Disaster recovery planning. Business continuity planning. Succession planning. Are these phrases you’re familiar with as a business owner? If not, it’s time to get cozy with these concepts.
Running a business is hard work. At Better Business Bureau Northwest + Pacific, we know how many pieces makeup the overall picture of running an organization: from sales and marketing to hiring and onboarding, and of course, budgeting and financial management. But when things are going swimmingly, it’s also important to consider the “what-if” factors.
This requires a new set of plans that take into account what you, the business owner, would do if your systems went down or you couldn’t access important customer information. What if there was a natural disaster or fire in your building, would your records be safe? Where else are they stored? And don’t forget about planning ahead for the longevity of your business – maybe your company never faces any of these external hurdles, but one it will surely face is being turned over to someone else. Who will that be?
All of these are operational considerations – and the stronger operational planning you do, the more efficient your business becomes.
For many small business owners, it is common to adopt a reactive, triage mentality. When something goes wrong, the goal is staying in business somehow, someway, by relying on outside parties and vendors. Perhaps even depending on employees to execute an emergency plan, which requires significant training beforehand.
Shifting this mentality is critical – by adopting a preventative strategy, you build up business resiliency. This is done by outlining a large number of possible scenarios to be prepared for any type of outage. Consider these tips:
• If you house important personal customer information, ensure you have a separate data center for it. Consider using the cloud if you don’t already and make sure you have proper security steps in place.
• Put redundant technology in place so you do not have to worry about critical documents being inaccessible. There should be more than one access point for these documents – and an off-site way of getting to them.
• Administer testing of your backup systems in accordance with the severity of potential events. Testing is a critical part of business continuity planning to ensure your technology is up to par and your employees understand their roles.
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The key is that we now live in a digital era, so business continuity planning is no longer about protecting physical books and records or the ability to operate a physical infrastructure remotely. Instead, begin to think of business continuity planning through the lens of technology – where is your company and customer information stored, how well is it protected and how will you get to it in the event of an emergency? Answering these questions provides the first part of a larger framework that BBB believes all small business owners need to have in place.
Beyond this, planning involves the people-perspective. It’s important to look at who you’re training, who understands your business infrastructure and who the key decision-makers are. The interruption of a business is not just about the physical infrastructure, it is also about any changes to the assignment of responsibilities and how business owners manage their employees during an interruption. Here are a few best practices:
• Establish a calling tree: Select a couple of employees you would call if there is an outage, assign them employees to call and continue to branch this out until the whole organization is contacted.
• Train all employees on your disaster recovery plan and who has access to what. Security levels matter: Are all of your employees using two-factor authentication? Are they aware of the information that can be disseminated publicly in the wake of an outage? Ensure the continuity plan is well-documented.
Finally, the last piece to consider is governance. No matter the size of your business, it is important to take time to think about who will take over after you. This is called succession planning. This helps to mitigate any risk of the business dissolving or failing once you’re gone.
Succession planning also goes beyond you, the owner. Here’s BBB’s number one tip:
• Think about your star players. Can you afford to lose them? What would happen if you did? Brainstorming these scenarios and outlining next steps helps to prepare the business for employee turnover.
Though addressing these plans may seem premature for smaller business owners, it really is a matter of sound business development strategies. And remember, as your business grows larger, encompassing more customers and their personal information, your tolerance for disruption becomes smaller.
(Danielle Kane is Portland Marketplace Manager for the Better Business Bureau NW+Pacific.)