Twenty-five percent of businesses that close their doors due to disaster never reopen, and a third of small business owners in the U.S. have seen weather impact their business or one they’re connected to. These odds may not seem so bad, especially if your business is located in a fairly stable climate. But Mother Nature isn’t the only assailant you, as a small business owner, need to worry about — today, 70 percent of cyber attacks are aimed at businesses with fewer than 100 employees. Lacking the infrastructure and resources of corporate entities, small businesses can be taken down for good after a disastrous event — unless they have a plan for recovery.

Recovery Through Planning

When disaster strikes, businesses have little time to react and even less time to develop plans, pull together teams, and communicate key information. The businesses that have the easiest recoveries in the wake of a disaster are those that have adequate insurance coverage and have created a plan. While you should discuss your insurance needs with your insurance agent, your business continuity plan is something that you, as a business owner, can get started on right away. Although there will be some variations based on industry and specific business models, the following steps apply to any business:

1. Build Your Business Continuity Team

An effective plan requires input from stakeholders across your organization. Your accounting guru can help assess the financial points, your resident computer expert should develop backup storage and access plans, and your marketing person can determine how to get the word out when disaster strikes. Identify a point person to oversee your plan. Whatever the size of your business, make sure you’re leveraging all of the appropriate expertise. Your insurer can also offer resources for mitigating disaster. Liberty Mutual, for example, offers a number of disaster preparedness resources for an array of interruption-causing threats. 

2. Identify Perils and Capabilities

The next step is to identify potential perils (hurricane, fire, etc.) and the threats they present to your staff and business activities. While you can’t predict every disaster or accident that might result in an outage, you need to understand the impact of these perils and to determine how they might affect your business financially and operationally. Have everyone on your team compile a list of likely negative outcomes in the event of an outage, and then prioritize them — from life-threatening or business-crippling to inconvenient or temporarily avoidable. In addition to understanding how outages might limit your business internally, consider perils that could affect critical vendors or customers.

3. Develop a Plan

How will the business operate after disaster strikes? Your plan should spell out (in writing) specific activities to address the perils your team has identified, define responsibilities, outline means of communication, determine methods for maintaining security and critical functions, and establish time frames for getting things done. Identify the individuals who can help you implement your plan, cross-train personnel for critical roles, and locate alternate equipment, suppliers, or distributors. Develop a communication plan for addressing customer needs or stakeholder concerns. Everyone in the company should know the plan and know what to do in the event of an outage.

And remember, in the event of an outage, you might not be able to enter your location. Make sure your plan is as accessible as it is actionable.

4. Test and Implement the Plan

Once your plan is in place, make sure your team is trained, prepared, and tested. Be ready with evacuation plans, alarm systems, shutdown procedures, offsite server access, and cross-training for key positions. As you roll out and test your plan, learn everything you can from your drills and hypotheticals; determine weaknesses and revise your plan, if necessary, as you implement it.

Staying Ever Ready

Your business will grow, employees will come and go, and roles and processes will change. Make sure you periodically revisit both your insurance policies and your business continuity plan to adjust for these changes — especially following an interruption or a near miss, as these events will expose gaps in preparation. You’ve worked hard to create a successful business, and when it comes to disaster preparedness, an ounce of prevention is worth a ton of cure. 

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