SOHO business continuity tips

Since starting my own business last year, there have been occasions when I have sorely missed the comfort and safety of a corporate environment. Power outages rank high on the list, whether they last for a half hour or half a day.

A few weeks ago, my town suffered a several-hour outage that made it clear I needed to rethink my business continuity and disaster recovery plan. As a reporter, I’ve covered this area for large enterprises for almost a decade. I’m well aware of the havoc that power outages can wreak on a company that did not account for power outages of any length. Yet, when I was formulating my own business continuity plan, I did not have a contingency in place for this event.

So for three hours on one of the busiest days of my freelance career, I was left literally “in the dark.” Now that it’s over, here are my power outage preparation tips.

1. Make sure your laptop battery is fully charged. I had just been on a business trip and let my battery drain completely on the flight home. I never recharged it, and when I lost power I was without any computing resources.

2. Invest in a back-up power supply. My IT manager friend recommends buying a UPS that lasts 4 hours for around $700. Some houses come equipped with a back-up generator or you can have one installed. Consider whether your business needs this kind of investment – you might be surprised when you answer that even 2 hours is too long to be offline. Also, if you have more than one person working out of your home, this might be a good fit to keep you both up and running.

3. A less-expensive option is to keep extra laptop batteries on hand. Most of you know how long your laptop battery lasts – often times it’s not enough to survive a 3-hour flight. Therefore, if you were to have a power outage that lasted several hours, you’d need several charged batteries. Think about how much downtime you could withstand on the average workday. If that number is less than an hour, make sure you have enough batteries to cover your necessary work hours. 

4. Keep an old-fashioned telephone nearby. Many of us spend our days on cordless phones, but they die when the power goes out. While cell phones are fine for a short period, you don’t want to base your business on the spotty service you might receive inside your house. Instead, keep a wired phone somewhere handy that you can plug in during an outage.

5. Keep your laptop in synch with your desktop. If you don’t regularly use your laptop and it’s not part of a desktop docking station, make sure you at least keep the applications in synch. The last thing you want to do is get your laptop booted up only to find that you never installed the application you use most each day or the version you have is out of date.

6. Get a back-up Internet access method. Remember, in a power outage, your high-speed cable connection will be down as well. Again, if you can’t afford to be offline for a period of time (and you have to weigh this carefully), then this is a failsafe cost. My IT manager friend notes that a wireless GSM card would also do the trick, but would cost $50 a month.

7. Have a back-up method for getting e-mail. If you aren’t going to go the dial-up route, then at least have a method for retrieving and answering e-mail. Luckily, my Blackberry serves this purpose quite well. But frankly, when the power outage lasted more than an hour and I had stories to file, I realized the wireless GSM card or even a dial-up account would have been the better bet. If you can get online, then make sure you know how to access your e-mail via your provider’s Web portal or that your laptop e-mail software is configured properly.

8. Back up your data. If worse came to worse and you did have to work offline for a period of time, do you have the latest version of your files backed up? Your answer should always be yes. I make sure I burn a CD at the end of each day containing my documents, QuickBooks data, recent e-mail and whatever other information I work with regularly. This is in addition to the Iomega backup I do each week.

9. Know your relocation options. Some home-based business owners upon hearing about a power outage simply pack up their things and head to a coffee shop or book store that still has power. This might be your best alternative. Just make sure you remember to take your laptop, power cord, wireless card and backup CD with you.

10. Know the number to your electric company. You’ll want to call right away to find out what the problem is and when they estimate it will be fixed. Don’t rely on the automated voice messages they post on their answering system. Try to talk to a live person and explain that you need to know for your business. They’ll probably be able to give you a better feel for the situation and you can put your business continuity plan into effect.

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