[IMGCAP(1)]Your firm probably has plans in place for nearly any situation, but have you considered what should be done to prepare for, or in case of, an emergency?

What about your clients? How can you help them be prepared, and ultimately show your value as a business partner? There are many types of emergencies to prepare for: natural disasters, and more common ones like theft, fire and data loss. Making sure you are prepared for the worst before it happens can save time, money and frustration in the long run.

A July 2012 Sage study found that 61 percent of surveyed small businesses have not established a formal emergency or disaster preparedness plan. Those businesses cited not having any past issues to influence the decision to develop a plan (33 percent), not thinking about it (30 percent), or not thinking it is important for their business (27 percent) as their reasons.

Let’s take it a step further. While it is extremely important for your firm to be prepared, there is also an opportunity for your accounting firm to step in and help your clients develop a plan for emergencies. This type of assistance can really show the value of your firm as a business partner, always looking for ways to help your clients succeed.

Below are some tips to help prepare for, deal with, and overcome an emergency situation.

1. Draft and share a basic emergency plan – It is not always possible to plan ahead for a crisis, but outlining the potential main issues and the actions to take to prevent and/or solve them will give you a great advantage if an emergency does take place. Visit government agency or business association sites, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, for resources and strategies to deal with both natural and manmade disasters. Then, share your plan with others at your firm and your clients. Make sure to perform emergency drills and exercises with all employees at your firm, and encourage your clients to do so as well.

2. Develop a disaster recovery plan – A good disaster recovery plan will include preparations for the resumption of applications, data, hardware, communications (such as networking) and other IT infrastructure. A solid backup strategy is important whether it be an on-site system, an off-site server, or the cloud. Backing up your firm’s information on a very regular basis—about twice each week—could be the difference between emergency recovery and the end of your firm. It is important for your clients to back up their data, and as a business partner you can benefit from recommending a strategy.

3. Understand digital doesn’t mean forever – Banks keep digital statements for five years, and then they’re gone. To avoid surprises, use software that creates and stores your financial statements or download your monthly bank statements—and back them up. You never know when you might need them. Inform your clients of this as well; many people don’t know their statements will disappear!

4. Have an attorney you can contact in case of emergency – Partner with a local attorney that can work with your clients through difficult situations. This can be a business opportunity for you and for the attorney, and will give your clients peace of mind.

5. Get insurance and invest in prevention – While insurance may be costly and seem unnecessary for a rare, potential event, your firm will be glad it is covered if the situation does take place. Also, investing in a security system and waterproof safe may save you thousands if and when a crisis hits.

6. Designate an emergency point person – It is essential that more than one person knows critical information, such as passwords or the location of an important document. Choose someone at your firm and have your clients select a trusted person who can implement the emergency plan, handle financial or legal matters, or recover information in the event you are unable to do it.

7. Consult with a professional – If you are unsure how to identify the potential issues your firm needs to be prepared for, or how to plan for recovery, find a disaster expert who can not only point out possible crises you may not have considered, but also inform you of the best solutions for your type of organization. You can then share this information with your clients.

Let Hurricane Sandy be a lesson learned in the importance of being prepared. Now is the time to get your firm ready, and then lend a hand to your clients. Even though it may seem like your firm, or your clients, are in no immediate risk of a disaster, it is crucial to prepare for a worst-case scenario.

Jennifer Warawa is vice president of partner programs and channel sales at Sage.