Creatives, What’s Your Contingency Plan?


“Creative” is an umbrella term uniting people from different walks of life, with one common denominator: the process of creation. While that requires some minimum level of talent and skill, it doesn’t always guarantee the executive functions of discipline, planning, and attention to detail.

And in today’s gig economy, even as more companies hire freelancers to address their creative needs, that potential lack of forethought can be a limiting factor.

Things will go wrong

As the pandemic has so bluntly demonstrated, a single, largely unforeseen event can cause massive disruption anytime.

Modern creatives are fortunate that their work frequently benefits from the technology that has helped us survive the pandemic. Still, they aren’t impervious to the overall impacts. As businesses shutter or restructure, they may lose clients or have projects shelved indefinitely.

In the broader perspective, disruptions can include any misfortune that befalls one’s person or creative property.

A flood or house fire could destroy your electronic devices, leaving you unable to work for a period and potentially setting back entire projects due to lost files. Theft, cybercrime, or personal injury could have similar effects.

In a worst-case scenario, you might die. When that happens, who has access to your accounts and passwords? Do they know who your clients are or how to retrieve the pertinent files?

We know better than ever now how easily our lives and our jobs can be disrupted. But how many creatives are taking the necessary steps to safeguard their work and develop a Plan B (or C, and so on) just in case disaster strikes?

Backups aren’t enough

Everybody who works with digital files will want to back them up. And with modern cloud technology, backup functionality is often built into devices and platforms, so we don’t even have to think about it.

But in many creative fields, the work on a computer isn’t all there is to a project.

Designers in construction, for instance, draft a set of blueprints when bidding for a project. But once work starts, the realities of working on-site force compromise and change. Upon completion, the designer then works with 3D laser-scanning companies to render an as-built plan, providing a subsequent reference point for exactly how the project was executed.

Across industries, creatives today operate in similar ways. They may come up with designs on their own, but there will be many back-and-forths with clients. Revisions are made frequently based on inputs from various sources. Sometimes, proprietary resources will be provided by the client to replace stock images or renders the designer was initially using.

Are all of those on-the-ground modifications included in your backups? Even if you diligently upload and sync your files, relevant information and discussions are probably still stored separately, perhaps in an email thread or video call recording.

That matters if someone has to take over your work in case of an emergency because such information isn’t legible or accessible to them, leading to friction and delays.

Exploring contingency plans

Some creatives may receive formal training that emphasizes the executive functions of the job. However, for many freelancers, the realization that this aspect is now a basic expectation of their work is hard-earned.

If you’re lucky, your clients might have clauses already written into the contracts you sign, stipulating the transfer of ownership of all relevant digital assets if unforeseen circumstances arise.

Eventually, you’d be best served looking into your own legal options. Traditional estate planning law is quickly evolving to accommodate the realm of digital asset management. You could draw up a power of attorney for digital assets, granting an agent the ability to act on your behalf should you become unavailable or incapacitated.

It’s not a bad idea to seek professional legal assistance for estate planning in general, but it does come at a cost. For freelancers who’re just starting, the volume of digital assets they handle might not warrant that cost just yet.

In these situations, you might want to look into a system of digital asset management (DAM). A storage service such as Dropbox could fulfill this need in the most basic form, provided the creative professional puts in work to organize everything. But as your scope of work expands to become part of larger projects, professional DAM solutions not only offer improved efficiency but the ability to keep workflows going amid disruption.

Remember that creative work is not just about the creative process. Being a true professional these days includes planning for what might happen to your projects or clients if something happens to you.

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