Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Disaster Preparedness - Tips You Need to Know


With Hurricane Hannah, Ike and Josephine looming and Gustav reaking havoc in The Gulf, I wanted to post my disaster preparedness article. As many know, I have a Sample Disaster Recovery Plan for anyone if they email me at diana@virtualwordpublishing.com.

Disaster Preparation For Your Home Based Business

Last week, the unthinkable happened. My inlaws came to town. Wait, that’s another story, let me start again. Last week, the unthinkable happened. My inlaws came to town AND the first day they arrived my Outlook program crashed. Now, I have your attention!

As a virtual assistant and publicist, I live via e-mail. I save all my client’s messages as they have the press releases, follow-up correspondence, media contacts, etc., attached. My whole life is there on Outlook and there it was - the error message of all messages - your Outlook has an error, fix it. So I went to work to fix it. However, it wasn’t long before I realized that my only solution was to reinstall Outlook. That meant that my e-mails would consist of whatever I had on back-ups, and nothing more. Gone! My business flashed before my eyes as I thought back on all those emails from clients, the press releases they had attached, the work they had sent me to do, etc., as you can imagine panic soon set in.

Fortunately, my story has a happy ending. I had done a manual back-up of my e-mail program three weeks earlier. Therefore, I knew that I would at least have that. And even better, I have my computer set up to do an automatic back-up of my entire system every few days. It had done a back-up 6 hours before my crash. Instead of losing all my e-mails, or at least three weeks worth, I lost only 6 hours. Life was good again.

I tell this story to emphasize the importance of disaster preparing your business. It can and will happen to you. We wish it would always happen to the other guy, but it just doesn’t. You need to do everything possible to make sure that the effects are minimal if you do have a computer crash, or any other disasters that can happen including theft, hospitalizations, natural disasters, and so forth.

Here are a few tips that I find very beneficial:

1. Back-up your system regularly. Set it for automatic, and hopefully during the night so that your computer isn’t slowed down while it backs up. Make this as much a part of running your business as answering e-mails to clients.
2. Test that back-up. Just as important as backing up your system is knowing how to retrieve that information. It does differ on the type of back-up you perform. Test this out, before you need it. Also, write out complete instructions on how to restore backed up data and include this in your Disaster Plan. When you are stressed during a crisis, you need things as step-by-step and easy as possible. If you’ve already written complete instructions, you’ll be amazed how easy this can be.
3. Save a back-up copy offsite. It’s as easy as having a family member take your back-up CDs to work, or having a flash drive. I just feel better knowing that my hard work is going to be there when I get back, even if the unthinkable happened while I was away.
4. Do regular virus scans. Many feel that because they have a virus program that will alert them if a virus comes in via e-mail, they are safe. That could well be. However, I feel so much better after doing a virus scan and it telling me I’m AOK. Also, set this for automatic as well.
5. For important e-mails, copy and paste them into your word processing program. It takes a little extra effort, but can be easily done. Also, download files as soon as they arrive.

It’s also important to have a disaster recovery plan. It’s easier than you think and should be done the same as your marketing and business plans.

Here are some tips for that:
1. Business Continuity Plan – Plan ahead for all aspects of your business. It’s important to write down all your client contact information, where back-ups are stored, who your subcontractors are, the work normally done, etc. When you think about it, if something were to happen tomorrow, how good would you feel if you knew your clients, subcontractors, and business operations would be taken care of. It just provides the peace of mind you need.
2. While you’re writing, include a breakdown of family members, phone contacts, close relatives with complete contact information. We recommend additionally putting this on a 3 x 5 card for your younger children. And honestly, this isn’t just for us Floridians who experience hurricanes. The unexpected weather over the past months should tell you of the importance of this.
3. Keep an inventory of all your business furnishings, business equipment, software programs, passwords, etc. Also, keep receipts and photos. You’ll be amazed how once you do this and have it set up, it’s automatic when you get something new. You simply add it to your recovery plan. I make copies of all receipts and simply add it to an envelope in my plan.
4. Insurance information. Write down all your policies and coverage. In addition to having this information if you did need to file a claim, it also helps to see if you have enough coverage.
5. Medical information. The well being of yourself and family is of utmost importance. You need to write down all of you and your families medicines, doctors, medical conditions, etc. This section can literally save your life. Don’t forget to include drug dosages. Now you’re wondering why this is part of a business disaster recovery plan. But when you think about it, aren’t you the most important part of your business. That’s why this is so critical.
6. Have someone you totally trust who will be in charge of a copy of your plan. Send them the updated version regularly. Also, let others know who this is. When something happens, they know immediately who to contact to retrieve your plan.

I hope you have found these tips helpful. If you want more, and I hope you do, I’ll be speaking about this topic at our OIVAC convention in May. Disaster preparation is not a topic that is discussed often, but the ease of mind you will feel when you know you’ve protected your business will definitely make it worth the while. I look forward to seeing you all then.

Diana Ennen is the President of Virtual Word Publishing, http://www.virtualwordpublishing.com and Virtual Assistant Startups. http://www.virtualassistantstartups.com. Articles are free to be reprinted as long as the author’s bio remains intact.

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