The best independent contractors are the ones who clients see as experts in their field and the truly dependable, go-to person. They develop the best plans, troubleshoot the hardest problems, and come up with the best solutions to the most complex requirements. Above all, the most reputable and trusted technology contractors are the ones who navigate a crisis so smoothly that, even if the end-results are far from ideal, the client still feels they were supported by the most capable IT professional.
For the sake of this post, we're considering "crisis" to be a situation when a technology breaks or malfunctions to the point that your client's day-to-date operations are in jeopardy, services are drastically impaired, and/or money is being lost. The way in which you handle such a crisis to bring operations back on track impacts your reputation as an independent contractor significantly. So, when faced with such adversity, it's in your best interest to roll up your sleeves, step up to the plate, and lead your client and the entire team through the turmoil. Great... so how do you do that?
Stay in the Right Frame of Mind: Before you even talk to people or start tackling issues, the first step when entering "crisis mode" is to be in the proper frame of mind. That means taking a step back to remain calm and positive, without letting emotion get in the way.
Evaluate the Situation: You still aren't physically doing anything. Now that your head is in the right state of mind, you need to carefully evaluate everything that's happened and is still happening. Know clearly which stakeholders are being affected, what's needed to fix the problem, and who will need to be involved. It should be noted that these first two steps need to be completed as quickly as possible. Time is always a factor and it goes by quickly in a crisis, so you need to act quickly so things don't spin further out of control.
Take Control: People act differently in a crisis. Some will do absolutely nothing except panic. Others will do far worse -- they'll do absolutely everything (usually unhelpful things). Your job is to take control to ensure people are doing what they need to be doing to get through the crisis -- nothing more and nothing less. Show your understanding of the situation, explain your plan, and exude confidence so that people want to follow you.
Start Delegating: Assuming you're in an environment where you're the most senior person with the most knowledge of the affected technologies, doing all the work means others are sitting on their hands. You may feel like you're not contributing, but organizing different people and coordinating outcomes is the task a leader needs to focus on.
Stay Realistic: If you've properly evaluated the situation, then you should know what the best outcome is going to be. The crisis will end in a worst situation than when you started, so prepare for that and don't try to fix everything perfectly quite yet. At this stage, you're still trying to stop the bleeding, regain control, and get everything working well enough so daily tasks can resume.
Evaluate the Situation: We loved Step 2 so much that we're bringing it back. Once the problem is solved and business is back on track, it's time to evaluate the situation. What went wrong? What's still wrong? What was the impact? Who needs to be informed? These are all important questions to discuss with your client to ensure that the crisis is over and that it doesn't happen again.
Sometimes, your job as an IT contractor in a crisis situation is to follow the delegated person on the client site. In these cases, follow protocol; the organizational structure of your client site will dictate if you're the right person to lead or not. If you are required to step up, how you react in a crisis will have a direct effect on how those around you also deal with the situation. By leading calmly and rationally, people (especially those who are panicking) will want to follow you. When you maintain a level head and follow the steps above, your followers will too, resulting in a successful end to the crisis, so you can start putting pieces back together and move your project back on track.