This week's bulletin has been written by guest author, and Sales and Marketing Manager at PlanB Consulting, Roger Broomfield.
In the realm of the entrepreneur, the only equipment you need to conquer the world is a kitchen table, a laptop and a coffee.
Over the last year, I’ve been incredibly fortunate to work alongside many young businesses as part of an entrepreneurial accelerator facilitated by the Royal Bank of Scotland. I’ve seen people take those three things and turn them into multi-million-pound empires. I’ve also seen people armed with the same three things encounter a disruption that they couldn’t recover from and find themselves having to throw in the towel.
I know you probably can’t afford to get a consultant in to help implement the full lifecycle of business continuity – the business owner lifestyle in those first few years often means that any spare cash might just put cheese on your beans on toast. We know - PlanB Consulting started in a similar way, many moons ago.
Here’s my advice: whilst you absolutely should one day get some professional advice (and think about using us, because we’re awesome), you should try some of this right now. It may well save your business if a disruption happens.
Plus, it’ll make you sleep easier at night. Maybe.
1. Plan for a World Without You
This is one for the business owners, especially as they begin to scale their operations.
You’ve poured a lot more than your money into your business. Your blood, your sweat, your tears, your time, your energy – your life. You know everything there is to know about how to do everything your business does and what it needs to stay afloat in choppy waters.
Quick question – is any of it written down anywhere?
Imagine that life takes you offline, starting right now. Bereavement. Injury. A change in circumstance. The reason isn’t important.
Now, look at the team around you, whatever form that takes – employees, partner, family. Could they pick up where you left off if you couldn’t give them the answers? Are they empowered to act on your behalf? Do they know how to access the company bank account or insurance policy?
I’ve asked this question to a lot of start-up owners. It’s usually met with the same answer.
Take some time right now and jot down the critical things, whatever that means to you and your business. Keep it simple. Mobile phone numbers and addresses for all staff. Emergency contacts for each of them. Phone and policy number for your insurance firm. The number of a local taxi firm. Bank account numbers. Anything you think might be useful.
It doesn’t have to be exhaustive - just enough to give them a chance at keeping your dream alive if you are unable to.
2. Don’t Say Yes Immediately
When your options are limited, buy-in from anywhere – especially from a potential supplier or manufacturer – is something you might be quick to say yes to.
That said: in the last year, I’ve seen two separate warehouse fires add months to a waiting list, doubt to a fledging customer base and lead to a complete loss of inventory. Accidents happen. Could they have both been prevented? I couldn’t tell you. Did they take the threat of fire seriously enough? Again, I couldn’t tell you. What I can tell you is that neither business owner had a plan for it happening, and it almost cost them both everything.
You don’t have to be a supply chain expert to ask important questions. Could this supplier take initial actions that could prevent longer-term damage to my business? Have they thought about what could go wrong in this process and have they mitigated the risks where appropriate? From my perspective, what would I do if this arrangement failed?
If you find yourself looking at the outstretched hand of a potential supplier, pause before gripping it. Consider asking them about whether or not they have a business continuity plan, or incident management plan, or risk register. It probably won’t excite you - not by any stretch - but it’s important. Read their documents and shake things. See what comes loose.
3. Pack Your Bag
If the office is on fire, odds are none of your team are stopping to grab their coat, their keys, their wallet or their laptop on the way out. Evacuation good practice says you shouldn’t stop and pick them up, either. From a business continuity point of view, however, that situation can cause some headaches – unless you prepare for it.
Having a backpack or a holdall by the exit that has some bare essentials for business operations probably won’t be the make or break between business survival and having to call it a day. It will, however, make the initial response and recovery phase that little bit easier.
A few things we’ve seen that have worked for others:
- Petty cash – for taxis, locksmiths, caramel lattes etc.
- Wind up torch – because batteries run out and dark places scare people.
- Emergency blanket – in case it’s cold.
- Ponchos – in case it’s wet.
- A hard copy of that ‘plan on a page’ you wrote earlier – because keeping it in your desk drawer is no good if you can’t get back in your office.
- An encrypted USB – insurance documents, key log-in details, anything you might want to hand within the first instance.
Also, if you see an employee with their keys or wallet on a table, consider encouraging them to keep them in their pockets. It could make everyone’s life that little bit easier if you have to exit stage left in a hurry.
4. Pull the Fire Alarm (Metaphorically)
Want a quick-fire way to verify whether your company needs to have a think about business continuity?
Grab a whiteboard, take half an hour out of everyone’s day, think of a quick scenario and pitch it to the team.
Don’t worry too much about the technical ‘but that would never happen’ aspects or the scenario particulars. Keep it to broad brush strokes only. Protestor action means you’re stuck in the office for the next 24 hours. What would we do? Localised flooding means after today, you can’t access the building for a month. What would we do? Our business owner is hospitalised after a road traffic incident and is now in a coma. What would we do?
It doesn’t have to be a scenario filled with doom and gloom either. Pretend your business partner wins the lottery and yells their resignation with immediate effect over the pop of a champagne cork if it makes the learning any easier.
We tried this just the other day (the whiteboard bit, not the champagne resignation bit). After being told the office would experience a five-minute internet outage, we took the opportunity to test our own procedures for a loss of IT infrastructure and communications. We reached for our plan, conducted the initial actions and checked if we could carry them out. Those thirteen minutes of internet outage yielded key observations for our own business continuity management system. At the very least, it was more useful for the business than us all quickly having a scroll of social media or making cups of tea.
I’m not saying you should walk into the office on Monday and send your workforce home with only the equipment they have, telling them that they cannot come back into the office for a week. But then again, wouldn’t that be an interesting learning exercise?