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The Ultimate Guide to Creating an Effective Business Continuity Plan (BCP)

11/28/20 | 6 MIN READ

This article provides a comprehensive guide on what it takes to create a BCP.

Running a business is difficult at the best of times. Attempting to increase your market share while also providing customers with what they want is a tricky balance that requires determination, perseverance, and a small amount of luck. No matter how well you run your business, there are inevitably going to be times when you are required to handle unforeseen circumstances. In the event of a national disaster or emergency, it's important that you're prepared for how this emergency will adversely affect your business.

If you want to be wholly prepared for a national disaster or emergency, it's recommended that you create a business continuity plan, which is a detailed outline of various procedures that your business would use to maintain productivity, prevent further damage, and eventually recover if ever a national disaster or emergency occurs.

While creating this type of plan can take some time, doing so can help you stay afloat and eventually rebound in such a scenario. If a national emergency causes a serious disruption with the operations of your business, you will almost certainly lose some revenues. However, having a business continuity plan in place should allow you to mitigate your losses.

What is Business Continuity?

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Business continuity  is the act of maintaining your business functions in the event of a national emergency or disaster. There are times when it won't be possible to maintain business functions. In this case, business continuity involves rapidly resuming functions after the initial disruption. The disruption that could require business continuity could be anything from a malicious cyber attack to a flood.

A business continuity plan is a kind of outline of procedures that your business would take if a national disaster or emergency occurred. The goal of these procedures would be to protect business assets, business partners, human resources, and business processes. Without having a plan in place, you could be forced to let go of a sizable percentage of your employees or shut down your business altogether. A business continuity plan should also help you avoid panic when an emergency happens, which could be enough to minimize your losses.

fire fighter wearing hat in natural disater

An effective business continuity plan is useful in many different cases of:

  • Global pandemics
  • Natural disasters
  • Man-made disasters
  • Utility failures
  • Intentional sabotage
  • Cybersecurity attacks

Disaster Recovery Plan Vs. Business Continuity Plan Vs. Business Impact Analysis

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There are three types of plans that have somewhat similar meanings but are used in different situations. Understanding what each of these plans are used for should help you determine which plan to create in the event of an emergency.

  1. A disaster recovery plan is almost the same as a business continuity plan with the main difference being that a disaster recovery plan focuses on restoring IT operations and infrastructure following a disaster. In fact, you could create a disaster recovery plan as a part of your business continuity plan.

  2. As touched upon previously, a business continuity plan is designed to help you maintain all business processes when an emergency occurs, which include IT operations.

  3. A business impact analysis can also be a component of your business continuity plan. This analysis is designed to help you determine how your business was impacted by a sudden disruption to your operations.

The analysis will typically provide you with the cost of the disruption. If the impact is significant, an analysis can push you towards outsourcing some of your operations for the time-being that are deemed to be non-essential, which will allow you and your employees to work solely on resuming the most important functions of your company.

Now that you understand the difference between these three plans, you should be able to determine which plans to use when an emergency occurs.

Creating an Effective Business Continuity Plan

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The location, type, and size of your company will dictate how long it takes for you to create an effective business continuity plan. While it's possible for some smaller businesses and startups to create one of these plans in as little as one week, other businesses can take upwards of two months to complete the plan.

The process is an extensive one that begins with you identifying the objectives of your plan and ends with you developing a training curriculum that your team and employees can be tested on before an emergency occurs.

To get started with creating a business continuity plan, it's first important that you understand what each step in this plan entails.

  1. Identify the objectives of the plan and set goals

  2. Identify key business areas & critical functions

  3. Conduct a Business Impact Analysis (BIA)

  4. Create a plan to maintain operations during emergencies

  5. Develop a testing and training curriculum

1. Identify the Objectives of the Plan and Set Goals

First, you should identify the objectives of your business continuity plan, after which you can set goals around these objectives. Determine how detailed you want the plan to be and how often you would like your employees to practice the plan. Keep in mind that it's not enough to create a business continuity plan. In order for the plan to be effective when a national emergency occurs, your employees will need to be familiar with how to implement the plan.

You can also identify what the outcomes are for a successful plan and which milestones you should track while your business operations are being disrupted. It's important that you make a budget for your business continuity plan, which should take research hours, training time, and preparation into account. The goals that you set can depend on the severity of the emergency or disaster. In general, you should focus on minimizing losses in regards to revenues and employees. Make sure that you have a team that can organize everything when it comes time to implement the plan.

2. Identify Key Business Areas & Critical Functions

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When your business operations are disrupted by a national disaster or emergency, you may be unable to keep all of your business functions running smoothly, which is why it's highly recommended that you focus primarily on your key business areas and critical functions. As such, it's important that you identify what these functions and business areas are. The best way to determine which areas of your business are most important is by looking at the functions that hurt your company the most if they weren't running properly. This damage could be in the form of revenue loss or harm to your reputation.

Make sure that you take look at all of the functions of your business so that you can classify these functions as low, medium, or high. The functions that would highly damage your company if they weren't around are the ones that your business continuity plan should be centered around. You should also look into what it takes to move some of these functions offsite. If your employees were able to work from home, you may be able to preserve some of the more critical functions without too much loss of revenue.

3. Conduct a Business Impact Analysis (BIA)

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A business impact analysis is designed to determine what kind of an impact interruptions to your business would have in the event of an emergency or disaster. This is a kind of forecast that would allow you to keep important departments in your company afloat during an emergency.

The BIA that you create should include scenarios for every kind of disaster as well as the severity of each disaster. Once the disaster or emergency occurs, you should be able to immediately identify what your next course of action would be based on the business impact analysis that you've conducted.

4. Create a Plan to Maintain Operations During Emergencies

person writing in book plan

The most important component of your business continuity plan involves creating a plan that will allow you to maintain operations during an emergency. Full readiness for an emergency should include prevention strategies, response strategies, and recovery strategies. You and your employees should know exactly which steps to take throughout every phase of a disaster.

Prevention strategies focus on preventive measures you can take before the emergency occurs. For instance, having a remote working solution in place before the emergency happens will allow you to mitigate the damage. Every department should provide you with a response strategy, which involves the things that you should do when the emergency is ongoing.

Along with evacuation and safety protocols, it's also important that you know what to communicate to your customers if ever an emergency occurs that would result in extended downtime. Finally, a recovery strategy is centered around making your company fully operational once the event has been wholly contained. Make sure that you map out a timeline that tells you how long it will take to get up and running.

5. Develop a Testing and Training Curriculum

In order for a business continuity plan to be effective, your employees and department heads should know how to implement the plan through each phase of prevention, response, and recovery. Having testing and training curriculum in place is important to make sure that none of your employees panic, which would only serve to worsen the situation.

For instance, the training that you provide to your employees should make sure to note that no employee should publish rumors or unconfirmed information about a disaster on social media. If the rumor ends up being incorrect, your company's reputation would take a hit.

The exercises that should be included in training extend to:

  • Clear goals and objectives
  • Easily understood scenarios
  • Clear instructions on what to do for every participant of the training
  • A wholly realized narrative
  • An evaluation once the exercise has been completed

Why Business Continuity Planning Matters

yellow hard hat woman sitting down during emergency

Business continuity planning is essential if you want your company to remain afloat in the event of a disaster or emergency that causes disruption to your core business functions. These plans are particularly beneficial for your startup to have if you want to mitigate your losses and make sure that your startup continues to grow once the event has concluded. If you don't have a plan in place, panic can set in among your employees, which could lead to small mistakes that create larger issues when you should be making sure that your critical functions continue to run.

While it can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to several months to complete a comprehensive business continuity plan, the long-term benefits of creating a plan can't be stated enough. To get started with creating a business continuity plan, your first step should be to identify the objectives of your plan and what the goals of these objectives should be. Afterwards, make sure that you ascertain which business functions are most important to your bottom line. If you take these steps now, you should be able to continue to function in the event of an emergency.

 

Revised 11/28/2020

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