“If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail.”
This saying, in various forms, has become a motto for many in the business world. For independent consultants, who often have to carefully balance each aspect of their business, this saying rings particularly true – especially in the case of emergencies or unforeseen situations that impact your consultancy or your ability to work. Whether you’re sidelined by an illness, family emergency, or other unexpected disaster, finding yourself caught off-guard without a contingency plan can have dire results. Below are a few simple yet essential steps to put yourself in a better position should an emergency occur.
You’ve likely heard the advice again and again: Make regular backups of all of your files (and consider cloud-based software). However, far too many business professionals still neglect to do this. Many others follow the bare minimum backup procedures, but could add in a few more simple steps that would make their work files better protected and more easily accessible. Having all of your files backed up in multiple locations is critical for protecting yourself and providing a continuity plan in a number of scenarios.
In instances of data loss due to a virus, hacking, or simple hardware or software failure, multiple backup types and locations can ensure that your data is recoverable. Including cloud backup as one of your solutions can also be invaluable in the case of a personal crisis that prevents you from working from your main computer – or from working at all. With files backed up in the cloud, you will be able to access them from another computer or mobile device, or allow the files to be accessed remotely by others who may need them.
While outsourcing your work might not always sound appealing to you as an independent consultant, it can often be a helpful solution in an emergency. If you wisely plan ahead, there may be a number of options available for shorter-term situations. You might ask your mentor – or someone you’ve been mentoring, if you believe they’re ready – to step in to assist you. If you have a close relationship with another consultant you trust, you may be able to temporarily outsource some of the more urgent duties to them. Another possible option for short-term solutions could be to work closely with and train an employee of the client so that they’re up-to-date on all aspects of the project and familiar with the basic tasks, allowing them to carry on routine functions with your remote management.
If your absence will be long-term, you may have to consider hiring a subcontractor to complete the project as one of your options. To plan for this possibility, preparing detailed manuals and documents on both the general processes and information specific to the client’s project can help make the transition easier and smoother.
When it comes to building strong, lasting relationships with clients and gaining their lasting trust, communication and transparency are key. If your emergency is likely to cause a delay in work that will impact your client, it’s important to be upfront and honest with them about the situation. Give them as much relevant information as possible, including how long you expect to be unavailable and your contingency plan in the meantime. If possible, assure them that the lines of communication are more open than ever, and that you will be available to assist to the best of your ability if they need to contact you with questions or help. If the nature of your emergency means that communication may actually be slower or more difficult, make sure that the client is aware of this as well.
When an emergency or unexpected situation arises, having the right insurance can be the difference between a minor bump in the road and a major pitfall that can derail your consultancy. As an independent consultant, every asset of your business is too critical to risk without insurance of some type.
In the case of a medical emergency, health insurance can keep focused on making sure your consultancy stays on track instead of worrying about insurmountable medical bills. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that independent consulting means health insurance is out of reach; there are a number of health insurance options available for the self-employed, including those provided by the Affordable Care Act.
Business insurance may also be of assistance in the case of an unexpected emergency. If your absence or inability to complete a project can be argued to have resulted in a breach of contract or some sort of harm to your client, the right business insurance may offer some protection from liability or assistance in legal defense.
Finally, it is highly recommended that you create your own form of financial “insurance” to protect your consultancy and provide business continuity in the case of a loss of income. A good rule of thumb is to have six months’ worth of expenses in a savings account at all times to prepare for the unexpected.