Do self-employed online teachers need disaster plans?

Now that I work for myself, I’ve left the corporate risk strategy and disaster planning documents behind. They’re just not relevant for an independent English teacher … or are they?

The term “disaster planning” was always a bit strange for me. After all, it’s not like wedding planning, which involves planning a wedding. You’re not planning a disaster, but rather what you would do in the event of one.

You definitely don’t need to go into the same detail as I used to in the big organisations, or plan what you’re going to do with hundreds of staff if the office becomes unusable due to some kind of natural disaster, but something that happened last week got me thinking about the kinds of questions we still have to ask ourselves about what we would do if something unexpected happened, or something went wrong that would impact on our business. Even if you don’t create a specific document, here are a few points to consider.

1. Your work space

I love my work space! After years of being stuck in offices with others, the worst of which was open-plan and had about 100 people working in it, my cosy home office is a great place to work.

However, when I’m travelling, it’s easy enough for me to pack up my laptop and all my stuff so that I can work remotely.

If you had to move location for a couple of days, what things would you definitely need to take with you?

Would this even be possible?

It’s easy for me because I use a laptop and my business is completely paperless.

We are going to have some building work in the summer and I will probably take the time off to oversee the building work, rather than relocate, but if I did need to move, there are a couple of other places nearby where I could work.

Where could you go if you had to work somewhere else? Is there somewhere quiet and with good wifi?

2. Your computer

I do everything online, but I have an external storage device for backing up data, and I also back up the most important data to the cloud, so it wouldn’t be lost if something happened to my laptop.

This was a hard lesson to learn. Before I started the business, I once lost a load of emails when my email programme’s storage file got corrupted, and there was another incident with a laptop that had to be replaced (fortunately a kind friend was able to retrieve all my data first). But the experience made me smarter in terms of backing up data, and I now make a point of doing it. That sickening feeling when you think all your data could be lost is preventable if you just take some time and build it into your routine, or even set it up automatically.

3Your social media channels

The argument for building your own mailing list is so that you’re in control and you don’t have to worry about moving goal posts on other social media sites.

I’ve heard cases of Facebook pages being closed down, and people losing their entire following overnight. I’ve also heard of accounts being locked out, which can be a massive problem if those accounts were being used as administrators for pages or groups. If your main social media platform was inaccessible to you, how would you contact your followers or fans?

If you have your own mailing list, this can’t suddenly be taken away from you because of a change in rules or activity which is seen to break those rules. Having said that, you also need a good way of backing up the mailing list so that one error or loss of data doesn’t leave you without all the email addresses that you’ve painstakingly collected!

I’ve added a trusted person as an administrator to my Facebook group so that they will be able to at least post and deal with any queries or trouble if I am unable to. The same goes for my page. If the page or group are shut down, this won’t help, but at least it will give me someone else with authority if something happens to my account.

Is there someone who could help you in this way? They don’t have to play an active role in running the channels, but they could help in an emergency.

Needless to say you also need to be security conscious and have good, strong passwords for all of your social media accounts to reduce the risk of their being hacked.

4.Your software of choice

A couple of years ago, Skype went down for customers in many parts of Europe for a number of hours. Most of my students use Skype, but we came up with a range of alternatives so that the lessons could continue. These included Facetime, Viber, Facebook Messenger, and Whatsapp Messenger.

If you can’t use the system that you usually use, how else could you work with your students?

I’m in email contact with all of my students anyway, because I send their initial agreement and invoices this way, but it’s a good idea to make sure that you have more than one way of contacting your students in case your usual app or software is down, or you get locked out of it. For example, it’s no good only having them on Skype if for some reason you can’t use Skype!

5. Worst case scenario

This is really what got me thinking about the whole post. Last week I had to go into hospital for an operation. It was a straightforward procedure, but it involved general anaesthetic and, to be honest, this scared me more than the operation itself. There are risks associated with these things and I wanted everything to be in order in case there were any complications. I produced a spreadsheet for my partner with details of whom to contact if I couldn’t give English lessons any more, or if I’d need to take a longer break, and as my students pay in advance, the amount of credit on each account.

At least one person thought this was really morbid, but if anything had happened to me, I didn’t want my partner to have to trawl through emails or try to make sense of my thorough, but rather complicated spreadsheet system.

Fortunately everything was fine and I’m back to work now, but anyone can have to go to hospital or even have an accident. Particularly for people who work alone, is there someone who could take care of things for you and at least let people know what’s happening if you’re not in a position to? Chances are, if it’s someone close to you, they’re going to be pretty upset, so why not make things as easy as possible for them by giving them a quick insight into how you work, where they can find the most important information and cancel any upcoming appointments etc.

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Kirsty working with students

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2 Comments on “Do self-employed online teachers need disaster plans?”

  1. Wow! Yes, I remember when I injured myself as a public school teacher and had to be taken away by the paramedics. I had my weekly lesson outline on my desk and a sub stepped in + there were emergency lessons just in case. But I think about this. I mean, your clients, your group would have no idea where you were or what happened to you if you suddenly couldn’t get to your computer! And yes, having a backup plan is a good idea!!! I used to be in charge of backup in the non-profit I worked for. I must admit, I’m kind of lax about it currently!!

  2. It’s easy to forget about it when you get caught up in the day-to-day running of the business, but I think it’s good to have some kind of plan, or at least to talk with someone who can step in and let people know where you are.


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