How to Create a Business Continuity Plan
After the COVID-19 pandemic hit, almost every business had to adjust its operations in some way—from tightening safety standards to managing less foot traffic, fewer sales and supply chain disruptions. Revamping existing business plans also became the norm during this uncertain time.
Of course, disruptions are nothing new in the business world—but they can become even more difficult when a pandemic or other type of disaster hits. This is especially the case with smaller businesses, when having a few key employees out of work can cause major operational issues.
Business continuity plans offer an approach to reduce the risk of these potential disruptions. As COVID-19 taught us all too well, calculating your business's overall health and having contingency plans in place can help keep things running smoothly—whatever may come your way.
What is a business continuity plan?
A business continuity plan helps protect what you've worked hard to create as a business owner. It allows your company to continue operations and improves the likelihood that it'll survive—and possibly even thrive—through a disruptive incident. With a solid plan in place, you and your employees will be able to move more smoothly through an incident, whether it be a pandemic, natural disaster or something else entirely.
Creating your business continuity plan
As you create a plan for your business, you'll evaluate all aspects of operations, sales, and delivery of goods and services so you can save money, protect your business assets, and offer alternatives your customers need and want. Here’s how to get started.
A lack of planning is one of the biggest reasons disruptions like a sick employee, equipment problems or even a natural disaster can turn into a crisis. Although you probably don't need to think of every possible potential disruption, it never hurts to prepare for a few of the most common events. While the chances of these happening are somewhat low, there's always the potential for the unexpected to strike.
- A key employee becomes sick or incapacitated for an extended period of time.
- You or your employees can't get to the office because of a natural disaster.
- A pandemic—or even a locally virulent strain of the flu—impacts several of your team members simultaneously.
- You discover that your business has been targeted for a cyberattack.
As you're creating your business continuity plan, come up with a handful of these potentially disruptive events and put contingency plans in place. For example, have a work-from-home plan ready to go if employees must be out of the office for a few weeks.
If there's one thing that can make an uncertain situation feel even shakier, it's a lack of communication. Avoid this by creating a company-wide communication plan. Designate one person as the main communicator during these events, with a backup in the chain of command.
Once you have business continuity plans in place, develop a communication standard operating procedure. This will lay out who initiates communication but can also include templated emails or forms to send out so employees know the exact plan from the start. Keep them in the loop to help improve employee satisfaction and reduce turnover.
Provide the right tools
You'll also want to consider the tools you may need to keep your business running if there's a disruption. For example, a marketing firm and a factory have far different needs. While the marketing firm can move almost all work to the cloud with logins to work from home, it's probably not feasible for a factory.
Along these lines, you'll want to include scheduling in your business continuity plans if employees must be in the office in order to keep your business running. You might need to create a staggered or rotational schedule that can be easily put in place to ensure work can get done while also acknowledging employee health and safety.
In virtually every business, there's a resident expert on a given topic—someone everyone goes to for help with a particular issue. However, this person often takes this expertise with them when they're out of work.
This is why it's important to encourage sharing knowledge among your team before a potential disaster strikes. Having at least one backup person with the same knowledge can help remove the threat of an information vacuum where everyone is left scrambling. Beyond business disruption worries, it's often a good idea to have a work environment that encourages this type of sharing.
Test your plan
Once you have an outline of your business continuity plan, try it out. This is the best way to ensure you aren't missing anything vital when the time comes.
Let employees know there will be a test, and put it to work. Watch for any areas of miscommunication, bottlenecks and potential software issues so you can identify problems and fix them ahead of time. You might also get employee feedback on ways to streamline or improve plans that you can incorporate into future tests. And don't be afraid to take advantage of government preparedness resources that exist for business owners that can walk you through specific events.
How else can I prepare?
With your business continuity plan in place, it might feel like you have everything you need if a disaster strikes. But there are some additional things you can do now to help cushion the blow.
Now's the time to make sure your business has strong cash flow for leaner times. This might mean selling unnecessary equipment to raise cash quickly or setting up access to credit that could help you navigate slower times.
Review all expenses and cut costs wherever possible, including consolidating high-interest debt into a low-interest small business financing option. This can help reduce your operating costs and build a cash cushion.
Ramp up your online presence
Use digital marketing, social media and other online tactics to share your business with prospective and current customers so they can more easily invest in your product.
Protect your business from costly cyberattacks that are more likely to occur with a remote team by implementing multi-factor authentication or purchasing IT insurance.
Go deep, not wide
Focus on serving existing customers well and selling them more of what they want and need. This helps reduce the cost of marketing to new customers.
Stock up on essentials
Purchase enough protective personal equipment and other essentials for the entire team. Order enough hand sanitizer, masks and other items to avoid potential shortages.
Consider new technologies
The pandemic caused businesses of all kinds to become more digital, which led to an improvement in virtual technologies across the board. Consider whether you can invest in new strategies and digital technologies to improve your business model.
The bottom line
The reality is that not every business will make it through a major incident. Some will need a business recovery plan to get through, while others will survive and thrive. But while it's not always possible for everything to be set up perfectly before an issue strikes, a business continuity plan can help mitigate risk—and put you ahead of the curve.
Financial insights for your business
This information is provided for educational purposes only and should not be relied on or interpreted as accounting, financial planning, investment, legal or tax advice. First Citizens Bank (or its affiliates) neither endorses nor guarantees this information, and encourages you to consult a professional for advice applicable to your specific situation.
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