A good business continuity plan can help your business withstand a disaster and quickly get back on its feet. Creating such a plan involves carefully evaluating your business's vulnerability to various types of natural and man-made events and determining how you should respond.
What is a business continuity plan?
A business continuity plan is a company-wide plan for handling an unplanned disruption to your business, whether from a fire, natural disaster, or cyberattack. There is a difference between a disaster recovery plan and a business continuity plan.
A disaster recovery plan focuses on getting your business's IT functions running again after a natural disaster. A business continuity plan typically includes your whole operation. Disaster recovery is just one aspect of a comprehensive business continuity plan.
A business continuity plan is important because when your business can't function in key areas, your bottom line suffers. And the effects can spread far beyond the initial event.
For example, data theft is an emergency that must be contained, but your business may suffer for years if customers leave because they don't trust you anymore. Despite the importance of business continuity, this kind of disaster planning isn't addressed in an ordinary written business plan.
How to develop a business continuity plan
Creating a good business continuity plan is critical to your ability to recover quickly after a disaster. Here's how to write a business continuity plan, in five steps.
1. Identify risks and goals
Make a list of the potential risks to your business, from a flood to a long-term power disruption, to a data theft. For each one, consider how your business would be affected. Rank the risks in terms of their potential impact on your business to help with your planning.
Next, think about what your desired outcome is after an adverse event, and which departments or business functions are most important to include in the plan.
2. Conduct a full business impact analysis
A business impact analysis, or BIA, digs deeper to identify the ways each part of your business might be affected by various threats. Think beyond the idea of simply having to close your doors temporarily and consider impacts such as:
- Loss of sales and profits
- Additional expenses
- Loss of customers
- Regulatory penalties
- Not being able to move forward with future plans
- Data security and availability issues
The BIA should identify the core areas of your business and the functions needed to keep each of these areas going. It also should anticipate scenarios for different types and levels of disasters.
3. Assemble a business continuity team
Identify the specific people who will be responsible for executing your business continuity plan. Your team should include people from each of the key departments impacted by an adverse event.
4. Write the business continuity plan
Using your BIA as a guide, write a plan that details the steps your business will take to deal with an event, and who is responsible for executing each step. Start by identifying preventative steps you can take now, such as getting business interruption insurance and storing data off-site.
Then focus on what your business continuity team will do in the immediate aftermath of a disaster or other event. This may include such things as evacuating buildings, interacting with the media, getting legal advice, or notifying customers and suppliers.
Finally, include a recovery plan: the specific steps you will take to get the key parts of your business functioning with as little downtime as possible.
5. Test and revise your plan
Test your plan to work out the kinks and make sure that things run smoothly in the event of an adverse event. Decide how often the business continuity plan should be tested in the future and be sure to conduct those tests. Finally, revise your plan as circumstances or business needs change.
A well-written business continuity plan can help ensure that your business can weather any storm and pick up where it left off. It takes time to prepare one, but it could mean the difference between bouncing back quickly and going out of business.