Why preparing for the worst ensures your business is the best

Is your business prepared for imminent catastrophe? Preparing for the worst, says Matthew Walker-Jones, will inform your clients that your brand is one worth trusting.

Would it be accurate to say we are living in turbulent times? The unexpected is happening more frequently; extreme weather is now more common than ever, the effects of global warming are being felt in many parts of the world and hackers are routinely targeting governments and their agencies for ransom, or simply to cause disruption. Operating a successful business must now involve much more than a great idea.

An essential part of effective and strategic business planning is considering continuity at the core of your operations. Research has shown that a significant number of small businesses are unable to reopen after disaster, while medium and large businesses incur substantial costs.

So what is a business continuity plan (BCP)? While you may have encountered its relative term ‘disaster recovery’ which focuses on data management, BCP approaches the business process holistically to support and address issues before, as well as after, they arise.

Consider the full impact of an unpredicted disruption by taking a comprehensive look at your business. A good starting point is creating an objective list of the business’ strengths and weaknesses. It’s important to not gloss over areas or think that certain scenarios are too farfetched. It may be obvious to state, but include your suppliers and anyone on the ‘outskirts’ of your business too, since disruptions for them will inevitably lead to a weak link in your operations.

Take stock of all the costs you’ll incur, should disaster strike, by addressing each of the following points:

  • Client cost: what is the potential impact on your clients? Should your business experience disruption, how soon will your clients start to experience negative effects?
  • Data cost: if your business relies on data, or is in the business of data, then thinking about the impact of cyberattacks and outages is essential to long term continuity. Can you really afford to not have procedures in place in the event of an outage?
  • Loss of confidence: business disruptions can be incredibly destabilising, and not just to your physical business; experiencing something like this can undermine your confidence in the long-term success and survival of your business.
  • Cost of reputation: this is hard to measure, but as so many people still rely on word of mouth recommendations, having a good reputation within your industry is essential.

Expanding on the final point – especially in the way reputation relates to effective brand management – having good business reputation is not the same as never experiencing issues or disruptions. Realistically, everyone is aware that challenges are likely to arise at some point, and it’s the way your business deals with them that demonstrates the true resilience, and thus value.

In fact, it can be particularly useful – and reassuring – to clients if you can demonstrate the kind of continuity plans you have in place or how your continuity plan has, in the past, ensured that your operations carried on smoothly during times of disaster. Making a BCP an essential part of your overall business plan will go a long way in helping to establish your brand and contributing to successful brand management. If you’re able to offer business continuity over a competitor, then you will gain clear advantage by indicating that you’re prepared for whatever may come.

There are two approaches to BCP that you may wish to pursue. One of them is to outsource your business continuity management to an experienced partner. This is advantageous for a number of reasons. You will benefit from an objective outside source evaluating your business for existing gaps and vulnerabilities to help create the fullest picture of your business’ potential shortcomings. The gap analysis will evaluate all business processes and functions to determine what resources are needed and how to best allocate current and future budgets.

Secondly, introducing strategy and planning to define best practice for all involved in the business, providing training and testing for the proposed continuity plan.

You may wish to create a BCP yourself, in which case you’ll need to research and create a check list to ensure that you’re covering all bases in the process. A good exercise to undertake before planning begins is envisioning a scenario that would test your processes, creating a map of everything that will be affected and the steps you will take to prevent or remedy the situation. This will highlight your vulnerabilities and outcomes of short and long-term disruptions. Train relevant staff in recovery implementation, keeping everyone clearly informed of what to do should disaster strike.

Lastly, test your plan – on at least a monthly basis. This will help you to stay flexible and adaptable to any new challenges. A BCP shouldn’t be approached like a theoretical exercise, attended to once a year and forgotten about for the rest of the time. It is an essential part of successful business operation and, as such, must be updated and tested regularly.

Taking into account the aforementioned exercise, use the checklist below to help you establish a good BCP foundation:

  • Identify the scope and key business areas
  • recognise critical business functions
  • evaluate interdependence of different business areas and functions
  • create a list of supplies, equipment, data backups and backup sites
  • establish an acceptable downtime for each area
  • inform and train staff on plan implementation, ensuring they have names and numbers of emergency contacts and backup site providers, and
  • test your BCP regularly.

 

Mathew Walker-Jones specialises in content covering data driven marketing, online data protection, data recovery and cyber security.

 

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Image credit: Cristina Gottardi