It’ll never happen to you.

Fires, natural disasters, sudden illness; these are things that happen to other people. Right?

Sure, the chances are slim, but accidents happen. In 2013/14 there were 2,500 fires in industrial premises in the UK, 246,000 workplace injuries occurred, and 180 workers were killed on the job.

The floods in the winter of 2013/14 affected more than half a million businesses around the UK, and many of those were unable to operate at all due to cut-off transport links or flooded premises which prevented them from taking delivery from suppliers or servicing their customers.

As many freelancers and small business owners work from home, the odds of a disaster striking are higher than for a salaried employee surrounded by fire extinguishers and trained first-aiders. Residential fires were almost 15 times more frequent than workplace fires, with 39,600 requiring attendance from the fire services last year.

All of this should hopefully convince you that, while the odds are still small, disaster can strike, and as a responsible business owner you need to be prepared – especially if you have employees who are relying on you for a paycheque. That means having a business continuity plan.

Business insurance should be your first stop to make sure money isn’t an issue if the worst should happen – speak to a professional insurance specialist to make sure you have all the cover you need.

Insurance will cover the costs of getting your business back in operation after a catastrophe – but it won’t be much help if all your customers have switched to other suppliers in the two weeks it took you to re-open your office. You also need to plan for your business operations to continue (even in a vastly reduced capacity) if, for example:

  • Your office burns down
  • You have a catastrophic loss of data (e.g. you don’t back up your work and you lose your laptop with months of client work on it)
  • Heavy snow, floods or other adverse conditions mean you or your employees can’t get to your office
  • A key member of staff is suddenly unable to work

Many businesses are effectively location independent nowadays, so adverse weather isn’t as much of a challenge as it was historically. Similarly, data loss isn’t the huge risk it used to be now that most company email and storage is hosted by Google, Microsoft, Amazon or other providers who look after data on our behalf. Even so, a business continuity plan is essential as your business grows – and if the worst should happen it could very realistically save your firm from going under.

Business continuity plan basics

When putting a business continuity plan together consider when it will have to be used – probably in the midst of a disaster, emergency, or other incident which is likely to cause stress.

Your continuity plan, therefore, should be as detailed as possible, with simple steps that people can follow even if they are extremely pressured or rushed – think of it as an IKEA instruction manual to rebuild your business.

It should clearly set out who will have responsibility for each task that needs completing, what order they should be completed in, and where the relevant person can find the materials or equipment they need to complete their task (e.g. post redirection forms if your office is inaccessible, or a cellular internet connection that can be used if your office broadband goes down).

Incidents

Events that will lead to your business continuity plan being needed – “incidents” – will usually fall into one of a few categories:

  • Premises incident – a fire, flood or other event that renders your office out of action
  • Infrastructure incident – your electricity, plumbing, broadband or other utility is out of action to such an extent that business cannot be conducted as normal
  • Staff incident – a family emergency or injury means a member of staff is unable to work suddenly

Your continuity plan should cover every possible incident within these three categories.

The contingency plans for premises and infrastructure incidents may well end up being the same, as the end result of either type of incident is that you cannot work from your office. However the process for fixing the incidents will be totally different – premises incidents may involve health and safety considerations and building work, whereas infrastructure incidents will probably involve waiting for your utility supplier to fix the problem.

Test runs are important

Should disaster strike you don’t want to discover that your business continuity plan doesn’t actually work – you’ll have other stuff to worry about!

For this reason it’s important to test your plans. Organise a dry run during a quiet period and simulate a power cut or an earthquake – you could even turn it into a fun team building exercise.

Walk through every step of your continuity plan and ensure each task is achievable, straightforward and necessary.

Keep it current

Businesses – especially fast-growing young businesses – change, so make sure your business continuity plan is updated regularly to include new systems, providers, members of staff, premises and / or equipment.

If you change your plan significantly, it’s definitely worth another dry run to make sure the updated plans work.

Grab our business continuity plan template

We’ve put together a handy template if you’re putting together your own business continuity plan, based on the actual business continuity plan we use here at Crunch. Download it, fill it out, test it, and be prepared.

Business continuity plan (Word)

Business continuity plan (Google Drive)

Business continuity plan (OpenDoc)