How to Keep Your Business Running During a Natural Disaster
Natural disasters are inevitable, but they don't have to cripple your business if you're prepared ahead of time.
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As an entrepreneur based in the hurricane-prone state of Florida, I am familiar with natural disasters and their impact on business. The immediate damage is obvious, but the more significant and longer-lasting impact comes from not being prepared in the first place.
That's because while the immediate damage is relatively simple to fix, the more insidious impact that comes as a result of not being prepared can destroy a business's ability to operate well in the future. Being unprepared can undo years of hard work, leave you unable to serve your customers and destroy your company's reputation in an instant.
This is critical because keeping a business running during a natural disaster is not about what to do after a disaster has happened. It's about what to do before it happens. But the good news is that being prepared is pretty straightforward. In taking these steps, you'll build a stronger business that will survive not only natural disasters but anything else the world throws at it. Hopefully, you'll never face a disaster, but if you do, you'll be prepared.
Nearly everyone today has dozens of websites that they need to log in to regularly to run their business. Quickbooks, Facebook, Google — the list goes on and on, especially if your business relies heavily on technology. Most people simply store their credentials for these sites in their web browser. As long as you're storing them in the Cloud, which is done by logging into your browser and enabling syncing, you should be able to get back up and running pretty quickly. However, you still may run into a problem here due to two-factor authentication (TFA).
If you're not familiar, TFA is a technology that sends a code or prompt to your mobile device when you try to login to a particular site. This helps ensure that the person trying to login really is who they claim to be because it requires you to have your mobile device present.
First, I want to be clear: Despite this sometimes being a pain, you absolutely should have TFA set up. It provides an added layer of security that is essential considering the constant threat of hacking we all face today.
Second, you need to be aware that you will run into problems if the device you use for TFA is damaged or destroyed. And by problems, I mean that you won't be able to login.
The only way to solve this is to get in touch with the support team at each website you have TFA enabled with and prove to them that you really are who you claim to be. Usually this can be done by providing a photo of yourself with a government ID held up by your face.
But there is an alternative that lets you avoid this entirely. Keep a second, up to date device that is waterproofed in a secure location. That way, you can still receive any TFA-related messages or prompts even if your primary device is damaged or destroyed. Your old mobile phone or tablet should be more than sufficient for this.
Related: Where to Turn When a Natural Disaster Upends Your Business
I'm old enough to remember when storage for computer files was minuscule, expensive and software came on CD-ROM that you had to either buy at a store or have shipped to you. Times have changed dramatically since then.
The first real computer I bought (1996) had a hard drive with a total of 1 GB of storage capacity. Today, I regularly work on individual files that are larger than that, and my desktop has 8,000 times more storage space! But the bigger problem back then was that if something happened to that physical hard drive, those files were gone forever.
Then came cloud storage.
Now, instead of just storing our files on our own local computers, removable media or even a local server, we have the ability to store them in a secure data center. Here, they are protected by multiple backups, uninterrupted power systems, fire suppression and enterprise-grade cyber security.
In other words, it's virtually impossible to lose our files when they're stored in the Cloud. This is a game-changer when it comes to keeping your business running throughout a natural disaster. The same applies to SaaS, or Software as a Service, applications. You might not be familiar with the term, but I know you are familiar with the tools. Google Docs and Microsoft Word are examples. So are Quickbooks, SEMrush, Teamwork and thousands of other software tools used by businesses every day. These applications are available to be used directly through an online interface without having to download anything to your computer.
And this concept can be taken all the way to your workstation. Today, Microsoft Windows can be run in a virtual environment, often called a virtual machine, where you use a simple, inexpensive laptop to run an instance of Windows (and any programs you need) in the Cloud on a dedicated server. Think of it as a desktop in the Cloud.
By leveraging the power of cloud storage, SaaS applications and virtual machines, entrepreneurs have the ability to simply log into another computer and be fully operational again in just a matter of minutes.
When a disaster hits, it's almost certain that communications will go down because of damage to cell towers and internet lines.Then what? Once this happens, you'll find yourself with one of two options:
- Do nothing and hope that everything is restored quickly. This, obviously, is not a good option. Hope is never a reliable strategy.
- Make sure ahead of time that you have the ability to forward any calls to another number.
The latter may or may not be an option depending on your provider. That's why you need to check ahead of time, and if you don't have that option, you should immediately transfer your number to a provider that does offer that functionality. This enables you to get your team up and running somewhere else so that you can still communicate with customers — even if the phone and internet go down in your local area.
It's also important to notify your customers leading up to and throughout a natural disaster so they know what to expect from you. Remember: Many of them may not be local, so they may not even realize you're facing a disaster. By letting them know in advance, they will be more forgiving in the event of delays, downtime or errors.
I recommend a combination of email, text and in some cases, phone notifications to ensure no one slips through the cracks.
Cash reserves and credit
The Federal Reserve reports that 39% of Americans don't have enough money on hand to cover a $400 emergency, and 22% of Americans have between just $1,000 and $5,000 in savings. This is risky enough during good times, but it can be devastating when you're faced with a natural disaster. This leads to not only added costs to get back up and running, but often, a loss of revenue.
Having a reasonable financial cushion can mean the difference between staying in business or closing down in these situations. You want to be able to cover operating expenses for at least three months. Even more ideally, six to 12 months — even if no revenue is coming in.
Cash reserves are the best way to handle this, but in a pinch, you may be able to rely on credit. Before tapping into credit, though, it's critical that you evaluate any use of credit very carefully. You never know how long your revenue may be down, so you could be digging a deeper hole. It's critical to make sure you're able to handle the added payment — even if things don't turn around for a few months.
Related: What Entrepreneurs Can Do to Overcome the Impact of Natural Disasters
Natural disasters are out of our control, but our business' ability to minimize collateral damage doesn't have to be.