Is your small business prepared for the unexpected disaster?

Do you have a business continuity plan?

There’s no denying that we live in an increasingly uncertain world. Recent terrorist attacks in London and Manchester, coupled with the appalling Grenfell Tower fire, have shown us that the unexpected can and does happen.

Attacks, fire, flooding – these are all unpredictable threats to any business.

If all your internal IT servers were destroyed by fire tomorrow, how well and quickly could your business be back to normal?

And what if your electricity supply failed for a week? Or if your customers couldn’t pay you thanks to a bank IT problem? Or if your suppliers could not supply you?

The fact is that many SMEs are not properly prepared for the unexpected and do not have robust business continuity plans in place. Indeed, many companies aren’t even sure they have the right level of insurance cover in place.

If your business is in this position, then you urgently need to review your cover with your insurance broker. Make sure you are basing it on up-to-date figures, and that the cover is adequate to ensure you can afford to continue trading if disaster strikes.

Making a business continuity plan

A good way of working out the cover you need is to spend time making a thorough business continuity plan. If you have never done this before, there is a very helpful booklet Expecting the Unexpected (PDF), jointly published by the National Counter Terrorism Security Office, London First and the Business Continuity Institute.

In a nutshell, the publication advocates a five stage process to business continuity planning. These are:-

  • Analyse your business

Research the complex interactions inside your business and with customers and suppliers. Find out where your business is most vulnerable.

  • Assess the risks

Think about how likely risks are to happen, and what effect they would have on your business. Consider what would be a worst case scenario, as it will help you deal better with lower impact incidents.

  • Develop your strategy

Essentially, you either accept the risks or attempt to reduce them. Your decision will probably depend on costs.

  • Develop your plan

Create your plan, but make sure it is matched to your people – whether they hold strategic, tactical or operational roles. Ensure everyone in your business is consulted.

  • Rehearse your plan

You can either do this using paper-based exercises, using telephone cascading (ensuring a test message is properly cascaded to all relevant people) or a full rehearsal.

Ideally, you should do your business continuity planning in conjunction with a person or a company with prior experience – this will help you make a more robust plan for lower cost.

There are other benefits to making plans of this kind. Many contracts require firms to have good business continuity plans in place. A good example is a printing firm I have worked with – when applying for major contracts, they have to prove they can complete the work in the event of a crisis like fire or flood. Because they store back-up data securely off-site, and they have a reciprocal arrangement with a competitor to use each other’s premises in the event of an emergency, they have been able to pull in hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of extra contract business.

As silver linings go, that’s a pretty major one for taking time to plan for the unexpected!