Life PreserverSometimes us creative type people can ignore some pretty important business details – not necessarily because we don’t think they’re important but because we just don’t think of them.  So today’s post is on thinking about backup plans.

I have a standard clause in my contracts that allows me to terminate a relationship with a client.  I’ve never thought about why I would use it much but it was recommended to me and it seemed like a good idea to add in.

Up until about a month ago, none of my clients had questioned it.  But while working on a proposal with a new client, they asked under what circumstances I might terminate the relationship.  It made me pause and think.  Why would I?

There are really only two major reasons I would consider activating that clause:

  • I was physically unable to continue working due to death, illness or some kind of emergency
  • A client was asking me to do things I consider unethical or that are illegal

While the second reason is pretty easy to deal with, what would I do if faced with the first possibility? So I put a backup plan in place that I could present to the client.  Basically, it involved having a colleague that I work with regularly agreeing to complete the project if I was unable to.

best laid plans

Having that conversation with the client was a small blessing in disguise.  A few weeks ago a family emergency dramatically affected my ability to work and I didn’t know how long it would be before I could get back into a routine.  Freelancing or running your own business means that if you’re not working, you’re not being paid.  I don’t have the luxury of sick days or vacation time.

Fortunately, the client for my largest project was extremely understanding and even offered to adjust their deadline.  Not all clients will be able to do that though, and knowing that I had an arrangement with a colleague who’s skills and work philosophy I trust completely was a huge weight off my mind.  And true to form, he jumped right in with an offer of help.

a backup of the backup

I occasionally work with a fellow who likes to have a backup of his backup plan in place.  I understand why.  In a time of stress, knowing you have alternate solutions that can be activated with a few moments notice can make things much easier for you, allow you to keep your clients and projects, maintain some degree of income and give you peace of mind.

Some different types of backups to consider:

file backups

First, make sure you have a backup system in place for all your computer files and do it regularly.  You may not need to back everything up but regular backups of your email, client files, design asset files, bookkeeping, your creative projects and anything else your business or art needs to function is crucial.  Hardware fails.  It’s not an “if” but a “when”.

How you choose to backup can be anything from a secondary portable hard drive, an online service like Dropbox, even DVDs.  Make sure you have an offsite backup of your files in case of fire or flood.  There are services that will do this for you or it might be as simple as putting a portable drive into your laptop bag when you leave your office or studio.  If you work from home, find a safe place to store a backup off of your property.  I’ve even read of one writer who keeps a disc of his current manuscript in the glove compartment of his truck!


Make sure you’ve insured yourself properly.  Talk to an insurance agent about your specific situation and make sure your business assets are insured.  If you’re a creative person, your biggest asset is your creativity. Consider disability insurance – if something happens and you can’t work, you need income.  In Canada, basic provincial medical covers most of things but you might want to look at extended medical insurance to help with other costs like prescriptions.

reciprocal relationships

If you freelance, finding a person who you can form a reciprocal relationship with can be a lifesaver.  They don’t necessarily have to have your skillset but they need to be able to take on your project and manage it.  If they can do that, they may be able to find subcontractors who can do different bits and pieces of the job.  The key is to find somebody you trust, who shares your business philosophy and who you feel comfortable leaving your clients with.  Be willing to fill in for them as well, should the need arise.

Realize though, that a reciprocal relationship will not ensure you an income while you are out of commission.  The person doing the work for you needs to be paid for their time.  But, what it will do, is ensure you have the ability to retain the client and protect any potential future income they may provide.

financial cushion

Try to keep a financial cushion available at all times.  Consider it an emergency fund.  All financial planners talk about them but they’re even more critical when your income can be sporadic.  Knowing you have 6 months of funds in the bank can be a huge relief when business gets interrupted.  If you need to use it, make it the first thing you pay back when you are back on your feet.

other ideas

  • keep organized: this will make it easier for anybody who has to step in for you on a moments notice.  It also makes it easier for you when you walk back into your office after time away.  It’s far easier for you to pick up where you left off when everything is where it should be.
  • develop passive income streams:  while they might not provide a lot of income, they can provide a consistent amount of money that can help you through lean times or emergencies – especially when used in addition to your emergency fund.
  • wills, power of attorney, password files – all are things that are important to have in order and that key people should know how to access if necessary.

I had my wakeup call two weeks ago and fortunately, I had a couple of these things in place already which made my life much easier and let me focus on what needed to be done.  But even so, there are still several I need to take care of and you can bet they’re much higher up on my priority list now.

If you have any other suggestions, feel free to add them in the comments!