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Nick Webb
Principal Data Protection Specialist
Seattle, Washington
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What you can do TODAY to avoid disasters in your business

The processes of planning for disasters can be overwhelming for small businesses, to the extent that many simply ignore the threat. However, there are a few small things your business can do today to limit your risk.
Written Apr 14, 2011, read 2720 times since then.
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The most important thing you can do to prepare your business for 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 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.

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 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.

 


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

Learn more about the author, Nick Webb.

Comment on this article

  • Chief Executive Officer 
Federal Way, Washington 
Richard Whitaker
    Posted by Richard Whitaker, Federal Way, Washington | Apr 20, 2011

    Great infomation, Nick. Practical and helpful. I hope everyone follows your advice.

    Rich

  • QuickBooks And Xero Outsourced Contractors Bookkeeping Services 
Lynnwood, Washington 
Randal DeHart, PMP, QPA
    Posted by Randal DeHart, PMP, QPA, Lynnwood, Washington | Apr 20, 2011

    Nick,

    You presented a good case for backup protection. It appears there are two schools of thought regarding backup and preparedness.

    Those who have experienced a failure and have a system in place and those have not experienced enough data failures to have a system in place.

    Great article please keep writing because your topics apply to all businesses regardless of size.

    Warm Regards,

    Randal

  • Kick Ass Copywriter 
Seattle, Washington 
Jared M. Kessler
    Posted by Jared M. Kessler, Seattle, Washington | Apr 20, 2011

    Nice job Nick.

    I think a lot of people learn the hard way. Lose it all. Then do something about it. Hopefully your article will help prevent that.
    *J

  • Principal Data Protection Specialist 
Seattle, Washington 
Nick Webb
    Posted by Nick Webb, Seattle, Washington | Apr 21, 2011

    Thanks for the comments Jared, Randal, and Rich.

    My hope from the article is just as you said - to help folks avoid the pain before it begins. I never want a call from a Biznik peer for recovery help. Most folks on Biznik can avoid it all in just a few hours of work.

  • CTO - Software Products & Services 
Bellevue, Washington 
Alok Chakrabarti
    Posted by Alok Chakrabarti, Bellevue, Washington | Apr 25, 2011

    Hi Nick,

    Thanks for a great article. You have provided a simple set of steps to follow to prepare for various kinds of unexpected events.

    I am starting on the 5 steps you have mentioned to ensure we have all our important data and documents (paper / digital copies) stored in multiple places.

    As we become more and more dependent of informatio, rather than people or equipments, it's essential to ensure we don't lose access to the information in any way.

    Keep writing, Alok.

  • Principal Data Protection Specialist 
Seattle, Washington 
Nick Webb
    Posted by Nick Webb, Seattle, Washington | Apr 25, 2011

    Thanks Alok - I'm glad you've found it useful.

  • Videographer 
Seattle, Washington 
Matt Lopin
    Posted by Matt Lopin, Seattle, Washington | May 12, 2011

    Solid information, Nick, and a do-able plan of action for businesses of any size. With all of the options available today, there's really no excuse for not having your data and documents solidly backed up. Thanks for a great article that, once implemented, will provide peace of mind, better organization, and be a lifesaver in a worst-case scenario.

  • Accounting 
Bellevue, Washington 
Kirsten Clark
    Posted by Kirsten Clark, Bellevue, Washington | Jun 25, 2011

    I agree it's very important to have a plan in place. There's never enough hours in a day to take care of all the things we should be doing. Especially for small business owners who are trying to do it all. My suggestion is to delegate some of the planning for this to an admin or a virtual assistant. That way you hopefully get a clear direction of what you need to do. I use Carbonite for the backup for all my office computers. This way I don't need to think about it and it's easy to restore files from Carbonite. The price is right too.

  • Principal Data Protection Specialist 
Seattle, Washington 
Nick Webb
    Posted by Nick Webb, Seattle, Washington | Jun 26, 2011

    Kirsten -

    Thanks for the comment. Make sure you frequently test Carbonite to ensure your critical files are there (i.e. restore important files even if you haven't deleted them). Folks often find out after they've lost a file that it was never backed up for some reason -- perhaps a software or configuration issue (human error).

    Also keep in mind that should you lose an entire computer, the online backup services can take a long time to restore from. For a lot of folks that is not a problem, and is decent trade off for low cost backup -- just keep it in mind. Often it can take days or even weeks to restore from a whole computer failure from these services.

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