As part of the Covid-19 Business Info Hub’s focus this month, we spoke with Joseph Walusimbi, a national coach and trainer with the International Trade Center (ITC), an agency of the United Nations, to understand his perspective on business continuity planning. With ITC, Joseph builds SMEs’ capacity to export their products and services and advises enterprises at different life cycle stages to grow their businesses sustainably.

Business continuity planning helps SMEs ensure that critical business aspects remain stable under disruption. 

Joseph walked us through an example of the disruption faced by local agriculture exporting companies, which were hit hard by the pandemic last year when flights were cancelled and airplanes grounded. The European market that typically consumes products shipped by these producers was primarily indoors and could not consume the products. Unfortunately, most exporters were unprepared. Companies did not know how to manage human or financial resources in the face of such unprecedented disruption or continue servicing debts without cash flow. Business continuity plans would have ensured these businesses had measures ready to address many of these challenges.

These challenges have not been unique to one sector or type of business, indicating that business continuity planning is essential whether you are a grocery store owner, an enterprise in the information technology (IT) sector, or have a 4-acre garden producing for an export company.

 

There are six areas of focus that SMEs should keep in mind when developing business continuity plans.

  1. Designate one focal person to identify disruptions and disseminate information.This person should be in touch with relevant authorities to get accurate and regular updates for sharing with the team and other stakeholders.
  2. Identify products or services that are essential for business survival.These should be products or services that generate the most revenue for the business and must be made readily available for customers when needed.
  3. Prioritize key customers and engage them regularly. Customer engagement should involve timely communication about product availability, price changes, and delivery options, for example. Engagement should not be a one-way street – ask for feedback from your customers and incorporate it into your operations.
  4. Establish policies to protect employee’s health and safety. Companies must ensure that all employees understand what preventative measures they need to follow to stay healthy, whether on-site or remotely.
  5. Analyze your supply chain and engage critical suppliers. Regularly speak with suppliers and understand what products might be challenging for them to supply in case of disruption. Understand what changes they may need to make in operations. Understand whether your suppliers can also identify an alternative supply chain in case the main chain breaks down.
  6. Modify service delivery to respond to disruptions.Enterprises should explore flexible and convenient delivery options available that can respond to movement restrictions. These may include services that allow customers to order and pay online; then, you arrange delivery.

 

Finally, businesses should exercise and review the plan. Businesses can do this by taking the time to check if the plan is helping in achieving the objectives; if it is not, you may make some adjustments.

 

SMEs should identify potential funding options for business continuity activities. 

After developing a business continuity plan, SMEs may identify a need for external financing to implement specific activities. Businesses should seek financing options focusing on recovery, innovation, adaptation and sustainability, such as the Economic Enterprise Restart Fund available at Stanbic Bank Uganda or credit guarantee schemes that shift risk from the private to the public sector.  Agriculture Business Initiative (aBi) finance offers credit guarantee products through its partner financial institutions from which SMEs can benefit during challenging times.

 

Business continuity planning is critical to prepare for uncertainty caused by disruptions and must be part and parcel of SMEs’ strategic plans. If SMEs embrace business continuity planning, we will see more transformation and business resilience in the next two or three years.

 

For business support, call 0704006900 or send an email to walusimbij@gmail.com