What is a Single Point of Failure and Why Should You Avoid Them (as an Entrepreneur)?
Don’t let one system or process failure take your business down. Today we’re going to discuss single points of failure and how you can avoid them.
When you have a server sitting in a dusty closet that’s five years out of warranty running all of your mission-critical applications, you have a single point of failure. This is a real example from a real job I had in the past. It was something I inherited from my predecessor(s). Once I learned the situation, I immediately started working to solve the problem.
This is a technical example, but single points of failure also exist in business.
If only one person has the admin password to the business Google account, that’s a single point of failure. What happens if that person gets into a car accident and is in a coma?
Revenue is another example. If your only source of revenue is YouTube ads, what happens when Google changes something? Maybe you get demonetized, or maybe the algorithm changes so that you don’t get any views and stop making money. This is a single point of failure for your business.
Sometimes you have complex systems — e-commerce, sales funnels, and so on — and if one thing goes sideways, everything falls apart. Other times you might fail to keep backups and then you have an unrecoverable hard drive failure.
Let me tell you a little story about my start on YouTube…
I first started on YouTube back in 2011. I had no idea what I was doing and just tried to struggle along and make something work. I…didn’t do well, and after a couple of years, I quit. I took almost all of my videos down (deleted, instead of just making them unlisted). It was fine because I had them backed up, along with all my raw footage.
Well, over the next couple of years, I moved files around between storage drives and ended up with one copy of all of my video production work on one hard drive. And it died. I lost everything because I only had one backup when the catastrophic failure occurred.
A single point of failure. I lost a lot of stuff, and some of it was even good.
How do you avoid single points of failure?
- Keep backups. Multiple copies of backups. It’s best to have at least two backups of everything important on two separate drives. Or maybe something all enterprise-level like fast backup and long-term cold-storage backup (used to be tape drives, now it’s typically Glacier on AWS).
- Have redundant systems. Just like you’ll be keeping multiple copies of your file backups, you also need backups of critical systems for your operation. If your web server goes down because the data center burned down, you need to have a backup plan. Either have a system in place ready to turn on (known as pilot light), or have backups ready to deploy to new servers. At least have a spare computer buried in a closet in case your primary workstation dies suddenly. If you were in a disaster recovery situation, what are the most critical systems and processes you’ll bring back up first? Start putting the redundancy there.
- Make sure more than one person knows how to do the important stuff. Even if you’re a one-person show, someone you trust completely needs to know what important things need to get done to keep your business running in case you become incapacitated. For example, a car accident, getting sick during a pandemic, and so on. You can accomplish this by…
- Keeping a runbook or wiki. This is basically a manual for how to do important things for your business. It will also be super handy when you grow and hire someone. Just give them the runbook and let them run with it.
- And my last point is to diversify your income streams. If you have only one stream of income, what happens when laws, circumstances, or businesses change? If you only sell one type of insurance to one type of customer, but then state law changes to make that one thing obsolete, you’re out of luck. You would have to scramble to change directions and drum up more business, and who knows how long that will take or how successful you will be at it. Have multiple streams of income for your business.
Now that you know what single points of failure are and how you can avoid them, get to work and start fortifying your business. Don’t wait. Start now.
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