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What is a Business Continuity Plan?

Join the Esme team to find out what a business continuity plan is, why your business may need one, and exactly what your plan should include.
What is a Business Continuity Plan?

Despite your best efforts, a sudden downturn in your business could be brought about by a number of external factors that are completely out of your control. The coronavirus pandemic is a recent example of this, and it continues to pose a number of challenges to businesses across the country.

If an economic collapse were to damage your finances, or a global pandemic were to threaten your customers, would you have a plan in place to help you find success during difficult times?

That’s where a business continuity plan comes in. Business continuity planning, also known as a BCP, is a system of actions based on potential risks or threats that your business could be faced with. A BCP puts measures in place so that your business is able to continue operating if these risks were to become a reality.

For example, if a manufacturing business is located next to a river or stream that could potentially flood and restrict access to their premises, a business continuity plan would detail how the business would deal with the flood. This could be anything from finding details of temporary premises to arranging robust business insurance- or even making sure your employees can work from home. Any actions that would minimise lost revenue or delayed orders.

Does my business need a business continuity plan?


As a business owner, you are responsible for safeguarding the future success of the company. This includes your business premises, inventory, cash flow, assets and employees.

Putting your business continuity plan into action could mean that your business can continue to operate, serve customers and meet deadlines. It can also be a requirement from some insurance providers, therefore it’s a good idea to check this with your insurer, especially if you haven’t got a BCP.

A business continuity plan can help minimise the effects that can occur due to a threat or a downturn in the market - such as government activities that could affect a number of things including currency strength and future prospects for a business.

If you choose not to have a business continuity plan, you could put your business at further risk. To give you an idea of the risks, we’ve listed some of the potential consequences below:

  • Loss of income and sales
  • Increase in expenses
  • Customer dissatisfaction/damaged reputation
  • Delayed service delivery
  • Regulatory fines
  • Delay/failure to commence future business plans.
  • Permanent loss of premises

What could be considered a risk or threat?


When you’re forming or updating your business continuity plan, it’s important to define what constitutes a major threat to the operation and the future of your business. Here are some of the common incidents that can affect your business:

  • Premises incident – any threat that limits access to your business premises.
  • Infrastructure incident – your electricity, plumbing, broadband or other utilities that may be out of action to an extent that your business can not continue as normal.
  • Staff incident – a family emergency or injury which means a member of staff is unable to work suddenly.

Your BCP should be personalised to how your business operates and cover every possible incident within these three categories. Below are a list of threats to consider which could have a detrimental effect on your business’ operation and productivity.

  • Natural disaster – this could be a flood, earthquake, wildfire, or even a severe storm. Depending on your business’ geographical location, a natural disaster could strike and cause disruption to production, prevent staff coming into work, or even permanent damage to stock or premises.
  • Theft or vandalism – If your business relies heavily on specialist equipment or inventory, theft or vandalism could do serious harm to how your business operates. Even if your insurance covers stolen or damaged goods, there could be a delay until they are replaced or your inventory is replenished again. Your businesses could experience some downtime, which costs money, as you are still required to pay staff.
  • Fire – Not only could a fire be a serious hazard to your workforce and those nearby, but it could also completely destroy your premises and everything it contains. A fire could also prevent entering your premises for a long period of time.
  • Power cut – A lack of power could bring your business to a standstill if you are unable to use equipment, machinery or computers.
  • IT system failure or hacking – It’s crucial to take precautions to ensure customer data is safe. A virus or hack could put your business at risk of losing vital information or having its reputation damaged.
  • Outbreak of disease or infection – This could affect both your staff and customers, therefore a strategy is needed in an instance where you may not have any customers or a key employee that can help you deliver a product or service effectively.
  • Terrorist attack – A terrorist attack is unlikely, however if it does happen, it could affect your staff and how they get to work as well as your customers.
  • Major supplier let down – It’s not just your own business you should consider – a problem with a major supplier would have a serious impact on your business’ operations.
  • Crisis affecting your reputation – An issue with a product that prompts a recall or a sudden drop in the trust or reputation of your business, impacting revenue.

How to write a business continuity plan


First, you could look to do some research on your competitors, your market and the needs of your customer base. Gaining a strong understanding of these areas will prepare you well for getting started on the plan. Following this, you can use a template to write your business continuity plan.

Competitor research can help you to identify your business’ unique selling point and help you understand how well positioned you are to compete in the market if demand for your product or service should drop due to disastrous circumstances.

Continuously monitoring your competitor’s successes, failures and investments in their business can give you an indication to how the market is moving (through current trends) which could help you decide how to position and adapt your business if a disaster were to happen.

Our business continuity plan template


While there’s no exact formula for what a business continuity plan should include; after all it’s personal to your business, its product/service offerings and its people- here are the main categories you may want to include:

1. The purpose of the plan


In this section, you can outline the core reason you’re creating a plan. You can list these reasons as bullet points and describe what the plan is capable of doing. For example, responding to a serious incident or maintaining your key services could be relevant points to include.

2. The remit of the plan


Write an overview of who in this business your plan is intended to affect. Does it cover all departments? Does it require actions to be taken with your suppliers, or special communications with customers?

Outlining the full scope of your plan can help you to make sure that you cover all bases; creating relevant actions or suggestions to give to each member of your team.

3. A risk evaluation


Identifying all of the possible risks and threats to how your business operates is the first stage of a risk evaluation.

Once you’ve identified any threats, you should look at the probability and frequency of them occurring. This will help you prepare accordingly and look to invest in ways that can help your business recover better and quicker, especially if a risk or threat had the potential to frequently impact your business – e.g. your product can be affected by factors like the weather.

It’s also worth considering any secondary risks – risks that can occur after you’ve been affected by a threat or disaster. For example, in the event of a flood, the primary risk is restricted access to premises, while a secondary risk is damage to the building’s electricity which would delay restarting operations.

4. Conduct a business impact analysis


Once you’ve identified the risks your business could be faced with, the next stage is detailing the effect these risks could have. This will help you identify what is needed in order to maintain your business work flow and avoid unnecessary downtime. You should consider the cost and resources or equipment you may need in order to achieve your plan.

5. Develop a recovery strategy


Your recovery strategy outlines how your business will recover during a threat and who is responsible for each step. It should include the following:

  1. Relevant employees contact details of those who will be enacting the plan. It should also set out each person’s role in case of a threat and the steps to take.
  2. Your Insurance provider and contact details.
  3. Your Internet/telephone provider and contact details (as well server information and where files may be backed up).
  4. The resources, equipment and budget needed in order to support the plan.
  5. Details on where employees should go in case of a threat
  6. How you will communicate with employees in case of a threat.

6. Test the plan


Testing your plan is the only true way of knowing it works. It will allow you to identify any loop holes that you may have missed before putting it into action. It will also help you evaluate the priorities of actions and whether you may need more or less people involved in the continuity plan in order to make it fully effective and continue your business operation.

7. Maintain your plan


Your plan should be regularly evaluated and edited in order to stay current. Your business’ threats and risks could change over time, especially during and after an expansion or if you’re moving premises.

If you don’t update it, you could risk having a plan that doesn’t cater for your business and therefore compromises its chances of success if affected by a threat.

The sections of your BCP listed below are most likely to need updating and maintaining:

  • Managers’ responsibilities and contact details
  • Insurance provider and contact details
  • Internet / telephone provider and contact details
  • Hardware and software back-up information
  • Staff contact details

Our business continuity plan example is not sector-specific, so you could look to investigate further what categories you may need to include based on your industry.

If your business is currently being affected by the coronavirus pandemic, check out our other recent blogs for helpful tips and suggestions. You can find information about support available to you on our coronavirus page - but above all we wish you well and hope that you stay safe throughout these challenging times.

How could Esme help?

These are difficult times for many businesses, so it’s important now more than ever, to take good care of yourself and your team. If you’re concerned about your business being impacted financially due to coronavirus and want to understand the support available to you, please visit our website for information.