There is rarely any notice before a disaster strikes. Even if you have a little bit of time, there are many things that can go wrong, and events often unfold in the most unlikely ways.
This is why you need a business continuity plan. A business continuity plan is vital if you want to survive events like natural disasters, fires, cyberattacks or any other event that could negatively impact operations.
Here is how you can create a business continuity plan that will give your organization the greatest chance of surviving.
What exactly is business continuity?
Business continuity (BC) is the ability to maintain business functions or resume them immediately after a natural disaster, fire or cyberattack. The BC plan runs through processes and instructions the business needs to pursue in the event of a disaster to protect business partners, processes, assets, and human resources. It's not a disaster recovery plan – many people think these two plans are the same – but it's just as important.
Is a business continuity plan essential?
Your business wants to stay competitive, that's a fact. It's essential to retain your customers while gaining new ones. The best way to test your ability to do this is following an unfortunate event.
The future of any business relies on its team and processes. You must ensure you can handle these incidents effectively if you want to make a good name for your company and boost customer confidence. Not doing so can harm your company's reputation. Failure to properly prepare can result in business failure due to lost productivity and financial loss.
Never underestimate the impact of natural disasters and the havoc they can wreak on businesses of all sizes when they are ill-prepared. This is why a BC plan is so important.
The framework of a business continuity plan
If you don't have a plan prepared, it's time to implement one. Assess your business to determine which parts are the most vulnerable. Consider the impending losses if any of those processes are down for one day, three or four days, or even a week.
Use this information to develop a BC plan. This includes these general steps:
- Recognize the extent of the BC plan.
- Determine critical business areas.
- Identify key functions.
- Pinpoint dependencies between areas of business and their functions.
- Determine the maximum amount of downtime acceptable for each function.
- Create a solid plan to sustain all operations and return to normalcy as quickly as possible.
A simple checklist that highlights all equipment and supplies, the location of your backup sites, where to locate the plan and who needs access to it is all you need to put together your BC plan. Don’t forget necessary information, such as phone numbers for your team, emergency responders and site providers.
As you assemble your BC plan, talk to your team to see who has successfully experienced an event in the past. There are ways to become a better leader, and one of those is turning to your team for input and empowering them. These individuals are valuable and can share stories about their experiences along with techniques and helpful ideas that worked in the past. Their insights will likely prove valuable as you craft your BC plan.
The significance of testing the plan
You made sure to follow the important steps in starting a business, now you need to ensure your business continues to thrive. If you don't test your plan, how will you know if it will do its job? Of course, a real disaster is the only true test to realize if the plan works, but controlled testing still provides you the opportunity to pinpoint any gaps in the plan and fine-tune it to improve it.
Rigorously test the plan to ensure that it's inclusive. When you test your plan, make the scenario challenging. If you only do the minimum, you won't really know if your BC plan is strong, and you won't feel as confident when something goes wrong.
Test the plan at least twice per year. The frequency with which you test it will vary based on your business, the turnover of your team, and the number of IT changes and other business processes that have been updated since the previous time it was tested.
These are the most common tests:
- A tabletop test involves the team carefully inspecting the plan searching for gaps.
- A structured walk-through where each member of the team reviews and acts out his or her portion of the BC plan to identify any weaknesses.
- Disaster simulation testing is much more involved and needs to be performed annually. First, you have to create a setting that imitates the disaster and addresses the supplies, equipment and the people it would affect. This will determine whether or not you have the ability to carry out vital business functions in a crisis.
Evaluate and further develop the business continuity plan
There is a lot of effort required to create and test a BC plan. Many business owners forget about the plan once its final draft is complete as other business tasks take precedent. If this happens, the BC plan may become stagnant and is therefore useless when needed.
As technology continues to evolve, team members leave, and new ones are hired, the plan will need to be updated accordingly. The core team needs to reconvene at least twice a year to examine the plan and mull over any parts that should be modified.
Seek feedback from your team and use it to better the plan. Invite people from all departments to assess the BC plan as well.
You want to ensure your business survives a crisis. This is why an up-to-date, tested plan needs to be in the hands of every member in charge of carrying out part of the BC plan. Failing to have a plan in place means your business will take longer than it should to mend from a disaster, and it will face a number of risks that could hurt its bottom line.