Students That Freelance

How to Prepare for When Disaster Strikes

Day to Day
by: Amber Leigh Turner
During the recent flooding and tornadoes that came through Middle Tennessee at the first of the month, it got me thinking about how unprepared I am, personally and professionally, for when disaster strikes. Granted, I am probably more prepared than most, I am still not completely prepared, and every time severe weather is in the forecast for my area, it makes me nervous knowing that if something happens that takes out everything I own, that not only will I have to recover personally, but my freelancing will also have to recover as well. Today I will outline some crucial things to keep in mind to help you become prepared for when disaster strikes.

What do you mean by “disaster”?

Well, that is a very good question. Even though above I discussed flooding and tornadoes, there are many forms of disasters that can cause you to start from scratch if you aren’t properly prepared. Tornadoes, fire, flooding, robbery, earthquake, etc. are all forms of disasters that can change peoples’ lives forever. Other events that can be considered a disaster to some is a hard drive crashing, identity theft, and other such major events. Taking the right steps to prepare yourself will save you time, money and headache, and could possibly save your business as well.

A note about preparedness and the tips that follow

Just a note about the tips below: even though I will be focusing on getting prepared when it comes to disasters and your freelancing, these tips can easily be used to prepare your personal life as well, which I highly recommend. Even though you should be mindful of running your business during and after a disaster, if you didn’t take preparations for your personal life as well, then trying to get your personal things back together after a disaster can interfere just as much with your business as a disaster can. So I highly recommend preparing both your business and your personal life, because most freelancers’ personal lives are heavily intertwined with their businesses.

Document Everything

If you haven’t taken the time to make a thorough inventory of everything you own that would need replacing if disaster strikes, then now is a good time to do it. One easy way to do it is simply take pictures of your office. Take pictures of your computer, printer, scanner, desk, software, hardware, and anything else that is expensive to replace. It also wouldn’t hurt to take the time to make a list of all of these items, all of the specs on these items, and the approximate price you paid for them. If you have the receipts to these big ticket items, it wouldn’t hurt to scan those in and keep those digital too (see next section).

When I worked in insurance, it was vital when a claim occurred to calculate the losses. A lot of insurance companies recommend videotaping or making an inventory of your belongings along with their value, so that you can get your insurance money quickly and completely to replace these items.

Make your life digital

One of the major steps I am taking is making everything I have digital as much as possible. Records, bank statements, important receipts, pictures of expensive belongings, freelancing records, invoicing and business files, etc. are all in the process of becoming digital. You will be amazed at what you can put in a digital format.
What I have done is invested in a printer that has a built in flat bed scanner, and I have been using it to scan in things such as my taxes, bank statements, credit card statements, copy of a check from each account I have, important client notes, copy of client checks, etc. Then I nicely organize it by making the scans either PDF or JPG formats so that they are easy to find without having to search.

I mention PDFs and JPGs for a reason. Pretty much every computer can open a JPG and has Acrobat Reader to open PDFs. Acrobat Reader is free and can be downloaded on any computer regardless of the platform. I recommend PDFs and JPGs over using other file types (unless you plan to buy the software) because if your computer is no longer working, you won’t be able to open certain files. In a pinch, JPGs and PDFs should work on every computer no matter what. I personally do everything that has any type of text as a PDF because they allow for me to search for words, which is great when searching through bank statements and other lengthy PDFs.

Backup, Backup, Backup

I can speak from personal experience on this. If you don’t backup your files, then all of your work getting things digital is just going to be a waste of time. There are many ways to back up your digital files, however I would strongly advise looking deeply into options that do not convert your files to any other type than the type they are currently. I say this because if you backup your files on a CD using a backup program that uses their own special file type to put all of your files in, then guess what happens if/when your computer is no longer working? Chances are (again, unless you plan to repurchase the backup program) that any other computer will not be able to open these files.

I do not use a backup service. I backup everything by hand. I have a small portable 500GB hard drive in which I store everything on. This drive is very small and portable, which is important. I purchased one that was very small so that I could slide it down in my purse, let’s say when a tornado is coming my way, when I leave the house and the chance of severe weather is strong, or for general everyday use commuting from home to school.

Now that personal experience I was referring to is really to not put all of your eggs in one basket. Even though I have my entire life (well, that’s in the works) on this portable drive, what if the drive fails? What if my house catches fire while I am gone? In this case, I take the time to make backups of all the files on my drive onto rewritable DVDs. I make two copies of each backup so that I can have one set of DVD backups at my house, and the other I take to the bank for safe storage in a safety deposit box. This way I have my files in three separate places.

And since I mentioned you should backup your files, this article features some online backup services you can investigate to help you painlessly backup your files.

Moral to the story

Since disaster can strike at any moment, it is important that you should start thinking and getting the process going on protecting your freelance business. It could be as simple as spending a weekend or two getting everything together and backed up. Also it is worth stating that you should continuously work to keep backing up your files, keeping things current, and discovering what else you should backup. Everyone’s business is different, so you should review what you should do to protect your business during and after a disaster.

What are some of the ways you have prepared for a disaster?