Nobody really wants to think about disasters. But even as you try not to think about them, a disaster will eventually strike your small business. They can be small, like a bad flu that knocks out half your staff for a week. Or they can be large, like a tornado that destroys your place of business. Whatever form they take, unexpected disasters can have a tremendous impact on your company. But there’s plenty you can do in advance to minimize interruptions to your business. Here are five ways you can protect your small business from disasters of all sorts.
1) Be prepared
Disasters happen. Whether it’s a natural disaster like a flood or a man-made one like someone hitting the wrong button and taking down your company’s servers, something will eventually go wrong. The most important thing you can do to protect your small business against disasters is to actually prepare for them. It may seem like a lot of work, and you might want to just cross your fingers and hope they never happen, but you should plan for the eventuality of different types of disasters.
When creating a plan for disaster recovery, you need to identify your critical assets and find ways to protect them. Make sure your insurance policies are up to date and that coverage amounts are high enough to replace critical equipment and inventory if needed. Identify key documents and proprietary data and create copies of them to store offsite.
Also, consider how you’ll service customers in the event of a disaster. At the very least, you’ll need a way to communicate with both customers and employees about the state of your business. You’ll also need to plan for how your business will operate if your current location is unsuitable for work in the wake of a disaster.
2) Keep a backup
Even if your business isn’t information-based, you need to have a backup. Accounting data, client records, and product information should all be regularly backed up. And having a backup means more than just plugging a hard drive into your computer every now and then. To ensure that your business doesn’t suffer if you lose data, your electronic data should be backed up continuously.
The obvious solution is to use a cloud-based backup service. A remote backup offers your business a great deal of protection against various kinds of disasters that affect your physical location. But a remote backup isn’t a complete solution. What happens if you lose internet access for an extended period of time or if your remote backup is also damaged?
In order to have a truly secure data backup, you should also have regular local backups. These will become critical in the event that your cloud backup is unavailable. Having a physical backup that you can revert to can also be faster than relying on restoring data from the cloud, especially if you lose large amounts of data. But like your physical location itself, any backups you store on-site can also be damaged by fires, floods, or other disasters. You should be rotating your physical backups so that there’s also a recent copy of critical data in a second location.
3) Plan for contingencies
Just like your data, there are other aspects of your business that will need backup. In order to protect your business, you should plan for other contingencies as well. If you rely on internet access to conduct business, you should identify alternative providers that can provide fallback coverage if your primary provider fails, and if feasible, set up service before you need it to ensure uninterrupted coverage. Similarly, you should plan for situations where major suppliers become unavailable and develop strategies for dealing with product and materials shortages that can negatively impact your business.
In addition, consider your employees and how they will work if a disaster impacts your office. Building in infrastructure that supports mobile devices and remote workers can ensure that your employees will at least be able to engage in critical business functions, even if your primary location is inaccessible in a disaster situation. This is one area where a cloud-based communications platform like RingCentral can help by simplifying mobile integration and utilizing geographically distributed redundant infrastructure to protect against natural disasters.
In a large-scale disaster, communicating with customers, vendors, and employees may be difficult. To make the process easier, make sure that contact lists are up-to-date and include alternate contact information such as email addresses. You may want to establish an out-of-area contact number so that employees can check in and receive any important information about your business.
For keeping in touch with customers and vendors, social media accounts such as Facebook or Twitter can be extremely important. Just make sure that multiple employees have access to those accounts and that there is a plan in place for who will manage them in the event of a disaster.
5) Test your plan
As important as it is to plan for disasters, it’s equally important to test your disaster recovery plan. After all, if some aspect of your plan doesn’t work or isn’t adequate for your business needs, it’s better to figure that out in advance and adjust rather than having to improvise in a crisis situation. Establish a schedule for testing the various components of your disaster plan and adjust or replace them as needed. By testing your plan, you’ll find the weak spots and ensure that when a disaster does happen your business will be prepared to continue with minimal interruptions for your customers and employees.
For more resources related to disaster recovery for small businesses, check out the information provided by the National Federation of Independent Business as well as the U.S. Small Business Administration.