Most major companies have a business continuity plan (BCP) in case of unforeseen and unfortunate events, such as human errors, system crashes, power outages, epidemics and natural disasters. A BCP ensures that a business is still able to continue its operations regardless of what happens to its resources. The show must go on, after all.
Unfortunately, not all business owners have the foresight to set a BCP. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, a University of Texas study showed that as much as 43% of business that suffer a major loss of data don't reopen at all, and 51% of those that do reopen shut down within a couple of years after the loss.
As a solo entrepreneur or a freelancer, it's a good idea for you to follow in the footsteps of major corporations when it comes to disaster-proofing your business. It's not just about being reliable. It's about saving your business from closing for good (and having to go back to a normal job!).
Disaster-proofing your business doesn't need to be expensive or difficult. However, it does need careful preparation. The first thing you need to do is to draft a plan. Although you can't predict what can happen, you can prepare for possibilities such as fires, earthquakes, snowstorms, landslides, typhoons, etc. Your location will largely determine what kind of natural disasters you can expect to happen. On top of that, you need to be ready for man-made events such as civil unrest, protests, terrorist attacks, etc.
But how exactly do you make a plan? Although businesses vary, there are a few factors that all entrepreneurs and freelancers need to consider:
1) Make an escape plan.
This sounds more like a must-have for secret agents and not for businesspeople, but think about it for a moment. How can you, your staff, and your equipment leave a place that's no longer safe or functional? You must have a way to salvage as many resources as you can in the quickest way possible.
Assess the situation you are in. What resources do you often use for your business? Whatever they may be, make sure to give them top priority when making your BCP. What dangers is your business likely to encounter? Do you live in a typhoon- or earthquake-prone area? Design your plan around those possibilities.
2) Pick a temporary location
After making an escape, the next step is to set up a makeshift workplace from where you can continue running your business.
It's difficult to find a temporary location right after an emergency scenario, so it's best to plan for this ahead of time. Rent a small office space, book a stay in a hotel, or crash at a friend's place – whatever you choose, just make sure that you have a prearrangement with the necessary people so that they'll have the place ready whenever you need it.
3) Back up your data.
Systems crash at the most inopportune moments. Make sure that you have a backup of all your files, including paperwork. Scan all hard copies and save them as digital files.
To be safe, make a backup of your backup by storing your digital files in different storage devices that are kept offsite. However, don't just rely on your hard drives and USB sticks. Also store your data in reliable online backup systems. These companies have several servers housed in different parts of the world, so your data will remain safe. You can be assured that even if a server gets hit by whatever disaster, the other servers still have your data. Using the cloud or an online backup system also keeps your data safe if a hard drive or a USB stick gets lost, stolen, or damaged.
4) Make sure your systems are foolproof
Although natural disasters can affect your business, never underestimate the capacity of human error to mess everything up. If you have people working for you, limit their access to data and equipment. You want to avoid the scenario in which someone in your team accidentally deletes all the files from the hard drive of the main computer.
Even when you're just a solo entrepreneur, you must protect your business from yourself. Set passwords, lock files, etc. so that you don't unwittingly do something to your data.
5) Be accessible in several ways
Practically everyone is reliant on the Internet nowadays, but what will happen to your business if your connection stops working? How will you let your clients know what's going on?
You can always go to the nearest cafe and use the free WiFi there. You can also use portable Wifi if your connection at home or at the office goes bust. This problem is easy to rectify. However, you'll have a real problem in your hands when the whole town loses connection because of a typhoon, snowstorm, etc. When this happens, your main concern is to let your clients know that you're going through some trouble.
Many clients are understanding enough to extend deadlines in case of a disaster, but they can only do that if they know what's happening in the first place. Thus, it's important that you don't rely on just the Internet to stay in touch. Make sure that you are accessible via phone and even snail mail, if necessary. It's also important that you have all your contacts stored in a small USB stick that you can keep on your person so that you can reach out to them anytime.
6) Save up for a rainy day
If you're lucky, a good BCP can save every aspect of your business. Realistically, however, disaster-proofing lessens the damage and risk, but doesn't eliminate them completely. You must have money set aside for expenses such as data recovery, equipment replacements, reimbursements, etc.
At the end of the day, don't think of disaster-proofing as an added expense. Think of it as a necessary investment that will save your business from failure. Don't be part of the percentage of businesses that close shop. Be one of those that rose up once again.
This is a guest post from Alexandrea Roman, who