No business is immune from natural disasters, fires, prolonged power outages, and cyber attacks. There are also any number of “smaller” disasters that can prevent 
your business from accessing the data and systems needed to operate. Even the best hardware can fail. Even careful employees can make mistakes that lead to data loss or compromised systems. While not as dramatic as a natural disaster, the effects can still be devastating.

Every business should have a plan in place to ensure that operations continue, customers are taken care of, and legal obligations are met should disaster strike. Does yours?

Here are four reasons why your business, no matter the size, needs an IT disaster recovery plan.

1. You must meet legal, compliance and regulatory requirements.

Depending on the specific regulations that govern your industry, you may be legally required to produce disaster recovery reports. You may be subject to regulations that mandate how certain types of records are stored and protected, such as requiring backup copies that are stored offsite. Even if you don’t store sensitive customer information, every business has data that must be retained, such as tax records, payroll data and certain business transactions.

Many companies also don’t consider legal discovery requirements. If you are required to produce a document as part of the legal discovery process and can’t due to a data loss, you may face penalties or even be found liable by default.

Data backups are part of every good disaster recovery plan. Different forms of data backup include offsite storage of hard copy records, secure offsite servers, document scanning, and tape drive rotation.

2. Data loss due to a disaster can close your doors…permanently.

It’s hard to realize how much you rely on the information your business uses every day when it’s right at your fingertips.

Try to imagine the impact on your business if all your contacts, orders, project data, client records, contracts, procedural documents and more were suddenly inaccessible…or worse yet, gone permanently. Operations would come to a screeching halt as you tried to recover or rebuild that vital trove of information. There would be labor and other costs associated with recovery, on top of lost business and productivity.

Far too many businesses are unable to recover from a major data loss, and either don’t reopen or close within one or two years.

Bottom line: as a business operating in the digital era, you can’t afford to lose your data.

3. An interruption in service can send customers to your competition.

Today’s customers have more choices than ever. Increased competition means they can demand perfection, and, depending on your services, 24/7 access.

If you experience downtime due to a disaster, you risk losing customers to your competition, who are only too willing to provide similar services at comparable prices. Downtime also means a lack of availability to prospective customers, leading to lost opportunity.

This is especially true if you provide services in the digital sphere. If, for example, your ecommerce site is experiencing difficulties, few customers will spend more than a couple of seconds trying to make it work before moving on to a competitor site.

You work hard to win and retain customers. Don’t risk losing them to something preventable like a prolonged service outage.

4. Reputation and relationships take a long time to build, but little time to destroy.

You’ve invested precious time and resources into building your brand, your reputation, and your customer relationships. Unfortunately, that can be wiped away all too easily in the event of a poorly handled IT disaster.

Data loss and prolonged services outages quickly erode customer trust—especially in the case of a data breach, or when a service outage causes monetary loss to your customer. While some very loyal customers may wait for you to get back on track, many others will move on. The cost of trying to win back their business may be prohibitively expensive…far more than the cost of retention.

An IT disaster recovery plan is crucial in protecting the brand you’ve worked so long and so hard to build.

How can you begin making a disaster recovery plan?

A comprehensive disaster recovery plan involves IT solutions, data backups, records management, organizational procedures, and employee training. The U.S. Small Business Administration’s disaster recovery planning resources are a good starting point.

An attorney can help you understand the legal and regulatory requirements that apply to your company in terms of disaster recovery, records storage and data security.