Backup plan

How do you plan for the unexpected?

This weekend, I took Craig for a surprise trip to a hot tub lodge in Northumberland. Our first ‘holiday’ of 2021 was finally here, and even though we were only travelling a few miles north, we were taking it very, very seriously.

On Sunday, Craig turned 30 and we had a lovely pub meal with his family and explored the delightful village of Felton with the dogs, followed by a few too many glasses of prosecco in the hot tub.

I found myself brought back down to earth with quite the (hungover) bump on Monday morning following a technical issue affecting all of our clients’ websites and many of their email accounts.

Thankfully, my IT company are total legends and took on the burden of digging into the issue, while frantically moved around the campsite trying to find a decent signal so I could reply to client emails. Not the way I wanted to spend my day, but it's something you come to fear - and expect! - when you take time off as a self-employed person.

Typically, I don’t respond to emails on (rare) days off, unless there’s an emergency - which is what happened on Monday. Fortunately, in our industry, even the worst-case scenarios aren’t life-or-death emergencies, but they still require immediate attention.

Previously, I thought an Out Of Office was enough:

“I’ll reply when I’m back if there's something that can’t wait (e.g. your website goes down) then give me a call on 07xxx”

But now I realise I need a much more stringent policy for when I'm away or unable to work. Having a backup plan isn’t just about preparing for a holiday, it covers you for anything unexpected: illness, bereavement, family issues - whatever life throws your way, sometimes the business has to stop for a second.

Back in 2019, when I first went freelance, I wasn’t anywhere near as busy as I am now. I initially embarked on my self-employment journey so I could care for my Mam, who had Pancreatic Cancer and passed away in April of the same year.

I’m not proud to say I probably only took two days off for the entirety of that ordeal: the day she died and the day of the funeral. So, pairing that with the fact that I was less ‘in-demand’ than I am now, I never really needed anything other than an Out Of Office and my mobile phone.

But what about when you can’t just pick up the phone or open the laptop to respond to urgent enquiry?

I touched on this in a previous issue where I explored the shitty parts of freelancing nobody ever talks about, including how the buck always stops with me.

What does a backup plan for a freelancer look like?

To some extent, I’m more fortunate than other “freelancers” as I share my working life with Craig, so I’m never alone in my struggles. However, the website side of the business is my responsibility - so other than offering words of support and cups of tea (absolutely necessary when you’re having a meltdown), Craig isn’t always able to help when it all goes tits up.

This whole experience has got me thinking about our backup plan, so we know that the business can survive without us for a week or even longer if something big were to happen in our lives.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no intention of “automating” the business, or taking any significant time away from our lovely clients - I love running a business and I really can’t see a future where I work for anyone else, but we all need breaks - whether planned or otherwise - so it's important to be prepared.

I’ve only been thinking about this for 24 hours, so I don’t have a defined plan to share with you, but here are some things I am considering:

  • Clear signposting and training for clients, so they can fix small issues themselves

  • Defining what “urgent” actually looks like - what is actually an emergency and what can wait?

  • For new enquiries: recommend alternative freelancers you trust, so no one is left waiting for a response.

  • Invest in out-of-hours technical support that your clients can access, so you can switch on and off when required.

Do you have a holiday plan? And what about when something happens outside of your control - how do you ensure your clients are happy, even when you’re AFK?

Let me know your thoughts on Twitter @ContentByTheSea or reply to this email for a chat.

📚 Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter - Not my usual cup of tea but this novel was a wild ride! Certainly not for the faint-hearted, however. If you’ve got a strong stomach and a thirst for thrillers, then this one’s for you.

📺 Feel Good (Netflix) - The sitcom, written and starring Mae Martin, is one of those rare shows to cover difficult topics while still making you laugh through the tears. Great to see more LGBTQIA+ rep on everyone’s fave streaming platform.

That’s all from me, see you next Wednesday!

Enjoyed this? You might like these past issues:

17 June: The sun always shines on TV

10 June: Practical tips for panicky people

3 June: Sciatica strikes back

26 May: Looking after yourself is hard

19 May: He just can’t decide

12 May: Getting titillated by the tangible

5 May: Taking it all in

28 April: Be a better cheerleader

21 April: The power of procrastination

14 April: How to sell without feeling icky