How to Create a Business Disaster Recovery Plan

Developing a business disaster recovery plan feels especially relevant these days. If there’s one thing we’ve all learned from the coronavirus pandemic, it’s that things can change in an instant—and those changes can have lasting effects on small business owners.

Case in point: While the U.S. Chamber of Commerce reports that 86% of small businesses surveyed are now either fully or partially open, more than half are still worried about having to permanently close their doors.[1] 

While no one knows what the future holds, creating a business disaster recovery plan can help you prepare your business for whatever comes your way. Having a clear roadmap for moving forward after a disaster could be the thing that makes or breaks your business.

Steps to Take Before Disaster Strikes

It’s impossible to prepare for every possible curveball, but there are some basic steps you can take now to help your business withstand a future disaster. A little forethought could go a long way in getting back on your feet.

Appoint a Disaster Recovery Team

The only way for your business disaster recovery plan to be effective is to give it the time and energy it deserves. Just as you have sub-teams for other aspects of your business, consider creating a task force for building out your recovery plan.

Delegate an organized employee you trust to lead up your team. It’s also helpful to think in terms of the key areas of your business that will have to respond quickly if the unexpected happens. For example, you’ll want a point person from the IT team to create protocols to follow if, say, a hurricane wipes out power for an extended period.

Now is also the time to put together a list of critical contacts that could be your saving grace after an emergency. This can be a basic spreadsheet that lists local hospitals, firehouses, and police stations, along with their phone numbers. Ask yourself who else you’d need to contact in the face of a disaster, then add them to the list.

Make Safety a Priority

First and foremost, keeping yourself and your employees safe is the number one priority. One important responsibility of your disaster recovery team is to create protocols for different natural disasters. Whether you live in an area that’s at risk for earthquakes, hurricanes, or tornadoes, consider running mock drills to teach your team how to proceed with caution. The same goes for active shooter drills. Bringing in an expert from a local emergency management agency could be a great way to learn best practices.

In addition to holding periodic trainings, stocking up on essential supplies isn’t a bad idea, either. If hazardous weather conditions make it unsafe to leave your office or storefront, you and your team will be happy to have bottled water, canned foods, and flashlights on hand to hold you over.

Check Your Insurance Policies

Insurance is one of those things you pay for and hope you’ll never need. Be that as it may, it’s always wise to intermittently check up on your policies, especially if your needs have changed. Do you have the right type of small business insurance to protect you from a natural disaster? What about losses you might incur if your office becomes flooded?

From weather-related property damage to an employee getting hurt during an emergency, it’s always best to check your coverage sooner rather than later. Speaking of, keep an eye out for any gaps in coverage or exclusions that could come back to bite you if left unaddressed.

Routinely Backup Important Data

In the wake of a disaster, the last thing you want is the stress of losing important records. Think first about paper records like employee files, tax forms, critical client paperwork, and the like. Do you have a system in place for backing these things up? If not, it might be time to create a data-entry method in order to digitize these things and save them using some sort of secure cloud software.

It’s also wise to connect with your IT team to discuss ways to prepare for an event where important hardware goes down. Cover all the bases, from a weather event to a cyberattack. What’s the protocol for getting up and running again without losing important data?

Helping Your Business Recover After a Disaster

In an ideal situation, you will have laid the groundwork for your business disaster relief plan before you actually need it. Realistically, though, that’s not always the case. What matters most is responding with clarity and purpose. Here are some actions you can take when the dust settles.

Assess the Damage and Respond Accordingly

If you’re like many small business owners, you’re personally invested in the business. We’re willing to wager that it’s more than just a company—it’s your livelihood. Taking in the aftermath of a disaster can be a lot to process, and your emotions will likely come into play. After acknowledging them, take a deep breath and assess the damage.

Make a list of all physical assets that have been damaged or destroyed, from computers to office furniture to inventory. Look also to the space itself, taking note of things like broken windows or water damage. The next step is to identify how these losses will impact the running of your business. Ask yourself what you’ll need to get over these hurdles. It might be a new space to conduct business or something as simple as a laptop and your data recovery plan—it all depends on the business and the disaster.

No matter what, now is the time to gather up your team and make a plan for picking up the pieces. This may involve reaching out to relevant relief organizations like FEMA or contacting the Small Business Administration to get the ball rolling on relief funding.

Fine-Tune Your Remote Working Capabilities

For some small business owners, the COVID-19 crisis has been a sink-or-swim experience when it comes to working remotely. You’ve likely learned a thing or two during this time, but there’s always room for improvement. A disaster could end up temporarily displacing your team. While you’re securing a new workspace or repairing your business headquarters, pay attention to what your team needs to effectively work from home.

Learning from the pandemic, what pain points did you and your employees encounter? How can you get ahead of that now to prevent reliving them? 

Consider connecting with managers and team leads about what they need in order to manage their teams remotely. Establishing weekly video chats or leveraging a group messaging software like Slack, for example, could make a big difference in lifting morale and helping your team feel connected and supported while working from home. Lean on technology and develop protocols and procedures to set yourself up for success.

Communicate With Your Vendors, Suppliers, and Clients

Once you feel good about your plan for moving forward, you’ll want to turn the spotlight on your clients. Sit down with your marketing and communications team to come up with the right messaging and tone. It goes without saying that it’s always best to lead with authenticity. This is something that will also help humanize you to your customer base, especially if they’re also feeling the repercussions of the same disaster.

Social media can be a great vehicle for connecting with your customers. On top of that, pick up the phone and reach out directly to key clients and accounts. In addition to updating them on the status of your business, asking them how you can be of service to them during a difficult time will likely be met with appreciation.

It’s also a wise move to sync up with your vendors and suppliers so you can better anticipate any challenges that may be on the horizon. Remember: There are a lot of moving parts that go into running a business, especially when recovering from an unexpected disaster. Bring them all together as best as you can. Strategize accordingly, then communicate openly and honestly with your customers.

The Bottom Line

Helping your business find its footing after surviving a disaster isn’t an overnight process, but having the right support systems in place can certainly give you some peace of mind—and help you bounce back stronger than before. The most important thing is taking an eyes-wide-open approach, responding calmly, and asking for help when you need it.

Article Sources:

  1.   U.S. Chamber of Commerce and MetLife: Small Business Coronavirus Impact Poll

Marianne Hayes

Marianne Hayes is a small business owner and longtime freelance writer who’s been covering personal finance for nearly a decade. She specializes in small business news, budgeting, saving, and wealth management. Marianne has written for Forbes, CNBC, LendingTree, Experian, Mint, LearnVest, The Daily Beast, HuffPost, and more. When she isn’t writing about small business and finance, she’s teaching creative writing workshops and curling up with a good book. She lives in Florida with her husband, three daughters, and miniature dachshund.

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