Nobody wants to think about disaster happening. It’s scary and depressing. But not planning for disaster doesn’t mean it won’t happen; it just makes you more vulnerable. Don’t bury your head in the sand; protect your business with a business continuity plan.
What is a business continuity plan?
In a nutshell, a business continuity plan outlines how you’ll keep your business up and running if normal operations are disrupted due to some kind of disaster.
What’s the difference between a business continuity plan and a disaster recovery plan?
A business continuity plan deals with how you’ll keep operating in the immediate aftermath of a disaster. A disaster recovery plan deals with how you’ll get things back to normal once the disaster has passed.
What situations should the plan cover?
One of the most common disasters is fire. Every business should have a continuity plan for what they’ll do if their facilities burn down, but you shouldn’t stop there. Your plan for fire won’t work in the face of a regional disaster like an earthquake or hurricane. You need a plan for what you’ll do in a situation where all of the infrastructure and support systems you count on are inoperable.
What should the plan contain?
The specifics depend on the business, but a good continuity plan will include these components:
- Documentation of how the business works: Core functions, who’s responsible for them, etc. The key is to dig deep. You can’t just address your main facility; you have to think about every step of the process. For instance, what if your bakery is just fine, but a tornado wipes out a key supplier? How will you get flour, sugar, salt, etc., so that you’re not shut down by a supplier’s disaster? And what if you can’t get your products to your customers the usual way? What if a majority of your business comes from one customer, and that customer suffers a disaster?
- Identification of mission-critical business processes: What absolutely has to happen to stay operational? Training, for example, is an important business function, but it’s not mission-critical in the wake of a disaster. Getting your IT systems up and running, on the other hand, is mission-critical. Trying to find a less-expensive benefits provider probably isn’t mission-critical; paying your bills and your employees probably is.
- Identification of key personnel (and all of their contact information) responsible for mission-critical processes: Who will be responsible for each function? This may or may not be the person’s normal job. The VP of advertising, for instance, may be assigned the role of contacting suppliers and customers. It’s also important to identify back-ups. No one likes to think about losing employees, but that’s always a possibility in a disaster.
- Identification of and contact information for critical third-parties: No business operates in a vacuum. You have suppliers, insurers, consultants, contractors, etc. And then there are things like utilities, police and fire protection, phone service, etc. It’s important to include everyone whose support you may need as well as the person who’s responsible for contacting them.
- Identify critical documents: Just as individuals should always carry identification in a crisis situation, your company needs to safeguard its critical documents. These may include licenses, articles of incorporation, tax documents, etc.
- Step-by-step instructions: Having all of the information in place is a good start, but it’s not enough. Your business continuity plan needs to spell out what must happen and who is responsible for it. Some of those activities may take place before a disaster strikes – like establishing an offsite location to store critical documents and backup computers.
What do you do with the plan after you’ve made it?
Distribute it and practice. It won’t do you any good no one knows about it, and doing frequent run-throughs is the only way to find out if the plan works and whether you’ve forgotten anything important. You may also want to refer to a checklist like the one that AT&T published to help companies develop business continuity plans.
As far as distribution, digital copies are great, but they’re not disaster-proof. Every employee who’s assigned a function (whether primary or backup) needs to have a hard copy in an offsite location. That can be at their home, in their car, etc. It should be somewhere they can easily access in a crisis.
Making a business continuity plan isn’t a fun endeavor. But it’s kind of like making a will or buying insurance: It’s a way to protect the business you’ve poured your heart and soul into as well as the people who depend on your business to keep their own lives running normally.