by David Zimmerman, CEO of LC Technology International
A home-based business should still function in some ways like a bigger firm. They of course need to be agile and adaptable, but home businesses should still have some formalized planning and structure. One area of planning that’s sorely lacking for these types of companies is a plan on protecting data. In the 21st Century economy, data is often the most valuable asset. For example, a wedding photographer has tens of thousands of images to protect. An IT consultant working from home is entrusted with files and other content that must remain confidential. Regardless of the type of business involved, it’s vital to keep data safeguarded. If the information held by a home business is taken by hackers, held for ransom, or simply lost, then the entire company can quickly fall into ruin.
An important first step in managing data is to accept that loss and incidents do happen. Your toddler might knock a bowl of cereal onto your company laptop. You might hire a part-time worker who steals your data and sells it on the “dark web.” The possibilities are unfortunately endless, and it’s important to put in place safeguards to manage and recover lost data and get back to running the business.
Home business owners have to commit to a data management plan, and fully recognize the value data plays in their organization. The owner very likely has a business plan that describes their sales tactics and goals, so why not create a plan to protect data assets? A plan also helps to organize the data and ingrains accountability and transparency into the business, which is important even for solo operations.
Here are six steps to develop a strong plan that’s suitable for home-based businesses:
1. Set the responsibilities.
If your business is just you or it involves 10 employees in the field, you still need to detail the personal responsibilities for managing data. Everyone involved in the business, whether it’s your uncle that does accounting, or your teenage kids that distribute surveys, needs to know how to protect your data. The plan should state who has access to certain sets of data, as well as how they should save and share information. In the broader sense, this step is about making sure everyone knows they play a part in data management.
2. Gather and Centralize the Information.
A small company does not necessarily produce only small amounts of data. And the data itself can come from a wide variety of sources, which complicates the best ways to protect the information. For example, a home business might offer a virtual service and have tens of thousands of prospect customers on file. And then it might go to a conference and have footage on a GoPro, or survey information in a CRM system. Conducting an inventory of data is important because it exposes security flaws and helps to organize the information in order to improve access and efficiency. The plan should list all of the current data sources and detail how that information is stored. Ideally, the company will use secure cloud storage for the bulk of its data.
3. Review your Dynamic Plan.
Home businesses can change rapidly due to new opportunities. Your data management plan should also be dynamic to account for new staff or new data sets. Review the plan frequently to ensure it still makes sense for your business. Take stock of the ways data currently flows throughout the company and decide if those processes make sense. Perhaps you need to add another layer of cloud-based data backups, or have to sit down with an employee to discuss their poor data access habits. The plan also should include how you’ll proceed with data recovery if it’s needed.
4. Manage access.
Take control of who can access and adjust your data to give yourself a layer of protection from theft or inadvertent loss. Staff should also utilize strong passwords and follow procedures for sharing data or network access with anyone outside the organization. As your business grows to include multiple consultants or employees located remotely, then you need a more sophisticated monitoring tool that records data-related activities. Pay special attention to any work you do with partners or vendors. If for example you have a two-week engagement with an IT consultant, make sure you revoke their login credentials after the project is completed. Managing access is essentially finding and eliminating “loose ends” in your operation.
5. Locate a quality recovery expert.
Accidents do happen, despite all your planning and efforts. Laptops can fall on the floor, ex-employees can delete data out of spite. Things happen. If you experience data loss or corruption, then it’s best to have the info of a reputable recovery firm on speed dial. Find a firm that offers quality U.S.-based customer service and has a proven ability to manage a variety of recovery problems.
Home business owners need to shift their thinking when it comes to data. It’s often their most valuable non-people asset, one that is used to reach customers, process payments, and perform all of the functions that make a business viable. A complete data management and recovery plan goes a long way at eliminating data loss, and helps owners to focus on sales and growth instead of data security.
David Zimmerman has been in the hardware/software industry for over 30 years, specifically in the data recovery software market for 18 years. During this period, he has been involved in the creation; marketing and support of the earlier drive recovery software products to enter the PC market and successfully marketed them both nationally and internationally. His company LC Technology International makes data recovery products for most of his competitors.