Plan for the unexpected. How to make business continuity plans
Business owners learn pretty quickly to expect the unexpected. But planning for it is something else again. While it’s impossible to predict every possible scenario, having a business continuity plan can help.
According to research conducted by Datto, one hour of downtime can cost $10,000 for small businesses. Don’t let your business become victim to obstacles beyond your control; get a plan to help your business recover faster, mitigate financial loss, and keep your employees safe, connected, and informed about what’s going on.
Here are steps to take to get started…
1. Identify your risks
Figuring out what risks your small business faces is essential in creating your business continuity plan. You need to identify what could potentially impact your business, in what capacity, and to what extent. For many, these are the main risks:
- Weather or other natural disasters
- Mandated government shutdowns due to health or social unrest
- Damage to a work environment
- Cyber-attacks on the business operating system
- Supply chain disruptions
- Transportation interruptions
That’s a shortlist of the most potential reasons for closure; you can probably think of others that could apply to your small business. It would be best to create a viable plan for each item on your list. What can you do to continue operating, and worst case, how long can you sustain not being operational?
2. Establish what you need
This step is like a line from a movie, ‘take only what you need to survive.’ The same goes for keeping your business afloat. Determine precisely what you need for your business to stay operational and profitable. Business continuity planning is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Each small business is unique and has its own needs it must consider. A photographer would not share the same continuity plan as a coffee shop; therefore, all small business owners should establish exactly what they need. A secondary list of ‘nice to haves’ can be made, but focus on what is essential for your small business.
You can apply these needs to your list of potential risks and see where you may fall short. These are the situations you should focus on to ensure you have a plan.
3. Write your communications plan
Emergency situations do not work on a schedule; they can arise at any given moment. You must have a method to communicate with your staff in the event of an emergency. This plan should include phone numbers for calling/texting and email addresses. In addition, many businesses find benefits in having a toll-free number their employees can call to find out the current state of the business. In times of inclement weather, you can leave a message on that line advising staff if the business is open or closed or if they will need to come in or work remotely.
Communication is critical during situations beyond our control. We all like to be informed on what is happening and what we should be doing. This plan will help keep a hectic situation a bit calmer. Your employees will appreciate the effort you put forward and show them how valued they are.
You should also have a plan in place to inform your customers what is going on. If your services are unavailable, you need to communicate that to them, whether through your business website, social media, email, phone calls, or text messages. If your small business has a customer portal, you can leave information there for individuals to read and get the latest news. Communication is vital in any situation, so be sure to include this in your continuity plan.
4. Get your supply chain prepared
You know your business well, and you are aware of the supplies needed to keep your doors open. Should your primary location become incapacitated, do you have a backup supplier? We’ve seen first-hand through the past couple of years that supply chain issues can be detrimental to small businesses. It’s emphasized the need to have proper planning to avoid being in a position where your business has to close because you don’t have the right ingredients, containers, inks, papers, or whatever it is your small business cannot operate without.
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Have a few suppliers lined up so that if something happens, you have others you can reach out to. Also, taking advantage of storage room space to stock up on things you need is always a wise decision – not hoarding-level stockpiles of supplies, but enough to keep you in business for a month or two.
5. Send your critical data to the cloud
As a small business owner, it’s almost essential now to invest time and money into finding a cloud storage solution that best fits the needs of your business. In times of shutdown, it can provide you with the data you need to keep your business operational.
Generally speaking, cloud hosting companies provide secure environments for storing data. Be sure to take time to research cloud host providers before selecting one to store your data with - nothing is 100% when it comes to the cyber world. Cyber criminals get smarter every day, and you want to do everything you can to make sure your data is safe and protected.
6. Educating staff and testing the plan
You’ve put all the hard work into generating your business continuity plan; now, you need to train your staff on how to respond to the various situations you’ve outlined. Practice your escape plans, and fire and safety drills to ensure your staff can evacuate a building quickly and arrive at the designated spot you’ve outlined in your plans.
Be sure to communicate any essential phone numbers, websites, and instructions staff should use to get information in case of an emergency or weather-related closure of your business. Your team should save this information on their phones and call the dedicated number ahead of time to ensure they can get through and test that the number(s) are working. Send test text messages and emails out every so often to validate that your lines of communication are open. The plan you create is only good if everyone can follow it, so educating and testing are essential!
7. Have an insurance plan that will help you recover
One of the most significant components of any business continuity planning is having an insurance plan that will help you recover from your losses. It’s important to understand what business insurance covers and what it doesn’t. For example, a business owners policy can include coverage for up to 12 months of lost revenue if your covered location is damaged and you cannot use it. A general liability policy, on the other hand, covers damage to someone else’s property (not your own) so damage to your premises would not be covered.
Learn more about small business insurance and get a quote today.
Those are the basics to get your business continuity planning started. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) offers additional resources and information to get you going in the right direction.
Don’t leave your small business vulnerable to the unexpected. If you don’t have a continuity plan in place consider making it a top priority.