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Is your business prepared for the unexpected?

March 30 2012 by Hannah Rushbrook

Small businesses can suffer with devastating effect from unexpected events such as snow, fire, flood, illness to key staff or an IT system failure (or even panic buying of fuel leading to supplies running out!). A lack of planning for the above events could, at worst, lead to your business losing out on customers and even having to go out of business.

Nearly 1 in 5 businesses suffer a major disruption each year and, with no recovery plan in place, the chance of survival is cut dramatically. The speed it takes to get back to business largely depends upon having a Business Continuity Plan in place. That is, planning for potential threats to your company and building an effective response that protects your business.

There are 4 stages to developing a Business Continuity Plan:


1: Assess the possible risks and the impact they could have upon your business

You need to dedicate some time to understanding the probability of crises occurring and the consequences of each of them for your business. Producing a list and grading each event by probability and impact is a good place to start. When assessing the risks and impact they could have upon your business, try to understand this from your customers’ perspective too.

2: Reduce the potential impact of crises

After you have developed a list of possible risks, look for areas where you can minimise the impact:  

  • IT and Telecoms – At the very least, ensure you have up-to-date anti-virus software installed on every machine and that all data is backed up to protect your IT systems and data. If you store data in the Cloud, have you worked out what happens if the Internet is down or if your Cloud service has a blip? Whatever method you use, be sure that you check your backups regularly, by running test restores every now and then – this is the only way you can be sure that it all works!  
  • Insurances – Ensure you have the correct insurances in place including Business Protection.   
  • Offices – Consider what you would do in an emergency if your office couldn’t be used, Would you use a shared business centre such as Basepoint? Or arrange to use the offices of a local company or perhaps all work from home? Do your IT systems allow this to happen? Good safety with regards to fire protection is also vital. Have you had a Fire Safety Audit recently?
  • Staff – Look at whether you could get cover for key members of staff if they were to be away due to illness. Perhaps  you could train staff to cover other roles, so that your business doesn’t depend on the key skills of a few members of the team.

3: Planning for an emergency

Using the information gathered above, you will need to put together a Business Continuity Plan. The plan should address the business functions you will need up and running first and what you need to do to ensure this happens. You will also need to detail the roles everyone will play in an emergency and the specific tasks they should carry out.

  • Immediate actions – Maximise the actions that can be carried out in the first hour, as this will have the biggest impact on your business.  
  • Staff training – Make sure all employees know what their role would be in an emergency and also ensure they have any specific training they may need.  
  • Checklist – Develop a concise checklist of key steps to be followed. This should include a list of all key suppliers,  insurers, customers, utility companies and any other numbers. Also include names and contact numbers of other important service providers, such as electricians, IT specialists, plumbers, locksmiths.  
  • PR – Plan how you would deal with any press interest and who would deal with this. Make sure customers and suppliers are informed first, so that they don’t find out from the media.
  • Extra copies of your Business Continuity Plan should be stored at your home and with a key member of staff.

4: Trial your Business Continuity Plan

Whilst it is difficult to accurately replicate a crisis and test your plan, you can look at possible scenarios and make sure your plan covers each particular risk. In particular:

  • Are the steps in the plan prioritised to ensure minimal damage is caused?
  • Are the roles of each employee clearly detailed for each type of emergency?
  • Have you verified the contact details are correct for each contact?
  • Is the plan up-to-date?

To find out more about Business Continuity Planning, visit Business Link’s website.

To find out what Alison Williams, Chairwoman of the FDS Group learnt about contingency planning after a disaster, click here.

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