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This will never happen to me! – freelance lessons from last year’s serious accident.

Updated: Aug 31, 2023

Last Friday marked one year since I was in a serious bicycle accident. That evening, I left home to go for a Zumba class only to return nine days later, with a massive, painful wound on my belly and a piece of small intestine missing.

Dangerous driving and negligence towards cyclers can actually kill – I should know as the doctors said I was lucky I made it. The driver who was behind me must have bumped my back wheel, which caused my stomach to hit the handlebars with a huge impact. I perforated my bowel.

As a young and pretty fit person, I’d never thought something like this could happen to me. The situation was a huge (and pretty unpleasant) lesson that, as a freelancer, it is key to always be prepared for a health or personal emergency. Here are five things it’s taught me.

Smiling Alicja holding a rail on a hospital wall, posing next to a picture of a cow
Exploring the hospital corridors, my only entertainment back then, was actually extremely tiring.

Lesson 1: better safe than sorry

If a self-employed person falls ill, there is no sick payment or other health benefits available – at least not in the UK. Luckily, accident and health insurance don’t cost an arm and a leg and there is a lot to choose from. I kept delaying looking into it, and what a mistake that was!

The younger and fitter you are, the cheaper your premium will be. Many providers also offer a pay out for each 24-hour period spent in the hospital. That would have come in really handy for me back in May 2022!

If you don’t have health and/or accident insurance, I really recommend sorting it out ASAP. Don’t know which provider to go for? Contact an insurance broker or a financial advice firm.

I’d also recommend having holiday insurance. My accident happened a few days before I was supposed to go to Shetland and then Brighton for the ITI Conference. Luckily, I was insured in that respect, so at least I was able to get back accommodation and transport money.

Lesson 2: financial systems for the win!

A few years ago I listened to a Smart Habits for Translators episode that has changed my life. Susie Jackson shared some helpful tips on how to financially thrive as a freelancer.

I especially liked her advice on dividing your income into a few different pots. Some business and personal accounts, like Monzo, allow you to do that very easily. Soon after hearing how Susie does it, I started splitting each payment I receive into five categories: income, tax, pension, professional expenses, and bonus (who doesn’t like a nice financial boost twice a year?).

One thing is still missing there – a sick pay pot. Because of my accident, I lost seven weeks’ worth of income. Even once I was back to work, it was hard for me to keep focused. That lasted for a few weeks, if not months. As a result, I spent all of my savings and the summer 2022 bonus fund.

If – like me – you need to review your pricing strategy to allow for a sick pay to be incorporated into your income, it’s probably better to look into that sooner rather than later.

Lesson 3: with a little help from my friends

Networking has loads of benefits for freelancers: it makes us feel less alone, helps us grow, and opens our doors to opportunities. Oh, and having a trusted network of colleagues means you know whose way to send your client if you’re about to be wheeled to an operating table!

That is exactly what happened to me: I was supposed to work on a really amazing project (even told my partner to bring my laptop to the hospital…) but I quickly found out that I was bleeding internally and had to be taken to an operating theatre THERE AND THEN. Luckily, I could still think clearly enough to email my client, the colleague who recommended me, and the person I’d suggest to take over. I explained the situation to ensure the client was well aware of the circumstances.

Similarly, when I was back from my sick leave, my colleagues, who probably knew my financial situation wasn’t great, were quick to recommend me for projects.

If you don’t have a network of trusted colleagues, get working on it! Join a professional body or a local translators’ network and start establishing those all-important connections.

Lesson 4: communication with clients is key

Treating each client with respect is a no-brainer, but I think it’s as important to develop lasting, meaningful relationships with them – especially if you work together regularly. I got into the pre- and post-holiday habit of contacting my regular clients and those I’ve worked with recently. A few times a year, I also try to send updates to my prospects/dormant clients, just to remind them I’m still there. That’s also when I tell them about new skills I’ve gained and other developments they might find interesting.

Once I returned from the hospital, apart from setting up my out-of-office message, I actually took some time to craft a more personal email to my regular clients. I simply told them I’d had an accident and informed them when I’d be back in the office. Once I was ready to work again, I let them know of that. Easy.

I actually got a few projects off the back of me reaching out to clients once I returned. I get a feeling some were keen to send me a project as they knew I’d not been working for weeks (and luckily they had something in the pipeline); others probably got my email around the time a new project hit their inbox. Either way, it’s good to keep in regular contact with clients. Not only do you add a human factor to your communication, but are also more likely to actually earn work.

Lesson 5: your health comes first

Alicja with back turned away from the camera, looking at Loch Lomond
First long-distance cycle since the accident, exactly one year after the unlucky day

After the accident, I needed assistance when showering and going up and down the stairs. I couldn’t hold or carry anything that weighed more than 1kg. The most exciting part of each day was when my partner walked me down the stairs to sit in the back garden. In short: I felt completely dependent on other people.

This made me realise that I’d taken my health and fitness for granted. I couldn’t wait to be able to go for walks, cycle and even take up running again. Exactly one year after the accident, I finally cycled to the shores of Loch Lomond (so 22 miles). The date of the trip was important to me because I wanted to prove to myself that I could do a long-distance cycle. I won’t be bullied off the saddle by aggressive drivers!

Moreover, I have signed up to do my first ever half-marathon, on 1 October in Glasgow. I’m both excited and terrified! I have chosen to raise money for Women on Wheels, a Glasgow-based community cycling hub for women. The team delivers a range of cycling activities to get women back on a bike or onto a bike for the very first time. The organisation aims to empower and enable women to overcome their barriers to take up cycling.

You can donate to my fundraiser to support the cause!

I hope you found my insights helpful. Fingers crossed you won’t need to use my advice, but I really recommend you look into all of the aspects mentioned above. Just in case.

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