The Way We Work
July 21, 2010 by Tamara Rice

At one point or another it is inevitable that you will experience an unexpected crisis that interferes with your career as an independent contractor. In a less serious scenario, you may lose your cell phone, kill your laptop or just come down with a 24-hour virus. But, in a total disaster, you might be completely out of commission for weeks. Either way, you need a plan to bridge the gap and keep your work afloat.

Here are some actions you can take today, to save your job in the event of a crisis tomorrow:

1. Know where the free wifi hot spots are in your local community. Let’s say the carpenter installing your new built-in desk accidentally saws through your main ethernet cables, and you are out of luck until your Internet provider can come rewire the house. This doesn’t have to mean you stop working. Have a backup plan for those times your home Internet is on the fritz, completely down or just in between carriers. Know where to go for reliable free wifi, so your work doesn’t suffer.

2. Have multiple telephone lines where clients can reach you. Cell phones get lost, get broken, and sometimes are just out of range — it’s happened to all of us at one point or another. If at all possible, make sure the people you are working with know a second line (preferably a landline) where you can be reached in the even that one of these common cell phone issues strikes. (Hint: Put this information in the signature line of your emails to make it even easier for your clients to find you.)

3. Keep your employers’ contact information in more than one place. This should be a no-brainer, and yet how many of us make a habit of keeping contact information in multiple locations? Make sure it’s in your phone as well as in a place you can access without your phone — i.e. your computer. Want to be even better prepared? Keep your various employers’ business cards in your wallet, in addition to your digital storage methods.

crisis plan pic two4. Know how to change your outgoing voicemail message. If this is something you haven’t changed in five years, you may not remember how. Figure it out today and keep the instructions (minus any important security codes) in your wallet. Life is full of surprises —  the good kind and the bad. Being able to change your outgoing voicemail message might be the only thing you can do to let people know you are out of commission during a real crisis.

5. Know how to turn on the auto-reply feature in your email program. Once again, it’s a great way to let people know you aren’t available due to an unexpected circumstance. Individual employers should be personally contacted, if at all possible, but this will serve just fine for other business emails until you are available again. Write the steps of the process (i.e., click settings, scroll down to vacation responder, etc.) on a card in your wallet — minus passwords, of course — because you never know when someone else might have to do this for you. If you are stuck in a hospital bed, you will be glad that you can walk a friend through this process over the phone.

6. Know the names and contact information of two or three other reliable freelancers in your field. If a crisis is going to prevent you from completing a job, you don’t want to walk away leaving your employer hanging. Give them these leads to replace you. Is it giving away business? Maybe. But it’s a smart move to protect your reputation – and it makes you look like the consummate professional you are.

crisis plan pic one7. Open and maintain a savings account. We all struggle financially from time to time, but a savings account can be the key to survival when you don’t have an employer who can offer you sick pay, family leave, etc. Putting away a little extra money today can buy you some valuable time when you need it the most.

8. Have a line of credit. If your computer catches fire tonight, can you afford to replace it tomorrow? A line of credit is not for frivolity, it’s for emergencies. Make sure that you have credit – and that you don’t abuse it – so that it’s there when you need it.

No one wants to have to evacuate their house during a natural disaster. No one wants to have to sit by a friend’s bedside at the hospital. None of us want to experience a difficult and unforeseen crisis of any kind. However, if you have a plan to cover your bases professionally in the midst of a disaster, those difficult things will be just a little easier to get through.

Has a crisis ever caused your work to suffer? What would you do differently the next time around?

Tamara Rice

Freelance Writer and Editor

Tamara Rice is one of several freelance writers on the oDesk Blog team. She joined the oDesk marketplace in 2009, after more than six years on staff at an award-winning national magazine.