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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...

10 comments
pgit
pgit

I've had more surgery than 25 people combined have over their lifetimes. 80% is related to nearly being extinguished when my dad fell asleep behind the wheel back in '77. Don't sweat anything. It'll seem like forever getting things started, but before you know it you'll be waking up. I have numerous memories of a fine set of hooters attached to a pleasant post op nurse leaning over me to start the reorientation. There's no sustained pain until you get sent home, at least in my experience. The pain of the incision itself is normally the worst of it, and you'll be letting the staff know when the last shot is wearing off... Anyhoo, good luck to ya. Look at every moment as a necessary part of a greater good and you'll be through it all faster than you'd imagined. ps July 10 is my birthday. I'll send best wishes your way all day, maybe the thought popping into your mind of me enjoying my birthday and at the same time sending positive vibes your way will serve as a distraction along the way... pss off the top of my head, I've been under general anesthesia over 20 times..

damir.grubisa
damir.grubisa

Your ???loyal??? customers/clients see you as partner in their business as well so they will understand that you are taking time off and that you will be back. Thrust that you have built in your consulting carrier is the key in situations like this??? All excellent points and have good and quick recovery Damir Grubisa Group 4 Networks

Greg Miliates
Greg Miliates

In addition to Chip's ideas--all solid ones, by the way--here's what I've found helpful: 1: If possible, schedule your time off as an extended weekend. That way, you're not out an entire workweek, and can maintain momentum with projects more easily. 2: Like Chip said, increase your billable hours prior to leaving on vacation; I also boost my work hours after returning so that there's not as big a hit to revenue. 3: Optional: Work on vacation. Not my favorite, but it's a possibility. To do this, I've restricted work hours to early morning and late evening. 4: Create non-hourly revenue streams. Depending on your consulting niche, it may be possible to create resellable products like software utilities, apps, e-books, e-courses, etc. Prior to going on vacation, you can do a marketing push to your clients & prospects to boost your sales of your products. 5: Plan BEFORE you return. Before you leave on vacation, create blocks of time on your calendar for specific projects and tasks--not just the e-mail black hole. Aim to plan out the entire return week, leaving some open times for things that come up, but most of your time should be planned out. That way, when you return from vacation, you'll know what you need to do, and during your vacation, you'll be less stressed since you know you've done advance planning for your return. 6: Manage e-mail during your vacation, simply to clean out your inbox. The goal is to reduce inbox clutter so you'll have less when you return. 7: My favorite: Unplug completely. If possible, do absolutely nothing work-related, and don't take your laptop or cellphone on vacation. I've done this several times whenever I take my kids backpacking, and it's incredibly freeing to only focus on enjoying my time off in the outdoors.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

... just as this article was published, I got a call from the surgeon pushing my surgery back to July 3. Oh well, more time to prepare.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

I'll be sure to mention to the nurses that it's your birthday, then I'll amuse myself by watching their confused expressions.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Yes, trust is always the most important element in our relationships with clients. Thanks for your kind words.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

#3 made me wince, but I've done it before. This time, I'm not going to have a choice about #7, at least while I'm on pain meds.

PMPsicle
PMPsicle

Giving you more time to prepare means you have more time to worry. Anyway, good luck with the surgery. At least you had warning. Glen Ford, PMP http://www.vproz.ca

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Now it's been moved back even farther, to July 10. I'll try not to spend the time worrying.

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