It’s been an eventful year for the UK, and London in particular, with a succession of high-profile incidents reminding us how situations can change without warning. From terrorism to fire, extreme weather to cyber-attacks; it gets you thinking about how your business would cope if it was affected by something similar. Would your staff know what to do? Would you be able to keep trading?
It was this realisation that drove me to start building a contingency plan for my business, The Brew, a chain of five co-working spaces across East London. We’ve grown quickly over the last five years and when that happens, you can end up with a situation where a lot of critical information exists only in your head. As the founder, you always know what’s going on and how to do things, but what would happen if you weren’t there?
Putting a contingency plan in place not only gives you the peace of mind that everything could continue in your absence, or without key members of your team. It also makes for a better run and more organised business. Forcing yourself to have everything documented centrally builds a greater awareness of roles and responsibilities across the organisation, while also making holidays less of a challenge!
Having just been through the process with The Brew, here’s my advice on the steps involved:
What are your biggest risks: Start off by identifying the key risks that could affect your business, focusing on those that are most likely to happen. There isn’t much value in preparing for very rare events, as the chances of being affected are very small. We decided that the biggest realistic issues we could face would be the internet going down, or being hit by a cyber-attack. We would also have serious problems if numerous employees were unable to get into work for some reason. With over 2,000 members, that would leave us with an operational and communication headache on our hands.
Document everything: Put together an operational guide for your business, outlining everything you would need to know to keep it running, such as who your suppliers are, how and when they are paid, and everything else that happens on a daily/weekly/monthly basis. As part of the same process, not only outline the roles and responsibilities of every senior member of staff, but scope out the daily and weekly tasks, so a replacement could assume those responsibilities very easily.
For example, we have fully documented our website, which is one of our most important marketing channels, so other employees could find out who hosts it, designs it and how is it updated etc… These documents prove to be a great handbook for new members of staff coming in, and ensure your processes remain consistent. We also keep copies offsite in case our premises aren’t accessible, following an incident.
Have back-ups in place: Like most businesses, the internet is absolutely critical to what we do, so we have multiple back-ups in place in case our normal supplier went down. Cyber-attacks and data breaches are one of the biggest threats at the moment, which means backing up company data every day is non-negotiable, ensuring copies are kept offsite. So if, for example, a ransomware attack shut down your systems – as happened to thousands of businesses recently with the WannaCry virus – you would know that all your files are safe elsewhere.
Alternatively, keeping files stored in the cloud will ensure they can always be accessed. Another key contingency plan for the internet is ensuring every single member of staff knows the basics of where the router is, how to restart it, who your supplier is, what your customer number is etc. This information can be in your handbook (kept offline) so that if there are any issues, anyone in the business can work on restoring your connection and minimising any downtime.
Have a crisis plan in place: You should also have a plan in place for emergencies, including employee roles in such a situation and the key actions that would need to be taken. I remember following the 7/7 attacks in London, I suddenly realised that we didn’t have all the contact numbers of staff easily accessible anywhere, so we now have those ready, as well as next of kin.
Work through the likely progression of events, in terms of how you would communicate to staff and customers, whether via the website, social media, or directly. Also run through the absolute essentials you would need to keep operating, even if it is at a limited level. With The Brew, our members rely on us to keep their businesses up and running, so it would be unacceptable for us to be unprepared.
Nobody likes to think about being hit by something that could derail their business, but it’s a vital part of the job. And once you have a plan in place, you’ll benefit from the peace of mind of knowing you’re prepared, whatever the world throws at you.
Andrew Clough is founder and managing director, The Brew