If you read business magazines regularly, it’s very likely you’ve seen many articles about “data” and its importance for companies. For small businesses, extracting value and revenue from data is essential to long-term success. Given its importance, small businesses should strive to protect their precious data as best as possible. Following these seven steps provides small companies with guidelines for handling their data and preventing catastrophic loss:
- Create a reasonable plan. Even if you run a five-person company that isn’t used to formality, you should still create a detailed formal data management and recovery plan. The plan should first lay out what kinds and sources of data will you be storing and using. Consider all sources of information, from sales figures to insights pulled from social media posts. Then you need to develop a guide so everyone knows who is responsible for backing up data, where it will be stored, and how it will be accessed.
- Pick the right backups. Storage in the cloud is getting cheaper every day and it can be a secure and reliable way to perform off-premises storage if you’re careful. Small businesses should always put in place “backups of the backup” by choosing two or more cloud services and utilizing several portable hard drives or other accessible backup devices as well. The benefit of having hard drives is the data can be accessed in areas where there is not internet access. This can be vital for small businesses that operate in remote areas or are always mobile.
- Centralize the data. Small businesses that have a growing amount of data should keep the information in a centralized place for ease of management. A marketing benefit is it also gives them the chance to review the data as a whole, perhaps finding insights that would remain hidden if data was kept in chunks. The plan should detail how, where, and by who data will be centrally managed.
- Handle devices with care. Many small business owners and their staff members use portable devices or hard drives as part of their day-to-day business. While hard drives might seem sturdy, they are easily damaged from short drops, heat fluctuations (in the car, then inside), and of course coffee, tea, juice, etc. SD cards hold an amazing amount of content, and companies that capture video and photo content should be sure they move data off of the cards regularly as they are prone to breaking.
- Check the laws. Once a small business starts collecting personally identifiable information, then they must consider the various privacy laws. There are rules on how this data should be stored and distributed, with steep penalties for misuse.
- Stay in control. As your business grows you’ll need to have more controls in place that allow/restrict data access. Theft can occur, but simple mismanagement is more common. Be sure you have access control procedures as part of your plan, especially guidelines that cover departing employees.
- Use an expert if data is lost. If an employee spills a pot of coffee on a hard drive that contains 2,000 new leads, or a SD card with photos of an expensive photo shoot is broken, then you need a recovery expert. Don’t use free utilities that are advertised online as these will likely not work and are often full of malware. Spend a little bit of money to have an expert firm retrieve the data using special software and tools. Remember the company’s data is invaluable, so don’t be afraid to hire some assistance when needed.
Small business owners and managers that don’t actively manage and protect their data risk losing the benefits of years of hard work. Don’t accumulate a great client list or develop lengthy specifications for a new product, only to succumb to data loss without proper backups. Following these best practices helps small companies to run more efficiently, use data wisely, and protect one of the company’s most precious assets.