A business emergency is one of those things you never want to think about -- until you have to. Weather emergencies. Natural disasters. The death or incapacity of a key leader. The loss of a revenue stream: UntIl one of these things happens to you, you may find it easy to be lulled into a false sense of security.
Smart entrepreneurs, however, have a healthy fear of the unknown and regard it as a strong motivator to take action and protect both their businesses and the talented people who help them thrive.
So, does your company have a backup plan to keep operations from falling apart in an emegency? Can your small business still function if a skilled employee can’t come into work? The answer may be a business continuity plan. BCPs -- which you might think are reserved for big corporations with a large number of employees -- are quickly becoming more popular with smaller companies, including startups.
According to the Small Business Association, an estimated 25 percent of businesses do not reopen after major disasters, which might range from loss of data, security breaches and employee illnesses to natural catastrophes and electrical fires. Even less obvious events, like power outages and server crashes, can devastate operations and productivity. Despite the ever-present danger of these events, business-continuity plans remain overlooked as tools to prepare.
As a small business owner, I can relate. Indeed, creating a BCP for my public relations agency, small as it is, helped my company continue to move forward uninterrupted when circumstances were working against it. Here are four business-continuity plan tips for small business owners:
1. Identify potential disasters and their solutions.
Pinpoint what might happen and how you could continue operating. From a power outage, to sudden employee absences due to weather events, to a massive data loss, consider: Is your firm located in a hotspot, like southern Florida, for example? Hurricanes there can cause massive damage, but even a minimal tropical storm could derail a business in an instant. A contingency plan will help keep your business open, even if that means only virtually, at first. Your plan should include using laptops or web-based servers for remote data access and preparing emergency phone trees and off-site schedules, so clients and employees can continue business as usual.
2. Identify recovery strategies.
Once a disaster has passed, how will your business move forward? Issue a prepared statement immediately following an unexpected disaster, explaining the status of your business operations. If the disaster involved a data breach, tell the truth as quickly as possible to get ahead of rumors and false information. A data-backup policy can help you get back to working order, too, by preserving full and incremental copies of corporate information and assets in an off-site, secure location. Digital data can also be stored safely and recovered quickly using cloud-based servers.
3. Identify contingency teams.
While not physically damaging to a business, sudden or unexpected employee absences can hinder productivity, especially if your company has only a few staff members. Can other staff members complete the tasks? Do your clients and customers know whom to communicate with at your company? Training a backup team can ensure that all business operations are completed; either a designated employee can continue work during another employee’s absence, or at the very least, a back-up employee can inform clients and customers of the issue and backup plan for moving forward. Certain specialized jobs may have to wait for the absent employee’s return, but with simple policies in place, like cross-training, operations can become less stressful for you and your customers.
4. Identify and practice procedures.
Building a set of procedures to follow during a business disaster is key to ensuring that your business stays productive, no matter what. These procedures can be finalized across the course of just a few a few weeks or months, offering checklists for “in the event of a fire,” “in the event of a data breach” and so on. Make sure that each procedure is clear, with bulleted information that each employee will review ahead to time, to ensure a smooth recovery process, should one be needed.
Even if yours is a small business, a thoughtfully prepared and well-communicated continuity plan means you can get ahead of potential threats. Part of your challenge is to maintain a positive public image in a world where information is shared at a speed never before seen.
Your plan should keep this "image" issue in mind and look to use digital tools to keep communications open and current. Your customers, clients, business partners and investors deserve to know your company is secure -- and a business continuity plan will help you achieve that goal.