Preparing for the worst will keep you functioning at your best


By Max Berry


Every entrepreneur goes into business hoping for the best, but this doesn't mean you shouldn't be prepared for the worst. Whatever business you're in, there will always be a number of things that, at any given point, could go wrong. Developing a contingency plan-or several of them-will help you survive the bad times in minimum time and at minimum cost. It will also make your business stronger as you get back on track for more good times. Here are some important steps to take when crafting your contingency plan.


Seize The Opportunity


Small business owners are optimists by nature, so sitting around preparing for a disaster that may never occur might not seem like the most valuable use of an entrepreneur's time. But doing so provides a chance to gain a deeper knowledge of your business's strengths and weaknesses. Before you even identify the risks you need to safeguard against, get in the mindset that contingency planning will, through enhanced awareness of your day-to-day operations, only strengthen and validate the confidence you already have in what you're doing. With any luck, you'll never need to put a contingency plan into effect, but it won't hurt to know that you could.


Identify The Risks


Before you can develop a contingency plan, you'll need to identify the risks to which your business is vulnerable. Depending on where your firm is located, these could include natural disasters like fires, floods, or hurricanes. If you run a tech business, you may need to develop a plan for dealing with an IT glitch or data loss. And, in this digital world, information security should always be a priority. When making your list, include all possible incidents, no matter how unlikely they are to actually occur. Also bear in mind that, while huge natural disasters and sweeping tech breakdowns snag the lion's share of the headlines, most businesses are much more likely to suffer from "quiet disasters," like subtle economic shifts and small computer glitches, or internal issues such as the loss of integral employees.


Spread The Responsibility


If your business consists of several departments, you may want to let each department come up with its own contingency plan. Your IT department will face an entirely different set of potential setbacks than will your PR guru and will naturally need to address them in vastly different ways. Designate one person from each department to oversee the contingency planning, stressing that everyone who may be affected by a disaster-which is to say everyone at your company-should have a say in how it is handled. While each department is at work crafting its own plan, it will nonetheless pay for you to oversee the processes of each, checking in regularly and maintaining a clear picture of how all the plans will work together.


Assess the Risks


Each department should keep track of each its own responsibilities-both autonomous and shared-and make a list of everything that could go wrong throughout the process of fulfilling them. Working with the other employees from the department, the contingency leader can then rate both the likelihood of each setback and the potential damage it could do to business operations. This will provide a precise framework for each department's contingency plan and help you to prioritize which potential setbacks to address first.


Structure the Recovery


When envisioning your business's recovery from a particular setback, put down a series of milestones each department will need to reach, from the immediate aftermath of the incident through the eventual return to normal operations. Determine how you will deal with the event-both internally and with external parties like clients and investors-then determine the appropriate order in which to restore business functions. Name the employees who will be key to every step of recovery and make sure that each of them knows what their responsibilities will be. If possible, try to determine the total amount of time and money needed for recovery.


Test Your Work


Once each department has finished its own plan, review them all to see how they work together. Keep an eye out for overlap between plans; if two departments plan on handling the same task, decide which is best equipped to actually take on the responsibility. Once you've gone over all the plans and made necessary changes, provide time for interdepartmental reviews. Once each plan has passed this revision process, test them by simulating those crises you are able to simulate. The people carrying out functions in the test run should, naturally, be the ones that would carry them out during a real incident.


Revise the Plan


After you've tested your plan, record what worked and what didn't and make changes accordingly. In general, remember that a good contingency plan should be updated regularly. Every time you make a major administrative or structural change in your business, adjust your plan to account for it.


Handling an Actual Crisis


Don't panic. You've got a plan.