Procrastinator's Guide To Y2K Preparedness

Feeling as if everyone is Y2K-ready except you? Sure, it's less than a month away, but even procrastinators can feel secure on January 1 by completing the following checkup.
Magazine Contributor
9 min read

This story appears in the December 1999 issue of Subscribe »

Procrastinator, I can hear you now: I don't need to prepare for Y2K. If I have a problem in January, I'll take care of it then.

Why should a homebased business owner bother with all this Y2K-ready madness? Oh, only for a handful of reasons:

  • If your unprepared computer freaks out after Y2K, the probability is that so will millions of others. And what are your chances of finding a qualified Y2K repairer before the year 3000?
  • Assuming your hardware is Y2K-OK, what about your software? If your accounting software reads the year 2000 as 1900, your 1999 bills may appear to the computer as not payable for 99-plus years. Not so great for cash flow.
  • My HP inkjet cartridge says, "Made from domestic and foreign components in Singapore." Would you bet money that all the companies that make cartridge components are Y2K-ready? All their manufacturing equipment? Computers? Accounting software? How would your business be affected if you couldn't print? How many other office supplies does your business depend on?

Of course, no one knows how serious the impact of Y2K will actually be, but just as most people buy insurance to cover themselves against long-shot risks, it's wise for homebased business owners to prepare for Y2K. The good news: You can do a lot, even at this late date.

Marty Nemko is a SOHO and career consultant in Oakland, California. He also hosts Work with Marty Nemko on a National Public Radio affiliate in San Francisco. His column appears on the front page of the employment section of the Sunday Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Examiner/Chronicle. With Paul & Sarah Edwards, he is co-author of Cool Careers for Dummies (IDG Books Worldwide).

Where To Start

First Things First

Even a hard-core procrastinator has time to back up his or her hard disk. That way, no matter what happens on January 1, 2000, you'll have all your files in original condition. It also protects you from any problems inadvertently created by your Y2K fixes.

You can get a 20 GB internal tape drive for $174 at Additional 20 GB cartridges are just $37.95 at Just in case, create a technology-free solution: Print out your most critical files.

In the few weeks left before 01/01/00, you may not have the time or money to fix or replace everything. Obviously, address your mission-critical items first. If you can't handle even those, consider temporarily farming out some, say, accounts receivable and payable.

Testing Your Tools

New And Improved? Are You Sure?

The SBA warns that even a brand-new computer may not be fully Y2K-compliant. Fortunately, it's easy to find out-just visit its manufacturer's Web site. Many reveal the Y2K-readiness of each model and serial number and offer free downloadable patches to fix any problems. Links to major hardware and software manufacturers' Y2K-compliance pages are at Click on "Major Corporations Get Ready."

Get instant gratification at This site not only tells you whether your computer will read "00" as 2000, it also checks to see if it will recognize that 2000 is a special-case leap year.

Some experts predict that Y2K may cause electrical brownouts and blackouts. So consider getting an uninterruptable power supply (UPS). I use a TrippLite model BC Personal 300, available for $82 at

Check out the Y2K-readiness of any equipment that might have embedded date-sensitive microchips. For example, if your business accepts credit cards, make sure your credit-card reader is Y2K-compliant by visiting its manufacturer's Web site.

Blind Date

The Y2K bug affects software in which dates are calculated: most commonly, spreadsheets and databases. Again, check the manufacturer's Web site and download any needed fixes. Of course, if your software was custom-made for you, contact the programmer. Be sure to examine both program files and data files.

Don't forget about your operating system. Visit the manufacturer's site (e.g. for Windows, for Macs) to ensure Y2K-readiness.

Hint: Especially with old or custom software, it's often cheaper to buy new software than to fix the old.

When you enter new dates into software, be sure to use a four-digit year. For example, "2000" rather than the two-digit "00." Also, when acquiring new software or exchanging data files with someone, be sure the files are Y2K-compliant.

An easy way to check out your hardware's and software's Y2K-compliance is to spend $49 on Norton 2000. It has an advantage over manual approaches because it checks hardware, software and data files you might not suspect were affected by Y2K. Norton 2000 may, however, not fully check products purchased from small vendors.

Other Precautions

Return To Sender

The Internet consists of millions of links, in an interconnected chain. If even a small fraction of those links aren't working--for example date-sensitive e-mail software used by Internet Service Providers (ISPs)--significant problems can ensue. While an international task force of Internet engineers cautiously predicts that the Internet's major infrastructure will work in January, 2000, they raise the possibility that "mail and news group articles could be discarded, e-mail could build up on a mail server and be delayed and IP addresses may not be found. You might want to visit your own ISP's site to help you assess if you can count on your e-mail and Net access.

In case of you or other Entrepreneur are interested, here's the article from which I quote above:

Get It In Writing

Ask your suppliers how confident they are that, come January, you'll get your supplies on time and at the normal price. You might want to get their answers in writing. If you're not satisfied with their answers, line up replacement or backup suppliers.

Personally, I'm stocking up on a month's worth of the supplies that are mission-critical to my business.

Don't forget about other suppliers such as your accountant. If your accountant handles your billing, be sure his or her computers will be accurately cranking out those invoices in the new millennium.

Express Yourself

If you've done a good job of preparing for Y2K, let your customers know. It may build business or at least avoid losing it. Just don't over-promise--you may be asking for a lawsuit. While every business should craft a statement appropriate to its situation, here's a sample statement that a well-prepared SOHOer might make: "We've tested all our equipment and all appears to be Y2K-ready. We've also contacted our suppliers and they are confident we will have what we need come January." Obviously, the more you've prepared for Y2K, the more positive you can be.

It All Comes Down To Money

Know the reasons why you should do it, but don't know how you'll scrounge up the money to pay for this extra expense? Don't let a lack of funds stop you. The SBA is offering government-guaranteed "Y2K Action Loans." See for more information.

Survival Supplies

Preparation Starts At Home

Many experts believe that in preparing for Y2K, you should stock up on essentials like food and water, as you would for a three-day blizzard. Other authorities think it's wiser to prepare to be self-sufficient for a month or maybe longer. Unlike with insurance, if you end up not needing the emergency food, you can still eat it or donate it to the needy.

If I can force myself to spring for this "insurance," I plan to have:

  • 30 days of food and water for my family
  • A water filter
  • A crank-powered radio, flashlight, siren and strobelight
  • A corded phone because even if electrical power goes out, phone lines should still work
  • Oil lamp and oil
  • Plenty of firewood for my fireplace
  • A Coleman stove and 20-pound propane tank
  • $1,000 to $1,500 cash
  • Printed records of all my financial statements
  • A bicycle
  • A month's supply of prescriptions and my health insurance membership cards.

A perhaps too-complete list of personal Y2K preparedness supplies is at It lists everything you'd need for three months, for one year and for an indefinite disruption!

Sample Y2K Plan

Make Your List...And Check It Twice

Here's a sample Y2K plan:

1. Back up your computer. Print out key files.

2. Assess the Y2K compliance of your hardware, software, data and other equipment with date-sensitive microchips. As needed, repair, replace or outsource. After you finish, test your entire system.

3. Assess your business' suppliers' Y2K- readiness. If necessary, find alternative sources.

4. Inform your customers of your Y2K- readiness. Also, assess their readiness and need for your products or services if there is an economic downturn. Should you adjust your menu of offerings?

5. Prepare your family and yourself. For starters, e-mail this article to them.

6. Stay informed by revisiting Y2K Web sites. New solutions are being developed every day.

Cross Your Fingers

No single article, especially one created for procrastinators, can give you all the information you need to fully prepare for Y2K. Every business is different-there's no one-size-fits-all answer. Indeed, no one knows for sure what will happen in Y2K. So think of this article as a start.

The good news is, just as when you put off doing that term paper until the last minute and still got a good grade from the clueless professor, it's not too late to cram for Y2K.

My Favorite Y2K Sites

  • Ziff-Davis's Y2K portal ( provides frequently updated articles from many authoritative sources, Y2K predictions, discussion groups, product reviews and sales.
  • The SBA's Y2K portal ( is a good source for information on government-sponsored Y2K training events, government-guaranteed Y2K loans and to-do lists recommended by the SBA and other entities.
  • The Year 2000 Information Center ( had 267,643 hits in October 1999 alone, as visitors pored over its large collection of Y2K articles. It also offers discussion groups, a free e-mail newsletter and a special section on how to avoid legal liability and maximize recovery.
  • Gary North's site ( consists of links and articles that largely support his belief that the Y2K problem is more serious than people think. When I need a dose of extra motivation to get me to prepare for Y2K, or feel like reading some pessimism from a history Ph.D., I spend a few minutes on this frequently updated site.
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