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Be Ready for Anything with a Business Continuity Plan

Ensure your business keeps running in the event of a disruption or disaster.

Nobody knows when business disruptions might occur, but we do know they happen.

Rather than be caught off guard and unprepared, you can develop a business continuity plan that can help guide you if disaster occurs.

From relatively contained technology disruptions to full-fledged natural disasters, a business continuity plan can provide you peace of mind and, more important, a plan of action to keep your business running in case events take a turn for the worse.

A business continuity plan can provide you peace of mind and, more important, a plan of action to keep your business running in case events take a turn for the worse

A distinction between ‘continuity’ and ‘recovery’

Even if this is the first time you’ve heard about business continuity planning, chances are you might be familiar with another related term, “disaster recovery planning.”

While both sound similar in intent, they are quite different and deserve clarification.

A business continuity plan is a method and process to utilize during a disaster (such as severe weather, interruption in communications, restricted geographic access or movement); the business continuity plan keeps a business operational in the midst of a disaster.

A disaster recovery plan is different in that it provides guidance for restoring normal methods and processes after a disaster has passed; it helps a business return to its original operation at a time when unplanned disruptions have been resolved. And, since the two terms are similar, it’s beneficial to cover both in your planning.

Start by documenting your organization

As obvious as it seems to document your business methods and details to ensure continuity, a large majority of businesses don’t think to do this.

If the idea of faithfully documenting your processes seems overwhelming, begin with your original business plan material and go from there. To ensure you can maintain your business in the event of a disaster, small or large, be sure to detail the following:

  • Your organizational structure, including all company roles and the employees who perform them. Rank each in order of importance to keep the business running for the next day, the next week and so on. Be sure to keep updated contact information for every employee or business partner in case an event would cause geographic separation. Then, if geographically dispersed, can key employees perform critical activities via a telecommute method?
  • Critical vendors, contractors or partners (banks, third-party providers, etc.), the role they play in your business, and how long you can be out of contact with them before it affects your business activity. Then, is there a method to perform tasks with them remotely if geographic separation persists?
  • Details of your business location that identify the tools, infrastructure and support that enables your business to operate. If the location is damaged or otherwise inaccessible, can your business be set up in an alternate location during the course of a disaster?
Documented procedures will be critical to ensure you have a guide to perform even the most routine tasks amid the stress of a major unplanned situation

Determine critical information

Next, identify and document critical information that keeps your business running, and how you can protect it, retrieve it and continue to utilize it effectively should a disruption occur.

Most important, if this information is lost or destroyed, it could be what you need to essentially re-start your business during and after a disaster. Critical information includes:

  • All articles of incorporation, licenses, permits and other legal documents that can prove your business structure if ever you’re required to present them in the time of a disaster.
  • Bank and other financial institution records that can prove your business’ assets and holdings so they’re available to quickly draw from if needed.
  • Employee records, tax records, telecom and utility bills, and any other documents that can help in your communication with employees, service providers and so on.

Decide who, what and where

Important to every business, even when not faced with a disaster, is a library of documented processes and policies.

When designing your business, you would have needed to create step-by-step documentation to establish and sustain repeatable processes critical to your business’ operation. In the event of a disaster, these documented procedures will be critical to ensure you have a guide to perform even the most routine tasks amid the stress of a major unplanned situation.

For each process or procedure, be sure to detail the employee role (and the individual currently fulfilling the role), and any unique access or special clearance/permissions required to perform each role. Naturally, you’ll need to fully document all dependencies within each procedure including preceding tasks, successive tasks and dependencies on other processes to fully complete the work of each role.

Perform a test of your business continuity plan to ensure it can maintain your business in the event of a disaster

With all of your “normal business” processes documented, be sure to document how all of this might be achieved in the event of an emergency or disaster. This will be critical in defining how work will continue when the usual methods aren’t available.

Put your plan to the test

With your business continuity plan well defined and documented, it’s time to put it to the test.

Just as you’ve seen the regular tests by the FCC’s Emergency Broadcast System (to test its alert tone and broadcast backup methods), you’ll also want to perform a test of your business continuity plan to ensure it can maintain your business in the event of a disaster.

Begin by establishing copies of the entire scope of the plan in a safe location, even to the extent of ensuring that all critical employees, partners and providers have a copy for reference and possible use. Then, perform a full-scale simulation on a regular interval (at least annually but possibly semi-annually).

Coordinate with all key individuals and partners, and perform a test where you’ll actually simulate response to a disaster. Note the effectiveness and completeness of the result, using what you learn to improve the plan.

No one ever expects a disaster and it’s the reason why many businesses are stopped cold if they’re not prepared to react to such a situation.

Develop a business continuity plan (and a disaster recovery plan) for your business that’s suitable to the size and scope of what you’d need to maintain if disaster strikes. Take the time to prepare and you’ll be in a better position to respond and recover if the worst ever happens.

About the author

Dennis L. Prince
Dennis L. Prince has been analyzing and advocating the e-commerce sector since 1996. He has published more than 12 books on the subject, including How to Sell Anything on eBay...and Make a Fortune, second edition (McGraw-Hill, 2006) and How to Make Money with MySpace (McGraw-Hill, 2008). His insight is actively sought within online, magazine, television and radio venues. Opinions expressed here may not be shared by The Online Seller and/or its principals.



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