What would happen if your home office was damaged in a storm or there was a disaster in your area, and you had to evacuate? Could you continue your coaching practice during the crisis? Or would you be out of business until you could return home?
You may have already made emergency preparation plans for yourself, family, and pets. If so, I commend you. Many people never think that far ahead.
Now what about your business? Before you dismiss the idea, consider that an evacuation could mean weeks away home, not just a day or two. I know. After Hurricane Katrina hit southern Louisiana, I couldn’t get home for 3 weeks. (And my car was parked on the roof of the New Orleans airport parking garage.) After Hurricane Rita hit the same area, I lived out of a suitcase for months.
That was 5 years ago, and since then I’ve put some simple disaster preparation systems in place so that my clients and I are never inconvenienced for more than a couple of days. Not only are these easy to implement, most of them require little to no investment.
Here are my top 7 disaster preparation tips for coaches and consultants who work from home.
Disaster Preparation Tip #1 – Have a Laptop Computer
If you do nothing else but this, you’ll be much better prepared for emergencies of any kind. A mobile computer is a MUST. Not only is it easy to take with you, it can run on battery power so you’re not tied to an electric outlet.
If you don’t own one, you should know how to get access to one quickly. And don’t depend on a local store for rentals. In the event of an area wide disaster, their inventory will quickly become non-existent.
- Use a laptop with a separate wireless mouse and full-size keyboard. It gives the feel of a desktop but with the flexibility of a laptop.
- Buy a cheaper laptop for a backup computer that is powerful enough to run all your necessary programs, but without the extras. Install all the necessary programs on it, like MS Office and Acrobat Reader, so that you can easily take it and go. With a backup hard drive (see tip #2 and #7 below), you’ll have all your computer files with you.
You can also plan to buy a laptop computer in the event of an emergency – but there are some significant drawbacks to this option. Here are a few:
- In the event of an emergency, you won’t have time to research which computer to buy. And you won’t have time to look for great sales.
- You’ll have to remember to take all of your software installation disks with you when you evacuate so that you can install them on the new computer. 99% of you reading this will either forget to do this or forget at least one critical program that you need.
- You’ll spend at least one day installing and setting up all your programs on your new computer before you can even use it. Keep in mind that your time will be at a premium during a crisis. How much will it cost you to give up a day (or more) of coaching so you can set up your computer?
You can easily buy a new laptop with Windows 7 to use as a backup computer for about $400, less if you buy a refurbished or used one. If you can borrow someone else’s laptop to use in an emergency, make sure it can handle your software. For instance, MS Office 2010 may not function well on an old Windows XP computer.
Disaster Preparation Tip #2 – Backup Your Hard Drive Regularly
How much work are you willing to risk losing on your computer? One day? One hour? That’s how often you should be backing up your computer hard drive to an external backup drive. I personally back up my files automatically every hour. It’s on autopilot, and I don’t have to think about it.
Computers crash. It’s a fact of technology. So this is good preparation to have in place at all times. If your computer is damaged – for any reason – you have another source to turn to for retrieving your files.
Get an external hard drive with at least two times the GB that you want to back up. If you want to back up a 150 GB computer hard drive, then get at least a 300 GB external drive. A good one will cost between $100-$300 depending on the size you get.
In the event you have to evacuate your home office, just grab your cellphone, laptop computer, and external hard drive, and you have your mobile office.
Disaster Preparation Tip #3 – Backup Your Email Accounts
Many people use MS Outlook, Mac Mail, or other desktop software to read their email. That’s great, but you really want to have all your email backed up online in case of emergency.
Many of your client interactions will be by email and you want to have a record. Backing up to an external hard drive is good. Even better is to have an online backup that can be accessed from anywhere. I use and recommend Gmail for this. It’s free to use and simple to set up.
Disaster Preparation Tip #4 – Use Your Web Hosting Server for File Backups
Most coaches don’t realize that their website hosting is a great place to keep file backups. I use and recommend Host Gator hosting. At only $9.95 per month, I have unlimited disk space, which means I can keep a lot of data stored online where I can access it from anywhere. All I need is a computer and Internet connection.
At the very least, keep a backup of ALL your web pages – even the ones in archive that are no longer active. If you have a WordPress site, you can easily save lots of images and documents on your server. You won’t even need FTP (file transfer protocol) software because the file upload feature is built into the WordPress dashboard.
One thing to keep in mind is that this backup is only semi-secure. Anyone who has access to your server password would have access to these files. That includes your webmaster, virtual assistants, and the people who maintain your server files.
You could set up a password protected file folder to add extra security, but I don’t recommend that you keep highly sensitive data here, like tax ID numbers, credit card information, and passwords.
Which leads us to tip #5…
Disaster Preparation Tip #5 – Backup All Your Passwords Securely Online
I can still remember having 5 passwords for all my online accounts way back in 2002. Now I literally have hundreds to keep track of. If a disaster happened, I would need my password database to access my online banking, email accounts, and more. I’d be lost without it.
With some disasters, you have time to grab your cellphone, laptop, and external hard drive and go. But with something like an earthquake or tornado, that might not be an option. Or you could be caught away from your office when disaster strikes.
Having all your passwords stored and encrypted online gives you the security that you’ll always be able to access your online accounts – including the all important bank account with your funds.
I use and recommend RoboForm Everywhere. It’s $9.95 per year, and I can use it on my Windows and Mac computers. All my passwords are synchronized so I always have access to the latest passwords, whether I’m using my PC, my MacBook Pro, or my iPhone. And to access it, I only need to remember 1 username and 2 passwords. That’s it. Leaves me with plenty of brain space to memorize other important data.
Disaster Preparation Tip #6 – Keep Insurance Information Handy
An emergency usually means that you’ll be contacting one of your insurance companies and possibly government agencies. So there is basic information you’ll want to access easily.
You can easily keep insurance company contact information and account numbers on your cell phone or web hosting server. If you have a secure online storage, like RoboForm Everywhere, you can also store more sensitive data, like tax ID numbers. And thanks to technology, you’ll probably be able to access much of your policy information online – as long as you know the login information.
I also recommend that you keep a photo and text inventory on your computer of what you have insured. It will greatly assist you and save time when you get ready to file a claim.
One more tip. If at all possible, delegate the tasks of insurance claims to someone else in the family. It’s a very time consuming process, and you have a business to run.
Disaster Preparation Tip #7 – Keep Digital Client Files
Keep your client notes on your computer and print out documents as needed for your paper files. If you’re in the habit of writing everything on paper, you could find yourself in a real bind in case of an emergency.
That laptop won’t be as useful on the road if you don’t have access to client files. And having to carry 20-30 client folders along with you can get rather cumbersome. It’s so much easier to just grab your laptop and go.
This tip will also help you keep your office well organized and make it so much easier to find information. I like to take notes in a word processor whenever possible. I keep computer folders for each of my clients and use subfolders for organization.
The beauty of this is that I can easily and quickly search my computer for any piece of information, whether it’s notes from my last client session, a site I bookmarked in my browser, an image, or an email. I no longer spend 15 minutes or more thumbing through a paper folder looking for that one piece of information I need.
You usually can’t predict an emergency or disaster. They are unforeseen and unexpected. But you can make arrangements so that you are well prepared in case one happens.
The key is to make these preparations part of your daily lifestyle – something you do everyday anyway. If you make it extra work for yourself, it probably won’t get done. (Don’t ask me how I know that!)
Above are 7 systems that I implement into my regular routine. They give me – and my clients – peace of mind and financial security.
If you have any questions or other suggestions, please share them in the comments section below. I’d love to hear your best disaster preparation tip.