Websites to the rescue

 In last week’s blog I looked at how wiki technology could drastically improve communication and logistics during an emergency. This week I’m examining the role of your business website in helping your business tick over should an emergency hit your neck of the woods.

Businesses affected by Victoria’s bushfires are now facing a second disaster – a lack of business.

Because there is either a perception that businesses in affected areas won’t yet be open for business or that they are inaccessible for either safety or coronial reasons, the same businesses that survived the country’s worst bushfire disasters are struggling to keep afloat in the face of reduced custom.

Yet the same businesses may not have suffered any physical damage from the fires whatsoever.

In the Sydney Morning Herald last week, Victorian Premier John Brumby said that “Tourism is a big issue throughout these areas.”

“There are other areas as well – the Yarra Valley vineyards, a lot of their business has been cancelled as people are concerned about the fires. To be honest, there’s a little bit of brand-name damage to Victoria as a whole because of the fires.”

But those with professional websites are less likely to be affected because their online presence is unaffected by physical conditions. And if those websites have good content management systems (CMSs), their benefit is even greater.

A professional website effectively keeps businesses open by providing a fireproof (and other-disaster proof) channel to market. Not only can businesses report the status of their recovery and opening hours via the website, they can continue to process online orders.

In many cases, the website may be the only viable means of keeping business ticking over.

I was saddened to find that the very place my wife and I were married, Immerse of Dixons Creek, had suffered considerable damage as a result of the fires. The Yarra Valley winery was directly in the path of the same fire front that destroyed Marysville and much of Kinglake.

It was hosting a wedding as the front hit the area, and had to be evacuated – apparently the moment the lucky couple said “I do”.

But Immerse provides a brilliant case study of how to put a website into action in the aftermath of disaster.

First, they posted a statement on how the fires would affect the business – keeping would-be customers informed and saving themselves the valuable time spent answering resultant phone queries.

Next they added a story detailing their recovery and thanking customers for their support – a great way of acknowledging those who had assisted and also keeping customers informed of their recovery.

Then they announced that much of their wine and restaurant service was available at another outlet not that far away in Olinda – ensuring they kept otherwise lost business.

Lastly, they prominently announced a wine “fire sale”, encouraging visitors to keep their business humming by purchasing some of their wine online – at a time when their normal sales channel, their cellar door, was closed.

These clever initiatives assist the business in many ways at a time they need it most and minimises what may be significant and even fatal losses.

The only thing they have missed is an old reference to “hot deals” – an unfortunate premonition.

All businesses in the affected areas can replicate these benefits by continuing to trade via their websites as physical passing traffic dwindles. This allows customers and other wellwishers to support them during their emergency despite not being able to get to the physical premises.

Of course, these new additions to the website are expedited if you are able to manage it using a content management system.

Rather than pay your developer to make the changes (when you most need the money), a good CMS will allow you to make the changes yourself. This is important if the developer you use is also affected by the disaster, as is the case with a web designer in the nearby Kinglake area.

Of course the web also provides evidence of the tragic side of the emergency, as businesses whose operators have perished or were injured continue to operate as if nothing has happened – a kind of “ghost town” of the web.

Unlike the physical premises whose fate is clear to see from the street, website administration details may be lost and take some time to recover, meaning their untouched websites may remain live for some time.

Events like this provide us with plenty of food for thought. What would happen to your business in an emergency? Could you continue to trade without premises and if so, how could a professional website assist this?

That reflection may be one of the only good things to come out of this disaster.




Craig Reardon is a leading eBusiness educator and founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team which provide the gamut of ‘pre-built’ website solutions, technologies and services to SMEs in Melbourne and beyond.

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