Businesses are exposed to disasters all the time, from IT systems failures through to fires, floods and global epidemics. These could cripple your business, which is why it’s so vital to have a responsive business continuity plan identifying the potential impact of your ability to function in differing situations.
With UK businesses now suffering the effects of the Covid-19 crisis, it’s more important than ever to look at your capability to carry out business as usual. The process will be slightly easier if you already have business continuity and disaster recovery plans in place, but our guide below will help you even if you’re starting from scratch. This exercise does not just benefit larger companies, sole traders will also find it useful to look at their supply chains and customers.
Through systematically considering your business operations, you’ll be able to prioritise critical business functions, determine whether you have the required technology/infrastructure in place and develop a communication plan for your employees. Note that the people side of your business will be even more important when focusing on a pandemic given that absenteeism is likely to be higher than normal.
What is a business continuity plan?
A business continuity plan is the result of a careful analysis of factors such as your business location, resources, suppliers, customers and employees in differing scenarios to understand what needs to be done when unplanned disaster strikes.
It will help you to continue trading and running your business, whilst ensuring employee wellbeing and productivity, even when you’re facing technical issues. Simply put, a business continuity plan will proactively improve your resilience against disruption and give you a planned way of restoring products or services.
By identifying potential crises, you can determine how to minimise the risks and prepare for such eventualities.
Building a recovery team
When putting together your plan, it’s important to identify who will be responsible for enacting it in an emergency. This is your recovery team and could include key people in your business, your management team, or a 3rd party with experience of disaster planning.
Once identified, they should meet regularly to review the plan, monitor situations, implement rapid solutions and keep employees/customers updated.
Assessing the risks
This is the main area you’ll be working on to develop your business continuity plan and comprises several different elements.
The impact of threats:
Firstly, consider the different threats which could occur (from natural disasters right through to internet attacks and electricity failure) and then assess the impact of each on the business.
Will they result in lost sales/income, increased expenses, decreased customer satisfaction, delayed service delivery, or poor product quality? Will this be for a day, a week, a month, or longer?
Your key business functions:
Note down the essential functions in your business. For most organisations, this will include IT infrastructure, accounting, HR, marketing, customer service, sales and legal teams. Those with manufacturing functions will also need to evaluate production departments, stock control and delivery.
In the current Covid-19 crisis, you may wish to specifically consider:
- Mapping your supply chain and looking at potential alternative suppliers where you encounter problems.
- Evaluation of remote working and how to manage your new virtual environment (eg. video conferencing, sharing key messages, updating employees on operations and ensuring that employees do not fall into a trap of overworking).
- Your communication plan to keep employees, customers and suppliers informed – including how to handle website updates, social media channels and media enquiries.
- The financial implications of the crisis on your cash flow, which may lead to a need to prioritise essential and non-essential invoices for payment.
- Creating an online resource centre for employees with information about the latest Government guidelines and how to stay safe.
- Looking at all your employee skills along with critical business processes so that you can plan for any absenteeism.
- Whether you can diversify and pivot your business to mitigate lost revenue, eg. providing 1:1 coaching via video call, taking your sales online, asking existing customers/suppliers what you can do for them and, reducing the cost of online training to attract people who have time on their hands but less disposable income.
- Checking the UK Government support available for businesses during the Covid-19 crisis.
Survival without your main resources:
Operating without your key resources can cause all kinds of issues. It could be specific staff (in sales, customer service or accounts, etc), external contacts (contractors, suppliers, distribution networks, banks, legal teams, IT services and utility providers, etc), equipment, your client database or particular documents which you require.
Once identified, rank their importance and how long you could survive without each of them. This will help you to determine what you would need to get back up and running first in the event of an emergency.
Essential business documents:
If you have important documents (eg. banking, HR, legal, tax returns, utilities), you may wish to copy and store them in a secure location off site.
It may also be prudent to keep details of ongoing payments (eg. for your email service or business loans) elsewhere in case you’re unable to access them from their normal location.
Draw up your plan and test regularly
When you understand the full extent of your threats, risks and possible actions, you can then draw up a plan showing the key business functions you require to keep operating, the resources you need and the individual roles which will come into action in an emergency.
This should include step by step instructions of how to execute, what to do, when to do it and who is responsible (list the individuals).
A checklist (there are many examples online) is a great way to ensure you follow all the steps and you could also include the following documents:
- Contact details of your insurers, local council, customers, suppliers and IT providers.
- Contact details of your employees.
- A map of your premises for emergency services to use (eg. fire escapes, sprinklers and safety equipment).
You should then ensure that you review and update the documents regularly with your recovery team, and also keep at least one copy off site in a secure location.
Many business decisions over the last few weeks will have been taken quickly in response to a rapidly changing situation. Those without a business continuity plan will have found this more work and stress than those who already had a plan in place.
If you’ve already made changes to your business operations in response to the Covid-19 crisis, systematically evaluating your business for continuity will still be a worthwhile exercise. You may find that some risks can be addressed easily in light of the current situation, but new risks could be identified as a result of your efforts.
Get in touch if you’d like some support, the team here at The Business Village are always on hand to give you help and information.
- 01226 249590