Banking

How IT consultants should prepare for downtime

Here are four key things to consider when you need to take three or more days off from your consulting work.

Next Monday, I go into the hospital for a surgery that will probably keep me away from work for about a week -- maybe longer if I can't get off the pain pills. It's been a long time since I took that many days off work, so I've been devoting a large slice of my mental cycles to preparing for that event. I hope you never need major surgery, but you might want to take a vacation sometime, attend a conference or a family reunion, or any number of other activities that could take you away from your clients for several days. Here are some things to consider.

First and foremost, prepare your clients. Make sure they know when you will be unavailable, and whom to contact in case of an emergency. For many consultants, it would be a good idea to ask one of your associates to cover for you. That doesn't work as well in my line of work (software development), so I need to try to get all of my projects to a stable point where nobody else is waiting on me. If anything does come up in my code while I'm out, hopefully I will have documented everything well enough for someone else to figure it out.

Second, prepare your pocketbook. Ideally, you have a slush fund for unexpected downturns in business, and you can draw on that. But it's even better if you can ramp up business a little beforehand so you don't need to take a dip at all. Another reason why it's a good idea to get a little ahead is on the off chance you don't return to work exactly when you plan to do so. For the same reason, you might also want to invoice clients right before you leave so you'll still have income you can depend on. This works even better if your clients pay you electronically, so the check can be in the bank without you bringing it there. You can tell your clients your reason for the early invoice, and reassure them that you're not expecting their payment any earlier than usual.

Third, prepare your business. Pay all bills and file all forms that will come due while you're gone. Ensure that all your files are backed up, and that all systems are patched up to date. Inform your security company or whomever you trust to keep an eye on the premises that you'll be gone, and leave a contact in case of emergency.

Finally, prepare for your return. It's easy to focus on getting everything done before you leave, without considering the mountainous Inbox you'll encounter when you come back. This might be a good time to temporarily unsubscribe from some mailing lists or feeds that produce a high daily volume of traffic. Perhaps you can also recruit an associate to handle some of your correspondence while you're gone. Conversely, you'll want to make sure that your clients don't learn to live without you. Talk to them before you leave about future projects that you can address after you return.

I think the last time I took a week off consulting was back in 2005. I hope I'm not forgetting anything, so please feel free to give me some pointers in the discussion.

Also read: Contingency planning tips for independent consultants

About

Chip Camden has been programming since 1978, and he's still not done. An independent consultant since 1991, Chip specializes in software development tools, languages, and migration to new technology. Besides writing for TechRepublic's IT Consultant b...