Disaster Proof Your Business

By William J. Lynott

Depending on the location of your practice and other factors, the odds of you being the victim of a catastrophic loss from wind, water, or fire may be greater or less than average. However, every massage therapist faces some degree of risk of a crippling disaster.

The key to minimizing that risk is a well-thought-out plan of action in the event that disaster strikes. Here are steps you can take to help you and your practice avoid or recover from a catastrophic loss.

Prepare a Disaster and Recovery Plan

“Every business needs to have a disaster preparation and recovery plan, even if it’s located in a relatively low-risk area for natural disasters,” says Gene Fairbrother, an expert in disaster planning.

Your plan shouldn’t be a cumbersome project, according to Fairbrother. “To be effective,” he says, “it should be a model of clarity, fully understood by every employee.”

Whether it’s in writing or not, it’s important to refresh your plan periodically. “Some basics of a disaster plan seldom change,” he says. “For example, your evacuation destination, or the first things you’d grab on your way out if you had to evacuate in a hurry. However, other things do change, like contact information on clients and suppliers, and places to find replacement equipment. Review your disaster plan at least once a year to make sure it still works for your practice.”

Follow Your Disaster Plan

“It’s important to make your disaster plan a permanent part of your business philosophy,” Fairbrother says. “However, it often takes another set of eyes and ears to point out the cracks in a plan, or to spot missing components. That’s why you should share it with someone else, especially your employees, if you have any. They may find a flaw or an important step that you missed.

“Beyond the possibility that you might owe some employees a paycheck, a business owner has little or no legal obligation to employees if the company closes due to a disaster,” he says. “Still, you need to make your employees part of your disaster plan. Failing to do so will hinder your ability to get the business back up and running if the need arises.”

Follow these steps to prepare for a natural disaster.

Maintain an Off-Site Backup of All Records. According to one estimate, 90 percent of all business records are now electronic. That makes protection and recovery of vital business information easier, provided a careful system of backing up is in place.

Most professionals in practice have learned the importance of backing up information on their computers, but not everyone does a complete job. If you’re one of the 10 percent who still has paper records, you might want to think about updating your practice and ensuring you have backup copies of those papers stored in a safe place.

Stefan Dietrich, PhD, coauthor of Contingency Planning and Disaster Recovery: A Small Business Guide (John Wiley & Sons, 2002), stresses the importance of maintaining an up-to-date backup copy of critical data at an off-site location. “Unattended, automated backups are better than using CDs or flash drives,” he says. “Typically, most people don’t follow through with creating backups. For that reason, automated online backups to a remote location via the Internet are much better.”

For more information on Internet backups, visit www.atbackup.com and www.carbonite.com.             

Safeguard Your Most Precious Business Assets. Your lists of clients, insurance companies, and vendors are the foundation for the continued health of your practice. Of all your business assets, these lists are among the most valuable and irreplaceable. You must do everything possible to make certain you have access to them in the event of a natural disaster.

“If you are out of business for a few days—or longer—you need to let all of your important contacts know what is happening,” Fairbrother says. “This means having an easily accessible list of all contact information. As with other business records, it’s best if copies are stored off-site.”

Review Your Insurance Coverage. “Carefully review your insurance policy to make certain it is appropriate for your needs,” says Donna Childs, CEO of Childs Capital LLC and coauthor of Prepare for the Worst, Plan for the Best: Disaster Preparedness and Recovery for Small Businesses (John Wiley & Sons, 2009). “You should have business interruption insurance to replace lost revenues if your operations are disrupted due to a disaster.” According to Childs, the failure to include business interruption insurance is the most common error in disaster planning for small businesses.

Childs suggests you take digital photographs of your major physical assets and preserve them online where you can access them remotely. “Scan critical documents, such as your insurance policies and lease, and have digitized copies available online for the same reason.”

Provide for Backup Power. “Consider the use of a backup power generator,” says management consultant Isidore Kharasch, “so that if a disaster strikes, it is not made worse by not having lights and power to at least get people out to safety. Also, having a backup battery for your computer should be part of your plan. Even if it lasts for only 2–3 hours, it will give you time to close out servers and shut down the system with your critical records intact.     

The Path to Recovery

In the unfortunate event that your practice is fully or partially wiped out by a natural disaster, your plan should include guidance on how to get it up and running again as quickly as possible. These following basic suggestions should be part of your plan.

Provide Physical Security. In the aftermath of any natural disaster, security of business assets is almost certain to have been compromised. As soon as it is possible to do so, you should put any parts of your plan dealing with security of your physical assets into effect.

Know Who’s There to Help and Let Them Know You Need Help. “If you are involved in a major natural disaster, you should be prepared to make early contact with any organization that may be able to offer assistance,” says Ernest G. Vendrell, PhD, assistant professor of Emergency Planning Programs, Lynn University, Boca Raton, Florida. Some of these agencies include:

• Local offices of emergency management.

• The Small Business Administration.

• Local police and fire services.

• The Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA).

• Your insurance carriers and/or professional association.

In addition to a variety of educational and training guides, Vendrell says, “FEMA also offers a number of disaster planning courses that are typically offered free of charge.”

“It’s important, too, to maintain ongoing contact,” Fairbrother says. “During a major disaster, there is always much confusion and you don’t want your practice to be the one that falls between the cracks.”

Keep Your Clients Updated. If you have protected the information on your clients as recommended above, you can send emails with updates, or you can put the information on your website.

“Remember, too, that your suppliers have businesses of their own to run; they and your clients will appreciate knowing how and when you expect to be back in business,” Fairbrother says. “In most cases, they will work with you in your time of need. However, don’t lose sight of the fact that they have needs of their own and must continue to take care of those needs. Maintaining contact with your clients will increase the likelihood that they will stick with you, instead of straying off to a competitor.”

Invest in Your Safety

Unless you are located in one of the hurricane- or flood-prone areas, preparation for a natural disaster may seem like an unnecessary demand on your time. But every year, thousands of unsuspecting business owners across the country find themselves the victims of a natural disaster of one form or another. That’s why investing a little of your time in preparing a disaster preparation plan now will be a wise business investment.

It is absolutely critical for you to have a disaster recovery plan for your practice. Disasters come in all sizes and shapes, not just hurricanes like Katrina, Rita, and Irene. Earthquakes, fires, flood, ice storms, and tornadoes can all take their toll.

All of the experts interviewed for this story agree with that opinion. The last thing you need if disaster should strike is to be caught unprepared.

 William J. Lynott has an extensive background in management consulting, marketing, and finance. He’s written more than 900 articles appearing in a wide range of consumer magazines, trade publications, and newspapers in 17 countries. Contact him at lynott@verizon.net.