For many small and medium-size businesses, the need for a business continuity plan was something they thought about from time to time, but not necessarily an urgent concern. All that changed this year.
While economists fine-tuned quarterly GDP estimates and businesses across the country sharpened key performance indicators for 2020, a pandemic was slowly but steadily circling the globe. It’s fair to say that every business (and every world government) was to some extent caught off guard by this global event that has wrought (arguably) more economic havoc in a few short months that the Great Recession did in years.
Of course, many small and mid-size businesses survived the Great Recession—and many will survive this current crisis. Several factors contribute to the resilience of the businesses that weather business disruption. What most distinguishes “the survivors” from companies that don’t make it is investment in a business continuity plan.
WHAT IS BUSINESS CONTINUITY?
In the simplest sense, a business continuity plan answers the question, “How would our business continue operations—paying employee salaries, working effectively with vendors and providing outstanding service to our customers—if a major disruption to business occurred?” Those are important questions, and, as CIO correctly points out, an effective business continuity plan answers those questions in an organized, comprehensive and strategic fashion:
“Business continuity (BC) refers to maintaining business functions or quickly resuming them in the event of a major disruption…A business continuity plan outlines procedures and instructions an organization must follow in the face of such disasters; it covers business processes, assets, human resources, business partners and more. Many people think a disaster recovery (DR) plan is the same as a business continuity plan, but a DR plan focuses mainly on restoring an IT infrastructure and operations after a crisis. It’s actually just one part of a complete business continuity plan.”
WHY CONTINUITY MATTERS
The distinction CIO makes between “disaster recovery” and “business continuity” is an important one. While many businesses invest in restoring IT capabilities in the event of a severe storm or cyberattack, fewer extend those precautions to all the other processes that make a business competitive. These include everything from human resources to recruiting, payroll, accounting, compliance, marketing and branding.
The operative word here is “competitive.” Said differently, business continuity matters because your customers will judge your business on its ability to respond more effectively than your major competitors when disaster strikes. And that can spell the difference between survival and closure for your business.
WHAT ARE THE MAIN ELEMENTS OF A BUSINESS CONTINUITY PLAN?
Every business is different, of course, with different processes and different infrastructure challenges. That said, most small and medium-size businesses will benefit by creating a business continuity plan that includes the following 6 elements:
1. ASSESSMENT OF RISK POTENTIAL
Because businesses are different, they face different risks in the event a disaster occurs. Before writing your continuity plan, you need to carefully assess not the risks any business faces, but the ones with the greatest potential to harm your business.
This could include the kinds of damage your property might sustain from a natural disaster such as hurricane, flood or tornado (these dangers will differ depending on your company’s geographical location). The point is, the more effectively you assess the possible risks your business faces, the better prepared you’ll be to address those challenges when you need to.
When a disaster strikes, your business will need to quickly move from in-office to remote operations. This might include things like remote access to workstations so your employees can remain engaged for the duration of business disruption to teleconferencing and video conferencing technology to recreate the face-to-face communications critical to business productivity. It’s also critically important to provide workers with the tools they need to continue working collaboratively. This could include things like whiteboarding and document sharing.
Download our Business Continuity IT Checklist for more details on this aspect of business continuity.
Many natural disasters will cause your business to lose power, in some cases for a protracted period of time. You need to ensure that you have a back up plan for power generation if this occurs. Be sure the generators you buy are sufficient to meet all your power needs. If you rent your commercial property, you should also consult with your landlord to ensure you’re in compliance with the terms of your lease.
How will you make sure your business is able to effectively communicate with employees, customers and key stakeholders to share critical information? For example, will you need to quickly put up emergency instructions on your website? Will you communicate through social media platforms, emails or texts to keep your people informed? It’s important both to have these plans in place before you’re in crisis mode—and to let all stakeholders know what the plan is through education and training.
The fact that you’ve created an effective business continuity plan doesn’t necessarily mean that all your vendors have done the same. To ensure you maintain your supply chair and continue delivering outstanding customer service, prepare a list of secondary vendors in the event one or more of your primary vendors is no longer able to meet your needs.
6. DATA PROTECTION
You need to ensure you have access to business-critical data to keep operations running smoothly if a crisis occurs. Make sure all your important data is backed up in the cloud. You could use providers like Dropbox or Google Drive Google Drive to protect your data. Again, the important thing is to prepare for data backup now, so you won’t be caught flat footed when a disaster happens.
For the small businesses which fuel the American economy, the current crisis came without warning. That, unfortunately, will be true of the next one that strikes. A careful, thoughtful business continuity plan is among the best ways to prepare your business to remain profitable and productive in the face of such a challenge, but drafting one can be both complex and confusing. That’s where Avitus Group can help. Contact us today to start the conversation.