Six simple steps to create a business continuity plan

If a key member of staff is unable to work for three months, for example, are you prepared to stop this from affecting your service levels and your ability to keep on winning new customers?

A robust contingency plan can help keep you on your feet and get your business back up to speed as quickly as possible:

1. Crisis management

The first part of a business continuity plan is crisis management. Staff safety and well-being are your paramount concern, and if you use a multi-tenanted building you should ensure that there is no clash with other organisations.

A crisis management plan should include:

  • Evacuation procedures (including an assembly area and controlled environment to keep staff safe and warm);
  • Crucial information for the emergency services (including building layout and occupants);
  • An action list identifying the crisis management team (trustworthy, good team work and good communications);
  • Out of hours protocol (including giving two contacts to your landlord and on-site security); and
  • A list of contact details for staff, suppliers, partners and utility firms.
Every business needs a pre-agreed communications plan to keep all stakeholders and staff informed, with as regular updates as possible. An incident log should be used to keep a record of what happened, when and on whose recommendation.

2. Recovery

The second part is all about recovery: how are you going to get back on your feet and resume a normal level of service as quickly as possible? This means pre-planning the resources you would need to keep on trading in the hours, days and weeks after a crisis. Reciprocal agreements with other companies are critical for small businesses as they reduce downtime and expenditure.

In the case of property damage, this might mean a list of temporary office space or reciprocating the use of spare desks. In the case of staff absence, it might mean a list of recruitment firms who know your business well enough to quickly provide a bank of candidates for temporary and permanent roles.

3. Business assessment

Identify the core elements of your business, meaning those things that keep your business functioning at the desired level and the loss of which would have a detrimental impact on your business. This might include critical applications, processes and functions, databases, suppliers, customers, personnel, equipment and your most profitable products and services.

4. Impact analysis

Now imagine that these crucial elements are gone and work out what the impact would be. For example, how many hours, days or weeks would you be able to survive without a financial controller or database? Who would be affected, how, to what extent and what is the solution?

5. Forward planning

Develop your own business continuity plan in a format that suits you. This is typically a word processing document for single site businesses, or an online planning tool with templates and alerts for larger organisations.

It needs to be simple, so keep to in- and out-of-hours action lists and contact lists. There should be three hard copies per site, stored in a “battle bag” and left with reception, the second assembly area and a recovery location, for example a local employee’s house.

Battle bags should also contain a pre-printed incident log, wind-up torches, disposable cameras and high visibility vests for the crisis management team. Staff need to have an appreciation of the plan, and a continuity professional can run through scenarios to instil greater confidence.

6. Ongoing management

Once your plan is in place, review and test it regularly and keep it up to date. This is particularly important for small businesses experiencing growth as expansion often means new staff, premises, equipment and other increased liabilities.

By Tara Kneafsey, SME Director and Ian Houghton, Head of Continuity Management at leading SME insurer RSA

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