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What is a business continuity plan?

By BBC Maestro

Last updated: 19 May 2023

Every entrepreneur or small business owner knows that peaks and troughs are inevitable throughout their career. But when those unexpected disasters crop up with the potential to ruin it all, how do you best weather the storm?

One way to stay on track is with the help of a business continuity plan. But what is a business continuity plan? And how can you create one for your business? Let’s find out.

What is business continuity planning?

We’d all love to think that everything will be plain sailing when it comes to our businesses, but unfortunately that’s not always the case. You have a brilliant idea for your business, and a vision for where you want to go – but have you ironed out what will happen if disaster strikes?

A business continuity plan (BCP) outlines how your business will prevent and recover from threats or things going wrong, and how your business will continue to operate.

Those threats could include everything from cyber attacks to human error. It should ensure that your people, data and assets are protected in case of disaster, and that you’re able to respond to any issues quickly and efficiently.

A BCP is more comprehensive than a disaster recovery plan, which focuses on how to get IT systems back up and running after natural disasters and power outages occur. A BCP, on the other hand:

  • Analyses and anticipates the risks and potential threats to a company
  • Understands the potential impacts of disasters and unplanned events on the business
  • Identifies recovery strategies to reinstate every aspect of the business, including assets, systems, people and other critical business functions

Why is business continuity planning important?

Although all businesses are vulnerable to risks like cyber attacks, they won’t affect every business in the same way. The key to an effective BCP is understanding how vulnerable your business is to incidents, how these events will affect your business specifically, and what you need to do to recover. 

A BCP will:

  • Help you to understand if your business is vulnerable to incidents, so you can better prevent them from happening
  • Help your business survive if major incidents’ occur
  • Give you the tools you need to mitigate the disaster while simultaneously recovering your business
  • Ensure you have a plan in place if there is damage to your data or infrastructure
  • Get you up and running again as soon as possible, sending an important message to your customers
  • Give you peace of mind that your business will recover if hit by disaster

You need to know your business inside out – and continuity planning is part of that. As entrepreneur Peter Jones explains in his BBC Maestro course, Toolkit for Business Success:

“Know your figures, forecasts and the risks involved. Imprint them in your mind so you can explain them without even looking at the paperwork. This is key – not only when it comes to attracting investment, but also for your own peace of mind.”

All too often, businesses fail because they haven’t planned properly. A business continuity plan will support you through the tough times, ensuring you get back up and running as quickly as possible.

A person working on a laptop looks out of a window

How to write a business continuity plan

There are several key components to creating an effective business continuity plan. These are:

1. Creating a business impact analysis

The first step is to understand what the risks are to your business. This should include external factors that you don’t have any control over, such as natural disasters, as well as internal threats like IT disruptions, supplier failures, and human error by your team.

Consider things like:

  • Illnesses and pandemics
  • Natural disasters like fires, earthquakes and floods
  • Gas leaks and power cuts
  • Cyber attacks
  • Suppliers failing to deliver crucial equipment or products
  • Power outages
  • System failures

Only when you know what incidents you might be up against, can you understand what steps you need to take to prevent them from happening – or to mitigate the risk if incidents do occur.

Once you’ve analysed the risks, you should also conduct an analysis to understand what the consequences could be of disruption to your business. Some things to consider are:

  • Loss of sales and income
  • Increased expenses
  • Delayed service delivery
  • Fines from regulatory bodies
  • Decreased customer satisfaction

You should aim to answer the following questions when analysing the impact on your business:

  • What are the potential costs? 
  • How could it affect your critical business functions? 
  • How long will it take you to recover? 

2. Planning your response

Now it’s time to create a risk management response. What plans will you put in place to prevent the likelihood of these incidents, and to recover from them if they do happen?

You should take each of the risks identified and create a response strategy, focused on either preventing it from happening or minimising the risk. 

Your plans should include:

  • What action is needed
  • Who needs to be involved
  • What resources are needed to prevent or mitigate the risk
  • How long it will take to respond

3. Defining roles and responsibilities

For a BCP to work properly, everyone in the business needs to be clear on what part they play in the plan. 

Your business continuity plan, then, should outline exactly who is involved in disaster responses, what role they play, and what actions they need to take. It should also outline what resources they need to carry out their role effectively.

A team meeting

4. Communicating your plan

Once you have your BCP in place, ensure it’s documented and communicated across the company. This allows everyone in the business to understand the processes, as well as reassuring them that there are plans in place to recover from major incidents.

You should also document how you’ll communicate with suppliers and customers, to minimise disruption and dissatisfaction. That means you’ll need to include a list of key contacts, with details of what to say to them regarding each risk outlined. You may also include templated social media posts and emails ready to be sent out, to minimise delays in communications.

5. Testing your BCP

You hope that you’ll never need to put your plans into place – but if you do, it’s important that they run smoothly. That’s why it’s a good idea to test your BCP out, to ensure that everyone understands the plan and to spot any areas for improvement.

With a solid business continuity plan in place, you and your team will have the confidence that you can recover from anything that’s thrown at your business. And, as Peter Jones says, confidence is one of the keys to business success:

“Successful entrepreneurs need to know the importance of what they bring to the table. The bottom line is: if you don’t believe in yourself or your idea, why should anyone else?”


Feeling inspired? Learn more about business from Peter Jones, with 40 lessons designed to help you harness your passion, achieve your goals and arm you with business acumen for a lifetime of success.

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