Top tips for business continuity planning for small businesses

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business continuity planningWhy bother creating a business continuity plan when you’re just a small business? The answer to this is simple. No business is disaster-proof. Just like everyone else, your business is also prone to threats that could negatively impact your operations. These threats may be due to naturally occurring phenomena (severe storms, bushfires, flooding), technological threats (major machinery malfunctions/loss of or damage to critical infrastructure), human threats (stealing, loss of key personnel), or cyber threats (data loss/breach). Being unprepared can be a costly mistake for your business.

A business continuity (BC) plan serves as a detailed plan, with procedures and instructions on how to resume your operations after a business disruption. This can often vary in size, scope and duration depending on the disruption.

BC plan is often confused with disaster recovery (DR) plan, however, the two are very different. Whilst the DR plan focusses mainly on restoring IT infrastructure and operations after a crisis, the BC plan covers all aspects of the business, including the business processes, assets, human resources, business partners, IT and others. This makes the DR plan just a part of a BC plan. Other elements you will also see included in a BC plan are the Risk Management plan, the Business Impact Analysis (BIA), and Incident Response plan.

Here’s how to get started with your business continuity plan:

1. Gather your team. You need to get the inputs of the people who help you run your business. They play an important role in the creation process, as well as in the maintenance of the plan(s).

a. Assess your business processes. Determine which areas or departments are vulnerable, and the potential losses, including financial cost, if those processes go down for a day (others use 48-hour period), a few days or permanently.

b. Identify the critical functions which need to be immediately up within a defined time (e.g. 24 hours)

c. Find out which are your critical resources.

2. Create the template for your plan. There are free templates available online or you can look for an actual BC plan of a business similar to yours and just modify as needed.

Here are some of the information you need to include in your BC plan:

a. The scope of the plan – Are you creating individual plans per office, per department, per function, etc.?

b. All business units/departments

c. All business-critical functions (e.g. payroll processing, order fulfillment, shipping) – How many required resources? (e.g. 1 person, payroll software system)

d. All dependencies between various business areas and functions

e. The acceptable downtime for each critical function

3. Organise your plan into a format that can easily be followed. It’s best to breakdown your plan in sections either per department or function. Your DR plan is essential to your BC plan so make sure your IT team/department have one and include this to your continuity plan.

a. Designate the person or team who will be in charge of implementing your BC plan.

b. Identify which critical functions need to be absolutely up within a certain period.

c. Outline the steps on how your employees can perform their functions should there be a loss of vital resources

d. Highlight your “show stoppers” or the resources (supplies and equipment) that your operations absolutely can’t continue without (e.g. computers, phones, network connections, etc).

e. Include a checklist of your alternative resources, the location of data backups and backup sites.

f. List the contact information of all important people including emergency responders, key personnel, vendors and backup site providers.

4. Test your business continuity plan. Every plan needs to be tested so you know it covers all critical aspects of your business and will work as expected. Some companies test their business continuity plans two to four times a year. The schedule really depends on your type of organisation, the amount of turnover of key personnel and the number of business processes and IT changes that have occurred since the last round of testing. In testing your plan, you can opt to do table-top exercises, structured walk-throughs, or simulations.

5. Review and improve your business continuity plan. No plan is perfect. And, given that technology quickly evolves, and people come and go, your plan needs to be always updated. All the more so if your business had the misfortune of facing a disaster and had to put the plan into action. Incorporate the lessons you’ve learned from the event. Do an annual review of your BC plan and modify where needed.

Your ability to recover quickly from a difficult situation is what will separate you from your competitors. This is why having a flexible and dependable business continuity plan is considered a must for every business.

Don’t wait for disaster to happen before make a plan. Contact us today to see how we can help you develop a solid business continuity plan that you can depend on.