Business continuity plan: the business of staying in business

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We are living in unprecedented times. The Covid-19 pandemic has drastically changed life as we know it. With people cooped up inside their homes, businesses have come to a grinding halt. With overheads still piling on and no way to generate income, businesses are in a fix. How long can they survive this disaster? Will they be able to recover? How soon can they get back on their feet? Our current situation highlights the critical need for a business continuity plan.

It is never too late to develop a plan, as it will help you get your business back on its feet — now and in the future.

If you are a small business owner and these questions are troubling you, you have come to the right place. Here’s everything you need to know about business continuity and disaster recovery to safeguard your business interests.

Related: A practical guide for small business during the global crisis

How to create a business continuity plan

Disaster can strike at any time, whether because your supply chain has been interrupted or a pandemic has struck. Here’s how to make a plan for any disruption:

  1. Make note of your critical assets.
  2. Identify your key business functions.
  3. List out possible threats.
  4. Plan alternatives.
  5. Document everything.
  6. Insure your business.
  7. Test your plan.

Keep reading for a blueprint on how to plan for just about anything — plus links to business continuity plan templates.

What is business continuity management?

Let us first understand what a business continuity plan is. It is a document that outlines what the business owner and his team will do to minimize the loss to the business if disaster strikes.

A business continuity plan tells you what to do in order to resume business as soon as possible.

Business Continuity Plan Building Destroyed by Earthquake

Business continuity planning has traditionally been a process followed only by big companies. However, small businesses are more prone to a difficult recovery due to limited resources.

Why your business needs a business continuity plan

It is imperative that every business has a business continuity plan because disaster can strike anytime. It is unimaginable that a new virus has shut the world in the 21st Century, but it is our new reality.

Similarly, there could be natural disasters such as floods (which are a common occurrence in India), storms or earthquakes. There could also be man-made disasters. When the possible calamities take place, a business continuity plan comes into effect.

There’s no time like the present

You may think you are already amidst a pandemic, so there is not much you can do now. This cannot be farther from the truth.

Use the time you have during the current lockdown to develop a business continuity and disaster recovery plan that will help you reduce your losses and open for business as soon as the pandemic is behind us.

Are business continuity and emergency preparedness the same?

Business continuity planning and emergency preparedness are often used interchangeable. But they are actually two separate things.

Emergency preparedness works towards protecting employees and keeping them away from harm’s way in a disaster. However, business continuity management ensures functioning of key business operations during a crisis.

Emergency preparedness

Say for example, if there is a flood — emergency preparedness will aim to keep people safe and evacuate them systematically. This is done via drills and training sessions so employees know exactly what to do in an emergency.

Business continuity

On the other hand, business continuity will focus on preventing disruption if possible and, if there is a disruption:

  • Maintaining business processes
  • Restoring IT systems
  • Helping employees return to work

In short, a business continuity plan contains instructions on how to return to ‘business as usual’ mode as quickly as possible.

How to create a business continuity plan

Here is a step-by-step guide to designing a business continuity plan for your enterprise.

Step 1: Make note of your critical assets

The first step is listing out which assets are crucial to running the business. These might include:

  • Employees, customers and vendors
  • Physical offices, equipment and inventory
  • Important data

Make sure all people information, office/storage unit lease agreements and other key business data (financial records, passwords, etc.) are backed up securely in an offsite remote location or on the cloud, so they can be recovered quickly.

Step 2: Identify your key business functions

Identify which processes are crucial to running the business. These could be:

Decide who will take over each function during a disaster. Ensure they have all the information they need (as mentioned in Step 1) to carry out their duties.

Step 3: List out possible threats

Business Continuity Plan Flooded City Street

Depending on where your business is based, write down all the possible disasters and events surrounding it.

If the area is prone to floods, for example:

  • Determine what your losses will be if your city is flooded
  • What can you do to prevent your office/plant from being flooded
  • What will you do if there is a power outage
  • How long will it take to subside
  • What will be the financial loss
  • How long will it take for your business to be up and running

If your venture was impacted by the pandemic, you can use your experiences to complete this section.

Step 4: Plan alternatives

Identify your biggest threats and list solutions for each. This section will be most useful in the event of an actual crisis or disruption.

For example:

  • Have a generator available for a power outage
  • Install sprinklers in the event of a fire
  • Build a secure refuge area to protect your people in case of a terrorist attack
  • Have a backup of alternative vendors that you can call upon if your supply chain breaks

It’s too much to expect anyone to think clearly when they’re in the middle of a disaster. By brainstorming solutions now, you will greatly speed up business recovery.

Step 5: Document everything

What good is the plan if people do not have access to it. Put all your planning and analysis in writing and make sure everyone knows where it is.

This will be the Holy Grail of your business continuity and disaster recovery plan. Write down everything in a simple language.

Ensure it answers all questions clearly. What to do, how to do it, who will do it, where are the resources to do it and so on. Lastly, save this document to the cloud or a remote storage and share the location with trusted employees.

Step 6: Insure your business

Get the right insurance to cover your business and people during a disaster. Keep all the information such as policy number, coverage, deductibles, etc. handy. The last thing you want to do is hunt for this information when things become chaotic.

Then if the event is covered under the gamut of your business insurance, be sure to inform your service provider at the earliest.

Step 7: Test your plan

Put your plan to test. There is no other way of knowing it will actually work in a real disaster. Even if it does work, it will need some trial and error to make it robust. You do not have to shut down your business to do it.

You can create scenarios and see how each individual reacts to their task at hand.

Lastly, keep revisiting the plan periodically. It will help you improve your business continuity plan and fine-tune it to ensure near perfect execution when it really matters.

Conclusion

Business Continuity Plan Delhi Building with Beautiful Mural
Photo: Rajiv Bajaj on Unsplash

There are free templates online that can help you in developing your very own business continuity plan (you can find some here and here. Use them to efficiently plan for disruptions or disasters and thereby recover faster.

The concept of a business continuity management is simple, but God is in the details. The more comprehensive and in-depth your plan is, the higher the chances are of it effectively getting your business up and running when disaster does strike.

A media professional with over 12 years of experience in print and online space, Maneka has strong writing and editing skills. She has worked as an editor in large Indian media organisations, as well as tech media startups across the Asia-Pacific region. The English language is Maneka's first love and words make her happy. Writing is her passion and she can write across verticals such as technology, finance, health, travel, etc. Connect with her on LinkedIn.