Roadmaps for revenue and expansion are imperative for small business growth, but they're only a few of the variables that go into the planning equation. Business owners should also consider devising business continuity plans.
Business continuity plans formalise the steps you can take to keep operations running in case of a major crisis. They can keep your company and your staff operating if anything happens to you or any of your business partners, giving them peace of mind that work will continue and they'll be compensated – an especially important reassurance as more and more companies inch towards reopening for business.
Planning for the worst
First, assess all potential threats your organisation might face, the primary threat being that the business owner may no longer have the ability to oversee and orchestrate day-to-day activities at the company, or perform their usual functions. Once you've defined the threats you face, make a plan to outline a process for responding to those threats to protect operations both during and after the unexpected situation.
Components of a Business Continuity Plan
Business continuity plans, or business contingency plans, are plans for how your business can operate in case of an emergency. They usually include protocols for disasters, such as fires, earthquakes, and floods. Even though these natural disasters can be devastating, recovery can occur faster if there's a plan in place. With the current COVID-19 situation, emergency planning must also adapt to the unique challenges it poses.
According to Jean-Marc Chanoine, global head of strategic accounts for business document company Templafy, your plan should be based on the type of risk faced. "That means you should have one plan in case certain ownership is incapacitated and another plan in case of a physical disaster," he says. "Each risk has its own set of issues and ways to approach those problems so the business can continue to operate.”
1. Roles and responsibilities of your team
Another element of your plan should be documenting the team you'll have in place.
"Who's on your succession team?" asks Chanoine. "Did you hire a lawyer that has experience in assuring that you have the right legal documentation in place in case of your incapacitation? That includes what happens for a change of ownership. Because oftentimes, small businesses are partnerships. If one person gets knocked out, there's usually something in place that says the other owners will be able to buy them out. You've got to have your accountant, lawyer and key managers ready."
Next are job responsibilities and communication. According to Sean Chou, CEO of Catalytic, an app that automates business continuity plans using AI, these documents must shed light on exact roles and functions that need fulfilling. Plans should clarify job responsibilities as well as outline new safety measures to keep workers protected.
“In the plan, owners should document which individuals are responsible for safeguarding and recovering every function of the organisation – from the most critical to the most routine tasks – and describe the responsibilities of that function in the order of importance,” says Chou.
It’s also important to ensure all documentation is current, accessible, and clear. This includes key components of a business continuity plan, such as Recovery Time Objectives (RTOs). The RTOs define the number of days necessary to restore business functionality and avoid material disruption after the occurrence of a disruptive event.
2. Backup and security basics
A trusted employee or two will be critical during a disruptive event or your incapacity. These staff members should be cross-trained in the critical functions of the business.
The trusted employee needs easy access to important functions and assets like bank accounts and payroll. Using a password vault, along with a set of encoded files, gives the employee the information they need while keeping this confidential information secure until it’s required.
Also, there are some basics that need to be defined that seem obvious but are often overlooked, explains Chanoine. “For example, is there insurance on the business? Do you have a list of where all your employees live? Do you have their contact information? Have you stored your data on the cloud should your physical location get destroyed?"
The benefits of a Business Continuity Plan
One of the primary benefits of having a plan in place is that it lets you train your team. You can literally run the scenarios that may befall your company, to train your staff on how to operate in a crisis.
"No one talks about this," Chanoine says. "But, run the scenario. Scenario planning is actually a core thing. If it was me I would literally, on a surprise email say, 'I'm out. Go for it.' Just do a scenario planning test where people actually execute on the actual plan and you, while you're perfectly fine, can see what would happen."
Another benefit of any effective continuity plan is how it can help businesses carry out operations with speed and efficiency. Chou recommends leveraging automation to quickly activate the continuity plan when needed. That way the owner can focus on the human elements involved in surviving a crisis, such as inspiring team members or reassuring customers through regular communication. He says his team automated its own plan to speed up how it communicates procedures and instructions in a crisis.