Covid-19 and contingency planning for your business
You’ve heard it time and time again, we are in unprecedented times at the moment, with lots of self employed business owners feeling the pinch and the stress at the moment. And it’s made me realise, that whilst I’m in the same boat with being a face to face business, I am in the fortunate position, that I’ve spent the last 12 years working in contingency planning, preparing businesses for just this sort of scenario, and it creates a sense of calmness when faced with something like this.
You see, outside of the photography, and until last summer, I worked within the Emergency Planning and Crisis Management field. Firstly as a real time responder within Local Authority dealing with child protection cases, bomb threats, H1N1 (swine flu), Tottenham riots and everything in between! I then went on to be a senior consultant within the City, advising a wide array of businesses how to prepare for and respond to any emergency or crisis that may come their way.
It means, for my own business, I’ve had a business continuity plan since day 1, from back up photographers for static date events (like weddings) through to a rigorous image back up process. But what this situation has taught me, is that something that I’ve taken for granted as a process, actually isn’t something as widely understood within all industries.
So here I am, sharing some advice on how you can put your own contingency plan in place, not just for now, but for future.
First of all, what is Contingency Planning (or Business Continuity)?
In it’s simplest form (and there is a really long winded definition within the Standard if you’re really struggling to get to sleep) it’s putting a plan and strategies in place to help reduce the impact of a crisis and to help you recover your business as quickly as possible.
By doing this, you identify what are your key business activities that need to be prioritised so that you can reduce the stress on you and your clients, and enables you to make decisions quickly and communicate effectively.
Covid-19 – what can you do now?
Now that we are in social distancing measures, face to face meetings are on hold. But using video conferencing software such as Zoom means that consultations and meetings can still take place. It also means that you can continue interacting with your network, which is important if in isolation, for your mental well-being.
If you, yourself, get ill, identify people who can support and take the load off you. In identifying those people, take note of what they would need to fulfill that role, such as access to information (keep in mind your GDPR obligations).
What are priority activities, we all have things in our business and on our to do list that are time critical, and others that are less so. Focus your efforts on those time critical ones – these are generally the tasks that are client focused and revenue protecting.
If you are reliant on third parties or contractors, talk to them and see what their plans are, whether there are any changes to how they deliver their services to you, that will in turn impact your business and customers.
Finally, once you have these outlined, be proactive with your clients. Communications is the area that many businesses fall down in their crisis management, whereas proactive, timely and considered communication can reassure clients and show them you care about them. And if you have to invoke the plans you’ve put in place, then communicate that too!
It doesn’t stop there…
We will come out the other side of Covid-19, and this post is not to scaremonger, just to provide some guidance on how you can create your own contingency plans for other scenarios (that may not be as global as this). In the world of Crisis Management and Business Continuity, every scenario possibly imagined can be split into a handful of impacts. Honestly, anything you can think of, I can put into one of these buckets:
- Unavailability of personnel
- Loss of working environment
- Loss or failure of equipment, IT and data
- Loss of third parties / suppliers
But I’m going to break these out and give you some suggested strategies for them. Every business is different, so this isn’t a definitive list. And when you’re thinking of your strategies, take into consideration how you will practically implement it for those time critical activities. But we can at least take a stab at contingency planning for your business…
Unavailability of personnel
My previous colleagues will know that this is probably the hardest one to talk about, as it’s involving people. However, we did come up with happy scenario for this one, which is the lotto syndicate win, meaning an entire team within an organisation hands their notice in and jets off to Barbados. However, in the self employed world, where often it is just one person, you’re not looking at a team, you’re looking at one person. You.
And you still need to fulfill those client requirements, so much like with Covid-19 contingency advice above, here’s what you can put in place:
- Identify who could step in to complete those tasks
- What can be outsourced to a third party
- What can go on hold until you are better
If someone else is going to be picking up the task, what do they need to know and have access to in order to do this. Are your processes documented? And don’t forget, you still need to be GDPR compliant with your client’s data.
Loss of working environment
Be this flood, fire, or just a cordon around where you work meaning you can’t walk through the front door. If your work is linked to a location then you need to plan for not being able to access it.
- First of all, where else can you work – if you normally work in a rented office space, will they help relocate you? Can you work from home?
- How much of your information is cloud based so that you can still access.
- Can you hold meetings and consultations remotely using video conferencing facilities?
- If the loss of your working environment also means the loss of your equipment, you’ll want to invoke the next section as well.
- If you have products / supplies coming in, then you’ll need to temporarily re-route that somewhere else and if you’re going to be away from that site for a long time, set up landline and postal redirection too.
Loss of equipment, IT and data
From an equipment perspective, the idea of camera equipment failing, or worse still the memory card is enough to bring any photographer out in a cold sweat. Which is why we have regular maintenance on our kit, format our cards properly each time we use them and have back up equipment along with a stringent back up regime for our images and files. So what can you do for your business?
- Can you hire, borrow or buy replacement equipment, and if so, what are the lead times on this? See how that impacts on your priority activities and it’s worth checking what your insurance covers for this too.
- From an IT perspective, what systems and software do you use and are they cloud based or reliant on your laptop/desktop working?
- We all know how important our client data and files are, make sure this backed up, preferably off site (such as in the cloud) too. To give you an idea, this is what we have written in our business continuity plan (might be overkill for some people, but as we also work in weddings, we know how precious those images are):
- Local copies of “work in progress” shoots and weddings
- External portable hard drive
- Synology DS918 network hard drive with real time replication so that all data is replicated within the machine and replicates to cloud storage.
- 3rd party cloud storage of final edited images
Loss of a supplier / 3rd party
So everything might be hunky dory in your business, but one of your suppliers may suffer an incident or disruption themselves, which in turn will then impact you. And whilst they’ll be doing everything they can to respond and recover, there are some things you can do too in order to minimise the potential stress on your customers:
- Identify back up suppliers you could switch to if the disruption is going to be long term or detrimental to your clients. It’s not always a quick process to switch suppliers, so balance the timescales of moving supplier with the potential disruption.
- Can the function of that supplier be bought back “in-house”?
- If the supplier is very critical to the running of your business, it’s worth having a conversation with them to see what their contingency arrangements are (be aware, if they are one of the big fish, they may not share their business continuity plan with you!)
Communication is key
As I mentioned before, communication is so important in managing a crisis well. Being proactive with realistic time-frames and strategies puts your clients at ease. Knowing how and when you’ll contact them will help kick start this step, for instance will you email them all on mass through a CRM system, will you send them emails on a case by case basis, or will you call them? The answer to this depends very much on the scale of the crisis and the nature of your business. For instance with Covid-19, I sent a personal email to each of our wedding clients to reassure them of the measures we have in place and reassured them that we are here if they have questions. For our brand shoots, they are being addressed on a case by case basis, depending on when their shoot is.
Without sounding too doom and gloom, with the scenario of you not being able to communicate yourself with your customers, who can do this on your behalf? Make sure they know how to access your client data (remember, GDPR) and you can even go one step further and draft an email they would send on your behalf.
I know I’ve thrown a lot at you and contingency planning can be a lot to digest, so if you have any questions, whilst this isn’t my job anymore and I’m certainly not planning on rejoining the consultancy world in this field, drop me an email and I’ll do my best to answer.
Take care and stay healthy,