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Are You Prepared For The Unexpected To Happen?

As a business owner you are probably so focused on running your business day to day that you don't have time to think about potential disruptions to your business. However what would you do if the unexpected happened? The unexpected could be anything from a wide range of possibilities including your website may get hacked into, your premises may be flooded, a key member of staff may need to take time off at short notice, your equipment may break down, your broadband connection may have a fault, your computer system may fail or a key supplier may go into administration. If you are not prepared the unexpected could have disastrous consequences for your business. So what can you do now that will help you if the unexpected does happen?

Here are some tips that you may want to consider so that you are ready for the unexpected:

Identify the potential crises that may arise. What could happen that would disrupt your business? We have given some examples above but there are many more. To help with this consider your key business functions, the business assets and equipment, your supply chain, what your business is dependent on to service its customers, your location, your staff, things that have happened to other businesses and anything else that could prevent your business running smoothly. Understanding what could happen is the first step to planning what to do.

Understand how these may impact your business. What impact would each of these crises have on your business? Take each crisis in turn and understand the implications e.g. what would happen to your business if your computer systems were down for a week. By going through each potential issue you will understand their potential impact on your business.

Assess the likelihood of each arising. Consider the likelihood of each of the different crises arising. This will enable you to gain perspective on the likely risks and to take decisions on what actions and steps you want to take now and what you are comfortable to leave and deal with if they happen.

Take steps now to minimise the risk. What can you do now to minimise the risk of the unexpected happening? Think about the steps you can take now that may prevent a problem later. These may include better health and safety procedures, alarm systems on your premises, virus protection on your computer systems, supplier financial checks, staff training, password and computer security procedures and regular maintenance of equipment.

Take action now that may help if the unexpected happens. What can you do now that may help your business if you have a problem? Think about the actions you can take now that may help you if the unexpected happens. These may include off site backups for computer systems, databases and websites, testing recovering your systems from these backups, insurance for the key business risk areas including business interruption, staff training, keeping contact databases up to date, alternative premises to use in an emergency, securing additional suppliers, alternative processes to follow and developing a contingency plan.

Develop a contingency plan. If the unexpected happened tomorrow what would you do? It is better to have a plan already in place than to think about it after a problem occurs. Prepare a contingency plan that details how you would handle a crisis in your business. This does not have to be an exhaustive document but relevant to your business. It may include who would be responsible for decision making and the different tasks in a crisis, a list of all key contacts and their contact details, the process you will follow in any crisis and what you will get up and running first in the business. Distribute your plan to all the people who need access to it and keep it up to date.

Responsibilities need to be clear. One of the most important parts of handling a crisis is people understanding their responsibilities, therefore it is critical to plan this in advance and include in your contingency plan. It may be that the business owner takes charge, the sales and marketing manager looks after customer contact, the public relations consultant deals with the media etc. However what if any of these people is away who will take their place?

Communication is key. In any crisis it is critical that the relevant people are informed quickly and accurately of the situation. Do you have up to date contact details for all your key contacts? These may include staff, shareholders, suppliers, service providers, insurers, customers, consultants, emergency services and anyone else you may need to contact if your business is interrupted. You may also have an order of priority as to who is contacted first. These contact lists would be part of your plan as scrambling around for this information after something has happened will delay your handling of the situation. Also your existing communication systems may not work so consider how you will communicate in a crisis?

Ask experts for help. The above may seem quite onerous but it will depend on the size of your business and the critical risk areas. You may feel that you need help with some areas of the above. There are experts in the area of contingency planning that can help you but you can also consult other experts e.g. insurers, IT suppliers, website hosts, service providers.

Test your plan. It is a good idea to test your plan, as finding out it doesn't work before the unexpected happens is much better than realising it doesn't work after the event.

It is your business and you will need to assess what you need to do as regards contingency planning, but hopefully the above has got you thinking about different things that you may want to consider.

Author: Liz Makin
Published: May 2011

Through Makin It Happen - Coaching, Mentoring & Stress Management, Liz Makin provides personalised business coaching, business mentoring and stress management services to business owners, directors, managers and professionals. If you are looking for a business coach, business mentor or help with stress please contact Liz on 01780 765270 or email Liz@makinithappen.co.uk to arrange a free consultation session.


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