How to create a business continuity plan

What needs to go in to make sure you’re covered for all eventualities?

It’s all very well having a business continuity plan somewhere on file, but if you haven’t got the right areas covered in it, it’ll be about as much use in a crisis as a chocolate teapot. The following list covers the bare minimum of what you’ll need to include in your own plan. Of course, depending on the nature and intricacies of your business they’ll be areas to expand on, but this should offer you a solid starting point.

Here’s what should be covered in a business continuity plan:

Insurance details

First and foremost you should be adequately insured for all likely business disruptions. Your policy should include cover for material damage, such as a fire, flood or burglary. You should also seriously consider getting business disruption cover too. A bad fire could mean several weeks or even months when you’re unable to trade as normal. If you’re properly insured you could be entitled to claim back any loss of earnings as a result of the initial problem.

Staff

On a more basic level, your business continuity plan should have details of how, or if, staff can carry on with work if they don’t have access to the office or premises. Obviously this is tricky in industries such as retail where their physical presence is the very nature of the job. However, making sure they can access emails and important documents remotely should allow staff to get on with the work relatively unaffected in the event of travel disruptions or an office closure.

Your business continuity plan should also detail who is in charge of what in the event of an emergency. If there’s a severe fire or flood, who’s in charge of recovering data, reordering essential stock or making sure your biggest clients are being kept in the loop? This should all be laid out in the plan to ensure as smooth a recovery as possible in the days and weeks after the initial disaster.

And of course then there’s the issue of staff illness. Recent global health scares including SARS, and more recently, Swine Flu have given us all food for thought on about the possibility of a pandemic. In a small business, even one or two absences could equate to over 50% of the workforce off sick.

Could your business run on a skeletal workforce if illness strikes your company? Mass staff absence will undoubtedly affect your resources, but if you’ve already planned what operations could continue with 50% or even just 10-20% of the workforce present, you can make the best use of the staff that are at work. If you’re running a business that simply can’t cope if more than one or two staff are off sick then you need to check the small print of any business disruption cover you’ve taken out and make sure it covers you for such eventualities.

Communications

For a lot of office based companies, much of the work that actually takes place could just as easily be done from alternative locations as long as the right technology is in place. Your business continuity plan should include details on how to divert phone calls automatically, accessing email and relevant documents / data bases remotely. Conferencing services and online collaboration tools can create an instant substitute office environment provided staff are trained in how to use them.

Premises

You need to have a procedure in place for damage and limited access to your business premises and this needs to be adaptable to a short term or longer term problem. If your building is severely damaged resulting in weeks or months or repair, do you have another base to operate from? You need to know what you would do in this kind of situation.

Clients / suppliers

Relying solely on one client or supplier can get you into serious hot water if they run into problems at their end. If all your stock comes from the same place, what happens if that company is unable to deliver, or if they run into trading difficulties. You need to make sure you have a back up – a list of other suppliers or contacts you can turn to should your primary source let you down. Likewise you should have some provisions in place for replacing big clients or customers. It’s not always possible to take more than a few major clients on as you may not have the resources to meet demand. However, your plan should identify some possible replacements that you can target immediately should your existing clients run into trouble, minimising the time spent trying to acquire new business.

Data back-up

Effective data back-up involves far more than saving important files on an external disk. Any information that your business simply can’t trade without, such as client details, invoices and CRM data must be backed up by methods impervious to fire, flood or technical breakdowns. You should also look into storing a copy of all important information or documentation off site. At a very basic level this could involve storing physical copies in a separate building, however now that cloud computing is easily available you can back everything up from your desk. If you choose to go with a cloud option, you need to read the small print carefully. Is your back-up actually backed up? What assurances can the company give you that your data is safe and protected against all the threats you’re trying to protect yourself against in the first place.

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