Disaster can strike at any time, anywhere. If your company isn’t prepared, you could experience interruptions to your operations. These delays in service and production can cause you to lose customers and may destroy your bottom line — or even your entire small business. A business continuity plan helps you anticipate disasters and figure out how to keep operating when the worst happens.
Planning for Disaster: Your Business Continuity Plan
Your company may need several different disaster plans. Business continuity plans (BCPs) are different from disaster recovery plans and business resumption plans. Both of these plans assume that you have experienced a complete business disruption. They are reactive, designed to help you get back up and running. A BCP, on the other hand, is proactive — it’s designed to help prevent a disruption in the first place. In most cases, it’s a good idea to have all three plans in your arsenal.
Why Do You Need a Business Continuity Plan?
During a disaster, sheer confusion can make it difficult to achieve even the smallest of tasks or to know which tasks to approach first. A BCP acts like a road map. It’s what you need as a disaster approaches: step-by-step plan to navigate the chaos. Relying on a solid BCP can save a great deal of time and frustration in an emergency.
Imagine you own an online store. If a blizzard hits, you need to communicate with customers to let them know about shipping delays. But what happens when that blizzard takes out your phone and internet service? As you create a BCP, you might realize that backup satellite internet could keep you connected. Your BCP might lay out how to activate satellite internet — or how to get online in case phone and internet services are down. This way, if disaster strikes, you know exactly how to proceed. You can get online quickly, explain the situation to your customers, and avoid losing their business.
Now imagine the same scenario without the BCP. You’ll end up scrambling to find satellite service, which might be nearly impossible in an emergency situation. The resulting delays and lack of communication will frustrate customers, who might cancel their orders and gut your profits.
If your business provides critical services, a BCP could actually be the difference between life and death. Think about a helicopter service that flies medical supplies and food to remote parts of Canada — if that service is disrupted, it could leave people without vital supplies.
Lessons Learned From Terrorism
For many small businesses, the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001, and in London in 2005 served as wake-up calls. During these disasters, large parts of the cities were disrupted, and some parts were even destroyed. Office buildings were closed, power was cut, travel was next to impossible, and business owners were unable to assess the damage. Companies with continuity plans were able to keep running, at least at a bare-bones level, and therefore survived the situation.
These tragedies illustrate the importance of continuity planning, especially when your entire livelihood — and that of your employees — is tied up in your company. From 9/11 and London, businesses learned that it’s important to expect the unexpected, to update plans regularly, and to store at least one data backup far from your office. In addition, you should keep digital and hard copy backups of your BCP in offsite locations for easy access in an emergency situation.
How to Write Your Business Continuity Plan
Writing a BCP is a massive undertaking. Allow yourself plenty of time, and consider splitting up the tasks to make the project more manageable. Your plan should include five key sections.
- Governance: Explain which employee handles each part of the BCP. That way, there’s no confusion during a disaster and everyone can execute their tasks quickly.
- Business impact analysis: Make a list of all possible risks and potential disasters. Figure out how these events would impact each part of your business, and decide which tasks or services absolutely must keep running when the worst happens. Rank each business function from most important to least so your team can focus their energy accordingly in an emergency.
- Continuity plans: For each item on your list of disasters, decide how you can continue to provide your most important services. Plan for varying levels of severity, and offer multiple backup options. If you advise employees to sandbag a building’s foundation in case of flooding, for example, lay out four or five different places to get the sandbags. Consider alternate facilities and assign employees to specific roles within each plan.
- Readiness procedures: Lay out how you are going to prepare your employees to execute your continuity plans. This might include educating individuals about their responsibilities in the plan, holding practice sessions, or providing training.
- Quality assurance: Create a schedule for reviewing and updating your BCP. Include ways to determine whether your plan is adequate; you might bring in a continuity consultant, for example, or speak to a risk management expert.
Putting Your BCP Into Effect
What happens when a disaster occurs? To start, the person in charge — probably you, as the small business owner — lets the team know that the BCP is activated. Then, you can follow the instructions in the plan to keep important services running. When the disaster has passed and your area is back to normal operating conditions, it’s time to assess the damages and prepare to get back to work. Your business resumption plan can provide a useful framework for getting back on your feet.
Writing a business continuity plan is time-consuming and more than a little daunting — but when a disaster strikes, it can be the difference between riding out the storm and losing your business. By taking your time and thinking through all possibilities, you can prepare for the worst.