Creating Your Small Business Disaster Plan
I’m a recent Hurricane Rita evacuee and survived the evacuation and the ensuing hurricane. Running from a hurricane isn’t something I’ve ever had to do before, nor is it something I’d ever like to do again.
However, as a solo business owner, I’m quite thankful that I have a virtual business. The fact that I’m virtual and can operate from anywhere that there’s electricity and phone service was of great help to me in this disaster and helped me reopen my business a scant 4 days after the landfall of Hurricane Rita.
As a solopreneur, what can you do to make your business disaster-proof? It seems that we have an increasing number of hurricanes making landfall in the coastal states, and add to that an increased number of other types of natural disasters like tornadoes, earthquakes, wildfires, mud slides, ice storms, blizzards, etc. makes me think that there is no ideal location in which to operate a business. Now accepting that natural disasters are here to stay, here’s what I learned from my hurricane evacuation that helped me get my business back up and running quickly:
1. Know the location of your vital papers. You should be able to quickly put into a folder the following for you and your family: your marriage license, birth certificate, social security card, driver’s license or state ID card, car title/mortgage info and insurance contact info, house deed/mortgage info and insurance contact info, employee ID card, and apartment lease or copy of a utility bill. In a disaster, you’ll be asked to prove where you live and that you are who you claim you are, especially when applying for disaster assistance.
2. Have an online backup of all of your computer data. I back up my computer in two ways–to an external portable hard drive as well as to an online backup service. I use both because my files are my livelihood — I would be dead in the water without them — so I want to leave absolutely no room to lose my data. For my external backup, I use a 30 GB portable drive made by Iomega, www.iomega.com, and for my online backup, I have 10 GB of space that I pay for at XDrive, www.xdrive.com.
3. Create an file with vital contact information. I copied a file with all of my usernames and passcodes for websites, bank accounts, etc. to my USB flash drive (a key chain-like device with 512 MB or 1 GB of memory — I use one from Lexar, www.lexar.com) as well as the physical and email addresses and all phone numbers of friends, clients and family members — anyone I needed to contact during the evacuation period. You’ll also want to take along your children’s school contact info to be able to check on the current operating status of your child’s school, as well as local media website info. My lifeline in getting current information about my home city was through the websites of Beaumont’s newspapers and television and radio stations. If you keep your contact info in Outlook and have a Yahoo account, Yahoo offers a synchronization feature in which you can synchronize all of your info in Outlook to your Yahoo account. Find out more here: http://help.yahoo.com/help/intsync. All you need to access your info in Yahoo is a computer and to know your username and password.
4. Know the primary office/computer equipment that will be required to get your business up and running. I had operated with a minimal amount of my office equipment recently due to my being a house sitter for a friend for 2 months. So, upon receiving the mandatory evacuation order, I knew in relatively short order that to run my business, I needed my desktop PC, flat panel monitor, wireless mouse and keyboard, speakers, modem and associated cords, backup portable external hard drive, office telephone and associated cords, laptop computer, printer, box of software, and scanner. It sounds like a great deal of equipment, but I packed it all into 2 boxes from UHaul (1 small and 1 medium box). I knew I could work for at least 2 months comfortably with just this equipment.
5. Primary paper files for your clients/business. I have 2 sets of files — ones for the immediate short-term that I use frequently and my lateral file drawer files that are primarily reference files. I grabbed the contents of the two drawers of my 2-drawer file cabinet (which hold my immediate short-term files), all of which fit into one small UHaul box.
6. A backup telephone plan. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do for phone service for my business, as all of my clients are scattered across the US and in Canada. Just to be safe, I upgraded my cell phone plan, and had a prepaid calling card (purchased an AT&T calling card at Sam’s, www.samsclub.com) at my disposal if I needed it. As luck would have it, my hotel offered an unlimited Internet access/long distance plan for an additional $1.88 per day, so I happily signed up for that, saving myself a fortune in phone calls and Internet service fees.
7. A backup Internet access plan. Since power restoration to my home was estimated at 2-8 weeks, I had to find temporary lodgings. I looked for a hotel that offered high speed Internet access and was able to use their system for my Internet access. However, once I found the hotel, I also called the tech support of my DSL ISP and found the local dial-up numbers for the area in which the hotel is located. I never had to use the dial-up service, but it was good info to have. If you have cable or DSL Internet service, now is the time to discover alternate Internet access plans to be able to get online should your DSL or cable access be out-of-service. You should also know how to access your email online through your ISP if you don’t have access to your computer. If your ISP doesn’t offer a version of webmail, you can use this service free-of-charge, www.mail2web.com.
8. Adequate office supplies for a month. I threw in pens, pencils, post-it notes, a calculator, stamps, envelopes, tape, stapler, paper clips, note pads, etc. that would last me at least a month while I was out of my office. I used a portable plastic file case in which to carry these items.
9. Outline of your office procedures to help you operate independently or be able to delegate tasks. I carry much of my info in my head to run my office, or have what I need stored in various files across my computer. What makes more sense for the future is to document all of my office procedures, as well as computer and client info, so that everything I need is in one document. I can then upload this doc to my Yahoo account, my backup files, or carry it with my on my USB flash drive. My colleague, Jean Hanson, has designed a great template that asks you to note and record everything someone would need to know to get your business back up and running. It’s the Home Office Procedures Manual, available for purchase here: http://tinyurl.com/bagxs
10. Digital camera to record the event and/or record damages to personal property. I wish I’d had a digital camera to record all that I witnessed during my evacuation from Hurricane Rita. My sister took tons of pics, but I would’ve loved to have had the same opportunity. More importantly, however, is the need for a digital camera to record damage to your home and property. In a wide-spread disaster, it can be at least a month before your insurance adjuster will be able to assess damages to your property. In the meantime, however, you need to start repairs, like placing a tarp on your roof, boarding up broken windows, removing downed trees from your house or yard, or cleaning your refrigerator of spoiled food. In many cases, your insurance will cover the repairs or food replacement, but you need to carefully document the “before” scenario in order to receive compensation for your loss.
Don’t let a natural disaster destroy your business. Take some time now to prepare your disaster-readiness plan, and get back into business as soon as you can!
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