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For many business owners, the coronavirus pandemic hit fast and hard. Most businesses were not prepared for the directives that followed once COVID-19 took hold—mandatory storefront closures, consumer lockdowns - quick operational shifts were needed to accommodate social distancing and contactless transactions.

Not all business owners, however, were impacted equally. Firms that had a business continuity plan in place were better positioned to survive the adverse effects of the pandemic. Those that took steps to implement a crisis-management plan not only better adapted to the global crisis but have also found themselves more resilient as they forge on in an uncertain economy.

Learning how to create a crisis-management plan for business continuity can help safeguard your business against future challenges.

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Importance of being prepared

There are different types of emergencies that can impact business continuity — and many of them are not on the scale of a pandemic. Along with global health events, crises such as natural disasters, theft, cyber-attacks and fire can all disrupt the normal operations of small businesses without any warning.

The results of these emergencies can be catastrophic for unprepared business owners without a crisis-management procedure: employees may not be able to come to work, customers may not be able to patronize businesses, you may not be able to sell certain products, supply chains may be disrupted and the health and safety of all stakeholders may be at risk.

For some businesses, business continuity planning can be the difference between surviving a major event and having to close your doors. A strong plan can help you minimize downtime, keep employees safe, preserve your reputation and, generally, help with your recovery.

Steps to create a business continuity plan

The first step in helping your business prepare for unforeseen events is recognizing the importance of a crisis-management action plan. Then, it is about learning how to actually create a crisis-management plan. It is worth putting in the work to do so: the business continuity management plan that you draw up will be your blueprint to get through the toughest times.

1. Assess potential risks

A large part of disaster management is understanding where your business is vulnerable in times of crisis. You should identify how your business could be interrupted in several different crisis scenarios, and which specific functions, processes or operations would experience a disruption in these cases.

Here, it is important to leverage the knowledge of all the leaders on your team; having a 360-degree view of your operations is the only way to know that you are creating a comprehensive plan that addresses all scenarios. They can help identify blind spots as you draw up crisis management procedures for them.

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2. Go through each scenario to determine impact

You should be planning for many different types of crises with a business continuity plan. For example, you may want to plan for a scenario where you have to close all your physical stores to foot traffic and another where you have to recall one of your products. Both these situations would have a major impact on your business, but the impact would not be the same. A good business continuity plan understands the effects of a crisis on a scenario-by-scenario basis. By analyzing each potential disaster on its own, you will be able to uncover how your business may be impacted in different ways, which will enable you to better manage the situation.

3. Identify a contingency scenario

Once you have gone through all the areas of risk exposure for your business and understood which are likelier and which are more serious than others, it is time to put contingency plans in place. For example, if workers cannot come into work, you will need to know the alternative you will enact and the procedure for it. Or, say you are the victim of a cyber-attack — you will need to have a procedure for who is going to help you, how and when.

Even though you cannot possibly go through every potential scenario, the more groundwork you can lay in advance, the more likely your business continuity plan will be effective.

4. Appoint a crisis management team

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Many companies that successfully navigate disaster scenarios put in place a group to spring into action in times of crisis. Each member of the team oversees a different part of your action plan and is responsible for communicating procedures and directions to the rest of the workforce.

The way you will want to form your crisis management team, and whom you would like to be on it, will be unique to your business. Designing it specifically with your operations in mind will help make your disaster management planning more effective.

5. Notify stakeholders

Once you have plans in place, it is important that you let everyone across your organization know that you have a business continuity plan in place. It may not be necessary to go through every plan with every team member, but relevant stakeholders should have a sense of this plan and know where to find instructions should the plan ever need to be implemented.

6. Keep updating

It is important to constantly revisit your business continuity plan and crisis management preparation to ensure that it is up to date, and that it considers any major changes in the way you do business.

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Here, communication is very important. Part of your business continuity plan will be letting your stakeholders know the procedures you have in place for crisis management. However, you will also need to consider how you will keep stakeholders informed of developments amid an emergency during which you will be implementing your plan.

Although it is impossible to foresee every type of crisis and know when they might affect you, advance preparation is key to securing the future of your business. The importance of a business continuity plan cannot be overstated: understanding how your business will react in a crisis can better position you to get through challenging times — and even come out the other side stronger.

Content produced by American Express Canada. The Globe and Mail was not involved in its creation.

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