In the northern hemisphere at least, winter is now upon us and this is time for all business owners to think about how well their business can cope if the weather turns bad. In the UK, we have had a succession of very bad winters and all size of organisations have suffered. In 2009, the snow is reported to have cost UK business in excess of £1bn. This rose to £6bn over the winter of 2010 and in the long winter of 2012/2013 businesses reported lost £500m a day.
Now, obviously these numbers include huge losses suffered by major organisations, but for most small to medium enterprises there was noticeable pain. The Federation of Small Businesses reported that in March 2013 alone, the snowfall cost small businesses an average of £1,580 and an average of 2.2 days trading were lost. For some, another bad winter might be enough to put them out of business entirely.
However, it doesn’t have to be this way.
Sensible business practices and a view to ensuring “business continuity” is in place can mitigate most, if not all, the problems associated with bad weather conditions.
This doesn’t mean you need to go through a full blown BS25999 / ISO22301 process and produce reams of documents covering what your business will do if there is a volcano or aliens invade. However it does mean you should take a good look at your business and see what you would need to do in the event of a problem. As the saying goes, failing to plan is planning to fail and if your business is important to you, you should plan to keep it going.
Five key steps to protecting your business
At a very high level, there are five steps you can walk through to make sure you have considered the most likely and most relevant issues in protecting your business.
- Location. Think about where your business is located – not just your head office, but any important sales locations, warehouses, depots etc. For example: If you are on a flood plain, you need to anticipate being flooded. Once you have a good understanding of this, you will have a clearer idea of what risks your business faces.
- Services. Next you need to consider what services are essential to your day to day running. Can your business function if the telephone lines go down? Do you depend on an internet connection for all your activities? Do you have your own electricity generators? Can your offices remain open if the water mains burst? When you identify what is important you can begin to plan how your business will react to likely problems.
- Supply Chain. Once you are happy with your location and services, you need to consider what impact supply chain problems will have on your day to day operations. If you have “Just in Time” supply strategy, you need to know you can cope if your suppliers are unable to deliver. A lot of this may highlight a need to check supplier contracts and carry out robust assessments of your suppliers.
- Workforce. It may seem obvious, but making sure your employees and contractors can do the job you are paying them to do is often overlooked. It may seem strange to do this after the earlier steps but this doesn’t indicate it is less important. Once you understand the risks your business faces and what you will need to do to keep office locations / warehouses (etc.) open, you will have a clearer idea of how best to manage your workers. Things to consider include allowing your workforce to work from home or arranging a way of getting people to alternative locations. All of this must be driven by your business needs and planning ahead gives you the greatest chance of getting it right.
- Infrastructure. The last in our list of high level concerns is the impact any infrastructure problems might have on your plans. By now you should have an idea of what risks your locations face, what services are required and where you need your suppliers and workforce. From this, you can now get a picture of what problems with national and local infrastructure may impact your business. Here you need to consider things like your employees ability to get to the locations – in the March 2013 snowfalls lots of roads and train routes were closed and this can significantly impact your plans to send employees to remote locations. Ideally you should try to make sure your business continuity plans are not reliant on vulnerable routes. Additionally, you should consider how infrastructure issues will impact your customers – if you rely on an out of town sales location, consider how you can cope if snow cuts off the access roads for a couple of days.
When you have gone through each of the five steps, you will have an excellent idea of how your business can be impacted by unexpected situations. This doesn’t mean you can sit back and relax – now you need to make sure your business continuity plans make sense, address the issues and, most importantly, actually work.
In an ideal world, you will test your business continuity plans by playing out every possible scenario in real time, moving your employees around. However, for most small businesses this is overkill and will actually cause more harm than it will prevent.
This is no excuse, though, to not sit down with key members of your organisation and talk through the plan, looking for problems and challenging assumptions. This approach allows you to cover off dozens of situations for almost no cost – just a bit of time.
No one can really predict the future and the weather remains as unpredictable now as it was 2000 years ago but there is no excuse for not planning to keep your business up and running. Good planning can, for small businesses, be the difference between success and failure. Even if we have the mildest winter on record, it isn’t a waste of time.
If you want to know more about this, please get in touch and our security consultants will help you build a tailor-made business continuity plan and then work with you to make sure it is robust and tested.