There’s one aspect of running a business that is often forgotten, and I fear it is totally neglected by almost all Second Life businesses: What happens when you can’t continue?
What do I mean by “can’t continue”? I mean this: you are sick, permanently disconnected, injured, imprisoned, kidnapped, dead or otherwise completely unable to do any work whatsoever on your virtual business.
In RL this is called “Succession Planning”. The idea is that you assume you’re gonna eventually disappear for some reason, and we’d better figure out who’s taking over when you do. Large businesses take great care in laying out detailed succession plans, so that when the execs go down in a fiery airplane crash, everyone knows what to do. Even small businesses take time to consider what needs to happen, if they are well run.
The issues are no different in SL, except in scale.
However, I suspect very few in-world businesses have considered this possibility. And even worse, a virtual environment poses additional difficulties well beyond those encountered in RL business disasters: anonymity.
First, let’s suppose your virtual business has no succession plan. What happens? Let’s examine the likely sequence of events for a typical virtual retail operation:
- You Die (harsh, but it Can Happen!)
- Your business continues to operate, since avatars can still visit your parcel and purchase items (hmm… assuming the Grid is operational…)
- Linden $ accumulate in your account
- Invoices arrive on schedule
- Automated payments from your account continue
- Fees requiring manual intervention remain unpaid, since you aren’t there, remember?
- Fees linked to your Paypal account do get paid, at least for a while
- Residents notice your absence and do their best to determine what happened, but unless there is a RL connection somewhere, it is entirely possible no one in SL will know what happened. There is nothing your virtual friends can do
- Your RL survivors have no idea or understanding of your virtual existence and do not realize they have a significant asset to deal with. They do not operate your business or even realize it exists
- Eventually your invoices do not get paid because your survivors have shut off your Paypal account, either directly or indirectly via credit card cancellation
- Your tier is unpaid for a long period, and Linden Lab eventually reclaims your abandoned land. Your carefully constructed objects evaporate and your business effectively ceases to exist
A tragedy for certain; not only for the maker, but also for residents because the maker’s wonderful items would no longer be available.
For larger virtual businesses, the amount of cash flow can be significant and the business is a non-trivial asset that just cannot be forgotten. What can be done? Here’s some ideas:
- Decide what you want done. Should your business be sold to the highest bidder? Perhaps you want to give it to a good friend who you think would be able to run it properly. Maybe it should be donated to a worthy cause or organization (who also should know what to do with it)
- Pick someone. Decide exactly who could actually deal with your operation if necessary. Yes, that hunky boyfriend may be your closest friend, but does he have a hot clue about fashion design? If your business is already owned by a partnership, then this step is easy
- Make a plan. Your most trusted virtual friends should know what you want them to do in case of disaster. Tell your trusted pals your intentions! And you should carefully define what you mean by disaster: “Gee, you were away for three weeks and I thought you were dead, so I sold your business. Sorry!”
- Leave the Keys. Consider leaving sufficient information with your most trusted pals so they can act on your intentions. It might be as simple as a RL name and phone number so they can contact your survivors and explain to them what needs to be done. It could even be account passwords, but they’d have to be extremely trustworthy to consider that step, especially in a large business
- Advise RL. They may not have any clue about virtual reality, but somebody should at least know there is something to do with your virtual comrades in a disaster. Leave them the account and password information (sealed, if necessary). Tell them the names of avatars to trust, since your virtual friends may be calling on your RL survivors
- Get a Coach. If you know a trustworthy SL user in your local area, make arrangements for them to provide assistance to your survivors. Survivors will likely have absolutely no idea where to start, what to do, or even understand what is presented to them. Get them a coach to interpret and guide
Would you bother doing this? I would consider this type of plan necessary only if you have a significant in-world business, either one with lots of revenue or one where many people depend on your operation. Many smaller virtual businesses are barely viable and probably are not worth these steps.
Let’s hope you survive a long time. Note that I don’t say, “let’s hope nothing bad happens”, because something bad Will Indeed Happen Eventually. Plan on it.