Disaster planning for small companies necessary?

I’ve often heard that disaster planning and risk assessment are for the big businesses, and they are a needless administrative job for small companies. Disaster planning and risk assessment are definitely not exciting. I suspect that the huge majority of small companies ignore both.

This is insane. Most small businesses are a lot more vulnerable to disasters than big ones. This is because we have fewer resources and typically only 1 property. Every small business should take at least an hour or two and create a disaster plan. The loss of a vital resource may have a disproportionate effect on a small company.

First you want to list all the vital resources, like individuals, power, telephone line, vehicle, or property. Then list all of the likely and unlikely risks that would affect these resources.

By way of instance, what would happen if a utility company accidentally cut your telephone line and you had been told it would be two weeks before you might be re-connected? Could you run your ecommerce company from a mobile dongle?

What if the power line was cut and you would be out of power for a day?

Imagine if your ISP went down and you lost all connection? Have you got the ISP’s telephone number written down or do you, like me, Google it? And how can you Google anything with no connection?

What about a hurricane, a flood, or a flame?

Can you setup temporarily elsewhere? If so, what information and copies do you require? Where are these copies stored? Too many businesses would reply that they don’t have any copies, or that the copies are kept near the computer.

If it’s near your financial year-end, and you lost the accounting document and the accounting computer, how long would it take to file your tax return? Could you find a comprehensive list of creditors and debtors?

What would happen if a key employee became inaccessible? Are you able to pay?

As soon as you have listed all of the likely and unlikely dangers, look at them and determine what you can do to minimize and what you can do if the risk materialized. It might well be that there’s a frequent solution to a lot of risks. Certainly some solutions may be costly, but with a little lateral thinking cheap workarounds might be found.

By way of instance, I understand the WiFi access code of my nearby store. With the owners’ consent, if my line went down for whatever reason I could be back online within minutes. If my line will be out for at least a couple of hours, then I have their permission to use a WiFi extender to connect my whole company network to theirs.

I have a little, uninterrupted power source that can provide up to 2 hours electricity for a few products. I run my ASDL router and DECT phone from this, so I’d still have WiFi, telephone, and Internet. I don’t run a computer with this UPS. It would drain it too quickly. But the ADSL router powered means I have complete Internet for my notebook and tablet for sufficient time to discover what’s going on and what’s being done about it.

My order processing is stored on an offsite cloud application. Thus, even when I lost all communication, I could visit any computer anywhere and connect to the appropriate cloud application and discover my orders and client details.

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It does not take long to work out simple solutions — if you plan ahead, set up some basic arrangements with a neighbor, or locate the right temporary area that will do in a crisis. This way, if the disaster happens, you may be one step forward. You will know what to do. You won’t be scrabbling around searching for a solution; you’ll already have it. Properly planned for, a catastrophe becomes a hiccup so far as your clients are concerned. Without planning, a catastrophe could indicate that you’re sitting around helpless, not able to speak to your customers, and not able to keep them informed.

It is not rocket science. But it’s common sense. As soon as you’ve worked out your disaster plan, write it down. Print it out. Ensure that you have a paper copy both in your premises and at your dwelling. Make sure this paper copy has all of the phone numbers you can consider.

Then test it. Ensure that your proposed solutions actually work in real life.

In my previous career, several years back, I worked as a consultant for a significant banking vendor. This system was the clearinghouse for five important U.K. banks. Each day millions of transactions were processed with this information centre. The disaster plan was enormous. The business basically had a duplicate data centre some 20 miles off that sat there doing nothing — just waiting to be utilized if the first one burnt down or become inaccessible. Every six months the company conducted a disaster exercise and whined that the primary centre was down and the changed all processing to the replicate center. Everything went perfectly.

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Unfortunately it was also a total waste of time. The only reason it worked flawlessly is because it had been planned ahead of time. The tapes and copies could be transferred between sites only since the trucks were reserved weeks beforehand. The crucial people were moved with pre-booked taxis. The business’s million-dollar disaster plan would only work with a scheduled catastrophe.

So once you test your strategy, keep it simple. January and February tend to be silent months. Use the opportunity to plan ahead. Hopefully you’ll never have to use the disaster program. But knowing that it’s there can help you sleep at night.

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