A business continuity plan is there to make sure that a crisis is managed effectively, before it can become a full blown disaster. When carefully thought-out it will make coping in the eventuality of a crisis situation easier and help you minimise disruption to your business activity and customers.
Many forget to prepare for every eventuality but it's always best to be prepared for the worst - rather than not - whether you are a small business or a sole trader. Staying in business after a major incident is crucial to your business's survival, otherwise you could end up losing customers or worse - lose your business.
How to Create a Business Continuity Plan
Analyse your business
Look at all your processes and procedures; and identify the critical activities of your business, as in an emergency, you'll have to concentrate on the tasks and activities that must be done to keep your business trading. It is important to look at every angle including how it would or could impact staff as well as IT, communications and environmental risks. For instance if 3 key members of staff fell pregnant or resigned - what impact would this have on your business, could you still function without them? Would your business still function if your phone and internet systems went down for more than a few days? Would you be able to contact your customers?
Assess the risks
Consider how various risks could affect your business, always from the worst case scenario perspective. Then work out how to either remove the risk altogether, reduce the risk or accept the risk with a suitable workaround. If you have any service level agreements, would you be able to keep to them? Where would you operate from, if your business premises were destroyed? In the 2002 floods some businesses couldn't operate for over twelve months, how would that affect your customers? Would they stay loyal to you until you were back up and running?
Develop a strategy
Having analysed and assessed all your potential risks, you'll need to work out the scale of disruption these risks could cause the critical activities of your business. What resources would you need to recover and maintain your business's activity? Who is going to be responsible for implementing this strategy?
Develop an action plan
At this point you need to establish exactly what needs to be done and work out what procedures are needed to initiate your continuity plan. You should look at your communication procedures - like who needs to be contacted and by whom? Make sure that your business continuity plan includes key contacts, staff, suppliers and customers. Decide how long it will take for 'normal business' to resume. Write down a timetabled plan, so you will know precisely what to do and when.
Test your plan
This is crucial as an untested plan can be just as bad as no plan at all. It's essential to know that your business continuity plan works, is relevant and adequate. Remember to update your plan regularly, to account for changes in business operations and your business's changing circumstances.