that in the long run, the difference between having paid sick time works out with the potentially higher pay that comes from working for yourself.
While it can be true that managing a freelance writing business is possible so that things like paid time off are built in, it isn’t as easy as it sounds. Working ahead or catching up on billable hours after taking time off for vacation works out easier for most freelancers. Being able to plan ahead and see the vacation time coming is a big factor, allowing the small business owner to "bank" some revenue or project time.
Sick days, on the other hand, are a lot harder to deal with for the work from home business owner. A single day of illness is generally not too hard to recover from. Everyone has a little slack time unintentionally built into their days that can be removed in a crunch to help make up for an unexpected day off. It may take a few days, or a couple of extra "off-hours" to fill the whole, but it is usually pretty doable. When illness stretches to more than one day, however, things get tougher.
Freelance Writing Down Time
The difference between freelancing and a salary job when it comes to sick leave isn’t just in the paid time off. It is also in the backup that a traditional working environment provides. A copywriting gig due on the 15th is still due on the 15th, even if someone is sick. In an office environment, if you are ill on the 12th and the 13th, someone could still be making calls, answering emails, photocopying materials and the like even while you are out. When you make it back in on the 14th, you’ll be behind, but you won’t necessarily be exactly where you were when you left the office on the 11th.
As a freelancer, there is no backup. The email that came in on the 12th asking you to clarify which of the previous catalogs you needed copies of for samples goes unanswered unless you drag your sniffling, aching, coughing, stuffy head, fever, body back to that home office and find, read, and reply. Otherwise, on the 14th, when you need to really make up some time (you probably also have stuff due on the 16th, 17th, and 18th, after all) you are going to be stuck at a dead-end because you don’t have the samples you need since no one heard back about which ones to send.
Even if you do manage to muddle through, or are mercifully sick over a weekend, there is still the matter of making up any earnings that were missed. If you usually make $1,000 a week and miss two days, that cuts your pay for the week to just $600. That is a significant drop.
With some savings and working some additional hours can help make up the difference, those things work just like a health savings account does. That is, it ONLY works if nothing happens while you are trying to fill it up so that it will be there when you need it. If you get sick early on, you’ll wipe that account out before you can ever start filling it up.
One might considered starting their freelance writing business up when it is Summer time as a hedge against unpaid sick leave. Of course, even then, there are no guarantees. In the end, paid sick time has a real value that should not be discounted.
P.S. If you are wondering, yes, I have been sick (am still sick). Worse, my family has been sick. So, while trying to help out and provide some comfort and downtime for others, I let the business production drop to minimum, which is exactly the opposite of banking hours just in case. That means that I am now brutally behind and in no shape to pull extended hours to make up for it. Those days will come. In the meantime, deadlines are arriving, and my job is, as always, to meet them. I’m not complaining. I love what I do and wouldn’t change it, but I blew off the value of paid sick leave when I made the jump. Not that I would do it differently, but I most definitely see the value that I once ignored.
Happy Writing, and may you be ever healthy 🙂