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How to create a business continuity plan

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

With news of coronavirus spreading across the globe, businesses have entered a time of uncertainty – meaning that continuity plans have become more essential than ever.

In this guide, we’ll provide the steps you need to follow to create your own plan.


What is a business continuity plan?

Business continuity planning (BCP) is the process of creating a system that can help to prevent, and recover from, threats to your business. These plans focus on ensuring that employees and assets are protected as much as possible in the event of a crisis.

Ideally, a BCP will have been created before a crisis happens, but most statistics suggest that this is often not the case – in 2019, DataBarracks shared statistics suggesting that 46% of businesses are not confident that their business continuity plans are up to date.

A business continuity plan can cover everything from natural disasters to cyber-security. It will outline the methods for protecting the various components of a business, and how to proceed when experiencing a crisis.


How to create a business continuity plan

If you are one of the businesses that already has a plan in place, then you might just need a refresh to make sure that you’ve covered everything. If you don’t yet have a plan at all, then this guide will help you to identify the areas to cover.

Of course, you may need to adapt certain parts of this guide to fit your business model, but this should offer you a strong starting point.

Insurance

The first step in putting together a business continuity plan is to make sure you are adequately insured for any likely business disruptions. Your policy should include cover for material damage, as well as coverage for business disruption. Some incidents might result in several weeks or months where you are unable to trade – for example, in the event of a fire closing your business, the right insurance could entitle you to claim back any lost earnings that result from closure.

You can find more information on different types of insurance in the following pages:

The coronavirus pandemic is likely to be the largest crisis currently facing UK businesses, and the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) have published guidelines on what they expect from insurance firms at this time. Simply put, in times of exceptional crisis, the FCA expects insurance firms to comply with businesses to offer the best possible protection.

If you are reading this page to try and find support during the coronavirus pandemic, you may also want to read these pages:


Staff

Your business continuity plan should include details on how staff can continue working in the event of a situation that stops them accessing your workplace. Of course, this is tricky in a number of industries – particularly those like retail, where physical presence is essential.

Making sure that your teams can access emails and important documents remotely should allow most staff to continue working in the event of travel disruption or office closure.

Your plan should also include details for who is in charge of what in the event of an emergency; this is particularly important for larger or more complex businesses, where a number of people will be overseeing business continuity.

If there’s a flood, who is in charge of recovering data? If your office is suddenly closed, who is responsible for letting staff know? This should be clearly laid out and understood by everyone involved, to ensure smooth delivery – and a quicker recovery – in the days, weeks, or months following any initial crisis.

Of course, staff illness is one of the most common elements of business continuity planning. The coronavirus pandemic has changed business for the short-term (and perhaps longer), and in small businesses, even one or two absences could equate to a huge percentage of the workforce being off sick.

Could your business run on a skeleton workforce? Mass staff absence will undoubtedly affect resources, but if you already know which operations could continue with 50%, or even 20% of the workforce present, you can make the best of the situation. If your business simply cannot operate under those sorts of conditions, you need to check your business disruption insurance to ensure that this eventuality is covered.


Communications

As proven in recent times, for most office-based businesses, work can be completed remotely – as long as the right technology is in place.

Your business continuity plan should include details on how to divert calls automatically, and how to access email, documents, and databases remotely. Conference services and online collaboration tools like Trello can create a valuable, virtual space for staff, as long as they know how to access and use them.

It is also important to make sure your customers, clients, and partners are made aware if this sort of change takes place. Even if the plans won’t affect them in the short-term, keeping them in the loop will help you to continue working successfully should events develop or evolve in any way that means your teams will be working remotely for an extended period of time.


Premises

Your business continuity plan should include procedures for damage and limited access to your business process, and these need to be adaptable for short and longer-term issues. If your premises is damaged and needs weeks or months of repair, do you have another base to operate from? Can your staff continue working from home? Will you need to reduce or cease operations?


Clients & suppliers

If your business is entirely reliant on a single client or supplier, it could cause problems if they are in trouble or unable to operate.

If all of your stock comes from the same place, what happens if that company cannot deliver? You need to make sure you have a back-up – a list of other suppliers or contacts you can turn to.

You should also have provisions in place for replacing big clients or customers. It might not always be possible to take on more than a few major clients, but your plan should identify possible replacements in case they become necessary at any point.

Some business interruption insurance schemes do offer cover in the event of supplier failures. Make sure you have the right plan if this is likely to be a factor in your business interruption plan.


Data back-up

An effective data back-up involves more than simply saving important documents to an external disk. Any information that your business cannot trade without – from client details to CRM data – should be backed up by methods that are not at risk from fire, flood, or technical breakdowns; in many cases, this might mean having multiple data back-ups in case one fails.

You should also look into storing copies of important information or documentation securely off-site. At a basic level, this might mean storing physical copies in a separate building. However, cloud computing means that everything can be available and backed-up without having to move away from your desk.

If you do choose a cloud option, read the small print: is your back-up actually backed up? What assurances does the cloud provider give that your data is protected?


Next steps

The sections above should provide context for creating your own business continuity plan.

If you have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic and need advice for dealing with it, then it is still worth completing the steps suggested in this article; even if you cannot do everything, you will be in a better position if you follow as many of these guidelines as you can.

Bryn Glover
Bryn Glover

Editor

As Editor of Startups, Bryn runs content strategy and our annual campaigns. A lover of small business, you can find him writing about exciting entrepreneurs and UK industry trends.

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