BY MURRAY NEWLANDS
A business plan is a given as a necessary document to develop and one that needs regular revision. However, it seems beyond that initial planning session, not many small business owners consider the value of other plans.
While a business plan provides a general overriding vision for the company, including short- and long-term strategic endeavors, it doesn’t cover some other very important situations that will involve specific — and often difficult — decisions.
As a fellow business owner, here are some plans that I recommend you think about developing and implementing to ensure the continuity and security of your business, brand and assets.
Data security plan
Whether you are completely online or just have an online presence, every business deals with data. That data could be proprietary information about your product or service, personal information about your employees, or sensitive information about customers and prospects. If you accept online and mobile payments, there is also critical transaction data, including credit card information, that you don’t want to fall into the wrong hands. Besides the fines and penalties, your business reputation is at stake.
It helps to develop a data security plan to make sure you have all vulnerabilities covered and you are up to date with all necessary compliance to stay within the current regulatory environment. Within your data security plan, you will want to include the tools, processes and training mechanisms you plan on using so you have this guide. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is an excellent source of information for how to develop and execute on your data security plan. The organization also provides information on how to address a data without a data security plan in place.
Disaster recovery or contingency plan
No one likes thinking about these types of things, which is why you need to have a plan in place just in case any type of disaster might happen. Moving to the west coast of the U.S. introduced me to earthquakes, blackouts and wildfires. This also taught me that disasters are much closer to my businesses than I had imagined. Having a disaster recovery or contingency plan would help to ensure everything could keep running in the event any of these things occurred.
Start with the types of disasters and risks that are likely in your area and associated with your type of business. Also, think about how these could stop your business from operating should they strike. This is especially important if you have offices with staff that needs protection and instructions on how to get out safely, how to communicate to customers and remote workers about what happened, and how business can continue in the interim.
You should also include specific strategies for protecting data in your contingency plan. While this may be covered in your data security plan, it should also be reflected and consistently addressed in this area of your business planning.
There are numerous online templates and guides for small business disaster recovery planning that can help shape your own planning process.
Crisis communication plan
Although your contingency plan covers some unexpected issues that arise, it doesn’t include those publicity nightmares that have hit companies and left them unprepared for how to address their stakeholders. From criminal employees to liabilities, businesses face crises that they must acknowledge publicly in order to maintain trust with their audience. Otherwise, they risk losing them, which could adversely impact business health.
The Department of Homeland Security offers a website that provides an excellent summary of what to include in a crisis communication plan, and it offers tips for some of the other plans listed in this article. When creating a crisis communication plan, think about all audience members and what they would want to know about what happened and how you are addressing it. The plan should also include decisions on who will talk to the audience and what type of channels they will use.
Business succession plan
At some point, you will want to retire or move on from your business. The other reason that you may not want to think too much about — but that could be a reality — is that you need to have a plan in place for someone taking over in case you have a medical emergency, become incapacitated or pass away.
Because this type of planning can become quite complex, especially if it is a family business or there are multiple founders, it may be a good idea to involve a lawyer or business advisor in this process. They can help you get through the tough decisions and provide recommendations on how to address all areas in a way that is conducive to everyone involved while ensuring the business continues.
However, there are other situations where your small business succession planning or decision on when to sell a business can be handled without professional assistance. For example, the Small Business Administration (SBA) offers a comprehensive business sales and succession guide that includes numerous areas to consider and help shape the decisions you make about the future of your business.
Plan on planning
While you can’t plan for everything, you most likely have some idea of what might or could happen when you look at potential risk, reward, and opportunity in relation to your industry and situation. Every one of these plans should be reviewed at least once a year to make sure they are still relevant or they need to be updated to reflect regulatory changes or anything that you have done differently with your business.