All too often I receive phone calls from frantic business owners who have a once trusted employee or freelancer threatening to leave the company or behaving in a way that indicates something is very wrong. Yet the business owner is fearful about parting ways for a number of reasons, including the fear of competing against a once green part timer for future business. The solopreneur has trusted said 'employee', taught he or she everything about the business, and, oh-oh, Sally is no longer happy being paid an hourly wage and threatens to go out on her own. What valuable contacts, resources and information might Sally be taking with her?

While this scenario can't always be prevented, there are measures that even the smallest business can put in place to protect proprietary information and business contacts from being absconded with by a disgruntled employee or freelancer.

For advice on this touchy topic, I turned to security expert, Diane Griffin, owner of Security First & Associates and author of Everything You Wanted to Know About the Security Clearance Process, But are afraid to ask. Here's what she has to say:

Business owners are smart to want to protect their sensitive, propriety information, yet are not exactly sure how to protect it. Applicant pre screening is one way you can find out who a person is, before they become a part of your team. Why is that important? Ask yourself, what do e-mail lists, proprietary information, customer contact lists, employee records and financial information all have in common?

The Answer: They are the Top 5 things stolen by freelancers, bookkeepers, even employees after leaving a job or when the job is completed - according to a recent survey conducted by the Ponemon Institute, a Tucson, Arizona-based research group whose survey was reported on by The Washington Post.

Having everyone that you do business with sign a NDA, (Non-Disclosure Agreement), is more important than ever. With economic agents putting emphasis on business secrecy, you must strive to protect your information through a series of tools. One such tool is the non disclosure agreement, generally understood as an agreement signed by company employees, prospective employees, business partners, freelancers and so on, in which they agree not to disclose company-related information.

Also, you may want to start with the standard pre-screening process. This includes checking references.  You will want to thoroughly check with all of the references, as well as verify your applicant's education.  You may also want to check personal references.  You will gain valuable information that can tell you a lot about a person. A more intense pre screening process may be in order for your type of business.  There are great security firms out there that will help you define what your needs are and help you establish a plan for athe dequate screening of any applicant.  You may need to do a background check to ensure that they do not have a criminal record.  You may find that this disqualifies many applicants and save yourself from a great loss in the future. 

Applicant pre screening and NDA's are tools that any business owner should use to ensure they choose the most trusted people to do business with.  Much of the pre screening process is not as intense as you may think.  If putting these processes in place prevents problems before they occur, you will have a business that will stay secure.  Present in a multitude of business relationships, non disclosure agreements are highly common in outsourcing operations. It's simply smart business for even smalles to ask their business partners and freelancers to sign NDA agreements.
 
In closing, Diane says, 'Insider Threat is seen as the greatest security risk in business today!  As a business owner, you must protect your information.'  Learn more about protecting your business at Diane's website.