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Disaster recovery advice for your business

How well you handle an emergency situation can make or break your business. In this article, you'll find lots of support for creating your disaster recovery strategies.

You will learn

  • What services do you need?
  • Are there alternatives ways to sell?
  • How to update your customers

When flooding or other disasters occur, it is important that businesses are able to maintain their critical operating functions. Planning ahead to minimise disruption can often have significant business benefits at relatively little cost, but what happens if you do not have a disaster recovery plan in place? For most small businesses, the next steps can be crucial in continuing their business.

Maintain 'business as usual' during an emergency

During disaster recovery it will be necessary to continue operations as much as possible. Your key aim will be to ensure your business continues operating and that you can retain an income. What is the minimum you need to continue trading? Consider things like premises, staff, stock, tools, communication and cash. Depending on your situation, you will need to ask yourself some key questions.

The questions below are aimed mainly at small businesses and sole traders, but some of the principles apply equally to larger companies. They are in no particular order or priority, as they will depend on individual circumstances.

Is it beneficial to seek advice and counselling?

Do not hold back on seeking professional advice and support. Talk to a business advisor and possibly other businesses who have had previous experience. If time permits, and if it is practical, consider forming a peer group with other businesses in the immediate area.

Do you need temporary premises?

Consider whether re-opening is a viable option, or whether you need to relocate to temporary accommodation (business centre, hotel, home, market stall). Make sure you and staff can work effectively from any temporary premises.

Will a virtual office be beneficial for maintaining a professional image?

For telephone answering, mail forwarding, or other office services. This can be particularly useful for a service-based business.

What essential services do you need (communications, energy, water)?

Severe disruption may make it impossible to trade from flooded premises. How long before services can be resumed, can ‘mobile services’ do the job or do you need to move? Do not forget relevant health, safety and environmental requirements.

Does your business rely on transport?

If your service and delivery vehicles are unusable, consider whether you need them short-term, or if you need to hire.

Can you maintain adequate cash-flow?

Understanding your cash-flow is essential at any time, but even more so during an emergency.

Are the right staff, skills and tools in place to maintain key business functions?

Make sure staff are allocated the most appropriate roles in the current situation, they understand what is required of them and they are appreciated. Some staff may excel with skills you were not aware of and some may need to take up other activities. They will all need tools to do the job and make sure they can be paid.

Have you got sufficient stock to see you through?

You will need sufficient stock to ensure customers will still be interested in buying. However, are there also opportunities to dispose of damaged stock?

Are there alternative ways to sell your products?

eCommerce website, online auction/sales tools could provide a short-term solution if premises are a longer-term problem. If this is an unfamiliar area for you, ensure you take advice from a professional and reputable service provider.

Can you still provide an adequate level of service?

This may be the mainstay of your business (trade services) or a ‘nice to have’ (customer service). Although many customers may be loyal and empathise with your circumstances, if you cannot satisfy their needs, they will go elsewhere. Deciding which is important to your business will determine priorities.

Do you have ways of taking payment?

If you are heavily dependent upon card payments then ensure you have facilities in place, or that you fully understand implications of not being able to offer this service. Can you offer alternatives to card payments?

Are your business records fully accessible?

If not, you will need to decide which records are essential and a priority for short-term trading. Consider customer information, financial, stock control, invoicing, or creditors/debtors, to name but a few.

Do your customers know what is happening?

Even if you have estimated that you are going to be out of action for a few months, customers are more likely to be loyal if you keep them informed (newspapers, mailshots, email, word of mouth). Let your customers know what is happening as soon as you have a recovery plan. Prioritise contact with customers particularly if there is ongoing work that is affected.

A final note about the future

It may take time, but once you are back on track, give some serious thought and take time out to develop recovery and continuity plans for the future.

Useful links

Department for Business Innovation and Skills Business Support Helpline: 0300 456 3565

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Written by:

Colin Grimston

Business coach

Email Address:

Telephone: 01845 578567