Creating Your Business Development Plan

I had just been hired by a company to help it turn things around when there was a fire in the corporate office. Now, as a Turnaround Authority I had come in to “put out fires” before but this was the first time we literally had flames!

Fortunately, the company’s records were backed up once a week. Unfortunately, the person designated to take home the back-up every week so it would be in a separate location was out sick that day. In addition to everything else that was lost, a week’s worth of records were unrecoverable.

While this company eventually recovered, some don’t ever recover from a disaster. They lose weeks of production resulting in the loss of sales, profit and customers. Even if a company has business interruption insurance, it may not be enough to cover the losses suffered. And it won’t get your customers back.

In last week’s column I discussed the need for every business to have a continuity/disaster recovery (BC/DR) plan and the three elements that should be included: how employees will communicate, where they will go and how they will continue to do their jobs.

This week I’d like to address how you get started creating one. It is an extensive document and can be an overwhelming process, but there is help.

There are a lot of great resources for businesses on the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) website, including this helpful diagram of the four steps of an effective BC/DR plan.

5.3.4.0 Business Continuity Planning Process

Step One: Business Impact Analysis

The first step is to gather information to evaluate how your business will be impacted should operations be disrupted. Conduct a risk assessment and look for areas where your business may be vulnerable should a disaster occur. For example, does your building have an operational sprinkler system and are your fire alarms fully operational? Do your employees know what to do in case of fire?

Use a Business Impact Analysis Worksheet that breaks down the operational and financial impacts according to the timing and duration of the disruption in business operations. For example, a company that distributes gardening supplies and experiences a disaster in January will be less affected than if the same disaster occurred in April, a busier time of year. And obviously, a power outage that lasts a few hours is much less disruptive than one that may continue for several days.

Step Two: Recovery Strategies

Using the information you gathered in step one, document and identify your options for recovery and areas where you may need to fill in gaps. You may have identified that you don’t have current information on how to reach your employees in the event of an emergency. Perhaps an alternate site that you had previously identified for relocation is no longer a viable one or your technology needs have changed.

After selecting strategies that will work for your company, have management approve them and then begin to implement those strategies.

Step Three: Plan Development

Develop the framework of your plan. You may wish to use the Business Continuity Plan form that is provided on the FEMA website. The form will help you organize the business continuity team and addresses interaction with external organizations. Who will contact your vendors and contractors? The form includes a place to list all your vendors and contractors along with their contact information.

Step Four: Testing and Exercise

The last step includes developing an orientation exercise and testing for the business continuity team. Employees need to understand their roles and responsibilities and have a firm understanding of all the procedures involved.

After conducting testing, incorporate any lessons learned or gaps that were discovered into your plan.

The FEMA website also has Business Continuity Planning Suite software that you can download to help your business create, improve or update your business continuity plan. The software includes a 30-minute video-based course to get you started. And that is an important step if your business does not have a BC/DR plan — get one started.

Look for me November 10 at 4:30 at the Book Festival of the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta. I’ll be discussing my book,  ”How Not to Hire a Guy Like Me: Lessons Learned from CEOs’ Mistakes.” The event is free and open to the public. Click here for more information.

Scout Motto Still Applies: Be Prepared

“Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.”

Alexander Graham Bell

I watched a sad video today of some of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy in Sea Bright, New Jersey. Block after block of small businesses were totally wiped out. Of those not yet boarded up, all that was visible was a huge, gaping, black interior.

Many of them may rebuild. But a lot won’t. “Small businesses that don’t have a plan in place generally don’t survive after a disaster, whether it’s a flood or a tornado. We see that anywhere from 40-60 percent of those that are hit like that simply don’t come back to business,” said David Paulison, former executive director of the FEMA, in an interview in 2009.

A street in Sea Bright, New Jersey showing the affects of Hurricane Sandy

Truth is, there may not be much you can do to prepare your business if you live by the ocean and are in the direct path of a massive “Frankenstorm.”

You can gather up as much inventory as you can, then ensure that you and your loved ones are in a safe place and hope for the best.

While most business owners won’t ever have to worry about the effects of a massive hurricane, other disasters — natural and manmade — can affect a business anywhere.

I’m currently serving as the court-appointed receiver for a historic hotel. The current owners bought it in 2008 and planned to spend $10 million renovating it, but after they shelled out $7.5 million, water pipes burst and damaged several floors of the property. The owners shuttered the property and tried to liquidate their debts on the hotel through bankruptcy. No go.

So a judge appointed me as receiver to sell the hotel and use the proceeds to pay down the bond debt.

The hotel had been shut down for two years, with no heat or air conditioning. Can you imagine how it looked? And smelled? Let’s just say this is a job bigger than Febreze.

That’s why I say my job is like being a janitor. I’m called in to clean up other people’s messes. This one is going to take more than a mop, a bucket and some disinfectant spray.

The lesson is that you have to be prepared. Better to have a plan and never need it. Remember all those Y2K preparations? My basement was full of drinking water for years. But I never regretted being prepared in the event those dire warnings had come true.

While very large companies often have emergency programs often small and medium-sized companies do not.

If you don’t have a plan, it’s time to make one. Some of the basics to consider when making your plan include:

Investing in disaster insurance. You can get policies that cover the structure of your building, loss of inventory items and even interruption insurance that reimburses you if your company can’t conduct business. (Note that many business insurance policies exclude food and earthquake damage so you may wish to purchase additional coverage if those are areas of concern.)

Backing up your computers with off-site storage. You hear a lot these days about “the cloud.” That’s just a fancy name for a remote server. I know one guy who set up a cloud in his basement so all his computers are backed up away from his office. He also has a generator to keep everything humming.

Setting up plans to conduct business at another location. There are companies that back up all the information needed to run your business and provide the temporary facilities to perform the task.  If disaster strikes, you can show up there the next day and be open for business.

Creation of a list of emergency phone numbers and addresses and contact information for staff, business contacts and major clients. Sure, you have all that information. Somewhere. Make sure you can find all that information fast if you need it.

There’s plenty of information available on how you can prepare your disaster program.

• For small businesses, visit the Small Business Association at PrepareMyBusiness.org.

• For larger businesses, visit Ready.gov/Business

• Visit this IRS site for information on how to safeguard your essential records

• FEMA has additional information for businesses at www.fema.gov/protecting-your-businesses

Just remember the Scout motto: Be prepared.

I’ll close with another of my favorite quotes on the topic by Winston Churchill: “I’m just preparing my impromptu remarks.”