What’s In Your Contingency Plan?

scooterWhether you’re running a business selling products to customers or delivering services to clients there will be a number of aspects of the way you operate that are key to your ability to function. Most risk management plans or contingency plans focus on the big problems such as strikes, natural disasters or being let down by key suppliers or customers (not paying). These situations are really bad and concentrate the mind when business owners are forced to think them through, perhaps by a business coach or, unfortunately after one of them has occurred. What is often overlooked is the potential impact to day-to-day operations of seemingly small-scale problems.

There are many differences between businesses that provide services and those that manufacture and/or sell products but in terms of a company’s ability to keep operating what is key is the delivery of customer and client satisfaction. In order to do this you need to be in regular communication with your customers and clients so that in times of difficulty you know your messages will get through.

In practical terms there are probably three areas most businesses need to pay attention to in order to maintain operations. Any of these being unavailable for even a short period of time will mean real difficulty in delivering customer/client satisfaction.

Loss of Premises

An earthquake or fire might demolish a company premises but an infestation of ants or a problem with a neighbour’s property can have the same effect of preventing you from getting into your place of work. What’s more, your customers and clients will be prevented too, even if only temporarily. The nature of the problem is irrelevant here as it’s not worth trying to predict every possibility. What businesses need to concentrate their efforts on what they need to do to keep operating at what might be a reduced level and for a short period of time. So, it might be operating out of rented premises while your own is sorted out or working more closely with clients. You may need to make sure any deliveries are delayed or sent to the temporary location and ensure you have a back-up of any databases and contact lists off-site (good practice not everyone adheres to unfortunately).

A bizarre twist on this example happened to me a few years back when I was working at two sites and regularly commuting between the two of them. Failing to get parked at either site was a major problem on a few occasions and to avoid getting clamped at the local supermarket I visited a shopping mall and was able to get some work done in a café while drinking coffee. Access to your premises for your employees and customers/clients may be key to your business and it’s not just the building itself that you have to consider.

Loss of Data

This is so critical and so obvious these days I nearly didn’t bother adding it as I’d assumed everyone would be doing something about it. Chances are most businesses from the smallest self-employed tradesman to the larger service providers will have computers full of information, much of which may be their own intellectual property. Systems that back-up data are easily installed but how often are they exercised? If the first time you have to retrieve backed up data is the first time it has been done at all then there is the real risk that a mistake might be made. Far better to practice when you know all is safe.

Don’t forget non-IT related data storage either. Employee note-books can and often do contain a tremendous amount of invaluable information.

Loss of Internet Access and Communications

There must be some businesses out there that don’t use the internet in some form or another but very very few since regulatory authorities the world over are requiring more and more of their returns to be made on-line. So, for the vast majority of businesses having access to the internet is to some degree or other a necessity. So what happens if that access is lost for whatever reason? An equipment failure within a business’s environment can be fixed as soon as it’s discovered and service contracts for IT support have varying levels of response.

A failure that is outside of the company environment is far harder to deal with and influence the correcting of. Back-ups of web-sites etc. will be taken care of by whoever manages the site for you so doesn’t really need to be worried about in this instance. If you don’t have access to the internet you won’t be getting e-mails and perhaps direct orders. You have to assume the problem will be fixed – always make sure you report that your internet is down, never assume it’s commonly known. You just need to get another way of accessing the internet for a short time. Expensive as though it can be using mobile internet access can be a suitable short term fix as is sharing a neighbouring company’s site and network. For service-based businesses it’s equally possible to work virtually, it may just be an extreme version of what happens normally. This issue is likely to be more of a problem for smaller businesses (and home based ones) that perhaps don’t have sophisticated IT support arrangements with specialist suppliers.

Communications failure in terms of telephony ought to be fairly simple to deal with provided customers/clients are made aware of new/temporary numbers. Ensuring web-sites and social networks are kept up-to-date of the current situation is key to keeping customers, clients, employees, suppliers and the wider public aware of what is happening when things go wrong. So make sure you know how to update those channels in more than one way even if it’s updating your Twitter steam by mobile phone.

So, in addition to putting in place contingency plans for the major headline making problems, businesses must put in place measure to cover what is normally taken for granted. It doesn’t have to be expensive and paid for up front, but each business must know what it needs to do should they be unfortunate to experience one of these difficulties.