How many hours -- or days -- would it take you to recover your business data, re-image your machines, and get your business running again if a flood, virus outbreak, or other disaster took your business offline?

Here are a few tips on how to minimize the chances of a disaster doing permanent damage to your business.

1. Take a full inventory of your data and find out age and file types. You might be shocked at how much of it is old graphics files or employees’ personal MP3 files and movies -- things that you don’t need to waste storage space on.

2. Write down all your software product keys, license numbers, passwords, configuration notes, and encryption codes and keep them in a locked safe -- preferably both on premises and off.

3. Write down a detailed plan for restoring data in the event of a loss -- that means figuring out the sequence in which applications, servers, and databases need to be brought back online in order for data to properly repopulate.

4. Run backups regularly and test them regularly. This is important because certain types of backups are easily corrupted or may stop before they’re complete. Test your backups to make sure they’re actually capable of a full system restore.

5. Find out from your backup provider how long it would take to recover in the event of a complete data loss. Some providers can take days or even weeks to ship a full set of disks; others may take less than 48 hours.

If this sounds like a lot of work -- well, it is! But putting in the time now can prevent you from some major hassles later.

Be prepared.