Prepare for Emergencies

While some of the scenarios for disaster may differ, there is pretty much the same amount of problems that can happen to an online business when compared to a brick-and-mortar establishment. While there are none of the risks associated with a physical storefront, the added tech emergencies more than make up the difference. It is important to understand each emergency, decide if it applies to you, and what you can do to remedy the situation.

Given that an online business depends so heavily on technology for virtually every aspect of its operation, tech emergencies are likely to be the most common, and devastating, catastrophes you can expect to run into. This area should be the first concentrated on when making your preparedness program, and should garner the most attention and financial support.

Equipment Failure

Tech equipment is part of virtually every modern business in one capacity or another. With an online business, your entire organization may depend on devices or machines, which means that ensuring you are not caught unprepared if something breaks down is especially important. Following are some steps to take to not only head off equipment failure in the first place, but make things easier if a breakdown occurs.

  • Know the Life of the Machine: While it would be nice if every piece of hardware is expected to last forever, that is very seldom the case, especially with tech hardware. Checking out the manufacturer’s website, or even just doing a Google search, can usually provide you with the life expectancy of most devices. This will let you know when it is time to start setting money aside for a potential breakdown, or even proactively purchasing a replacement before it does fail.
  • Regular Maintenance: One of the best ways to prepare for an emergency is to make sure it doesn’t happen. Regular maintenance on tech devices and equipment can extend their operational life, sometimes by quite a bit. This makes it very helpful to regularly perform, or have a professional do, regular maintenance and upkeep.
  • Keep a Backup: If the equipment in question is especially important to your operation, consider purchasing a backup right away, just in case it does fail.

Data Loss

Data is the lifeblood of an online business, and losing yours can be one of the most devastating situations you can find yourself in. In fact, studies have recently shown that around 60 percent of businesses that lose their data close down permanently within six months.

Backing up your data is the most effective way to make sure you do not lose anything of importance if data loss strikes. There are multiple ways to back up your data, including:

  • Removable Media: Redundantly storing data on removable media, such as tape backups or recordable DVDs is a surefire way to ensure your data is replaceable. This can be done on or offsite, and should be completed on a regular basis.
  • Cloud: Cloud storage has become one of the most popular ways to backup data, given its inexpensive nature and access from anywhere with an internet connection. Use at least two cloud storage options, in case one of them has a problem that causes your data to disappear.
  • Backup Server: While likely the most expensive option, mirroring everything on a duplicate server probably ensures the least amount of downtime. If one server has a problem, you can switch to the backup, usually with very little in the way of interruption to your operations.

Hacking

Hacking is an ever-increasing possibility for an online business, even if you are small in operation and competitiveness. A few simple things to remember can help you recover when (not if) it happens to you.

  • Be Proactive: While being proactive can apply to virtually all disaster scenarios, it is of special import when it comes to hacking. Security measures, such as firewalls and antivirus programs, reduce the possibility of being hacked exponentially. Using a reputable program or software service, and keeping it regularly updated is crucial. Any time or expense spent in these types of preventative measures will usually be paid back in spades.
  • Be Transparent: If customer information is compromised, make sure to inform them right away. While the temptation may be to keep this quiet, it is better to be upfront with the compromised parties than have them find out on their own. Also, contact your web host with as much information as possible, so they can help you with steps to avoid it happening in the future.
  • Minimize Damage: There are steps you can take immediately after discovering you have been hacked, which can minimize the impact it has on your business. Start by running an antivirus program, given that many hacks are accomplished using viruses. Any passwords should be changed, and all corrupted files should be located and removed.

Hosting Failures

Web hosting failures are especially difficult for an online business to handle, given that it results in the entire disappearance of their company’s presence. If a potential customer enters in your web address only to be informed that it is inaccessible, they are likely to quickly move on to one of your competitors. The main reasons for hosting failures include:

  • Datacenter Issues: If a power outage or breakdowns occur at the datacenter of your hosting provider, down goes your virtual presence.
  • Traffic: If you experience a high spike in traffic, it may exceed your hosting bandwidth and cause the site to load very slowly or not at all. Also, if you use shared hosting, high traffic on another site hosted on the same server can have the same results.
  • Maintenance: Scheduled maintenance is a part of any hosting service, and when it happens is usually out of your hands.
  • Domain or Hosting Renewal: If you forget to renew your company’s domain, or stay current on hosting payments, your site will go down.

Solutions do exist that can protect you in case your website does disappear off the virtual highway. These include:

  • Content Distribution Network: A content distribution network, or CDN, stores a copy of your website and makes it available to visitors if your actual site goes down. One of the best names in this area is Cloudflare.
  • Hosting Backup: Given the inexpensive nature of most web hosting, having a backup service you can point your domain to is a viable option. Select a second hosting company, optimally one that is located in a separate area as your primary, in case it is a region-specific failure, such as no electricity. You should send copies of your website and associated data to the backup on a regular basis. You can also enlist services for DNS management, which will perform all backup and switch over duties automatically.

Utility Emergencies

Whether you run your online business from your home, or have an outside office or warehouse, utilities do play a part. Telephone and internet services, as well as the basic electricity that powers your operation, are subject to failure usually for reasons out of your control.

When it comes to a telephone or internet service outage, the only real step you can take is to have a backup service researched and selected in case it happens. These services are usually cheap enough where having a service on standby is a viable option.

With electricity, not only can outages cause you to lose access to your online business, they can also cause damage to tech equipment. Power surges can fry a computer and result in costly repairs and data loss. A UPS, or universal power supply, is a device that provides a little extra juice you can use to save any new data or work, and to shut down devices properly.

Employee Emergencies

No matter how reliable of a staff you may have, there is always the possibility that something will happen to cause one or more of them to become unavailable. If a health situation takes place, such as a particularly bad flu season, you can easily find yourself with important positions unfilled when you need them the most. Few things are more frustrating than having a project, sales delivery, or service call deadline you cannot satisfy due to missing employees.

A helpful resource when it comes to employee absences is to have a temp service or freelance agency or individual on located or even on standby. While these types of services are easy to acquire for reasonable rates, you want to make sure that whoever fills the role is a good fit, and performs adequately. Having these relationships in place beforehand takes most of the guesswork and delay out of the equation,and reduces the possibility you miss important target dates.

If an employee has an accident, not only are they likely to miss work, you also may be liable for financial compensation or other legal stumbling blocks. Research the laws and statutes applicable to your type of online business, in your individual state, and adhere to them fastidiously. Workers compensation insurance is also recommended if your staff is larger or the business involves more risk.

Product Emergencies

If your online business is centered around selling products, as most are, having a disruption or problem with your supply chain can have serious consequences. If a customer receives a broken or defective product, they are likely to be aggravated, and looking for a quick and efficient resolution. Have a clearly-defined return policy in place, and instruct all employees on how to handle frustrated customers with care and compassion.

The same goes for problems having sales items delivered, either to you or directly to the customer. Most people anxiously await their online purchases, and any delays can result in a truly grumpy telephone call or email.

An excellent way to head off these types of emergencies is to ask your supplier if they have their own preparedness program researched and in place. Ask for a copy of it, if available, and make sure it will cover any situations you are likely to run into. The quicker you can get a working purchase to your customer, the less likely they are to go somewhere else.

Knowing exactly what to do in case of an emergency not only helps to minimize the impact it has on your ability to do business, it also provides you with that peace of mind that comes from knowing you are covered if disaster does strike. A frank and complete assessment is necessary, and can save a ton of time, aggravation, and lost business down the line.