Once you have made the commitment to start an online business you should think about writing an online business start-up plan. Writing down your thoughts about your online business venture will be useful in a number of ways.
Firstly, by writing down your thoughts it stops you having to constantly think about them in your head, trying desperately not to forget them. A written plan is useful as a reference to which you can add or amend as your thinking develops.
Secondly, if you are going to seek funding or consider partnering with other people you will need a written business plan in order to provide them with some information about your online business venture.
There are lots of different types of business plans and there is no ‘one size fits all’ template that everyone should use. At the early stages of inception, I have used the following simple steps to sketch out my thoughts when planning an online business.
The Online Business Purpose
You will need to be clear about the purpose of your online business. Can you describe its purpose within a couple of sentences?
If a person stopped you in the street could you tell the person what your business is all about within a couple of minutes?
Think about the business purpose from customer point of view, how does your business help its customers?
As your business builds and expands your purpose may also change. Therefore, this part of the plan will need to be regularly updated.
Aim and Goals of the business
It is useful, even at the start-up phase, to set some business goals and targets. Without an aim or any goals it will be difficult to measure progress.
You can have aims and goals about customers, such as we aim to serve 50 customers a week in the first three months from start-up. Your goal could be to drive at least 200 people a day to your online site via social media and you will produce at least five social media posts a day in the first three months of operation.
It will be useful to set some financial goals, such as, sell five products a day worth $10 each and 1 product per day worth $40 for example.
Once you have established some targets you need to think about how you are going to deliver them.
It will be important to clearly define the niche that your online business will operate. A niche is a segment of a larger market. For example, your online business may operate in the Technology market which will embrace many products and services. However, your particular niche may be ‘headphones’
Therefore, taking ‘headphones’ as the example you will need to clearly define what the headphone niche means to your business. Will you be selling wired headphones, wireless headphones, in-ear headphones, noise canceling headphones and so on.
With a clearly defined niche it will be easier to remain consistent with your marketing and sales messages and your customers will become familiar with the products and services you offer. See my Niche Ideas post for some niche areas you may wish to consider.
Keeping each online business you set up to one niche will achieve better results than adding random products to an established niche business.
A common phrase you come across in business is ‘know your customers’. This is very important for the online business world.
The more detail you know about your customers the easier it will be to target your marketing material to these individuals online. With an online business you are not going to be meeting customers face-to-face, you will need to find then online and place your marketing message in front of them.
The terminology for an online business is you need to find the right ‘traffic’ and drive that traffic to your business i.e. your website.
I have written a post called ‘generating traffic for your online business’ should you need more information about knowing your audience.
Target Audience Problems
One of the great ways to sell products online is to show how your products or services will solve the target audiences’ problems.
Most people when buying online are looking for solutions. For example, if I am a frequent flyer and I want to cut out the background noise from the aircraft and fellow passengers I would search the internet for some noise canceling headphones.
If I came across and advert or a blog post that gave me information about how some particular products will cut out background noise, are comfortable to wear and folded away in to a small space I would likely make a purchase as this would solve my problem.
When thinking about your niche you need to discovery the common keywords people will use when search for information and solutions on line.
Using the headphone niche as an example, what set of words are people likely to type in a search engine like Google or Bing?
A person could type ‘headphones’ as the keyword but it’s too general so they are more likely to type in keywords such as lightweight headphones, wireless headphones, Bluetooth headphones or headphones for sports.
This keyword research will help when considering writing adverts or blog posts. There are keyword research tools that will help you understand how frequently the words are searched for. The tools will also suggest alternative keyword phrases and other useful information. Keyword research tools will be covered in another article.
It will be useful in the planning phase to have found a list of products you wish to sell or promote.
As part of the product research you will need to find the suppliers and alternative suppliers if possible, the cost of the product the recommended selling price, and the commission you will earn if you are an affiliate marketeer.
If you are going to do affiliate marketing, make a note of all the URL’s of the affiliate sites that you are likely to use.
Once you have found your product list it may be useful to build a value ladder. Start with you low cost or entry level products these will be used to attract customers to your site and list your products in ascending order to the highest ticket item.
With the value ladder in place you can decide which products you can offer to customers that will provide further value? With the headphone example you could offer at customer who has bought some Bluetooth Headphones some accessories such as a carrying case or a USB charger for example.
Do some research of other sites that are selling the same products and make a note on how they are presenting the products and what words are used to attract peoples attention. This may help you to improve on their offer?
Can you spot the competitors value ladder? Can you find the low-ticket items? What high ticket items does your competitor offer? How does your value ladder compare?
Where are your competitors advertising? FaceBook? Twitter? Google Ads?
Can you spot the social media sites that has your target audience profile, but your competitors are not using?
Marketing if done well online can take potential customers all the way to a sale. It is essential for all business big and small to promote themselves through well targeted marketing. If the customers do not know that you exist, you will not get any sales!
You need to develop a marketing strategy and determine a budget for your online business.
You may decide that you will use social media to build your audience for your online business. Using social can provide a low-cost way of driving traffic to your website or one-page advert.
With most of the popular social media sites you would create a page/profile and make posts about the products and services you provide. In the profile or within a post you could provide the URL to your website and if you make it sound interesting people will click through to take a look.
However, most of the popular social media site allow you to create adverts and this is a great way of driving a lot of traffic to your website. Remember you must not try to sell anything on a social media site you can only promote. For example, you could use the phrase “If you would like to solve this problem visit ABC website for further details”
The Outline Plan
Once you have gathered the above information you will have produced an outline plan from which you can start to build your business. Make regular reference to the plan as it will help you stay on the course and avoid being distracted by the latest fad.
As you start creating your business online following your plan you may find that you will make adjustments, this is normal as you learn more about your chosen niche. You may for example:
- Find another purpose that your online business can fulfil
- Set more ambitious targets as your confidence grows
- Expand your niche definition to include some additional related products
- Develop your knowledge of the customer and better understand their problems
- Get to know your competitors better which will help you improve your marketing strategy.
By keeping your plan up-to-date it will help, as your business expands, to brief your staff and or virtual assistants about your business and how it operates.
I hope you enjoyed this article and if you have any questions about online business start-up planning, or you would like to make a comment, please use the box below.