How to Prevent Online Business Disasters - dummies

By Greg Holden

When you’re lying awake at night, you can be anxious about all sorts of grim disasters affecting your online business: flood, fire, theft, computer virus, you name it. Prevention is always better than a cure, so should take to prevent problems. But should a problem arise, there are also ways to recover more easily.

Insurance

There are plenty of ways to spend money that are a whole lot more fun than paying insurance premiums. However, it’s definitely necessary. And yes, there’s another item to add to the list: protecting your business investment by obtaining insurance that specifically covers you against hardware damage, theft, and loss of data.

You can go a step further and obtain a policy that covers the cost of data entry or equipment rental that would be necessary to recover your business information. Here are some specific strategies:

  • Make a list of all your hardware and software and how much each item cost, and store a copy of it in a secure place, such as a fireproof safe or safe-deposit box.

  • Take photos of your computer setup in case you need to make an insurance claim, and put them in the same safe place.

  • Save your electronic files on CD or DVD and put the disc in a safe storage location, such as a safe-deposit box.

Investigate the many options available to you for insuring your computer hardware and software. Your current homeowner’s or renter’s insurance may offer coverage, but make sure the dollar amount is sufficient for replacement. You may also want to look into the computer hardware and software coverage provided by Safeware, The Insurance Agency, Inc..

Think ahead

The Gartner Group estimates that two out of five businesses that experience a major disaster go out of business within five years. Even if your company is small, be prepared for trouble such as floods, hurricanes, or tornadoes. A recovery effort might include the following strategies:

  • Back-up power systems: What will you do if the power goes out, and you can’t access the web? You can buy a back-up power system for less than $50 at office supply stores or from Amazon.com.

  • Data storage: This is probably the most practical and essential disaster recovery step for small or home-based businesses. Back up your files to the “cloud” using services like Carbonite. An article in the IT magazine Computerworld compared five of the best-known systems.

  • Telecommunications: Having an alternate method of communication available in case your phone system goes down ensures that you’re always in touch. Also set up a voice mailbox so that customers and vendors can leave messages for you even if you can’t answer the phone.

Creating a plan is a waste of time if you don’t regularly set aside time to keep it up to date.

Antivirus protection

As an online businessperson, you download files, receive disks from customers and vendors, and exchange e-mail with all sorts of people you’ve never met before. Surf safely by installing antivirus programs, such as

  • Norton Internet Security by Symantec Corp.: This application, which includes an antivirus program as well as a firewall and lists for $79.99, automates many security functions and is especially good for beginners. A standalone version, Norton AntiVirus, is available for $49.99, but the more full-featured package is highly recommended, which includes a firewall.

  • AVG AntiVirus by AVG Technologies: Many users who find Norton Internet Security too intrusive (it leaves lots of files on your computer and consumes a great deal of memory) turn to this product, which lists for $39.99.

  • Avira Free Antivirus: This is a popular free program.

  • VirusScan by McAfee: This is the leading competitor of Norton AntiVirus, which comes bundled with Norton Internet Security. VirusScan is included in McAfee Internet Security, which includes a firewall and costs $67.99.

Viruses change all the time, and new ones appear regularly. The antivirus program you install one day may not be able to handle the viruses that appear just a few weeks or months later. You may want to pick an antivirus program that doesn’t charge excessive amounts for regular updates. Also check the ICSA’s Product Testing Reports.

A visible sign that you’re trustworthy

Like the office assistant whose work is visible only when he or she is not doing a good job, you may be squeaky clean but nobody will know unless there’s a problem…or unless you display a “seal of approval” from a reputable online organization. The two best-known seals are TRUSTe and BBBOnline.

The nonprofit organization TRUSTe was created to boost the degree of trust that web surfers have in the Internet. If you demonstrate to TRUSTe that you’re making efforts to keep your visitors’ personal data secure and if you pledge not to share your customers’ data and to publish a privacy statement on your site, TRUSTe issues you a seal of approval that you can place on your site’s home page.

By itself, the seal doesn’t keep hackers from breaking into your site and stealing your data. That’s still up to you. Having the seal just makes visitors feel better about using your services. The TRUSTe site provides you with a wizard that leads you through the process of generating a privacy statement for your site. The statement tells visitors how you protect their information.

BBBOnline, the web-based arm of the Better Business Bureau, has a similar program for commercial websites. The BBBOnline Reliability Seal Program has several eligibility requirements, including a physical location in the United States or Canada, a business record for at least a year, a satisfactory complaint-handling record, membership in the Better Business Bureau, and a commitment to resolve disputes and respond promptly to consumer complaints.