In business as in life, things don’t always go according to plan. If recent global events (not to mention the disastrous bushfire season in Australia) have shown us anything, it’s the importance of being prepared. But how do you prepare for something as unforeseen as a global pandemic? The answer lies in having a business continuity plan.
Knowing in advance how you’ll handle a crisis that impacts your business can make all the difference.
It means you’re making decisions on a course of action with a clear head, not later when you’re scrambling for lost ground after disaster has struck.
So many Australian businesses have been caught off guard by the restrictions rolled out across the country in response to COVID-19. Here we’ll take a look at how a business continuity plan can help your business stay up and running — or at least minimise its down time.
How to create a business continuity plan
Compared to much of the rest of the world, Australia acted quickly enough to contain the spread of the virus and minimise losses of life. Build on this success by spending some time now preparing your business for the next crisis:
- Do a risk assessment.
- List critical business functions.
- Detail how you will respond.
- Set a recovery timeline.
- Schedule a regular review.
A business continuity plan will usually cover five key areas. These can be expanded depending on the size and complexity of your business, but for now we’ll keep it simple so it can easily be applied to a business of any size. We’ve included a few business continuity plan templates for your convenience.
What is a business continuity plan?
A business continuity plan can improve business resilience during periods of rapid change. It’s a framework for how you and your staff will handle a crisis when it interrupts or puts a stop to your business operations. Consider it a roadmap on how to keep your business operational until the crisis is resolved.
Business continuity vs. emergency response
Though these two types of plans often work in conjunction with each other, there are key differences between them.
Business continuity plan
A business continuity plan is strategic by nature and focused on keeping your business afloat until the crisis is resolved.
Emergency response plan
An emergency response plan is primarily about protecting people and assets from harm. It’s focused more on the incident itself and the time period immediately after.
Start with a business continuity plan template
For a quick start to your planning, use a business continuity plan template that’s already been created. There are a number of templates online:
- Hubspot (free)
- Smartsheet (free)
- The Queensland Government (free)
- SafetyCulture (paid)
- BCP Builder (paid)
You can also check out a business continuity plan case study here.
The key to effective business continuity management during a disaster is planning for the worst-case scenario.
Regardless of whether there is a partial loss or a full loss of your products or services, your plan should try to cover as many outcomes as possible. Developing different scenarios can help you work out what to do if the critical areas of your business fail and what resources you’ll need in order to recover.
Step 1: Do a risk assessment
The first part of the process is to identify the risks that are relevant to your business — be it in the case of a:
- Terrorist attack
- Data breach
Look at the likelihood of these events occurring and rank the risks that need to be dealt with in order of priority. List ways to respond to each of these risks to minimise the impacts. How is your data secured and where is it stored? What are your backup procedures? What steps have you taken to protect your property? Do you have alternate vendors queued up in case of a sudden break in your supply chain?
Step 2: List critical business functions
The next step is to conduct a Business Impact Analysis and identify the critical business functions that are essential for the continued operation of your business.
These are the core activities in your business that are key to its survival, also known as critical business activities. Prioritise and assess the impact on these functions that will result from disruption, and what can be done to eliminate or lessen those impacts.
Step 3: Detail how you will respond
Now it’s time to develop the incident response part of your plan.
This section will contain all the information you’ll need to respond immediately during and after an incident or crisis.
Try not to get too specific about how these actions should be carried out. It’s important to allow room for flexibility to respond to different situations, as there is no way every possible outcome can be predicted. This stage of business continuity management is more about identifying what needs to be done rather than adhering to strict compliance and procedures.
Appoint a crisis management lead or team (if it’s appropriate for your business) and work out who in your business will be responsible for each action item. Make sure to document your staff responsibilities and communicate them with the responsible employees.
Pro tip: Look at providing any specific training that might be required to have your team crisis-ready.
Step 4: Set a recovery timeline
Here you’ll outline a realistic timeframe for your business to recover, including all resources or steps that may be needed such as:
- Setting up an eCommerce website or account with an online marketplace (for brick-and-mortar businesses)
- Pivoting your services to be of greater use in a time of need (e.g. offering curbside pickup, switching manufacturing to needed supplies, etc.)
- Enabling staff to work remotely
Consider how long your current cash reserves would last and what contingencies need to be put in place to extend that period.
5: Schedule a regular review
A business continuity plan is not a ‘set it and forget it’ document. It’s vital that your plan is kept updated and relevant, which means creating a schedule for periodic testing and reevaluation.
A little planning goes a long ways
In today’s changing world, it pays to be prepared. Creating a business continuity plan is about creating a system of recovery for your business to keep it moving at all times, in any situation.
By planning ahead, you can make informed decisions, keep your people safe and minimise downtime — and ultimately put your business in the best position to weather any storm.