What Happened to All of My Files?!

Quick! List the first fifteen business contacts you have stored on your computer. How about last quarter’s financial results? Or the proposal you are presenting this afternoon?  Stories about data security abound throughout the news media these days, and there is no doubt that the security of your business data is vital. Unfortunately, one aspect of data security that is often overlooked by most small business owners is disaster recovery. Disaster recovery planning can prepare your business to recover from a disastrous loss of data from your computer (e.g. –Your hard drive crashes and all of the information you saved on it is wiped out, or your computer catches a nasty virus, and is out of commission.)

Disaster recovery planning encompasses tactical functions, such as backup routines and redundancy, as well as potential hardware and software investments like USB drives, network-attached devices and commercially available backup software. There are several factors that will help you to determine the strategy that makes the most sense for your business and utilizes your resources most effectively, including:

  • The amount of information to be secured.
  • How long you can allow critical business systems be non-functional.
  • How often you make changes to critical data.
  • How much data you can afford to lose.

A comprehensive strategy and plan for disaster recovery should always include backups of data to be stored offline (not on the same computer or network on which the data resides) and off-site (in a location away from where the computers being protected are housed). The proliferation of USB mass storage devices has driven offsite, offline storage costs down dramatically, so that you can store the data of many computers onto a single device that can be put in your pocket. Oh, and that data can also be digitally encrypted on the device. This protects it from being accessed if you lose it.

Additionally, you can use automation provided in the commercially available backup software to implement your backup routine on a regular schedule very easily. Your backup routine may call for backing up all of your data once a week (Full), and then just the data that has been changed or added since then (Differential). The software can automate this for you as well.

Redundancy refers to the practice of keeping duplicates of existing computers with all applications and data (cloned images) that can be restored onto a computer, or simply another computer that is an exact copy of an existing computer that is introduced into the network when the existing computer fails. While redundancy may not always be required as part of a disaster recovery plan, a strategy for business continuity is a must.

Think about the daily operation of your business. Now think about what you absolutely must have available in order to keep those daily business processes running. This is the start of your business continuity plan. These types of plans are designed for the sole purpose of allowing your business to continue operating despite a system failure or loss of data. Some of the most basic business continuity solutions are Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPS) that provide battery backup in case of a power loss. These are designed to run your critical systems (phones, data network, computers) for a short period of time, as well as to prevent these systems from “glitching” during a short-term power loss or spike. If your business is located where long-term power losses are common, you may need a more potent solution. Generally, a formula can be used to calculate how much power you will need and for how long.

The investment in disaster recovery planning includes:

  • The time it takes to identify the data and systems that are most important for your business
  • The cost of the hardware and software associated with your strategic plan
  • The time to implement and test your plan.

Disaster recovery planning and implementation is an often overlooked component in small businesses, but it is definitely worth the effort. The potential cost of not creating and implementing a disaster recovery plan could be the loss of your business.

Here’s a link to a free trial download of the backup and recovery software I use personally:

Acronis True Image Home 2010 Trial Download

The New Normal

There is obviously a very large and growing problem with unemployment in the United States right now and by most estimates it will be at least a year before we see the percentage of unemployed (which is nearing 10%) decrease. This is a signal of a major shift in not only the economy, but in the way we will define “work” and “jobs” for a long time to come.

What is happening in America is not new. It has happened before, but we rarely spot the trend when we are in it. Instead, we look back at a period of time, and label it once it is passed. I think missed a few labels along the way in the past era which has run for the last 30-40 years.

No one denies that we transitioned from Agrarian to Industrial, and from Industrial to Service-based economies, but a lot of people would not agree with me that we then moved from Service to Debt-based.

I have two arguments to make the point about moving away from a service-based economy. I define the Debt-based economy as the residual income earned by financial institutions and others that derived from interest payments, late fees, overdraft charges and any additional monetary costs associated with financial transactions that did not involve cash only. The current economic conditions stemmed from “complicated financial instruments developed by Wall Street” and a fire sale on money (low interest rates and lax vetting of borrower credentials). This signaled the reliance of the banking and financial institutions on “bad debt”, and we all know what happened. Its been all over the news for the last 4 or 5 years.

The second element that indicates a shift from Service-based economy is that most companies quite literally do not provide “service” at all. When I use the term “service”, what I am really meaning is “customer service”. There was a time when we only discussed service when it was delivered poorly. That soon became the exception as it continued to worsen. Those of us in technology relate specifically to technical support as a benchmark of customer support, but you could find examples in almost every customer-facing aspect of a business: ignorant sales people, lying marketers, misleading advertising, rude customer service employees. These are the “people skilled” jobs that were being filled by “non-people skilled individuals” or the individuals were hamstrung by “corporate policy”. In either case, service was not delivered effectively and it truly seemed to be of no concern to the organizations that provided the services.

So, what is the next transition? The Debt-based economy has clearly collapsed of its own weight, and has become a short-lived trend that will dissipate without disappearing completely. But at the forefront of the next trend is the increasing need for people to reacquaint themselves with the concept of helping others. We are not going back to farming, or industry, or the “old-time religion”. These are part of a different time and place. The new normal is a Niche economy; mass customization. We will still need transportation, housing, food, entertainment, medical attention, light, heat, and communications, but these are commodities in our new economy. The aggregate of the niches associated with these core industries will drive the economic growth of the 21st century. In short, innovation will once again be the hallmark of economic development in the United States and, consequently, the world.

You Don’t Have to Throw Away Everything You Know About Marketing

There has been so much talk and publicity surrounding social networking and Internet marketing that it is easy to feel “out of touch” with what’s going on out there in cyberspace. The truth is: If you know how to market using the traditional methods such as print ads and direct mail, you are most of the way toward being able to use the tools provided by technology today. The most important adage still applies: Know your target audience.

One of the greatest values presented by the growing dominance of Internet marketing is in its ability to help you to create hyper-targeted marketing campaigns. Through the use of tools such as email auto-responders and opt-ins, you can build an incredibly focused list that is yours to market to at any time. The auto-responder allows you to automate a campaign that can run for days and months.  If you don’t know your target market, it won’t matter if you can’t use an auto-responder or an opt-in. They’re useless in a “spray and pray” approach to marketing.  Fortunately, they aren’t as costly as a snail mail campaign gone bad.

There is no “trick” to Internet marketing. If you bombard potential leads with garbage, that’s exactly where your electronic marketing material will end up. To be successful it is absolutely vital that you lead with value. If you can provide useful information to people, they will most definitely be more receptive to what you have to offer in terms of service, or product or business opportunity. This is where the social networking component fits into the picture. It is tied to another well-known adage in business: Build relationships with your clients. The social networking sites that are hot right now include Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. These sites allow you to present an image of yourself or business to people all over the world. You do need to be aware of the tools and how they are used by others. If you’re not careful, you will quickly find your Twitter account loaded with spammer turds. Some people feel the need to cut right to the pitch, not unlike those at a live networking event that walk up to you and hand you a card before they’ve listened to whether or not you’d be a qualified lead or even asked you for your name.  They’re working a “numbers game”. And that’s OK for them, but I’m personally not interested in doing business with people like that. I remember hearing that Warren Buffet has 3 questions he asks before he goes into a business deal:  Do I like them? Do I respect them? Do I trust them? Seems pretty reasonable to me, and I think Warren Buffet knows something about business.

So before you start worrying about how you can use social networking and Internet marketing to drive business, start thinking about what your ideal client looks like. If you stick to some of the time-tested marketing strategies, you will have no problem learning the tactics involved with using technology to gain new leads and clients.