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What You Can Do Today To Avoid Data Loss Disasters In Your Small Business

The most important thing you can do to prepare your business for data loss disasters is to start today.  A complete disaster recovery plan can be an overwhelming process; however it’s easy to implement a few simple changes that will make you much better prepared.  Once the basics are covered, you can build incrementally toward a more comprehensive and robust disaster recovery plan.

Remember that a disaster is not only a natural one (fire, earthquake, flood), a disaster is anything that significantly impacts your business systems and core processes:  leaky pipes, equipment failures, human error, extended power outages, employees unable to reach the office, even theft.

Also, while the focus here is to prepare for disasters, this effort will undoubtedly uncover other business needs and areas of improvements, making the effort worthwhile even if you never experience a disaster.  For example, you may find that each of your employees spend significant time maintaining their own customer/supplier contact list, while one central list would be both more efficient and more robust.

Your Basic Disaster Recovery Plan: If You Do Nothing Else … Ensure That:

  1. All data is backed up at least on site to prevent loss from human error and equipment failure (the most likely causes of data loss).
  2. Copies of all employee, customer, and supplier contact information are stored at multiple locations easily accessed during/after an event.  Include:  alternate email addresses, cell phones, and home phones.  (During a disaster situation, many communication paths may be inaccessible – it’s critical for a business to maintain communications during an event.)
  3. Digital copies of important paper documents have been made (leases, tax information, contracts, insurance policies, and inventory lists).  Copies are available in multiple locations that can be accessed even if primary business location is inaccessible.
  4. Each business location has disaster supplies, such as flashlights, first aid kits, emergency radio and batteries, at least three days of water and food, and tools[1].
  5. AT LEAST ANNUALLY:  Review all of the above to make sure your documents are up to date.  Test recoveries of all data to ensure it’s there when you need it.

For most businesses the first item is the most mysterious.  If you are a solopreneur or other “micro” service business, there are several cost-effective and easy to implement solutions to protect your critical files.  My favorite is Dropbox, which for a low monthly fee provides a safe and secure folder to store, share, and protect all your important documents across laptop(s), desktop(s), and their backup service.  All you have to remember is to save important files to the special “Dropbox” folder.

Dropbox alternatives include SugarSync, Box.net, and platform specific offerings from Microsoft (Windows Live SkyDrive) and Apple (MobileMe).  I do not specifically endorse or recommend any of these products, including Dropbox, nor do I gain anything from increasing their sales.  All of them should be sufficient for solopreneurs, pick the one that works best for you.

Answering these five questions, and assigning a responsible party for each, will help get the ball rolling on your disaster recovery plan.  For a typical small business, you should be able to answer each question and at least have a plan in place to implement all five in an afternoon’s worth of effort.

Take the opportunity and start a planning effort today, it will pay dividends in the future even if your business does not experience a true disaster.

[ Also posted on Biznik: Avoid Data Loss Disasters in Your Business ]


[1] Find more information at http://www.ready.gov/business/

 

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