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Heh. We’d sort of vaguely considered emergency planning, in the sense of having a few local photographers we trusted on call for if we got sick on the day of a shoot. And that was more or less it.

And then the Year That Must Not Be Named happened, and the pandemic brought a different kind of emergency – we’d never considered what would happen if you couldn’t work at all and neither could anyone else in your industry – so we decided it was high time we talked properly about emergency planning!

Plan for the worst, hope for the best

The past eighteen months have probably redefined “emergency” in terms of business for an entire generation – but what we mean by it is if we are incapacitated in any way, if we can’t work in (or potentially on) our businesses. It could be anything from breaking an ankle and not being able to drive, to being unwell or preoccupied by something else (bereavement, renovations, all manner of things life might throw at us) enough to not be able to even direct anyone else to run my business.

Ideally, there would be something already in place for any and all of those situations.

Contact and communication are really key – if you have a minor incident, especially if your work is not time sensitive and can be rescheduled with your clients, then it’s good to be able to contact them as early as possible to discuss this with them.

But actually, a lot of us run businesses where our clients book us for our specific creative skills and input – so it’s also important to have things set up so that someone (ideally someone who knows this is coming in an emergency, but anyone who can do it in a pinch) can contact your clients and suppliers and collaborators on your behalf if necessary.

In essence, it’s planning for the unexpected.

And you know what, it’s normal to have next of kin and emergency contacts for life – if you’re going to hospital, or if you’re doing some kind of vaguely risky organised activity, you’re usually asked for a contact in case something happens to you. Even our vets have a secondary contact number for our pets.

But in business, this doesn’t generally seem to be a thing, at least with solo self employed humans.

We customise our businesses and our systems to suit us, and that means that even the people we love the most, even if they are also self employed (and many of them aren’t), can’t necessarily just pick up where you left off and get on with stuff.

Eeep. That means processes… laying out what you do so that someone else can see how you do it.

(Which sounds terrifying, but if you hop over and listen to the brilliant Andrea Jordan’s episode, you’ll find it’s not as scary as it sounds!)

Different sorts of emergency

As in, your death is probably fairly permanent, so requires a different kind of planning to if you’re just stepping away from your business temporarily to deal with a life hurdle.

Let’s talk about access to stuff.

First up, passwords – because without those, you’re stuffed, but equally you don’t really want anyone randomly having access to them while you’re ok and alive and doing your thing.

We love LastPass, Chrome’s password facility, and there are lots of others. Whichever one you choose, make sure you can export them in case of changing your machine or logging in somewhere else.

Next up, social media accounts. We have heard horror stories about people being kicked out of their own social media pages (and actually, since recording this episode, Carla’s experienced Facebook Business Manager demoting her to editor, rather than admin, of her own page.)

So we’d highly recommend giving someone else at least editor access and ideally admin access to your important business pages, because if Facebook chucks you out, you’re stuck. Obviously this person needs to be someone you can trust 100%.

Facing up to SOPS

They feel so corporate, don’t they? Standard Operating Procedures – even the name feels beige. But they don’t have to be complicated – for Ink Drops ours are just a series of Google docs, typed out with colour coding for who does what – and if they’re done well, in theory anyone should be able to step in and pick up the reins to the important bits of your business at a moment’s notice.

But what do you actually document? For the specific purpose of emergency planning, you probably don’t need to chart EVERYTHING.

We suggest things like your onboarding process, scheduling social media, where your calendar is and where to find your client contact details, links of what to send each person at which stage, and at what point rescheduling should happen in the event of an unexpected something!

And whatever you do write, you need to check & update when things change, so it’s always relevant.

It occurs to us some way through this episode that even if you have someone ready to take on all this, you still need someone who can let that person know you’re incapacitated and kick off the emergency proceedings.

Heretofore, fuck that

We said earlier that communication is really important – and communication STYLE is also important. While getting the messages out to your clients is critical if you’re not able to do it yourself, doing it in the right style and tone of voice is massively important.

“Heretofore” and “yours sincerely” and similar corporate bullshit phrases are banned from both our businesses, and it’s really important that whoever takes over in your absence has at least a passing grasp of your normal conversational style with clients, and is as formal or informal as you are, accordingly.

We have a whole discussion about social media – do you pause it? Do you leave it alone? Do you change what’s being posted in the event of an unforeseen urgent thing, and if so what to?

We have more or less established that most aspects of emergency planning are super personal to you and your business and there’s no one right answer to how to handle it. So please take this whole episode as a prompt rather than a checklist!

Tech is not infallible

Backup. And backup. And then backup your backups!

But seriously, Sarah points out that while she generally does client work using Google Docs, which means she can pick it up from wherever she happens to be in the world, she flew to Malta to see her parents and Google went down for a few hours – which meant she couldn’t do any client work because all her notes and drafts were also down.

So having your systems in place is good, but do think about what happens if those systems fail, even for a short while. Is anything time sensitive stored on them?

The best time to create your emergency plan is before you have an emergency.

And we would LOVE to know whether you guys have emergency plans in place and what they are! Let us know in the comments or drop us an email 🙂