Planning for the worst
“Plan for the worst, hope for the best” is a phrase I’ve often heard from family members as we go through life. There is no better place to ensure you can push through the rough times than in your business. What would happen if your office burnt down? What would you do in the case of a business partner passing away?
Whilst we try not to think of the negatives in life, in order to protect ourselves, we could be simply burying the worry and anxiety rather than looking at it head on, and creating plans to cope with such circumstances.
In this episode I will introduce you to business continuity planning.
We will unpack:
- Why you should be prepared
- What to include
- Documenting your plan
- Services and tools
- Testing your plan
Documenting your plan
Once you have listed your operational requirements, you need to prioritise and plan. Your planning document should contain at minimum:
- List of action plans with fast access index
- Roles and responsibilities
- Contact details
- Break down of steps per action with owners
- Relevant contact / access details per action
- Full test schedule
Tip: Unlike huge corporations, make this a document you can fast access and index. Having a digital version that is searchable is a huge benefit.
Most people don’t like thinking about these sorts of things. In fact I am sure folks on this call or the replay may be feeling uncomfortable or have decided this isn’t for them.
Let’s remind ourselves of a few things:
- Business continuity protects our clients
- It is an amazing sales tool
- It shows we care for our clients and our teams
- It greatly reduces stress during a difficult time
Lee Jackson: Welcome to The Agency Trailblazer podcast. This is your host Lee and on today’s show we are talking business continuity. That means what would you do if the bleep hits the fan and please stay tuned because this is actually going to help you in a significant way. Having a business continuity plan is something that will allow you to stop worrying about the worst thus crack on with your business. But it’s also something that you could be using to help you win business as well in the future. So before we go into that, first of all, can I recommend that you join up with our Facebook group? You can check that out over on agencytransformation.com/group because you can join us in a conversation and unpack what you are using for business continuity.
So what is business continuity? A business continuity plan is essentially a plan for different things that could go wrong. For example, your entire office burning down and all of your laptops being ruined. So a business continuity plan for that would be along the lines of ensuring that there are backups, ensuring that you can get fast access to new tech and all of that good stuff. So essentially a business continuity plan means you are ensuring you can do something about some of these really disastrous events thus carrying on as a business. The reason you should be prepared is so that A you can carry on with your business. But also it helps to remove some of that unconscious worry that we probably all carry around with us in some way. What if this was going to happen? What would we actually do? Another reason as well that you should have some sort of plans prepared would be if you are making a sale. Businesses want to know that you are going to be there for them, that you can support them etc and if you are not there as a company or if the worst was to happen to you as a company, how would you be able to sustain yourself and continue to support that client? So for us, when we have been making proposals, we’ve been able to establish what our business continuity plans are to our potential clients so that they can understand how we will continue to support them through the worst. What would we do if our office was destroyed? What would we do if key members of staff were no longer available, etc. What do we have in place to ensure that we can continue as a business so that we can continue to support those clients? And that for us has been a significant sales tool, especially in some of the industries that we’re dealing with, where that sort of continuity planning is absolutely essential.
You may be wondering now, well, I get it, I need to plan for the worst, but what should I be including in this plan? Let me first of all give you a few examples of things that have happened in our business or in previous businesses that have had a massive impact. So for example, a few years ago we had the loss of data. So that was a backup tape back in the date you can tell this was about 10 or 15 years ago now. That data tape was not working. Essentially it was not backing up and had not actually been backing up for several days, which meant we lost weeks worth of data on a server went down. There’s also things like device breakage. We’ve had laptops completely smash and there were files on that that weren’t backed up. We had one supplier go bankrupt on us once that sucked because we were trying to deliver something and we were relying on that supplier. So we needed to find an alternative supplier to help us meet the demands of our own client. And finally, another example was when a member of staff unfortunately fell ill and was off for a couple of months, which meant we had a significant dip in some very specialist resource and we had to go and find some extra resource that was really costly. We ended up having to get two people to do the job of just one person. So that had an impact on the profitability of a particular project that we were working on at the time. But also I did an awful lot of stress and also added delay as well to the project. Obviously we’re really glad that the individual involved did get better, et cetera. That’s important, but because we hadn’t planned for that, we didn’t have any sort of backup plan. It was a significantly stressful time when it was all going down.
So business continuity is an absolute minefield. There are entire businesses that are focused on building out continuity plans. If you are a large company, I would obviously recommend that you get a specialist involved, but if you just want to start to put some things in place to give yourself some peace of mind, then there are a few things that you could be considering in your agency just to cover off so that you know there is a plan. First of all, if you are in business with another business partner, consider what you would do with regards to key person covers. This is an insurance that you can look into that if your business partner was to be indisposed either through ill health or was to pass away etc, then you would be able to draw from that insurance, the money to be able to replace that person with some employees as well as potentially buy out other partners or other shareholders within your business. So this is something that if you are set up as a limited company here in the UK or whatever the structures are around the world, you do have a partner. That person is no longer available. It can be quite awkward knowing what to do there depending on the laws. For example, the family of that business partner may be inheriting the shares, but they may not be able to add value to the business itself. So potentially look at things like insurances or plans or agreements between you and your business partner as to what would happen in that sort of event? So I know that’s quite depressing, but it’s something that we should be considering because need to protect yourself and your own family as well as your business partner and your business partners family as well. As depressing as it is, we just don’t know. So definitely one of the most important things you can be doing if you have a partnership set up. There are other things like your own health or the health of employees, et cetera. So we have a health insurance to ensure that we’re looking after ourselves, but also if we were indisposed for a few months, then income would continue to come in. So there are again, insurances out there. So there are a couple of kind of personal, practical things that you could be looking at getting those insurances nailed, understanding what those include and you can kind of put your mind at rest knowing that they are all nailed.
Now more within the business with regards to tech etc you might be wanting to consider a decent backup system, ensuring your data is up there on the cloud and knowing what you would do if, say your company servers went down or your email system went down, or if your office did disappear overnight and you lost a whole load of computers and laptops. So what we would do in that case is we’ve got our inventory, so we have an entire inventory of all the assets, all the computers. We know what software is on each one. We have all of our software copied onto the cloud so that we can download it and reinstall it anywhere we want and we have all of our licences tracked and we also have all of our data as well on the cloud. So everything that we’re working on is backed up in the cloud across two separate providers. That would be, say for example like Google drive and OneDrive, we would have duplicates across both. So there’s problem with one, we can get access to the other. Now the beauty of this means that if one of our servers goes down, so that’s one of our physical servers, or if one of our computers is lost for whatever reason, then what we’re able to do is replace that physical piece of equipment quickly and then download that data from the cloud and be up and running within a few hours. So that is our plan from beginning to end to replace that piece of technology and to get cracking.
Now, if our office was to no longer be available because we are a virtual agency as well, we’d be okay with being able to all work from home and then distributing new computers to the relevant employees who’ve lost their computers and again, just download the data and get cracking. So within 24 hours we’d be able to have fast access to new hardware and get going. If you’re a larger business and you do have a large team that you would like to be working with, then you can actually do deals with local business continuity centres who will give you emergency office space if you could no longer access your building and it can be quite expensive as certainly something that I got involved with back in the day, maybe about 15 years or so ago in my old job. It was so much fun because we would set up a test every few months. We’d have test servers there and we’d know that we’d all be able to go down there and essentially replicate what would happen if our office was no longer accessible. So for our office couldn’t have been accessible, maybe due to fire, maybe due to flooding, maybe due to whatever reason. If the worst was to happen, we knew that there was a plan to restore all the data to the data centre in the alternative, temporary office and that staff would simply just show up there. Instead it was about 15 miles away from our original office. Staff would just show up there and we would then be able to continue that business within 24 hours and that was a company that required us to be online as quickly as possible due to the sensitive nature of that particular business. I do think for most agencies who are listening to this show, that’s probably overkill. As long as you can all work from home and you can get fast access to technology etc, then you should be good. And remember that your insurance should be covering you for all of this tech. So keeping that asset list is really, really important. And ensuring that you’ve got enough coverage with regards to your insurance for all of those assets so that you can quickly replace laptops, servers, etc. That’s absolutely essential so be sure to check that out.
Then finally, for at least this episode, like I said we can’t really deep dive into this. There are entire companies that specialise in this. But the last thing that we will be considering as well is things like our printed material, especially because we do have our accounting and everything like that, we need to ensure that we are keeping, I think it’s seven years worth of accounts as a business. I’m not an accountant, but I do know here in the UK that we do need to keep some sort of track and some sort of record of all of these receipts and documents and invoices, et cetera. So what we’ve opted for is a paperless office solution. So that means that everything that we do get in that is physical paper is scanned and is therefore stored online with our accountant. Our accountant has this document management system. So we can either forward stuff via email and they’ll grab it or we can load it up to a cloud drive and again they’ll store it. So we’ve got all of our paperwork digitised and stored in the cloud so that it’s accessible quickly. Also, I believe they’ve got this tagging system set up as well so that we can actually relate documents to clients and documents to invoices. Certainly that’s something I like to spend hours looking at, but it’s certainly a great way of getting all of your documents in one place as well as getting rid of all that paper. Now what we do is actually store all of the paper. We’ve got a filing system and when we do have storage to all those pieces of paper, so in theory if a tax inspection was to happen, they can come in, they can take a look at the physical paper, et cetera. But again, if that paper was to be lost for whatever reason, we do have a full digital backup of everything that’s got going on. This doesn’t need to be complicated. This, you know, even if you are a small agency, even if you’re a one person company, you can still just get into the habit of when a receipt hits your desk, take a picture of it and upload it to Zero or whatever product you’re using. Just getting into this habit of ensuring that any physical paper that you’re getting in that does need to be tracked or saved in some way. Take a quick picture or do a quick scan. In fact, a lot of applications now on smart phones are really good at handling documents where they’ll even kind of flip the document for you as well. It’ll detect where the documents lying on the table etc, and then just flip it into shape. I don’t know how they do it. I’ve been using the OneDrive drive app for this and it stores in the OneDrive cloud and that drive is then shared with our team.
So an action point for this stage is to make a list of all of those things that are keeping you awake at night so that you can put a plan in place. Again, this is one of those really good reasons for planning for the worst because it can help you sleep at night. If you know things are being backed up, you’re good. If you know there is a plan for the loss of technology, then you’re good. You can just get to sleep at night and not worry about these sorts of things. So like I said, make a list of the things that you want to plan for that are making you worry. Then what you want to do is find what the answers to those potential problems are. What would you do in the case of the loss of technology? For example, would you be able to restore a server to Amazon workspace? Then you want to document this plan. This will be a document that is accessible to all members of your team so that if one of these events were to take place, they could get fast access and they can follow that plan through.
Now, I’ll put this in the show notes, but to help you to write out the plan, the best way you can do is create a document and in that document you’re going to have a fast access index. So that’s going to be an index of all of the scenarios. For example, data loss, loss of laptop, loss of resource, whatever that is. So that would be an index and then you would reference whereabouts in your document, you can find what the plan for that particular element is. Then what you want to do is have a list of all of the people in your documents, so that’s telephone numbers, contact details, lists of roles and responsibilities within the business, but also within the plans so that everybody understands who’s responsible for what. With those contact details as well. That’s obviously helpful. For example, if your server was to go down, you’ve got no access to emails etc but you still all have a copy of your plan, either a physical one at home or maybe one in your phone, et cetera. You still have access to the relevant telephone numbers so that you can contact the right people. Those people also can include things like your insurance numbers, policy numbers etc, so that you can be calling the relevant people and then finally in the document you will want to write down what the plan is for each of those elements that you added to that index. What would you do for the server? What would you do for the loss of resource? What would you do, etc etc. Also making sure that you define who would be responsible, so what roles or what people would be responsible for the particular elements. Perhaps it would be me that is responsible at least for ordering the new technology and if I wasn’t available the backup would be such and such, so just ensuring that we have some sort of written down plan. Now this also doesn’t have to be rocket science. It can be bullet pointed, it can be a simplified document, but as long as it is easy to follow through, then this is going to be a document that is both useful to your organisation if the worst was to happen, but also great to put your mind at rest as a business owner.
Okay, we’re coming into land. I want to share with you just a few services that you can consider to help compliment your plan. The first one would obviously be cloud, so the cloud backup, ensuring that you can put your data on the cloud. Another one would be the use of virtual machines. This is something that we do very often. We use Amazon work spaces so that we can actually have full windows 10 machines running in the cloud with backups so that we can fall back on those and we also do the same for servers etc. You might also want to consider something called workplace recovery office. If you are a bigger organisation and it’s essential for your team to all be together, then take a look at those recovery offices. For example, I think Regis in the UK here would provide that sort of service. If you’ve lost data or would like to know what to do in case of the loss of data on a hard drive, etc. Then consider looking for particular suppliers that you can put into your disaster recovery plan, who might help with data recovery, etc. And finally, one of the things that we’ve set up as a business is 24 hour storage. So we do have some spare tech, we do have spare lighting, we have spare cameras, et cetera. So rather than storing all of that in the office, which is obviously taking space and crowding the office up, we’ve actually put all of that into storage, which is about three miles away from our main office. The beauty of that means that if we were to lose elements inside of our main office, then we can just go ahead and pick up a whole load of stuff from storage that is there as backup. So a few older machines, which are not entirely useless, that can at least be temporarily repurposed there’s lighting rigs, et cetera, and anything that we could utilise. So if you’ve got anything spare that you could be storing offsite, and that also includes things like all of your documentation. So if you’re storing all of your documentation for financial reasons, if you’ve digitised it, probably want to get that in storage as well as certainly what we do to get it out of sight, out of mind. Cause it’s not talking mentation that I really want to be reading everyday or looking at or knowing is there, I’m creative, I like my space. So having that 24 hour storage is phenomenal.
Now before we wrap up, I just want to highlight the importance of testing the plans that you have. And I don’t mean you necessarily have to go out and recover things to machines etc, but just review those plans you have regularly, maybe once a quarter have a read through. Are they still true? Are the people in the documents still available? Are the supplies in the documents still available? Is the technology in the documents still available, etc. Challenge all the assumptions that you have made as well within that document, especially with regards to how long things might take. As you do that, say quarterly review, make sure that you edit the document accordingly with any new information. Check all the contact details as well. Are all the phone numbers relevant? Is the insurance still the same insurance policy and all of that good stuff. So keep that document updated, challenge those assumptions as you read through the plan and maybe do some small tests as well where you can. So is it easy enough for me to grab the data set right now and restore that to a virtual computer within say 12 hours? Is it reasonable that I could actually create a new workable machine for me to continue to operate as the CEO of this company within 12 hours? Obviously, if you’re the CEO of a company, hopefully your it department are going to do that for you, but at least have your it department test that plan.
So as we wrap up, I just want to encourage you because business continuity, disaster recovery, all that sort of stuff can feel very negative. But just remember that business continuity planning is something that’s going to protect you. It’s going to protect your clients. It also shows that we care for our clients and for our teams. We are doing our due diligence so that we can ensure we can carry on and we can ensure that we can continue to support people. It’s obviously going to massively reduce the stress that you as a business owner also have with regards to your business. What would I do if the worst was to happen? So take a listen through this episode. Make some good notes.
Let’s do the quick Lee Jackson patented recap just to give you the overall picture. We talked about why you should be prepared. Some of those reasons we’ve just covered. We then talked about what you should be including in some sort of plan. This is not limited to this remember, look at your business. You need to reflect to your business needs. But I talked about things that way, covering like a business partner, our health etc, our servers, our computers, our office space and printed documents. We then talked about how to document the plan, which included kind of an index at the beginning of all the particular events that may take place a list of all the people, contact details, responsibilities etc. So that we got fast access to those and then for each and every one of the plans that we had just to make a good, clear bulleted list of what we would do and actions that we would take and who would be responsible for those. We then talked about some of the services and tools you might want to consider, like cloud backup, virtual machines, maybe having extra office space with a company, say like Regis, we talked about data recovery and 24 hour stories to get some of the extra assets that you might have in your physical office out of the way so that you have fast access to those. Then we talked about the importance of making sure you test your plan regularly, challenge those assumptions that you’ve made in the plan to make sure that that plan is still relevant six months later or a quarter later, whichever. Then we just kind of wrapped up again, reminding ourselves that our business continuity is good for us. It’s good for the clients. It shows we care and it’s obviously a massive stress reducer.
So there we go. Who would’ve thought that business continuity and planning for the worst would actually be a really interesting podcast. It’s fascinating. I love this sort of stuff. I was introduced to it about 15 years ago in my old job, an absolutely fell in love with the idea of putting plans in place and testing these sorts of things. So as we wrap up, let me remind you of our amazing sponsor. It is Cloudways and they care about business continuity therefore they have built into their system full backups which you have control over. So I know right now that all of my websites are being backed up on a regular basis and I can also trigger extra backups as well through their API. So be sure to check out cloud ways over on cloudways.com links and offers are always in the show notes. Folks, thank you so much for hanging out with me. Don’t forget to join our community agencytrailblazer.com/group. If we don’t see you in the community, we will see you in the next episode.
Sponsored by Cloudways
One reason we can bring all this awesome content is because of Cloudways sponsorship. They believe in providing education and helping agencies deliver quality services without the stress. We use them for both our agency businesses.
Click here to check them out and support this channel.