Planning for daily operations and long-term success can be challenging enough for a business owner. That might be the reason why many put off creating a business continuity plan. They are so overwhelmed by all the other demands business creates. However, ignoring this planning can cost you more than you realize in terms of revenue, brand reputation, and finances, should a disaster occur.
As a business owner, I did the very same thing, telling myself that I can always do it tomorrow or next week. Then, I saw what happened to businesses in places like Puerto Rico, Texas, and California during hurricanes, flooding, and wildfires. Also, there have been numerous cybercriminal attacks that have disrupted businesses. That's when I knew that business continuity planning had to start now.
To have a disaster-proof business that keeps running no matter what happens involves planning for the unexpected. Doing so can keep the business going so you continue to serve customers and maintain the revenue necessary for that cash flow and your livelihood. Here are five steps I used to create an effective business continuity plan.
Step 1: Determine the Scope of the Business Continuity Plan
Business continuity scope includes identifying what part of your business could be impacted, the extent of the impact, and proactive and reactive plans to address those risks. For example, consider how payroll will be handled, how customers will be managed, and how sales and services can go uninterrupted.
The proactive tactics include everything you can do to protect the business from any adverse impacts, while the reactive tasks focus on recovery mode. It's important to remember that all the proactive approaches provide a greater chance of business continuity, but there are some disasters that will still lead to some downtime.
Finally, the scope of your plan should include a communication plan as well as budget, timeline, and roles and responsibilities. The communication plan encompasses what you will tell customers, employees, the general public, and any other stakeholders in your business that may be impacted. While you can't know exactly how much a disaster can cost, you can allocate funds into an emergency account to get you back up and running.
The same goes for the timeline. You may not know the extent of the disaster, but you can have a general idea of what steps to take and when. The roles and responsibilities will help everyone on your team know how they can help get the business running again.
Step 2: Identify the Business Functions at Risk
Look at the functions within your business that could be most at risk should disaster strike. This includes your network, data, and communications devices. Additionally, your overall operations could be impacted by certain disasters that destroy your physical headquarters or storefront. Knowing what is at risk is the first step toward having a plan of action to protect it.
Make a list that details all the hardware and software. Include all serial numbers and identifying features like license keys, as well as passwords and technical manuals on how to restore systems. This also helps to ensure insurance claims are processed faster and you can replace those items quickly. Keep this list as a file on the cloud so you can access it from anywhere. You might also consider a password program that stores all credentials.
Step 3: Define the Disaster Risks
Disaster risks vary by location. If you have a business in California, you are at a greater risk for an earthquake then in Illinois. Or, if you are in Florida, your business could feel the effects of a hurricane more so than other places. The same goes for wildfires, tornadoes, floods, and other extreme weather conditions. Know what impacts your area and start planning around those risks. Then, risks like hacking, fires, and electricity outages are likely to adversely impact any business, no matter where they are located.
Step 4: Develop and Test Tactical Components
Now that you know what is at risk, the next step is to address how you will protect your business. First, have a plan for an alternative place for you and your team to work. If you already use remote workers, then ensure they will still be able to work from where they're at to help take over many of the business functions, if necessary. Identify co-working space locations and costs you can access should the need arise. This co-working space provides all the tools and technology that you might have been using in your office.
Backup and store data in the cloud. Also, if you haven't digitally transformed your business already, now is the time to migrate to digital and cloud services for all your functions, including payroll, accounts payable, and accounts receivable, as well as customer relationship management, customer service, and more.
Identify other equipment that could help keep a business going in light of a disaster. This might include a backup generator and solar equipment charging devices. Maintain a list of vendors with equipment or tools for lease to help your business recover and re-open.
When it comes to cybersecurity risks like hacking, undertake a security assessment. Professional security experts can review your processes and network to identify vulnerabilities. From there, recommendations can mitigate this risk.
Step 5: Assess, Refine, and Test Plan Again
Share your business continuity and recovery plan with your team. They may have ideas on how to improve it or see areas that you overlooked. Having the plan prepares them to go to work when a disaster occurs. The faster they can react, the less downtime. Their participation in testing even doubles as a training session. At least twice a year, it's a good idea to assess and test the business continuity plan again to see if it's still relevant. Plus, everyone remembers what could go wrong and how to handle it in a calm, orderly way.