Business continuity planning

7 minute read

Entrepreneurs, small business owners, and large business managers alike need to worry about there business continuity plans. Why? Because business interruption risks are all around you — and multiplying as technology and industry relationships evolve.

You might think a couple days off wouldn’t hurt the heart of your operations, but there can be a lot of levers to pull to get things back on track. Without a plan, your business could be sidelined for a lot longer than you had hoped. Can you afford that hiatus? Most companies unfortunately could not.

What is business continuity?

Business continuity planning is about preparing your business for the worst. It’s implementing a step-by-step plan for the future should an emergency hit, and it’s something that some business owners overlook. What would you do if there was a power outage? How would you recover from a cyber attack? Are you properly prepared for natural disasters? These are just a few of the questions that can help you develop a business continuity plan for the year ahead.

Start with a business breakdown

“After a crisis, one in four businesses will never re-open. Proper business continuity and disaster planning can help other small businesses avoid the same fate,” explains Fred Muldowney-Brooks, Director of Risk Services & Solutions for Northbridge Financial Corporation. “It begins with asking yourself: ‘if I were to experience a loss tomorrow, what would I do?’ You need to determine the specific steps you’ll have to take in order to keep your business running,” Fred says.

There are three lenses to use when you examine your business: financial, operational and marketing. You’ll need to determine just how much the loss will cost your business, and if you’re not properly insured, you may be on the hook for the entire amount.

Consider your coverage

“Insurance is often low priority for small business owners due to time, resources, and money. Unfortunately, companies without a plan are left unprepared in emergency situations, which can cost them both time and money. Having insurance coverage is a central part of an effective business continuity strategy,” Fred explains.

You’ll also need to figure out how to keep your operations going to avoid any further financial loss. Business interruption insurance is especially important in situations like these, since it’s designed to help your operations continue after a crisis. Finally, you’ll need to develop a proactive communications plan that can help protect your reputation from damage (you don’t want to lose the trust and loyalty of your customers, right?)

Top risks for businesses

Disasters can happen anywhere and without warning, and when you run a small business, you can have a very thin margin of error — one big upset could prove too difficult to recover from. Here are a few of the risks that your business may be facing:

Fire

Fires are commonplace, and they’re posing more danger than ever before. The recent Alberta wildfires revealed just how devastating the consequences can be for businesses of all shapes and sizes. To get on top of the risk of fire, start by asking yourself:

  • Are your employees properly trained on handling and operating equipment and fuel that may cause fires, property damage, or serious injury?
  • Do you have fire protection equipment, such as fire extinguishers and smoke alarms, installed on your property?

Natural disasters

“I often put natural disasters near the top of the list because they’re seen as the least likely to happen, but that’s not always the case and they need to be on business owners’ radar,” says Fred. Fire is not the only natural disaster that can cause significant damage to your business. Others include:

  • Flood
  • Earthquake
  • Tornado
  • Hurricane
  • Avalanche

How close are you to major waterways, mountains, fault lines, or coastlines? Natural disaster risks depends on proximity, so make sure you know how to react to those that could put your business in jeopardy. If you do have insurance coverage for your small business, take the time to know exactly what’s covered by your policy — if you see gaps, it may be time to update your insurance coverage. Some key points to consider:

  • If you can’t return to your business facility, where could you temporarily set up?
  • Is your staff trained on the proper protocol for a natural disaster?
  • Do you have employee information stored in a safe place to retrieve after a natural disaster?
  • Do you have a communications statement ready for your customers if you’re unable to fulfill commitments?

Electrical power outages

This is one of the more common risks that businesses face. A really bad storm could knock out the power for a few hours; in more severe cases, you could be without electricity for days. When the Greater Toronto Area was hit by a harsh wind storm, many homes and businesses were without power for a long stretch. This can cause problems like:

  • Loss of heating or central air conditioning
  • Issues with electrical panel or meter
  • Breakdown of all electronics, including machinery, cash registers, elevators, diagnostic systems, boilers, compressors, freezers, ovens and other important devices

If your business depends on electricity—as many do—investing in a back-up generator could be wise as part of your business continuity plan. “Always keep your staff trained on the proper procedures during a power outage and ensure you have the contact information for a designated electrician on hand,” Fred recommends.

Cyber attacks

Cyber attacks on small businesses are continuing to rise as hackers use more sophisticated techniques. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to track these attempts, let alone combat the attacks, so it’s crucial to prepare a sound cyber breach response. Cyber losses can be caused by a number of factors, including:

  • Virus or malware attacks
  • Hardware theft
  • IT system or communication system failures
  • Server room issues
  • Unexpected patches and updates

With the increasing popularity of mobile devices in the workplace, Fred warns that this is another area of cyber concern. “We often think about phishing, viruses, and malware and how they affect our laptops and desktop computers, but mobile devices are a threat to cyber security now, as well. Employees often connect to their company’s internal servers and networks from their phones or tablets, turning them into outlets hackers may use to infiltrate your small business,” Fred explains.

Should you suffer a data breach or hack of any kind, there are steps you can take to recover. While developing your business continuity and disaster recovery plan, Fred recommends asking the following questions:

  • Do you have malware and anti-virus software installed on your computer(s) or point of sale equipment?
  • Do you know what your warranty or insurance covers regarding broken or stolen equipment?
  • Do you know what kind of cyber insurance coverage you have?
  • Do you have a list of specific models and brands of the equipment and technology your business needs?
  • Have you backed up all important information and data (billing, accounting, contracts, etc.) on a company server, share drive, cloud, or external hard drive?

Crime

This may seem like an obvious risk for business owners, but it’s still important to consider specific steps to avoid the many forms and facets of crime. Theft is a major one: if the equipment you rely on is stolen, how would you continue operations? How quickly could it be replaced? Are replacement costs covered in your insurance policy? Some other items to consider include:

  • Is your staff trained on how to deal with and protect themselves from unauthorized personnel?
  • Do you have a security system in place, such as surveillance cameras, alarms, locked areas, and security guards?
  • If a computer is stolen, are you able to remotely shut down or erase sensitive information?

Risk management is never done

Every business is different and will face its own unique set of risks. Ensuring you’ve developed a detailed and comprehensive business continuity and disaster recovery plan will help you get back on your feet if you suffer a loss, but proper insurance coverage and tailored assistance plays a starring role, too.

“One of the risks that I see for small business owners is that they’re often wearing multiple hats. They’re the accountant, the salesperson, the inventory control manager, and so on. They don’t have a lot of time to sit down and plan for risks and business continuity. Personal support service can help answer the questions they have and guide them through this process,” explains Fred. In turn, don’t be afraid to reach out to professionals to help with everyday risk management, modify your coverage with sound foresight (this is where your insurance broker shines), and even to guide you through building the continuity plan itself.