The importance of a business continuity plan
While we can’t control the environment our small businesses operate in, there are steps we can take to adapt to these challenging times. COVID-19 and its economic impact are a reminder that having a Business Continuity Plan (BCP) in place will help you maintain some control and prepare your small business for future emergencies. To develop an effective plan, you will have to prepare for a wide range of possibilities, document your plan and communicate your plan with all essential parties.
The following recommendations are steps you can take to get started on developing a successful Business Continuity Plan for your organization.
Key plan recommendations
1. Identify critical processes and resources.
A key step in creating a Business Continuity Plan is identifying the processes and resources that are most critical to your company and the timeframe in which they need to be recovered. This will limit the impact to your business by supporting a timely restoration of critical activities. Have each department within the company fill out a questionnaire (Business Impact Analysis) to identify mission-critical people/roles, processes, facilities, equipment and technology.
2. Assess and prioritize potential threats to your business.
Identify which situations or events are most likely to occur and pose the greatest risk to your business. Understanding this will help prioritize your efforts and resources. Examples of potential threats may include cyberattack, pandemic, fire, earthquake, tornado or flooding.
3. Establish a team.
Designate a person or team to be in charge of creating and maintaining your Business Continuity Plan. It should be composed of a leader and individuals who represent all business interests and priorities to ensure that each department’s unique processes or regulatory requirements are represented. Any vendors or suppliers that are vital to business operations should also be represented in this team by appropriate internal employees.
Determine the scope of your plan.
The primary goal of a Business Continuity Plan is to ensure employee safety. Once safety is established, shift your focus to the protection and stability of all work-related locations and the resumption of all critical processes. Defining the key components of your plan will help everyone involved to stay focused on key priorities. Basic elements of a plan should include:
- A life safety plan that details an evacuation strategy if an emergency occurs on-site, including an agreed-upon location where all employees should meet. This is to ensure all employees are accounted for and have evacuated the building(s).
- A crisis communication plan detailing how employees will receive important safety instructions and continued next steps for continuing business operations. This plan requires a current list of employees and their emergency contact information, as well as contact information for any business-critical vendors.
- The identification of critical business functions, as well as who will be performing them and how they will be performed. If any critical employees are unable to perform their duties due to any reason, an alternative plan will need to be determined and should include an alternate business location, shared workspaces, cross-training or rotational schedules.
- A technical team devoted to implementing technology resources. This aspect of the plan should include a list of all systems and software requirements and uses, noting which are vital to operation. Data from these systems should be backed up regularly, and appropriate employees should know where to access this information.
- A process to determine the financial impact of any disaster and a plan for emergency funding if it becomes necessary.
- A media plan detailing how employees should or should not respond to any media inquiries. Appointing an official spokesperson will allow for sending a single unified message to the media and your clients.
Train, test and refine.
No plan, regardless of how thorough it may be, is good unless it’s regularly reviewed, tested and updated. Your business is a continually evolving entity and the plan should be able to adapt to your company’s changing needs.
Once the plan has been drafted and approved, start training employees on implementation. One recommended way to do this by conducting tabletop exercises, in which employees talk through various disaster scenarios and verbally describe the roles, responsibilities and required actions for each department or employee before, during and after the disaster. Additionally, engage your technology team to test the critical technology resources identified in your plan to ensure they can support you during an incident.
When you find yourself in the midst of an unexpected incident, following the steps above and communicating them with your organization will help you stay a step ahead. Putting your Business Continuity Plan into practice now not only tests its viability in real time, but also better prepares you for future events. Although your businesses may be impacted right now, creating, testing and updating a Business Continuity Plan can mitigate that impact.