An introductory guide to business contingency planning

Having a back-up plan in place is essential. In case of emergency, stay in safe hands with this beginners' guide to contingency.

01 August 2018

Businesses of all sizes are susceptible to unforeseen events and situations which can affect their financial health, professional image and day-to-day operations – from natural disasters to data theft. Because of this, implementing an effective continuity plan is crucial in securing assets, managing crises and making sure the business can continue moving forward.

Here, we offer practical guidance on how small and growing businesses can create and implement an effective contingency plan, helping them protect their physical and professional assets.

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Contingency planning first steps

Immediate crises and operational hiccups can distract from major events, with the potential to shut down your business for hours, days or, in worst cases, indefinitely. Taking the time to map out a contingency plan will pay dividends should such disasters occur, so here are a few pointers to get you started.

Consider the main risks to your business

The first step in creating a bespoke contingency plan is to identify the potential risks to your business. Depending on the size of your company and its sector, there are many things which could affect day-to-day operations, including:

  • Property damage caused by physical disasters, such as flooding.
  • Personnel issues, such as the death of a key employee or stakeholder.
  • Data theft and IT security breaches.
  • Physical theft of company assets.
  • Legal problems.
  • Major stock issues, such as a partner or supplier going bust.
  • Technical problems, such as Wi-Fi issues or frequent electricity outages.
 

 

Think carefully about the risks to your business and identify key areas which are most vulnerable or likely to cause problems. This will help focus your contingency measures, ensuring you don’t waste money, time and resources future-proofing any unnecessary aspects of the organisation.

Structure your contingency plan in stages

An effective contingency plan should address the three key stages of business continuation, including immediate measures, interim procedures and the steps needed to rebuild what’s been lost to get it back up to full strength. Organising this plan into stages will help you manage the crisis and ensure that key contingency measures are delegated to the right people.

Here are a few examples of the kind of measures needed for each stage of contingency.

  • Immediate measures– The things you must do right away, including calling suppliers, customers and staff to let them know what’s going on; implementing IT back-up support; and evacuating the premises.
  • Interim procedures – The measures needed to keep the business going following an incident, including keeping customers, suppliers and staff in the loop; liaising with your insurance company; assessing your financial stability; and restoring IT systems and security to begin rebuilding digital assets.
  • Rebuilding and recovery– The process of rebuilding what the business has lost, including increased marketing efforts; employing specialist consultants to help manage problems and future-proof key areas; investing in better security; and delegating key recovering tasks to personnel.

These are just a few basic examples of the types of measures you may need to implement to sustain your business during a crisis. Of course, how your business responds will depend on the incident, the sector and how badly your assets have been affected.

Planning at a table


Essentials to cover in your contingency plan

It’s essential that your business knows how to react to a crisis and adapt to mitigate loss of assets. Here, we list the key areas you should consider when drawing up contingency measures – from data theft to an evacuation plan.

Evacuation plan – Ensuring that all personnel can evacuate the premises in an emergency is one of the first things you should draw up in your contingency plan. While most businesses with staff should have an evacuation procedure anyway, it’s important that this is published as part of a contingency plan, so that all members of staff are aware of it.

Data protection – Data is an invaluable asset for many businesses, so you have to take steps to protect it. Ask yourself: could the business continue as normal if data was lost, and what impact would this have? A robust data protection plan is needed to keep information secure, so make sure you back up all relevant company data and have recovery provisions in place.

Communication procedure – Different staff, personnel and stakeholders may be affected by an incident, as well as customers, suppliers and partners. List all the people who will need to be contacted in an emergency, as well as the contact details for essential services such as plumbers, electricians or your internet provider. It’s also a good idea to keep the details of your insurance policy handy, so that you can make arrangements following an incident.

 

Theft and security – Make sure your contingency plan includes measures for protecting and maintaining intellectual property and company assets, including data, machinery and sensitive customer information. Back up all valuable assets and consider keeping contingency copies off the premises, so that business can continue in the event of a cyber-attack or physical theft. You should also consider a legal strategy to cover the business should sensitive data be stolen or leaked.

Mismanagement and fraud procedures – One of the most difficult negative contingencies to manage is fraud and mismanagement committed by personnel. Often, such crises can have a negative impact on a business’ public image, and can lead to ill-feeling among other members of staff. To combat these problems, draw up a series of checks and procedures, as well as an action plan, that will help prevent mismanagement issues, and liaise closely with your staff to solve potential issues before they can have a negative impact.

Look closely at your insurance policy – Ensuring that your business has adequate insurance cover is crucial in mitigating the risk of financial loss in an emergency, and this is particularly true for growing businesses with an expanding workforce. As well as general protection against theft, fire and natural disasters such as flooding, you should make sure your policy includes loss of intellectual property due to a cyber-attack, and financial provision covering the loss of key stakeholders.

Tip – some insurance providers may offer reduced premiums if you can prove you have drawn up a comprehensive contingency plan.


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Contingency plans for small businesses

While the deck may seem stacked, building a contingency plan for a small business is actually relatively straightforward since there are fewer employees and elements to consider. The size of such businesses allows them to make responsive, swift changes to market shifts, though their lack of assets to rely on does set them at a disadvantage. If this is the case, the contingency plan should rely on protecting these assets as well as anything that’s required for driving income.

How to implement the plan in a difficult situation

When you’re deep in the crunch of a contingency situation, timing can be difficult. A rough timeline can help with the progress of your results, while giving yourself deadlines towards the steps of your contingency will also prove beneficial. What’s most important is keeping the company solvent; the business is now in survival mode, and every penny goes towards its recovery.

Creating a time-frame to get you back to your pre-contingency conditions is key. Identify how much inventory needs to be sold in that timeframe. If you’ve sold certain assets, know how much it will help and for how long. In bad situations like this, buying the business a year of recovery time is helpful, and will usually give you enough time to get back on your feet.

Gazprom Energy is a leading and award-winning business energy supplier, helping thousands of small businesses manage their gas and electricity contracts. To find out more about what we can offer your business, visit the homepage or call us today on 0161 837 3395.

The views, opinions and positions expressed within this article are those of our third-party content providers alone and do not represent those of Gazprom Energy. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. Gazprom Energy accepts no liability for any errors, omissions or representations.


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