There are some things in business you can predict with accuracy, but there’s a lot that’s anything but predictable. For example, you have no way of knowing when a natural disaster, software misfire or simple power outage will strike.
It’s not a comfortable feeling, thinking that your company’s fate is out of your control.
The good news is that you don’t have to be out of control, even when everything around you feels like chaos. Not if you have a plan. Specifically, a business continuity plan.
Read on to learn more about business continuity plans: what they are, why they’re so essential, and how to create one for your business.
What is a business continuity plan?
A business continuity plan is your plan for keeping your business productive, even when there are significant obstacles in your way. In other words, it’s a way of preparing for unforeseen circumstances (like natural disasters and cybersecurity breaches) that critically threaten your company’s efficiency and bottom line.
Before you wave off the idea of disaster striking, keep in mind that “disasters” can take many different forms:
- As mentioned before, there are natural disasters, like earthquakes, fires, tornados, hurricanes, snowstorms and floods
- You should also be prepared for hardware issues, like hardware failure
- Then there are minor emergencies, like a power outage, inclement weather days and temporary loss of internet connectivity
- And finally, a big one—cybersecurity-related issues, like ransomware
Their common element is simple. Any of these events can take your network offline and leave your staff without the tools you rely on day after day.
When that happens, whether it’s for a few hours or a few weeks, what will you do? How will you stay in touch with your employees and customers? What critical processes will you need to keep online, no matter what, for the sake of the company’s stability? For that matter, what’s the first thing you would do in the wake of a true disaster?
The answers to those questions form the basis of your business continuity plan.
Why is business continuity so important?
Business continuity matters because you don’t have a bottomless bank account. When a disaster sidelines your business, you can only afford to be out of the game for so long before it will do you in.
We know. That sounds dramatic. And we’re not ones to use scare tactics at all, but the stakes really are that high. Without a business continuity plan, you’re risking your company’s entire future.
You can’t stop disasters from happening, you can prepare for the worst, which dramatically increases your chances of survival if something goes wrong.
Building your own business continuity plan
The best advice we can give here is to seek the consultation of a business continuity expert. This is complex stuff. A thorough strategy really does warrant professional help.
However, anyone can begin thinking about risk and making plans for the future. Plus, we know a lot of small businesses simply don’t have the funds to hire a consultant. With that in mind, here’s what you need to know to create a basic business continuity plan.
Identify your assets
A lot of small business owners are tempted to start the process by thinking about everything that can go wrong. You might find yourself drawn specifically to thinking about how to recover from a fire or flood, for instance.
That’s generally only a good idea if you already know your business is facing an imminent risk. If, for example, there’s a hurricane bearing down on your data center.
Otherwise, it’s better to think of business continuity not in terms of possible risks, but in terms of what you might lose and how it would impact productivity.
What assets does your company have? What purpose does each device, vendor, key employee, location, and piece of hardware have within your organization? And what solutions do you rely on for communication and what will you do if those systems go down?
You can’t understand or prepare for every risk your company could possibly face. But you can start thinking about things you might lose and how you’d overcome the resulting challenges.
Think about downtime
Next, consider what’s absolutely necessary for your business to continue operations and start mapping out contingency plans for keeping those processes online.
We’ll give you a basic example. Let’s say you use email and smartphone for most of your internal communication. What will you do if your email server is offline and the cell phone towers are down? What’s your backup plan for communication?
Think through every detail. Who takes the lead on re-establishing communication? Do you start by reaching out to employees or customers? What will you coach employees to tell customers? And does everyone in your organization know this plan? (Because they should.)
All of that will serve to shorten the length overall downtime and minimize its impact.
Implement preventative controls
Preventative controls help you avoid disasters. They’re not failsafe, but they do decrease your risk.
For instance, back up your business data regularly. That way, a disastrous hardware or software failure becomes an inconvenience (you have to restore the most recent backup) rather than a catastrophe (you lose a significant amount of data).
Preventative measures, like regular on and off-site data backups, represent an investment of time and money. Lower expenses where you can, but do not cut corners. Trust us. You’ll be glad you were on top of prevention if and when you need it.
Map out your recovery strategy
Finally, map out about your overall recovery strategy. Document as much as you can. Train your staff. And make sure there are copies of the plan in places where people can easily get to them.
Business continuity is useless if everyone doesn’t know the plan and isn’t prepared. Keeping everyone in the loop is absolutely critical. In fact, just the exercise of mapping your plan out will likely draw your attention to weak points in the plan.
Business continuity plans help you recover from a disaster and preserve your company’s long-term viability.
Taking the time to carefully assess your company’s assets, determine what’s critical, mitigate your risk, and figure out how to get key assets back online will save you when it counts. If you can afford it, this is definitely an area where hiring a pro is recommended. But if you can’t, don’t neglect business continuity. Do what you can to prepare your company.