If the insurance industry was, say, the Bermuda Triangle, Donna R. Childs’ and Stefan Dietrich’s book, Contingency Planning and Disaster Recovery: A Small Business Guide, would be the lighthouse that guides you to safety, and more importantly, keeps your business from sinking.
Childs survived the terrorist attacks of 9/11 in New York City in more ways than one. She was ferried to safety, and unlike many downtown businesses, her small enterprise, Childs Capital LLC, was fully operational eight days after the tragedy.
Because she had a disaster contingency plan in place, her business remained financially sound and continues to thrive.
Childs and her IT guru, Stefan Dietrich, share the knowledge they gained in the book. The tome is organized in four chapters — Preparation, Response, Recovery and Solutions — and addresses business planning for disasters, both natural and man-made.
The real lesson, however, is that crises are usually due to garden-variety human error, not from headline-grabbing stories. The book will help any small business save money by running more efficiently, even if you never experience a crisis that interrupts your business.
The authors adroitly help proprietors navigate the murky waters of insurance coverage and IT policies. Here the authors discuss aspects of the guide that demonstrate why it should be on every small-business owner’s shelf and used as an anchor in the calm before the storm.
SmallBusinessComputing.com: Your business survived 9/11, in large part because you had plans in place. But one compelling notion of the book is that your business will benefit regardless of whether there’s a melt down. Can you highlight examples?
Donna R. Childs: If you have plans and are organized more efficiently, you’ll save money on your insurance premiums. I saved 30 percent. We were hit with a huge post-9/11 insurance bill, but I was able to argue that my back-up plan obviously worked so the premiums should reflect that I’m a lower risk.
Also, when you’re creating your contingency plan, you get a better understanding of how your business is working. One company we worked with discovered they were sending mail through FedEx from office to office and saved $9,000 when they realized they didn’t need to use priority mail and could accomplish the same thing using shared files.
SBC: Speaking of shared files, a good chunk of the book outlines how businesses can avoid the most common disasters: accidentally deleting a file and not saving the most current version of a file. It doesn’t pay to hire someone to retrieve data from a hard drive, because it takes too long and is cost prohibitive. Though the book goes into this in detail, can you tell us — in broad strokes — how you can avoid this problem?
DRC: Small businesses benefit from a combination of user training and a backup plan that employees can access themselves to recover files they mistakenly deleted. Everyone needs to know how save the most current files, how to back them up regularly and how to retrieve them should an accident occur. Leaving retrieval to the IT guys is a common error. Employees are happier when they can fix their own mistakes.
SBC: When it comes to contingency planning, you make the case that in addition to on-site backups, having an off-site data back-up plan is crucial. You outline this in the first chapter. Many small business owners are overwhelmed by the options. What do you recommend?
DRC: Data should be backed up and available somewhere off-site or through an online backup storage system that everyone can access. You don’t really need anything fancy, and we don’t recommend special software packages because they often use proprietary backup file formats that may be unreadable down the road. To create backups of user data, you can use a variety of file synchronization tools that are available in operating systems, commercially or even as free downloads off the Internet.
Stefan Dietrich: You should always backup to an off-site location if possible. The only advantage of on-site backup is the quicker availability of data in case you need it. For on-site backup, the simplest and most cost efficient way is to equip you computer with a second hard drive that is a duplicate of your primary hard-drive. As for off-site backup, buy space in a well-protected data center that offers such a service — usually at very little cost, e.g., $5 per gigabyte.
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