The destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy has proved to be a rude awakening for small-business owners all over the country. Not only has the storm sent East Coasters scrambling to keep businesses running while working in dire conditions (check out consultant Mike Michalowicz’s sobering account of running his business from a New Jersey hurricane shelter), but entrepreneurs elsewhere are now asking themselves the same question: What will I do if this happens to me?
File storage (and file sharing), communication with employees and clients and the ability to establish an online connection are three panic-inducing concerns business owners face when a disaster strikes. The following tips will ensure that your business doesn’t miss a beat.
Hurricane Sandy left Ramon Ray out of power for two days. As owner of SmallBizTechnology.com, an online resource for entrepreneurs, he couldn’t wait for help so he went to a co-working space and logged on to Carbonite and Dropbox, two cloud storage providers. Within minutes, he was up and running again.
Ray uses both services on a regular basis (and backs up his work at his office and to an external hard drive), not just as a contingency practice in case of emergency. “I can be anywhere and someone may request a file,” he says. “Instead of waiting until I get back to the office, I can send it to them right away.”
Matt Mansfield also uses both services. He is owner of Matt About Business, an online business consultancy, and recommends small-business owners incorporate cloud-based storage into their everyday operations. He especially recommends Carbonite because the service not only backs up files, but also has the ability to store an entrepreneur’s entire system—from software programs to operating systems.
“Set it up to backup your system regularly so that when something does happen, you aren’t downloading software from scratch,” Mansfield suggests.
Dropbox and Carbonite aren’t the only cloud-based storage and file sharing providers. Google Drive is another popular option as are Egnyte and Mozy. But regardless of your chosen program, make sure you plainly label each file version to avoid confusion, recommends Phil Simon, technology expert and author of The Age of the Platform.
“Make sure you are tracking things,” he says. “I try to put a new number on every document I save to make sure it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.”
Natural disasters can displace workers for weeks, making it difficult to schedule in-person meetings. Fortunately, there are a plethora of Web-based options perfect for gatherings of any size. Mansfield favors Skype, a free platform that allows videoconferencing. Facetime is a similar service exclusive to Apple users. GoToMeeting, Google Hangout, join.me and zoom.us are four other useful options for large gatherings.
“I like Google Voice,” Simon says. “If your cell phone doesn’t have any juice, you can use the service to re-route your calls. It is really convenient.”
If your business phone tree system shuts down, Ray recommends logging onto RingCentral or ShoreTel Sky, two cloud-based systems that re-route your calls seamlessly.
What if your Internet goes out and you can’t get to the nearest Starbucks?
“Just use a MiFi [short for My Wi Fi],” Mansfield recommends. “It is a device that allows you to plug your computer into your cell phone network. Once you are plugged in, you become a hot spot for up to five computers.”
Mansfield uses Verzion’s MiFi, the Verizon JetPack and for $70 per month (plan prices vary) he always has service on his laptop. MiFi services are available with a variety of cell phone providers such as AT&T and Sprint.
While Simon recognizes the usefulness of MiFi services, he also warns entrepreneurs to be savvy to associated hidden charges.
“Not all MiFi plans include all-you-can-eat data and before you know it you may be strapped with a massive bill,” he says.
Instead, he recommends visiting a co-working space where you can pay for a day, week or month pass and use onsite Internet.
Simon says, “I hope events like Sandy never happen again, but if global warming scientists are correct we are sure to see more of the same so it pays to be prepared.”
Read more small-business disaster relief coverage.
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