As much as we wish things would run smoothly all the time, disaster sometimes strikes. We don’t just mean the major disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes, either; something as simple as a widespread power outage, plumbing leak, vendor problem or computer crash can qualify as a disaster when it comes to business. These issues can be every business owner’s worst nightmare, interrupting the flow of work and causing lost revenue, lost opportunity and even lost customers.

What can you do to deal with potential disaster? First, you should do your best to prevent possible problems, and second, you should have a plan in place for dealing with what might happen. The more prepared you are, the less business you’ll lose if the unthinkable occurs. The Wall Street Journal offers some tips for small business disaster preparedness; below, we’ve added extensively to their list in order to create some guidelines for being ready for what we hope will never happen to you.

Preventing Disaster

If you don’t do the work up front to prevent problems before they occur, you’re inviting trouble. Start by securing your space. Make sure all wiring and plumbing are up to code, and keep a sharp eye out for leaks and other issues.

Go over your insurance policies. What’s covered, and what’s not? Be sure you know exactly what your insurance will do for you in a given crisis, and keep those premiums up-to-date.

Use a fireproof, waterproof lockbox or file cabinet for storage and preservation of sensitive or vital documents.

Back up all your data. ALL of it. And keep those backups in a safe location. That way, if something crashes, you can restore it fairly quickly and painlessly.

Get a battery backup power source so that, even if the electricity goes out, your computers won’t crash; you’ll be buying yourself time for a proper shutdown if the power doesn’t come right back on.

Don’t leave laptops, phones or other electronic equipment in your car (or any other highly visible place) – Why invite theft or heat damage?

Keep the phone numbers handy for your electric company, water company, phone company, Internet provider, server hosting company, security company, and anyone else you might need to call quickly during an emergency. No one wants to spend those first frantic minutes desperately looking through old bills to find contact numbers for services!

Be sure that any passwords, PINs and other secure pieces of information are kept out of sight, not on a Post-It note under the keyboard or, God forbid, stuck to the monitor.

Use caution with your company’s financial information – Just as you take care to avoid identity theft or unauthorized access to your own bank accounts, you must be careful that your company’s credit card and bank info.

Keep your anti-virus software up-to-date, and be sure your wireless network is secured.

Have some alternatives in mind for your current vendors. If you rely on a handful of vendors for your supplies, what will you do if something happens to remove one of them from the picture? A contingency plan for alternate vendors can keep you from losing productivity should something happen to your current suppliers.

Establish relationships with those who might be needed if something goes wrong – Have a plumber and/or electrician you trust, media contacts that can be called on to help with public relations or getting information out should you need it, etc. Having a circle of support before anything actually happens is one of the best ways to plan for the worst. And of course, make yourself available to those in your circle, as well, if THEY need something during a crisis.

Make sure the doorways of your workplace are kept clear and accessible.

Don’t ignore the news – If there’s a report of a hurricane, blizzard, tornado or other natural disaster coming your way, get yourself and your staff to safety. No business is worth your life.

If you rely on vehicles for doing business, keep up with oil changes, gas fill-ups, tires and other regular maintenance.

Have a nighttime security system if you leave expensive equipment behind in your workplace each night.

If you pretty much run the company on your own, think of what might occur should you be taken out of commission through sickness, accident or a family emergency. Can someone else take care of business in your stead for a while? Can you manage things from off-site while you deal with your crisis? Many businesses completely stop down when the boss is physically unable to be there, so think of how you might handle that situation BEFORE it happens.

Dealing with a Crisis

Even if you do everything you can to prevent problems, trouble can still sometimes find you. When that happens, be sure to have a plan in place so that you’re not caught entirely off-guard. Planning can mean saving valuable time in resolving the crisis and avoiding additional issues.

Your plan should include who to call first, depending on the disaster at hand. It should also include the roles that each employee is asked to play in the event of a problem. Short-term, medium-term and long-term possibilities should be discussed beforehand so that, no matter how long the crisis takes, you’ll be ready.

Above all, try not to panic. Problems will happen, but if you keep a clear head, prepare as best you can and stick to your disaster plan, you should be able to deal with whatever happens as quickly and easily as possible.

Once a crisis has passed, be sure to apologize to customers who were inconvenienced in the case of a power or server outage, website problem, payment processing issue or personal crisis on your part, and do what you can to make the situation right for them. Most people respond favorably if a business comes through a crisis with the customers in mind. You can’t avoid ALL troubles, but how you and your company deal with them is how you’ll be judged. Good luck!