Disasters come in many shapes and sizes, which means it’s not enough to prepare for natural disasters, but small business owners today also must think about what they will do if they lose key employees, are the victims of fraud or see their computer systems compromised.
“These days businesses aren’t secure because they lock the door at the end of the day,” says Hunter Hoffmann, head of U.S. communications at Hiscox, an insurance company for small businesses. “Data and information is traveling with employees and can be all over.”
When creating a contingency or continuity plan, take into consideration all the risks your business faces. On top of the risks for fire, hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes, what would happen if you lost important employees or their data was hacked and sensitive customer information fell into the wrong hands?
“The first step for small businesses is to actually think about it and attempt to create contingency plans based on scenarios that could happen,” says Marley Majcher, founder and CEO of The Party Goddess!, an event planning firm.
“Most of us are so busy handling the day-to-day that contingency planning goes by the wayside. However, just a little bit of pre-planning can go a long way,” she says.
Loss of critical employees
Your business is only as good as your products and services, and they are only as good as your employees. While some workers are replaceable, others may not be, which is why Grant Cardone, author of If You're Not First, You're Last., says small business owners have to face this reality head on.
"The biggest threat to your business is not those that are the most dramatic or external- catastrophe, fires, theft, terrorism but from within your organization - People. You must plan for losing key people," says Cardone.
According to Cardone, business owners should keep an eye on employees for any signs they may be losing interest in the business or their job. Retaining them should be the ultimate goal, but if they were to go, you need a plan to operate without them.
Fraudulent charges from suppliers
Most small businesses are overworked and extremely busy, so it easy for them to become victims of fraud -- whether it’s from a supplier overbilling or a competitor stealing intellectual property or poaching employees. It may not seem like something that should go into a contingency plan, but Majcher says business owners must have a solution ready ahead of time.
“Contingency plans for losing key clients and practices should be just as important as a plan for tornado season,” says Majcher.
Employees can’t get to work because of a storm or incident
Storms happen all the time and although they may not be devastating, they could prevent employees from getting to the office, which can have a big impact on the business. Because of that, Hoffmann says small business owners have to think about how business will continue if the city or town is shut down because of a storm or some other incident.
“You want to make sure all the employees have the ability to work remotely,” says Hoffmann. But working remotely isn’t enough, you want the employees to be productive so they need to be able to access files, the company network and shared drives.
“With any good plan you want to know how the business will function, what are the assets, who has them and how are they going to be used,” says Hoffmann.
Hand in hand with making work accessible to employee is protecting the data so it isn’t compromised. Experts say to make sure the operating system is up-to-date, the antivirus software is current and there is an ability to remotely wipe mobile devices if they are lost or stolen.
Shutdown of suppliers
Disasters don’t only happen to small businesses, they also impact their suppliers. Frigid weather may shut down the airport where you’re supplies are based, even if its 75 degrees where you are. Because of that, Hoffmann says companies need to figure out backups so their customers can get the things they need or expect. Small businesses are dependent on a lot of other people, so it’s good practice to actively reach out to your vendors ahead of, let’s say a storm, to find out what their contingency plan is. Hoffmann says it’s also worth looking into having backup vendors, especially if it’s for something critical to the business.
Too much business in a short time
Everyone wants to grow sales, but if you do it too quickly or run a promotion the business can’t handle it can actually harm, instead of help the company. That’s why companies have to think about how they will handle an influx of customers in a short amount of time, even if it seems like a dream scenario.
“When companies set up a marketing program or promotion they always think about what happens if it doesn’t work but what happens if it really does work,” says Hoffmann. “Are we able to fulfill these orders? Can we handle the traffic to the Website and the orders?”