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Covid-19 Business continuity planning sole traders-1
Do you have a business continuity plan? 

Those of us that are in good health may not be unduly worried about catching Covid-19 or any other virus. We probably think that we're statistically more likely to be hit by a bus than have a major health crisis, and in the grand scheme of things we may be right. 

But faced with a global pandemic on the scale of Covid-19, should we really be so complacent? By now, it's likely that you know someone who has been affected by the virus. If you don't; now you do, because I was recently hospitalised with suspected Covid-19. 

While I only spent a couple of nights in hospital and are now well on the road to recovery, my experience has certainty highlighted the importance of having a business continuity plan. A sudden and unexpected hospital admission, even for a short amount of time, could have ramifications for your business and income from self-employment that could take longer to recover from than the illness itself. 

Fortunately, I have a team around me who can keep business running as normal. The biggest challenge I had was communicating with the team. I wasn't anticipating being taken to hospital and was feeling very ill, so didn't think to grab phone chargers and other essential kit to take with me. 

If you're a sole trader, without employees to hold the fort, there are additional things to think about. What if you can't communicate with your customers, who will let them know what's happened? What if you've got essential bills to pay, can someone make those payments on your behalf? How can you continue to fulfil orders or complete a project if you're in hospital? Do you have anyone who can step in to ensure you continued to generate some income? 

Although serious illness or other crises may seem unlikely, Covid-19 really does highlight how important a business continuity plan is for this kind of eventuality. Below is some advice on how to write a business continuity plan. 

How to write a business continuity plan 

The following steps will help you plan for unexpected events and ensure that if something does happen your business and income is protected as much as possible. 

Step 1: Brainstorm different scenarios

 Common threats to your business and income could include:  

  • Illness, disability and death: factor in various degrees of illness, such as short term or more serious and debilitating, or even death 
  • Natural disasters, fires or floods: consider the impact of a natural disaster on your workplace (which may also be your home) 
  • Gas leak or power cut: you'll need to deal with the incident and also have a back up plan for continuing work 
  • Malicious internet attack: cyber security threats like ransonware attacks don't just target large corporates, hackers also target small businesses and individuals who may have no alternative but to pay a ransom if their systems aren't backed up regularly 
  • Biological hazard: the Salisbury nerve agent attack is a good example of where a serious biological hazard can have a detrimental impact on businesses in the area 

The biggest issue for one (wo)man bands is the loss of the person running the business. Unless you have premises, such as a retail outlet, you are probably agile enough to work from a different location in the event of a natural disaster, power outage or gas leak. However, what happens if your paperwork is destroyed by fire or flood? Or an essential piece of equipment or stock is damaged or inaccessible. 

Brainstorm all these different scenarios and the impact they could have on you, your business and income. 

Step 2: How can you protect your business now? 

There may be things you can do right away to protect your business. In the current pandemic I would recommend packing a hospital bag with the basics: a phone charger or power pack and the right cables, so you can contact people in an emergency. 

If you have paperwork literally on paper, can you scan it and store in the cloud? Perhaps it's time to digitalise your systems so that you can access them wherever you are. What about website back ups, do you do these regularly? And what about insurance? Do you have the right protection to replace equipment and stock or other business critical items quickly so you can continue to operate? 

Step 3: List key contacts 

In the event of any of the threats you've identified, who is important to your business?

These might be people you need to inform about a problem such as your insurance company, and also people who will help with business continuity such as rebooting your IT system if it goes down.

They may include: 

  • Contractors and service providers 
  • Suppliers and distributors    
  • Bank managers, accountants, solicitors and insurers 
  • IT consultants, electricians or engineers 
  • Utility companies 

Make sure you have their vital contact information stored somewhere you (or your representative) can access wherever you are, such as saved in the cloud. 

Step 4: Plan for each scenario

Now run through each scenario and consider what you (or someone else) will need to do if it happens. For example, with an illness you may need to ask someone to access your email and address anything urgent, send out orders or pay bills. 

What about completing work for clients if you're unwell? Could you subcontract work to a freelancer or even a friendly competitor? Plan how this would work, from engaging their services to sharing the work with them and liaising with clients. 

Think about worst case scenarios, death, and how your next of kin will need to dissolve your business or sell it (and pay any outstanding bills). Do you know what's involved and what the process is, depending on your business model? Write clear instructions and ensure that you don't leave a big mess behind! 

If a natural disaster, power cut or biological hazard means you can't work from your usual workplace, where can you work instead? Identify some different options like local coworking spaces or short-term office space so you can quickly relocate if something like this happens. 

Write down what actions you or someone else needs to take for all the major threats to your business. Keep it as simple as possible, but don't be tempted to skip writing it down. In the event of a crisis, you'll appreciate the clarity of your thinking. 

Step 5: Who can help?

Without employees to keep things running it's vital that you identify someone who can help if you're incapacitated in some way. This could be your partner, a member of your family or a close friend. They'll need a copy of your business continuity plan and logins to any information they may need to access. 

Depending on the way you run your business, you may also want to share a copy of your business continuity plan with your accountant or bank manager. You should also find out how your next of kin or chosen representative can access your bank account if needed, and make sure those processes are in place. 

Doing this will give you peace of mind that everything possible is being done to protect your business and income, and also allow you time to recover. 

Top tip: as well as giving essential people a copy of your business continuity plan, make sure you keep several copies in different places. Having a paper copy in your office is no good if you can't access your building. Storing a copy on your smartphone is fine unless your phone is lost or damaged. Instead store digital and hard copies in key places so whatever happens you can access your plan when you need it. 

Hopefully you won't ever need to your business continuity plan, but if do you'll be grateful that you spent the time now writing one.