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Hope for the best, plan for the worst


Throughout the past year, natural disasters have dominated the news and, due to the sheer magnitude and number of these catastrophes, prompted many small and medium-sized business (SMB) owners to evaluate their readiness for the unexpected. The focus around disaster preparedness is not only that SMBs need to have a plan in place, but how they need to prepare.

All businesses face the daily threat of not just physical disasters, but also virtual disasters that wreak havoc on IT networks and digital data. While most disasters can't be prevented, SMBs can increase their odds of surviving the worst by developing disaster preparedness plans. SMBs armed with well-organized plans to mitigate the impacts of disaster will avoid becoming one of the many businesses that don't rebound from catastrophe.

The U.S. Department of Labor estimates more than 40 percent of businesses never reopen following a disaster and, of the remaining companies, at least 25 percent will close in two years. It's likely that many of the businesses that don't survive the worst are SMBs, since they tend to lack the resources larger companies already have to help them withstand the unexpected.

As SMB decision makers develop disaster preparedness plans, they should consider the following business and technological topics:

Plans and policies - Reading through the fine print of an insurance policy sounds laborious, but it's better than waiting until it's too late to really understand what is and is not covered during disaster. Business owners should know ahead of time what their insurance plans cover and make any necessary policy adjustments before disaster strikes.

Communication needs - As soon as disaster strikes, any number of a business's potential audiences will need to know about the impact of the disaster. Therefore, it's wise to make a list of all parties in advance, both internal and external, who may need information related to the disaster. Determine who will communicate with these audiences and how, taking into account all communication methods and properties, including corporate websites, blogs and social media platforms.

Financial obligations - Though businesses that endure a disaster receive a good share of compassion from others, it's unlikely that sympathy will come in the form of alleviated financial responsibilities. Keeping up with payroll, payments to suppliers and regular bills remains necessary. Make sure all account and contact information is accessible, even if local IT systems are damaged, and ensure your financial management system is backed up properly.

Data backup - An SMB's digital data is one of its greatest assets. If disaster wipes out a company's physical structure or virtual environment and data hasn't been replicated, that business will face a steep road to recovery. Fortunately, there are ways to safeguard information stored on computers and mobile devices, including online backup solutions that replicate and protect digital data, making it easily accessible from remote locations.
Additionally, businesses that migrate some or all of their software to the cloud will automatically gain access to data anytime, anywhere when connected to the Internet.

Data safety - If corporate laptops or computing devices get lost or stolen, the threat to a business's digital data is severe. To counter this threat, take pre-emptive action and choose an operating system that enables users to encrypt files and folders to make data indecipherable to unauthorized users.
IT systems - At least one person within a business should have solid comprehension of the company's IT systems. Disaster could bring down some or all of these systems, so this understanding should include knowledge of how long, if at all, those systems can be nonfunctional during a rebuild to make certain the business can still operate and maintain customers.

"Hope for the best, plan for the worst," should be every SMB's mantra when it comes to disaster preparedness. Many SMBs will never encounter disaster, but since no business is immune from the unexpected, it's best to develop a disaster preparedness plan, while hoping it will never get put to use.

For a free downloadable eGuide to build an SMB disaster preparedness plan, visit www.MicrosoftBusinessHub.com .
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Bryan Von Axelson

Bryan Von Axelson has worked for fortune 500 companies such as Franklin Covey and MCI. Most recently Bryan spent time as the Technical Director for Certified Partners, helping to build the business and oversee all Technical Projects. After spending 3 years at Microsoft on the TechNet team focusing on the IT-Professional, Bryan changed focus to the Partners, joining the TS2 team as a Partner Solutions Advisor September 2007. 

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