Business Continuity Planning Is More Important Than Ever: Is Your Business Prepared?
The business climate has been anything but predictable. Dealing with the pandemic and its economic impacts, along with the devastation of natural disasters across the nation has caused many business leaders to revisit their plans for disaster recovery and business continuity planning (BCP).
Now more than ever, it's imperative to consider the fundamentals of business continuity planning no matter what kind of business you operate. It's absolutely imperative, says Edward Colson, owner of Ready Northwest, an emergency management provider based in Oregon.
“Every business, from a Fortune 500 company to a food cart, needs to have some sort of Business Continuity Plan in place.”
- Edward Colson
Owner of Ready Northwest
The Importance of Business Continuity Planning
Having a BCP plan in place for your business is essential as it will help you prepare for the unknown, give you a plan to access resources for a speedy recovery in case the unexpected strikes, and help you evaluate and improve your business' overall resilience to disruption throughout your operations.
Indeed, the stakes are high. John Clouse, an emergency/disaster preparedness planner and consultant based in Kentucky, explains: “Post-disaster surveys have indicated that if your small business goes 'offline' for 10-14 days, there is a strong probability you will not recover."
Here's what to keep in mind as you take a proactive approach to protecting your business.
1. Identify the risks and hazards facing your business.
"A Florida-based business will have different risks than a Minnesota-based business," Colson says. Make sure your inventory of risks and hazards includes all the geographic areas where your business operates including your supply chain, vendors, distributors and partners.
2. Identify critical functions.
"What are the important functions that need to be restored after an interruption? If employees are working during or right after an event, are payroll and IT more important than other areas of the organization?" asks Colson. Business leaders need to prioritize the key functions to ensure and sustain orderly operations.
3. Back up your data.
Consistently backing up your essential business data is a crucially important element of BCP. “That includes client lists, customer accounts, contact lists, vendor agreements, insurance policies, business licenses, and anything else that is important to keep your business running," suggests Clouse. “Keep the back-ups maintained offsite at least 50-100 miles away so the same disaster doesn't destroy them."
4. Always consider location.
Small businesses are particularly vulnerable to location-specific disasters, especially if you have critical facilities or multiple business operations on the same site. It's important to consider how your business would recover from the loss of a facility, loss of people, loss of technology including data and the loss of critical third-party service providers in the event of an unexpected event or disaster. Make sure you have a plan in place to pivot as needed should a location be unavailable, damaged or at worse destroyed.
5. Go remote.
Even before COVID-19, more and more companies were hiring remote employees and using online tools to conduct business remotely, which proved extremely useful when the pandemic absolutely required it. The ultimate goal is to ensure your business remains functional, resilient, and less location-dependent.“Anything that can be done remotely should be looked into as a possible means for keeping your business afloat in troubled times," Clouse says.
6. Have vendor agreements in place.
One of the big challenges in the event of an incident or disaster is maintaining orderly business operations with vendors and partner organizations. That's why Colson recommends planning ahead.
"Have a listing of all vendors and their emergency contact info, and let them know prior to a disaster what your organization's plan is and how soon it includes a resumption of operations," Colson says. "Ask how soon they can be up and running to support your organization."
By setting expectations ahead of time, you can show your vendors you're prepared for the worst, and hopefully prompt them to update their own continuity plans so that everyone can get back to normal operations as quickly as possible.
7. Stay compliant with regulations.
Depending on your industry, there may be specific regulatory requirements for your BCP. For example, you might be required to keep a detailed plan in writing for how to handle sensitive customer data in the event of a disaster or disruption of operations.
In a bank's case, for instance, business continuity may be required from a regulatory perspective, but it is also critical from a strategic perspective. For any type of small businesses, it's important to take advantage of resources that can help you begin planning today so you can recover tomorrow.
Use your BCP regulatory obligations as a starting point to have a more in-depth discussion within your company and create the most comprehensive, robust BCP plan for your business's larger strategic needs.
8. Prepare and train employees.
Your people are your business's most valuable asset, especially in times of disaster that could potentially uproot them. Clouse recommends companies conduct "pre-event" preparations to assist employees in preparing their own families and homes for disaster.
"One of the simplest ways to do this is to host a 'Copy and Scan' event at your business for your employees, during which your people can have a dedicated occasion for copying and scanning important personal documents and securing them on a rugged thumb drive," Clouse says.
"Another option is to give your employees a pack of emergency supplies for their families in case they need to flee their homes for an evacuation. If your staff know that their families are safe, you'll be far more likely to get them to focus on the needs of the business."
9. Connect with your community.
In the event of a disaster, your business's recovery and long-term success are interdependent with the success of your surrounding community.
"Reach out to local emergency management authorities in your area for assistance, resources or ideas for how your business can be of assistance to others," Colson says.
10. Build resilience for the future.
The COVID-19 crisis exposed the fragile foundations of so many American businesses, many of which have limited cash reserves and were—and are—vulnerable to an economic downturn. Few people would have expected a catastrophic event like a pandemic to occur, but this was also a learning opportunity and a chance for business owners to revamp their businesses,