If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that longevity is never guaranteed. JCPenney, J. Crew, California Kitchen, and GNC are just a few of the household names that have been forced to file for bankruptcy thanks in no small part to the exacerbating effects of Covid-19. The specific reasons for their struggles may vary, but there’s one thing every business can (and should) do to increase their odds of survival: always be thinking ahead. Planning for the worst means you’ll be prepared, should the worst ever happen. Here are a few simple steps you can take to ensure the long-term success of your business.
Create a Business Continuity Plan
Sans crystal ball, there’s no way to predict the future with 100% accuracy. That being said, if you understand your industry well enough, then you should still be able to anticipate and prepare for most of the risks that could threaten your company’s operations. That’s where a business continuity plan (BCP) comes in.
Think of a BCP like the evacuation plan for a building, except the building is your business. A strong BCP carefully evaluates personnel as well as assets, and ensures that you can protect both in the event of multiple types of disaster. Typically you’ll be preparing for some sort of long-term economic damage, but a BCP should cover every eventuality. That includes floods and fires, as well as cyberattacks and economic collapse. (And pandemics.)
Anticipating the unexpected is by nature a difficult task, but putting together a BCP is an exercise that could one day save your business. Forming a good BCP involves four primary steps:
The business analysis is the starting line of your BCP. Conduct a thorough evaluation of your company, identifying the assets and operations that are time-sensitive and would most strongly be affected in the event of an emergency. Once you’ve done that, figure out what type of disasters your business is vulnerable to. This should include both general emergencies, like global pandemics, and ones specific to your company and industry. For each eventuality, follow the chain of cause and effect to its inevitable end. Identify the worst-case scenario, then prepare for it.
Once you know the worst that can happen, it’s time to figure out how to bounce back. Based on the business analysis that you’ve just completed, strategize a way for you and your employees to recover from each potential emergency. Focus on restoring critical business functions first, everything you need to keep your company afloat. This is where it’s important to fully understand the causal chain for each disaster that you’ve listed. Only by knowing why and how a specific emergency would harm your company can you develop an effective recovery strategy.
After analyzing your business for weak points and outlining a recovery strategy, it’s time to actually put a plan together. Organize your data into actionable contingencies and gather a team to execute them, should the worst arrive. Like an evacuation, your continuity plan needs to be clear and easy to follow. The last thing you want is unnecessary complications during the most challenging days of your company.
Training and Testing
Finally, once your continuity plan has been formulated, it’s time to practice. Construct a regimen of training exercises for your continuity team to run through. Deploy it company-wide to ensure uniformity. And if testing reveals a shortcoming or weakness in one of your contingencies, don’t be afraid to roll back to the drawing board to come up with a better solution. That’s what testing is for!
Connect with the Community
A continuity plan is just one way to ensure the long-term success of your business. Connecting with your community is also important for longevity. In fact, if you’ve been at all successful as a business, then you have probably already started down this path. Ideally it’s something that happens naturally as your company grows into a known presence within the industry. But there are still some extra steps you can take to solidify your community reputation.
Build Relationships with Other Local Businesses
Competition may be the driving force of capitalism, but it pays to remember that we’re all in this together. The success of other local businesses, even those within your industry, ultimately creates a healthier market for everyone. And, when times are tough, it pays to have a system that supports each other. Take steps to visibly support local businesses, including your competitors. There’s a long-running tradition of film directors congratulating the success of their peers in full-page ads – even when that success comes at the expense of their own box-office records. This sort of showing is more than just good sportsmanship – it’s a savvy investment in strong business relationships.
Build a Relationship with Loyal Customers
Your customers are more than just a source of revenue. When engaged and invested in, a loyal customer base can mean the difference between life and death for a company. This is demonstrated most clearly in the tech industries. Epic Games, publisher of the most popular video game on the planet, is currently feuding with both Apple and Google after the two tech giants removed Fortnite from their respective app stores, and in so doing slashed a significant portion of Epic’s market share. The details are too complex to explore right now; what we want to focus on is the response of the Fortnite community. With minimal prodding, Epic Games was able to rally fans to their defense in a social media campaign that is still ongoing. The lesson is clear: build a strong customer community, and you’ll always have someone in your corner. Even if your business isn’t video games, you can foster engagement by getting involved with local events, charities, and more.
Build a Social Media Presence
Today it’s nearly impossible to fully engage with your customers if you’re not on Twitter, Facebook, and/or Instagram. Luckily, it’s easy to get started and doesn’t require too much investment to maintain. Sharing original posts and responding to customers regularly will establish a direct connection with your clients and build up your social media presence. Interacting with posts from local businesses and competitors can also strengthen your online relationships and position your company as a leader in the industry.
Leadership and Innovation
It’s important to remember what made you a successful business owner in the first place: leadership. Whether it was gaining enough capital to get your company up and running or managing health care for your employees, odds are that as a small business owner you faced and overcame numerous hurdles. These challenges are the perfect opportunity to put your leadership and innovation on display. Standing out as someone who has navigated stormy waters will elevate your standing among your peers as well as the general community, and will aid in building your brand identity. It’s your brand that customers and competitors alike will come to associate you with, which is why it’s so important to tailor your brand to the needs and values of the community.
The longevity of your business comes down to more than just a steady revenue stream. It requires foresight and careful planning, strong community engagement, and relationships that will stand the test of time. Taking any one of these steps will put you on the road to enduring success. Keep in mind that you don’t have to face it all alone. There are plenty of financial aid options available to help you get started or continue growing. The U.S. Small Business Administration, for instance, offers loans designed to help you start or expand your business. More recently, they began offering disaster assistance loans for those affected by Covid-19. There are also state-level grants that one can apply for if your business qualifies. Whatever your situation, there is help available. Consider it one extra asset in your plan for long-term success.