Preparing to see your business through an emergency means knowing how your customers will stay in the loop in the event of a catastrophe. If the emergency we're talking about is a national one, your customers will certainly be distracted and willing to understand your sudden disappearance from the world of eBay auctions. They'll be coping too. But, if we're talking about a personal emergency, you'll need to have a plan in place to notify your customers about what is happening in your life and when they can expect you to be back at the wheel of your business.
We've spoken with online sellers who keep all of their passwords automatically stored on their computers. They're thinking that, in the event of an emergency, a trusted family member or friend could step in and notify customers about a delay in their orders.
Although this seems like a quick and easy way to be ready, it's not necessarily the best plan for day-to-day operations - you can consider this viable only if you have a computer that is carefully secured or monitored. Perhaps only you and your spouse have access to this machine. In that case, you may be just fine. We're not saying that you can't trust your teenager or your roommate, but the computer you use for online sales is central to the life of your business, and making it vulnerable to even the honest mistakes of others is a danger. So then, what do you do?
Another alternative to storing your passwords on your computer is to create a stored hardcopy file of your passwords to be kept tucked away in case of an emergency. Marjie Smith, founder and Executive Director of the Disabled Online Users Association (DOUA) recommends embedding this information and encoding it. She told us that keeping this information, for example, among the regular addresses in your address book will make it accessible, but not obvious.
Marjie says you can list your password as a seven-digit phone number and title it by a pseudonym to identify it. Then be sure that your spouse or a trusted friend knows how to decode the information. In the event that your address book is lost, no one else would have any reason to believe the information isn't just the contact information for your friends and family. Still others recommend keeping an up-to-date list of important passwords locked in a safety box or stored in a sealed envelope with a trusted friend.
The "trusted friend" is the key to your customer-based emergency plan. Marjie recommends you choose a buddy and create a system by which you and your buddy look out for each other. Through DOUA, people with disabilities are trained to use eBay to operate their own businesses, Marjie explained. As part of this training, Marjie encourages all her students to choose a buddy and create a plan. Among her associates with disabilities, this plan even extends to a particular time each morning when buddies log on to let each other know everything's good. "If I haven't logged on to my instant messaging by 10:00 in the morning, I know my buddy will call to make sure everything's okay," Marjie reports.
She further advises that you select a buddy in a geographic location separate from your own. Her buddies are several states away from her and each other. That way, if a blizzard shuts two of them down, one is still going to be functional long enough to notify customers and avoid a complete communications breakdown. Because Marjie is part of a vibrant online advocacy group, locating a buddy came naturally. Her community members are used to looking out for each other. But, Paul Edwards, best-selling author and work-at-home expert, also subscribes to the buddy principle. He offers ten separate types of possible business relationships in his book, Teaming Up: The Small Business Guide to Collaborating (http://digbig.com/4qtgg).
So, is finding someone you trust all that it takes to make sure your customers will get the care they need in the event of an emergency? No, you have to find that buddy, but also make sure you're choosing the right person for the job. Trust is paramount, but so is an understanding of how your business operates and what it takes to complete the tasks necessary in times of crisis. You may trust your sister completely, for example, but if she avoids computers whenever possible, she's not a good candidate for the job.
Your best bet is to buddy with another online seller who knows the ins and outs of operating an online business. If that isn't possible, show a trusted friend or family member the minimum necessary to complete the most immediate tasks. Then make sure you leave careful documentation with that person to step him through the process during a stressful time when he is likely to be upset and worried about you. But how do you identify the bare minimum of what must be done?
Marjie recommends that at the very least, your buddy should be able to log onto eBay, navigate to My eBay, and shut down all current auction listings. Then she should be able to contact all members listed in Sold Items and notify them that there's been an emergency, and the item shipment will be delayed. The next level of training will be to make sure your buddy knows how to get into your PayPal account and issue refunds to buyers who have sent you money for orders you can't fulfill. Finally, your buddy could conceivably be able to fulfill those outstanding orders for you and complete the transactions with feedback. But, before you ask her to do this, make sure she fully understands your packing and shipping policies.
Of course, which level of care you'll choose depends upon the nature of your emergency and how long you expect to be away from work. That's something you can't really foresee, so making these decisions will depend largely on the buddy you choose and how comfortable that person is with the job at hand.
As Marjie said, "The real difference between your buddy and your family is that your family will be taking care of you in an emergency while your buddy will be taking care of your business." With both types of team members at the ready, you can relax and get back to work.
Read Part 1 of "Preparing Your eBay Business for a Crisis" online at:
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