Recently I traveled back to Wales for a long weekend visiting my family – just a short flight over the Irish Sea for four days. On the way back to the airport heading home I was caught up in huge traffic delays due to a fatal accident on the motorway. I couldn’t go another way or even get off the motorway so I missed my flight and had to stay over another day. It meant missing a day of work.

Being self-employed, as I am, if you don’t work you don’t get paid. This isn’t the same as everyone who is self-employed but I’d say it is for the majority. I have a few clients with my accountancy business and also for my writing and was able to contact them all to say things would be delayed a day this week. I had scheduled all Social Media updates for another client while I was away – but only up until the day I was due back. Luckily I had my iPhone with me so could cover that.

I didn’t have my laptop with me – purposely for once as I wanted to take some time off work on the long weekend. One thing I did have was a pen and paper so I did some writing and also got around to wondering what self-employed people do when they inadvertently have to miss work.

I asked my Accountant colleague what he would do and his reply covered everything I was thinking of so I will include in its entirety.

Tom Holmes of Ballymount Accounting

“Being self-employed and engaging in freelance or part-time work does mean that the traditional 9-5, five days a week type routine tends to go out the window. Very often there can be pressure points in work assignments that require weekends working or late nights. This can, in some cases, depending on your social situation with family commitments, be good or bad; good in the sense that it gives you free time during the traditional working week to be available for household chores; but on the other hand this sort of routine can be bad in that you may be unavailable when everyone else is off work.

“The type of work I do can be completed anytime or anywhere a lot of the time, so it is quite literally possible to conduct business from your sick bed. Technology (laptop), modern communication (mobile phone) and internet access (wifi) have made all this possible to do. The downtime here and consequent loss of income is minimized or even eliminated.

“Also being a freelance accountant means that in a lot of situations work can be postponed or deferred to a later date with the agreement of clients. This can, however, lead to a dip in income unless you have structured your work with the client on a retainer type basis.

“In the unfortunate situation I would be unable to work at all after say a serious accident or illness, my fall-back position would be the engagement of some trusted colleagues to fill in for me. The colleagues I would trust to do this would in a lot of cases be doing a similar type of work and would seamlessly fall in and pick up such engagements fairly quickly.

“There is obviously a cost and a loss of income to such a course of action but the key thing here is that you have retained the client, the work is getting done and you can pick it back up again when you are back on your feet. To negate the loss of income in these sorts of situations, you really need to have some sort of Income Protection cover in place to help you get through such a time without a huge drop in income.”

From what Tom has said and my ideas to I have come up with the following five tips:

# 1. Scheduling and Planning Ahead

If you know you are going to be off work there are some great scheduling apps so there isn’t a dip in your Social Media activities. Facebook and Twitter have their own scheduling options and other Social scheduling apps that work well across all the platforms are Bufferapp, Socialoomph, and Socialbro, to name just a few.  Blogs can be scheduled ahead too.

The same as scheduling is planning ahead – try to get your work done in advance whenever you can so you’re always ahead in what you do. I realize this is hard to do, I find it impossible myself but on the odd day when I am working in advance of my schedule it’s such a lovely feeling.

# 2. Income Protection Insurance

When you are starting a business you want to be covered if anything happens so you take out insurance. For the self-employed, most insurance companies will provide income protection insurance paying benefits to policyholders who are incapacitated and hence unable to work due to illness or accident.

This often comes at a high premium and obviously the cost will vary depending on how much you want to cover and it takes in other factors like age, the type of work you do, previous illnesses, etc. They also have several criteria you have to pass before a pay-out is given.

# 3. Residual or Retainer Income

Rather than getting paid on a daily rate or per work-piece done then arrange for a retainer fee. For accountants, this is agreeing, for example, that all work needed to be done to create annual accounts will cost a certain fee. This can be negotiated annually as a business grows of course. The job gets done in your own time then so missed days aren’t a problem. Several other businesses can do similar.

With residual income, I often think of writing a book or eBook that will hopefully keep selling and provide an ongoing income. This is ideal for writers but if you have a specialty and can put it to good use as a one-off, which earns later income, then get your thinking cap on.

# 4. Delegation

As Tom mentioned above you can hopefully delegate work to trusted colleagues or people in the same profession that you trust to do as good a job as you. This ensures the work is still done and that you retain your client.

# 5. Technology

Fortunately, or possibly, unfortunately, we can nearly always work from anywhere as long as we have our laptop, phone and a wifi connection. I have been known to work from the hospital with appendicitis before now. Obviously, this isn’t always the healthy way to go about things.

If you don’t have your laptop with you but can get access to a computer you can use Dropbox and Google docs to access your work from anywhere. For myself, with accountancy, the majority of what I do is in the cloud and also for my blog posts it’s all online.  Remember to carry your passwords with you securely somehow.

So I hope the above has helped somewhat if you find you have to miss work for a while. Of course, if all else fails just do as I did – I put my feet up in a nice hotel, read a whole book and used pen and paper to do some notes on posts I’m planning for the future. Oh, and I bought a lucky lottery ticket just in case.

What suggestions do you have if you have to take time off work unexpectedly?