Emergencies happen. The very nature of the beast is that we don’t have any warning and we can’t stop them.
More often than not, a true emergency means that you don’t really have time to worry about your freelance business — you may stress out about letting clients down, but you have your hands full.
If you can spend time emergency-proofing your business ahead of time, though, you can reduce your stress in the moment. It’s important to set up your business so that someone can step in during an emergency and keep everything running smoothly until you return.
Picking Your Emergency Contact
Since you can’t predict how long an emergency will take to resolve, you need to know that you can count on the person you’re handing the reins over to.
The best situation is if you can line up another freelancer with similar skills to your own, who you trust completely. If that’s the case, you may be able to hand off entire projects to that other freelancer, so that you can come back with a blank slate.
The best situation is if you can line up another freelancer with similar skills to your own, who you trust completely
The most important of those characteristics, however, is trust: you have to know that whoever you’re counting on won’t mess up your business or take advantage of having access to information about your freelancing.
Actually having experience freelancing is a close second, though, because otherwise, you’ll need to educate your emergency contact on every last detail of what you do. Having some background in self-employment will help dramatically.
If the person in question isn’t actually able to handle doing the work you usually take on, you do need to select a secondary person who you can send clients to if you aren’t going to be able to finish a project. Make sure that you notify both your primary emergency contact and any freelancer you intended to forward projects to so that they won’t be surprised.
Keep Excellent Records
As a freelancer, it’s easy to fall into the habit of of keeping everything in your head. But unless your emergency contact is an excellent mind reader, that person is going to need a clear reference document you’ve updated recently.
At the bare minimum, you need to have a list of your current clients and their contact information. As long as someone can go down that list and let them know that you’re in the midst of an emergency, you can get by.
You may also need to hand over login credentials for your email so that someone can respond to emails with messages along the lines of ‘the freelancer you’re trying to reach is unavailable and will get back to you next week.’
If you’ve got someone really reliable to help out and you can put together more information, consider the following options:
- Providing login credentials for your project management tool so that your helper can handle at least basic details (like reminding clients to send along information).
- Maintaining a list of the status of invoices so that your helper can make sure that you get paid.
- Creating a FAQ list so that clients don’t have to wait for answers to routine questions.
- Making a list of names of other great freelancers who potential clients can be directed to during the emergency.
Long before you actually have an emergency, sit down with your emergency contact and go down the list of materials you’ll leave for them and — perhaps more importantly — where all of those materials will be. If someone can’t find the password to your email, she certainly can’t answer any messages for you.
Make Emergency Preparedness Part of Your Routine
It’s crucial to keep any emergency materials you have up to date. It’s also worth considering what else you can do to make your business continue to run smoothly at least through a short emergency.
Little things, like padding your time estimates for clients and working to get ahead of schedule on a regular basis, can help prevent an emergency from meaning the end of the world, at least in terms of your freelancing.
Any step you can take to minimize and automate repetitive tasks in your business can help ensure that even if the actual creative work has to stop while you resolve something else, invoicing, communications and other little details continue to hum along.