Running your own business can mean dealing with all kinds of unexpected problems and events. Usually, it’s a last-minute client request or a late payment, but what if there’s a power cut, your broadband gets cut off, or your home office is burgled? Our emergency survival guide for the self-employed outlines how to prepare and cope with all kinds of unexpected events.
The self-employed community are typically resilient and well-prepared to overcome the challenges life and work can throw at them. But some emergencies can catch you off guard if you haven’t put a little bit of time into considering how they might impact your business.
Most of us rely on having constant access to the internet for our lives and work. So, if that’s cut off for some reason, it can cause major problems. Especially if it’s out of action for a day or more.
It’s worth checking your home broadband equipment to rule out a faulty router or broken cable before blaming the connection from your internet provider. But assuming everything is in order, you can find out the service status by phoning your internet provider, or using an alternative method to check the service status page of their website (it’s worth bookmarking this page on your smartphone so you can find it easily).
Assuming the problem is external, there are a few options to allow you to keep working during a broadband outage:
Mobile tethering uses your phone and data network to allow you to access the internet. You can either set your phone as a wi-fi hotspot, or tether it via a Bluetooth connection or USB cable. This applies to Android and iPhone devices, but the limiting factor is often your mobile operator. Some networks are quite happy for you to connect in this way and offer good deals on additional data at short notice, but others can be more restrictive and expensive. So, it’s worth checking your current deal in case it becomes useful.
Mobile dongles are separate gadgets which plug into your computer and connect in the same way as tethering your phone. The advantage is that you don’t need to tie up your handset, and there’s no battery to recharge. But they can be expensive, especially when you consume large amounts of data. And you can only use them for one computer at a time. To connect a larger number of computers and other gadgets to one connection, you’ll need a mobile hotspot device (commonly known as a MiFi).
Shared and public Wi-Fi hotspots are the final option. If you have friendly neighbours who aren’t impacted, it’s possible to connect wirelessly to their network, although walls and other obstructions could impact speed. And they might not be happy if you choose to stream HD films all night via their connection. But co-working spaces, libraries, and a lot of pubs, cafes and restaurants all offer internet connection within their premises. So, it’s good to know which communal offices might allow you to hot desk at short notice, or whether you can connect your laptop parked next to a fast-food drive through in an emergency.
At least you can get on with other work tasks or household chores during an internet outage. But a power cut or failure is a bigger issue.
If it’s likely to impact your work, letting clients know about potential delays or missed meetings should be your first priority before laptop and phone batteries run out. But if it’s a lengthy problem, then you’re going to need to find an alternative way to get your work done.
It’s worth unplugging all computers and appliances from the mains supply to prevent potential damage from a power surge (and investing in extension leads with surge protection can also help). Just leave at least one light on, so you can tell when the power is back.
Once again, neighbours, co-working spaces and other communal premises are a possible solution, depending on how widespread the problem may be. It’s possible your next-door neighbour might be unaffected, and also willing to have a long extension lead trailing through a window. Obviously, friends or offices in a different area might be an option, while it’s worth noting which cafes and restaurants offer plug sockets to customers.
Portable batteries are an option if you prefer to be self-sufficient, or also enjoy camping and outdoors pursuits. There are a range of options available from suppliers, and most will offer DC and USB outputs. Obviously, you’ll need to have it charged to work, and be sensible about how many devices you’re using to maximise the stored energy. But many power stations and generators now include solar charging if you’re likely to be disconnected for more than a day or two. Or there’s always the petrol or diesel option if you need a more heavy-duty supply.
Any break-in is a horrible experience, but it’s even more of a problem when it impacts your business and clients. Not only do you lose physical hardware, but it can also compromise client data and information, which can harm your business even more for the future.
Preparation is key to minimising the negative impacts of a home office robbery. Using strong and unique passwords on each device will make it less likely thieves can access personal or business information. You could also install and use tracking software for phones and laptops to locate stolen equipment via GPS.
To protect your work, backup everything regular in multiple locations. A removable hard drive is useful, but if it’s kept in your home office, there’s a good chance thieves will take it along with your computer. But storing it elsewhere, along with a duplicate online backup service, will mean you’re able to recover everything.
With a home office, there are typically limits to the physical security that can be installed. But a webcam or video surveillance system could help. And anything that might hamper or slow down a thief is worth considering. No security is completely unbeatable, but if a burglar thinks something is too much hassle, they’re more likely to move onto an easier target.
Some simple steps include choosing an upstairs room to work from, and investing in a robust lock for your office door, along with resisting the temptation to publicise your investment in expensive hardware on social media. And any general home security measures will also benefit your office, including alarms or external lights.
Most equipment will be covered under home insurance policies (and IPSE members can save 10% on cover), so check that your work hardware has been included, and there are no issues with your cover as a result. But you can also get discounted professional business equipment insurance as an IPSE member. This is well worth considering if you’ve invested significant amounts in tools and equipment, which may be outside standard home insurance cover.
Along with digital data, your home office will also contain plenty of paperwork. So, make sure you’re shredding and disposing of sensitive data, and fireproof, lockable storage is a sensible investment.
There are lots of ways to look after your physical wellbeing when you’re self-employed or freelancing. And many people choose to become their own boss for the freedom to manage a chronic illness or disability more effectively. But a sudden illness or injury can impact anyone.
One simple preparation is to take out illness and injury cover, included in IPSE Plus membership (along with life insurance and other useful policies). This can help your financial pressure by compensating you up to £2,000 if you’re unable to work for three or more weeks.
Many freelancers are reluctant to outsource or delegate tasks. But having a network of qualified self-employed professionals able to step in during an emergency will lift some of the responsibility, and allow you to focus on recovering more effectively. Especially for longer-term injuries and illnesses.
The majority of clients will understand that life can impact your ability to work, but only if they know what’s going on. Giving them a realistic update, along with providing a back-up plan for someone to cover your absence may mean your income is reduced in the short term. But it also makes it more likely you’ll still retain that project in the future.
Being able to control your business and career is a major attraction of becoming self-employed. But life can often offer challenges which are outside of our influence. By planning and preparing for the aspects you can impact, you reduce the overall effects on both your clients, and yourself.
And there is plenty of support available to help you through the majority of emergency situations. From IPSE membership to solar-powered generators, the self-employed community are the best-equipped to overcome anything and deliver quality work for their clients or customers.
Looking for more advice? We can help.
We have a dedicated advice page to help you navigate directly to specific sections including brexit, coronavirus, business insurances, and ways of working.View all advice pages