Going on holiday? A how-to manual for owners of small online shops

Kelly  | 

For all of us there comes a time when you need a break. Even if you don’t think so yourself, you’ll probably find that your nearest and dearest are nagging you to step away from the computer and hang out with them for a while. But if you run your own online shop, taking a break is not as simple as just booking some leave and perusing the holiday brochures. Who’s going to look after the business while you’re away? Or is it easier to choose the ‘blackout’ option and close the whole thing down for a few weeks? Here’s a beginner’s guide.

Holiday option 1: closing up shop

From a customer service point of view, there’s no way that you should close up shop to go on holiday, however small your business is. It’s simply not professional, and it contributes to the mistrust some people have of small online retailers. Unless you need to suspend trading for religious reasons – like Dutch company Babypark, which famously closes its website each Sunday to observe a day of rest in line with their beliefs – you really need to come up with an alternative solution.

Also, given that laws in many countries require a brick-and-mortar address to be displayed on retail websites, you might even be setting yourself up to be robbed: many small businesses are based in the owner’s home address. You’d be advertising that you’re not at home!

Holiday option 2: servicing your customers from afar

So you want to keep your business open, and you want to take a break. As cloning yourself is unfortunately not yet an option, you’re faced with two choices: you can keep responding to customer questions while you’re on holiday, or get someone else to do it.

Personally, I’d advise against the first option – even though Casengo makes it really easy to keep on top of your inbox wherever you are. Thanks to the mobile app, you need never be out of touch with what’s going on in your business. But that way lies burnout, exhaustion and frustrated friends or family members.

Sure, work is important – and at Casengo, your work is our bread and butter. But, though it pains us to admit it, it’s not the be all and end, 24/7/365. Give yourself a week or two off each year, huh?

Holiday option 3: getting a temporary assistant

I hear you – you’re listing the reasons why your shop can’t be run by someone else, even for a short while. Let me be frank: you might feel like (and want to feel like) you’re indispensable, but the fact is that nobody is. As Tim Ferriss says in his guide to training online assistants: “Get over yourself. Checking e-mail isn’t some amazing skill that you alone possess.”

Anyway, given that you’ll only be away for a week or two, it’s not like you need to completely train someone else in the workings of your business. Just enough to keep things chugging over while you’re away, plus a phone number for them to call you on (perhaps a once-daily check-in?) if anything comes up that they’re not sure how to deal with.

All you really need to do is to set your temporary assistant up with a few scripts and/or macros (though not too many of those!), explaining the most common queries and asking them to refer anything more difficult to you. Depending on the volume of emails your business receives, you could even share the workload; have your assistant pick out the simple queries, leaving the difficult ones for you to deal with at a predetermined time each day. And at other times? Don’t check your email! You’re on holiday, remember?

If you’re a one-person business, you might balk at the idea of hiring someone for that kind of short-term work. And it’s true that your usually stellar customer service might suffer just slightly – giving great service is an art, after all. But look at it like this: there’s little point in going on holiday if you’re not actually going to take a break. Plus, even if the cost of an assistant is more than what you make on sales while you’re away, the intangible benefits (how do you calculate potential lost business from customers faced with a closed webshop?) make it more than worth it. And you’ll return to work refreshed, ready to work harder than ever!