Due to the pandemic, many businesses have experienced new and significant operational challenges such as inadequate cash flow, decreased demand, and supply chain disruptions resulting from lockdown restrictions. According to the Economic Policy Research Center (EPRC), 50% of businesses in Uganda had to close operations at least temporarily for an average of over three months. These challenges were unprecedented and have made it clear how disruptive a crisis can be. Most companies were unprepared and as a result, some have closed operations permanently. Others have struggled to get back on their feet.

Here is where a business continuity plan can be a critical tool enabling businesses not only to survive but potentially to thrive even during a crisis. A business continuity plan is a document that outlines how a business will continue operating during an unplanned disruption. It guides businesses on how to reassign resources and communicate effectively internally and externally, all key components to maintain operations even during challenging times.

 

Because developing a business continuity plan may be a new concept for small business owners, in September, the COVID-19 Business Information Hub focused on guiding entrepreneurs in their development. We had insightful discussions with stakeholders and businesses who implemented a variety of business continuity strategies during the pandemic, and here is what we learnt:

 

Conducting a risk assessment: The first thing that every business owner should do is assess the risk and vulnerability of their business. This can be easily done using a tool that the International Labor Organization (ILO) provides free of charge. The ILO also outlines a six-step process to develop the business continuity plan with a key focus on four main elements (People, Process, Profits, and Partnerships). We spoke with John Kakungulu Walugembe of Federation of Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises-Uganda (FSME), who explained in detail what the 4Ps stand for and how businesses can use the six-step plan to their advantage. (click here to access the special interview with John Walugumbe).

 

Determining critical activities: Business owners need to define critical activities needed to continue to operate during a crisis. Businesses should immediately identify actions to take based on the risk exposure. Lilian Katiso of Mau and More, a company that sells potted plants, recognized that watering plants was critical to mitigate the risk of losing her inventory due to withering. The business decided to purchase a motorcycle to facilitate one staff to do the watering during the lockdown.

 

Establishing an internal communication plan: A communication plan outlines how teams and employees may best communicate with each other to support the company’s objectives. It helps increase communication frequency and promotes the dissemination of information about what is happening within the company and the employees. Toddler’s Gold  implemented a communications plan including regular meetings to discuss business targets and understand staff welfare. As a result, their sales grew during the lockdown.

 

Embracing technology and digital platforms: Technology helps to support business operations during challenging times. When regular work arrangements were disrupted, and we saw a shift to remote work, Rajab Mukasa, Director at Pique Nique Ltd, adopted mobile money and the use of agents to complete his banking activities. It allowed the company to order by phone and pay suppliers remotely instead of using cash.

 

The disruptions caused by COVID-19 have set a new preparedness benchmark and demonstrated that small businesses need to continuously adapt and evolve their strategies to better prepare for future risks. Joseph Walusimbi a national coach and trainer with the International Trade Center (ITC), an agency of the United Nations, encourages entrepreneurs to embrace business continuity plans to prepare for uncertainty. He also highlighted the potential 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.