Nearly every day I am hearing about some pseudo-horror story from a model or client about a shoot that went missing because of some technical problem after the photos had been created. Nothing is more frustrating than working hard to create the images that your client wanted only to be unable to deliver on time (or at all) because of some unforeseen technological problem that derails your entire process. As a professional you need to be prepared for these sorts of surprises before they happen so that you can always be ready to pivot and still deliver on your promise.
Never Upgrade Right Away
Several times per year a software company (or camera company) starts filling up headlines because the latest version of their product launched with some unforeseen, but earth-shattering bug. Shortly after the headlines pop up I start noticing pleas of anguish on social media as photographers realize that this bug is having a catastrophic impact on their ability to deliver images to their clients. It is so simple to avoid this problem completely by never upgrade your software as soon as a new version comes out. There is no fancy new feature so compelling that it is worth risking your entire workflow on. Wait until the new version has spent a few weeks, or even months, in the wild before taking the plunge. Furthermore, always have a downgrade strategy for if it doesn't work. Before hitting install be well aware of what will be involved in uninstalling to returning to a previous version if something goes wrong.
Backup Immediately, More Than Once
I never have much sympathy for photographers who lose photos because they didn't back up their photos at all. You chose to be negligent and now are paying the price. One backup, however, can often also be insufficient, especially if your backup drive is sitting right next to your computer. All it takes is for a thief to break in or for the sprinklers to trigger by accident and the contents of your backup drive disappear along with your primary drive.
My backup strategy is pretty simple, and in my opinion, reliable enough that it is unlikely that I'll ever lose shots. As soon as the shoot is over I immediately copy the files from the card to my computer hard drive, which immediately triggers a backup (I use Time Machine), while this is happening the folder also begins syncing to Google Drive to create an off-site backup. I keep every photo I have taken in a given calendar year in Google Drive as my tertiary level of backup. When the year ends I take the backup drive and clone it twice onto other drives, one of which is sent for long-term storage (at my parent's house which is in another part of the country) before I reset my Google Drive for the new year. This ensures that I always have three copies of every photo, one copy of which is in a different city.
Always Have An Emergency Editing Strategy
What happens if your computer dies? What happens if it gets stolen? Your client's deadline certainly isn't going to shift to accommodate. Thus you need a strategy to ensure that you are still able to productively deliver photos, even when your workstation decides to blow up. My strategy for this is to always have a desktop workstation and a laptop for traveling. If at any given time my desktop fails I can plug my backup drive into my laptop and keep working. The double computer strategy, however, can be pretty expensive as it effectively doubles the maintenance cost of keeping computers up to date (and assumes that the point of failure is always technology and never the photographer).
A cheaper, but less convenient strategy could involve making a deal with a fellow photographer to be each other's backup in case of emergency. This backup also can extend beyond technical failure. What happens if you get in a car accident? Or become so ill that you cannot productively work? By having someone who is willing to pick up the slack when something unexpected happens can ensure that you are equipped to handle those moments when Mother Nature decides that you won't be getting any work done any time soon.
There are no valid excuses for failing to deliver on your promise. Be prepared for virtually any situation. People often ask what sets a professional photographer ahead of an amateur? To me, the answer is reliability. A professional photographer knows that it is critical to deliver, regardless of situation, so he or she takes steps to have a plan in place before tragedy strikes. Do you?