A Guide to Business Continuity Planning
for Small Business Owners

Sell to 3rd Party / Sell To Employees / Asset Sale / Succession Plan / Dissolution

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Most business owners think of natural disasters or other external events when it comes to having a continuity or contingency plan for a business. While being prepared for these potential scenarios is important, having a simple plan in the event something happens to you, the owner, is essential.

This guide provides an outline of steps you can take in the unlikely event you are unable to run your business. A little bit of planning can save a lot of time and frustration and possibly save your business and your employees jobs.

What Does Business Continuity Planning Mean?

Let’s face it, no one plans on becoming unexpectedly unavailable. That’s what makes it unexpected, right? Small businesses, especially those with fewer than ten employees, rely on each and every person to make the business work. As an owner, your role is the most crucial and you may have sole access to accounts, systems and information which leaves your business, employees, customers and suppliers vulnerable in the event you are not available.

ExitGuide helps small business owners create and execute business transition plans. So we asked ourselves, how can we help owners prepare for an unexpected event that causes them to be absent from the business?

Do your employees or family members know how to access essential systems such as payroll or who to contact at the bank to protect assets? Which team members will need to step up and take over critical business functions to ensure continuity? Is there information or business processes in your head that should be kept somewhere for others to access in the event you are incapacitated?

We recommend having a basic continuity plan for a trusted person(s) to access that includes the information and resources to protect your business and ideally, keep things running in your absence.

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Business Contingency Plan vs. Business Continuity Plan: What's the Difference?

A business contingency plan is often associated with natural disasters or other major events and the bigger the company, the more employees and therefore, the greater the necessity of having a distributed plan that is known to relevant employees when any of the following situations occur.

  • Natural disasters
  • ​Pandemic
  • Power outages
  • Cyberattacks
  • Unforeseen events
  • Supply chain disruption

These contingency plans often rely on “if this, then that” instructions for how to handle every imaginable situation, and large businesses will often perform a business impact analysis to discover where they’re most vulnerable. There are best practices that can help keep employees and people in the community safe and allow business operations to continue. In many instances, a contingency plan for one business can be adapted to another business and often assumes the owner is part of the plan.

A business continuity plan (BCP) is needed when a business owner is unable to lead for a period of time. It is an operating manual of sorts that others turn to in case of an emergency specifically related to the owner of the business. Key information, access to accounts and other critical instructions required for the business to function are made available to others who step in to keep the business going. A BCP ensures employees or family members are not scrambling for essential information to maintain continuity in the day to day operations.

Why Small Businesses Should Create a Business Continuity Plan

No one plans on having a car accident, a fire or serious medical condition, yet most people agree that having insurance to protect ourselves, our families, and assets in the event of an emergency is a good idea. Major corporations and mid-size companies suffer a setback should the CEO become unavailable but, in most cases, other executives are able to step into the role on a temporary or even long-term basis.

Most small business owners are not only vital to the business, they may be the business. Without them, sales may not close, payroll may not run, operations may cease. Safe to say, the sudden absence of an owner could lead to serious disruption and in some cases, the demise of a small business.

The primary goal of a continuity plan is to keep the business functioning; serving customers, paying employees, managing vendor and supplier relationships. It should mitigate disruption and allow others (employees, family members etc.) to focus on running the business instead of scrambling to access important information, asking basic questions and creating doubt and uncertainty in what is already a difficult situation.

Keep in mind, a sudden and prolonged absence of a small business owner has a ripple effect. Through business continuity management, employees, customers, suppliers and others related to your business can carry on knowing there is a plan in place.

How to Write a Business Continuity Plan

At this point, hopefully you’re convinced your small business needs a continuity plan to prevent business disruption in the event of your absence. So how do you go about drafting a BCP and making sure the right people know about it? Follow these steps.

Primary Contact

The first step is identifying someone (or more than one person) that will have access to the continuity plan. This needs to be someone trusted, of course, but also someone that would be available and capable of managing this process. You will want to make them aware you have designated them for this role and discuss how they will be notified and steps to access the plan.

Grant Access to Accounts

Start by identifying the accounts that are required to keep the business running. Typically, this includes bank accounts, payroll and accounting systems. Knowing that the company finances are secure and can continue to collect and make payments is often the biggest concern for employees, customers and suppliers. If you maintain other systems for managing orders, customer information (CRM) or anything else you deem vital, include these in your plan.

You will want to decide if you want to provide access to your login and passwords for these accounts or create a separate login access. It is also wise to notify banks, payroll providers and others that you have designated this person in the event you are unavailable and make clear what level of access or authority you are granting.

Consider if your designated contact will need assistance with any of these systems. Providing written instructions or someone they can contact for help will be important. Remember, you will not be available to walk them through this.

Identify Key Contacts

If contact information is stored in one or more systems, you can grant your designated contact access. If these contacts are on your phone or spread across systems or laptops, consider creating a list of key contacts that includes name, phone, email and their relevance to the business along with any other details you think relevant.

Key contacts will likely include key employees, customers, suppliers and essential service providers such as your attorney, CPA and a contact where you bank. The latter should know you have designated this person in the event you are unavailable.

Maintain Operations

You probably know more about how your business works than anyone else. That’s why a continuity plan is so important for small businesses. If someone is stepping in to help manage or transition operations, having a summary of the basics will help them make better decisions and prevent downtime. While you are welcome to write a detailed manual, focus on the most basic things someone needs to know to plan a course of action and delegate.


Transitioning out of your own business can be confusing and emotional. You have invested a lot into your business and taking steps to exit is not easy, in fact, most owners have never been through the process. You do not have to “figure it out” on your own. ExitGuide helps owners from start to finish by answering basic questions about the process, helping you develop a plan specific to your circumstances and then connecting you with expert resources to guide you to a successful outcome.

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