How to Make an Ecommerce Business Plan for Your Startup
June 27, 2023
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So you’ve decided that you want to quit your day job and start your very own ecommerce empire. That’s great!
But before you become the next Jeff Bezos (and definitely before you quit your job!), it’s worth spending some time thinking about a business plan. In this article, we’ll dive into the key elements of an ecommerce business plan, which is very different than writing traditional business plans.
Why You Should Create a Business Plan
We know that starting an ecommerce business is exciting, and it can be tempting to jump right in without constructing a business plan. READ: PLEASE DON’T DO THIS.
If you haven’t put your ideas, questions and concerns on paper, then you haven’t given your business model enough thought .
Taking the time to write a business plan might seem like a lot of work, but it can save you a lot of time and money in the long run by better preparing you for potential challenges and opportunities that you’ll face as a first-time entrepreneur. Think of it as a roadmap for your new business venture.
It’s exciting to start your own ecommerce business. However, you want to be well prepared and not jump into anything without having a solid, foolproof ecommerce business plan in place.
After all, you wouldn’t jump out of a plane without a parachute, so why start a business without a safety device in place? That safety device is your business plan.
The business plan is the brainstorming process that ensures your concept and goals are realistic.
This is more than just mental notes. True business plans take your ideas , questions, and concerns and put those in writing.
As you start creating your business plan, you’ll soon understand that it’s more than a single piece of paper with handwritten details on it. It’s a clearly constructed format of how your business will be created, how it will operate, and what you hope the future holds in terms of a successful ecommerce business.
When you write your business plan, be sure to have a target audience in mind. Are you going to look for investors or put a Kickstarter campaign into motion and use this as your descriptive platform? If so, make sure that your business plan contains everything the audience would want to know about your business (and more!). Many traditional funding solutions require a business plan in order to give you capital. However, there are alternative solutions, such as Payability that specialize in ecommerce and don’t require credit checks, a business plan, or any complicated paperwork. They can also get you approved in as little as 24 hours.
When your business plan is completed, you should have achieved the following goals:
- Knowledge: A greater sense of knowledge of the business aspects.
- Resources: The resources you’re going to need to make your business successful, such as partners, money, employees, etc.
- Road Map: Have clear set goals to take you from the very beginning of your business and onward.
- Viability: In other words, is your business possible? Will you have enough profit margins to keep the doors open long-term?
Now that you know why you should create a business plan, it’s time to move on to how you can create your business plan and get started putting your ecommerce business into motion.
How to Start an Ecommerce Business Plan
At the very beginning of the planning stages, it’s a good idea to develop a framework for your business model. This business model will continue to evolve as you create each section of your ecommerce business plan, so don’t strive for a perfect completed plan on the first try. You will be making tweaks to the plan of certain steps along the way.
There are many ways to sell products online and different business models to pursue. Research and learn from successful ecommerce business examples in the market. The exact business model you follow will be one that makes the most sense with your resources, skills, and interests.
In order to create the best online business plan with your product in mind, you need to figure out the following things:
What are you selling?
The first step to creating an online business is to learn the absolute basics of what you can sell.
- Physical products: Clothing , shoes, home goods
- Digital products: Software as a Service products, ecourses, ebooks
- Services: Consulting services, home cleaning
Who are you selling to?
- Business-to-Business (B2B): You are selling to organizations, corporations, and non-profits rather than individual customers
- Business to Consumer (B2C): This means you are selling to individual consumers rather than businesses
- Marketplace: You are acting as a middleman by bringing businesses and (B2B or B2C) customers to one website.
How are you sourcing your product?
- Manufacture in-house: You make your product or service in-house
- Third-party manufacturer: You outsource the manufacturing of your product or service to a third-party manufacturer
- Dropship: You partner with a dropship manufacturer. Basically, this means that they make your product, package it and ship it directly to your customer while your company handles the entire customer relationship.
- Wholesale : You buy goods or services from other companies in bulk and re-sell those products on your online store
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- Business Plan Resources
The executive summary will be written according to your goals, and it’s recommended that this is done at the very end of your business plan completion. This will ensure that you include all of the important factors about your business and present your ideas in a concise and complete way.
Some of the features you’ll include in the executive summary include information showing that you’ve done your research, you have concrete sales forecasts, and the main details about your brand.
When you’re figuring out your business model, you have to consider four different areas:
- Monetization strategy
- Target market
- Sales channel
The monetization strategy delves into the methods you are going to use to sell your products.
This strategy will look at different product monetization methods, including white label, private label , affiliate marketing, wholesale, dropshipping, and even selling ads.
The product industry section is where you summarize your main niche.
For example, “Vegan Skincare Products.”
In the target market section, you will write a sentence or so on who your target market, or ideal customer, is in the community.
If you’re selling vegan skincare products, your target customers might be women who embrace the vegan lifestyle and use natural skincare products in their daily beauty regimen.
The sales channel refers to where you’re going to sell your products.
For example, you might be selling your products on your own website, and this should be entered in this section.
This next section covers your company overview.
This section of your business plan will cover various features of your company, including the following:
- Company type
- Domain name
- Value proposition
- Brand traits
The brand name section lists your business name or brand name.
This is an extremely important aspect of your business plan as it’s what will set the tone for everything that follows.
Pick a brand name that’s simple yet unique and is something that can be used in a wordplay manner, if desired, but not pun-worthy.
The company is how your business operates. For example, you might label your business as an LLC, S-corporation, sole proprietor, or some other type of business organization.
The best way to determine how you should categorize your company is to speak to your accountant. There are various tax and legal aspects to forming your business in a certain way.
Speak with the professionals in the company and corporation formation field to determine how to label your company and which company type best benefits your business in a variety of ways.
This section is where you list your domain name.
Choose a domain name that is memorable and embraces the overall traits and features of your business.
And, when choosing a domain name, be sure to think of SEO aspects when doing so. You’ll find out just how much all of these things tie together and ensure a frequently-visited website is the end result.
Keep in mind that with ecommerce, the domain name is just as important as the brand name. Maybe even more so!
A value proposition is a short, crisp statement that will gauge how clear your idea is. Write this section as if you had one minute to explain your business to a potential investor or customer and then practice it over and over again.
The value proposition can be used on your ecommerce store as your company description.
Here’s a good example: Say you’re looking to start a hiking company called Atlas Hiking Co. which sells premium performance hiking shirts. A possible company description could be the following:
Atlas Hiking Co. is a lifestyle hiking company that produces high-performance hiking shirts for outdoor lovers. Our proprietary SPF40 fabric is one of the lightest fabrics on the market, providing mountain lovers with maximum comfort, both from a breathability and sun-protection standpoint. Our product is made in the U.S.A. and a portion of our profits are donated to preserve national parks around the country.
Pay special attention to all the sensory words !
The mission statement in your business plan is the “why” of it all.
For example, why you started the business, why you are selling the products you are selling, etc., can all be added to this section of your business plan.
You can make this portion as simple or detailed as you like. Just make sure to properly and clearly explain your business mission.
The vision part of the business plan is your “how” in the grand scheme of things. It is the dream you have for your company and the path you’re going to take to realize that dream.
When you write the vision portion of the business plan, think long-term. What are you hoping to achieve, not just in the near future but for the long haul of the life of your business?
Look into the future and plan out where you see your business in 5, 10, even 20 years from now.
This will help you construct the rest of your business plan if you know where you want your business to head, now and in the future.
The brand traits section is a short section in your company overview.
Basically, in the brand traits section you’re going to want to list three to five words that describe your brand.
Think of your brand personality and describe it using a few separate powerful words.
The personnel section lists all individuals, including yourself, who will be involved in the daily operations of your business. You can create a separate section for a full operations plan or add that later.
Some business owners choose to handle all duties on their own or with a partner, while others will hire individuals to fill the following roles:
- CEO (usually the business owner)
- Management team
- Customer service/logistics
- PR/Social media specialist
- SEO manager
- Advertising manager
Competitive Market Analysis
Here’s a fact you can bank on: there has never been a successful e-commerce entrepreneur that didn’t understand his/her target market cold.
That’s why this section is one of the most important in the entire business plan. It will force you to understand the industry in which you operate, the overall industry analysis and outlook, the existing competition, and your target customer demographic.
The market segment portion of the business plan will help you to put your ideas down on paper, make them more focused, and get your team together.
This area will include your niche selection, target market, and competitive analysis.
The niche section provides an overview of your niche, why you selected it, whether there’s a micro niche included, and the type of niche you’ve chosen.
The purpose of this section is to crystalize the ideas that you have and make sure they are understandable and viable.
The target market section covers an overview of your target market plus describes your market segments.
Ask yourself who your target customer is (population size, age, geography, education, ethnicity, income level) and consider whether consumers are comfortable with buying your product category online.
When listing the target market information, make sure to mention your target audience size as this is important for ensuring that your audience will be adequately covered.
With the competitive analysis portion of your market analysis, you want to list your market leader and direct and indirect competitors.
After you mention who these entities are, you need to list the characteristics of each one, such as domain name, business model, monthly traffic, and pricing range.
However, before you even get started in writing this section, you need to spend several hours researching your target market.
Here are some of the most efficient ways to research a particular market:
Google is your best friend. Look for any recent industry reports on your market of choice. This will give you a good sense of how much growth the industry is experiencing, why this growth is happening, and what are the largest customer segments. In our example of Atlas Hiking Co., we should research the outdoor apparel market.
Let’s say that through our research of the outdoor apparel industry, we discovered that there was a huge boom in youth hiking apparel. Perhaps parents were increasingly concerned about their kids’ exposure to UV rays while hiking, so they began to spend more money on their kids. We could use this valuable information to guide our business strategy.
There’s only so much you can read online. Go to a nearby store that sells similar products to yours and interview the store representative. The store rep has interacted with hundreds of interested customers, which can lead to thousands of valuable insights! It’s amazing how these insights can translate into a meaningful business opportunity.
Here’s an example:
If I were going into Billy’s Outdoor Store to research the outdoor apparel market, I would probably ask Billy the following:
- What are your best-selling products?
- What are your worst-selling products?
- Find products similar to yours and ask the representative his/her favorite features on products similar to yours.
- How much are customers generally willing to spend on these types of products?
- Do customers make repeat orders of any of these products?
- Do you get a lot of customers that are looking to buy last-minute hiking gear before they go on a hike?
Create an Excel spreadsheet of all of your competitors. In your spreadsheet, you should have the following columns:
- Competitor Name
- Price point
- Product Description
- Key Features (e.g., fabric, waterproof, slim fit, etc.)
What is the competition missing? Is there a gap in the offering? Where you can add some additional value?
After conducting the competitor analysis, Atlas Hiking Co. might find that the competition’s hiking shirts offer very few features at a low price point, but no one offers a luxury hiking shirt with additional features at a higher price point.
This is just an example of the types of insights one can gain from market research which can drastically alter your business model.
By using Google’s keyword planner and trends pages, you can get a good sense of how in demand your product is and whether it’s trending upward or downward. Google is great for a general idea, just don’t bank on it.
Some other keyword tools you can use for keyword research include Ahrefs, JungleScout, and Viral Launch. Check out this list for more ideas.
Are there nearby trade shows that you can go to? Again, creating connections with other people in your industry is a surefire shortcut to countless hours of reading on the internet. Trade shows are also a great opportunity to talk to competitors, meet manufacturers, and better understand where things are heading in your industry.
Once you finish researching the relevant industry, you should summarize your findings by answering the following questions:
- How big is the overall industry?
- How big is the specific sub-industry in which you intend to operate?
- Where has most of the historic growth in the market come from?
- Why is this the right time to enter this market?
- What are the sub-segments that are poised for future growth (e.g., youth apparel)?
- How crowded is the product category with competition?
- How is your competition distributing its product (online, retail, wholesale, etc.)?
- What’s missing from the competition’s product offering?
Products and Offers
So we know we want to sell hiking shirts, but how do you research specific products?
But for some of us, we’re not quite sure what we should sell. To succeed in online retail, you need a product that is trending upwards in a growing niche.
Different types of products
Some of the different types of products include the following:
- Convenience products: Frequent purchase products, little effort on buying
- Shopping products: Less frequently purchased in between purchases, little more effort and planning, shop around
- Specialty products: Strong brand preference and loyalty, will buy no matter what the price
The various types of niches include the following:
- Hobby niches
- Lifestyle niches
- Problem niches
- Weird/embarrassing niches
Come up with detailed specifications for each product or service you intend to sell. If it’s a hiking shirt we’re selling, we would want to have:
- Detailed sketches of the shirt
- Fabric weight, materials, type
- Key features (e.g., pre-shrunk, water-proof, SPF 40)
Future product pipeline
What are other products that you have in the pipeline? Perhaps once you’ve successfully sold hiking shirts, you’re able to leverage your manufacturing relationships to provide hiking socks and shorts. Include that information in this section.
The products and services section will cover the various selling categories of items.
These product offerings will include the following:
- Core product
Each product group will have its own purpose in your sales catalog. For example, tripwire is the product that brings customers to your ecommerce store or online marketplaces while the core product is your main seller.
Knowing what products you’ll include within each section allows you to have a firm grasp on what your main product will be and how the other types of products will work alongside your main product.
This section will also cover the search volume and Amazon pricing range.
You’ll need to calculate your true costs. You have to make sure you don’t overestimate your margins.
To tabulate your total true costs, you need to write down the costs in the following areas:
- Target price
- Supplier cost of the product
- Total cost per unit
- Net profit per unit
- Profit margin per unit
Once you complete the pricing portion, you’ll have everything on one sheet and readily accessible whenever you need it.
Marketing Plan and Operations
So, now you’ve concluded that you have a great business idea, and it’s in a growing market. That’s fantastic – but how are you going to drive traffic to your ecommerce website and get customers to buy it ? And how much can you afford to spend on your product?
Marketing is everything. It’s important that your marketing efforts match your business model.
If you have a website and no marketing, your site won’t have any visitors. With no visitors, you will make no sales. Then how do you grow and sell your ecommerce business (if that’s your long-term goal)? Even with the best possible products, nobody will buy them if they aren’t directed to them in some way.
In order to come up with a marketing strategy, you need to first know your customer inside out. You should be able to answer such questions as:
- How old is your customer?
- Where does your customer live?
- What is the population of your customer base?
- What is their education level?
- What is their income level?
- What are your customer’s pain points?
With so many channels to reach your customer, which one is best for you?
Once we know pretty much everything there is to know about our target customer, we can shift focus to our marketing strategy. You want to choose marketing strategies that equal positive conversion rates. What channels should you use to grab the attention of your customer demographic? Some of the key marketing channels include:
- Pay-per-click – this online marketing typically involves using Google Shopping campaigns and managing a product data feed.
- Affiliate sales networks – Allowing other blogs and websites to sell your product for a cut of the revenue. List the different affiliate sale networks that you plan to promote through.
- Facebook ads ⎯ Ads posted on Facebook to draw in buyers through social media means.
- Influencer marketing ⎯ Hiring industry influencers to get the word out about your product through their social media platforms and contacts.
- Social media (Facebook, Instagram , Pinterest, etc.): What is your strategy for social media, and where will you dedicate your attention?
- Search Engine Optimization : Create and promote awesome content so people find your product organically through search.
- Content marketing: Figure out how you’ll use content marketing in your business. Consider various article topics that will persuade your target audience to buy your products.
- Blogger networks: could be organic or paid through affiliate sale programs.
- Key bloggers: Develop a list of the key bloggers in your product category. For Atlas Hiking Co., this might be an influencer that blogs about the best hiking trails in America.
Finding the optimal mix of these advertising tools depends 100% on your customer segment as well as your product type. For example, a SaaS product targeting millennials will require an entirely different marketing strategy than an e-commerce physical product targeting baby boomers. Perhaps that should be a post on its own for another day!
How much should you spend to acquire a customer?
In order to understand this, we need first to discuss a concept known as customer lifetime value or LTV. In essence, this is a formula that helps you better understand how much an average customer will spend over time.
Here’s a good read on how to calculate LTV.
It’s important to remember that for new businesses, you don’t have a lot of data on customer purchase habits so it’s a good idea to be more conservative with your assumptions in calculating LTV.
Let’s say, for Atlas Hiking Co., I determine that the average LTV per customer is $300. This means that over time, the average customer will spend $300. Let’s say, on average, if I receive $300 in revenue, $100 of that will translate to gross profit before I factor in my marketing costs (basically, I’m just subtracting the cost of making the shirts).
Knowing that my gross profit is $100 per shirt is a critical piece of information because it tells me that I can spend up to $100 in marketing to acquire a customer and still be profitable!
Some of the marketing options include social media marketing and content marketing.
Think about your business model and then line up your marketing budget. Your marketing budget may include the following items:
- Sales/branded content
- SEO/blog content
- Facebook/Instagram ads
- Influencer marketing
- Marketing tools
- Niche advertising
Choosing The Right Technology
With so much technology and SaaS products out there, it’s important to understand the various moving parts and diagram how they all integrate with one another.
Some of the different elements include:
- Shopping Cart Platforms – e.g., Shopify , BigCommerce , WooCommerce , or any open-source platform
- Hosting – Nexcess , BigScoots , Kinsta , WPX
- Payment Processo r – e.g., Stripe, Paypal
- Fulfillment Center – e.g., Amazon, ShipBob
- Apps – e.g., Zipify, BuildWooFunnels, Gelato
- Accounting & Taxes – e.g., Quicken, Xero
- Marketing Automation – e.g., Klaviyo , Mailchimp
- Marketing Tools – e.g. Buzzstream, Ahrefs
- Customer Loyalty Programs – e.g., Antavo, Smile
Come up with a detailed list of the different products and services you need to run your business as well as the monthly and per-transaction cost of each of them. This will be important in understanding the impact of these services on your margins.
Matching your business model to your technology is essential, too. Certain website platforms are better suited for specific sales models.
Email marketing is another type of technology that should be carefully considered and matched up correctly with your business model.
Keep in mind that it takes, on average, 6-7 interactions with a brand before someone makes a purchase, so you need to keep using technology to get them back to your website.
As you explore the technology options and find out ways to draw potential customers in and keep them happy while they’re there, here are some key points to keep in mind:
- What you say about yourself and your products with your website content
- How you respond to questions on live chat and email support
- How to make use of chatbots
- How you connect on social media
- The information you send through email marketing
- What bloggers and influencers say about your brand
- How existing customers review your company
- How you advertise
- How you establish loyalty beyond sales
After you figure out your technology methods, you have to come up with a technology budget.
The business plan must also include the operations side of things. Determine who will be your manufacturer, secondary manufacturer, and shipping and fulfillment provider.
When looking at supply chain costs and options, ShipBob is an ecommerce fulfillment provider you can consider.
When figuring out your financial plan, evaluating and pinpointing your startup costs is essential.
The focus of the financial plan is how long it will take for you to make your money back. You also need to figure out if you need a business loan .
Traffic and conversion rates will help you determine how long it will be until you start making money back.
You’ll also want to use an income statement to detail financial information.
This section is used for financial projections, such as forecasting sales, expenses, and net income of the business. Ideally, you’ll want to create a monthly Excel balance sheet showing the following:
- Projected revenue: First, come up with your projected number of units sold and then come up with your projected revenue (Projected Revenue = # of Units Sold * Average Sales Price).
- Fixed expenses: these are expenses that are fixed no matter how much you sell. Typically, these relate to monthly SaaS subscriptions, employee salaries, or rent.
- Variable expenses – these expenses change in direct proportion to how much you sell. Common examples include the cost of goods sold and credit card payment processing fees.
This helps business owners better understand what they need to achieve to hit their profit goals. In reality, projections are usually always off the mark, but it’s good to give yourself some measurable goals to strive for.
This section should aim to answer the following questions about your product offering:
- How much product do you need to sell per year to meet your income goals for the business?
- What are the margins on your product? If you sell one hiking shirt for $50, how much do you make after paying your supplier, employees, and marketing costs?
- What is the lifetime value of a customer?
- How much can you spend to acquire customers? If you conservatively project that the average customer will spend $300 over time on your shirts, then you can afford to spend an amount less than $300 to acquire that customer using the paid marketing channels described previously.
- Do you have any big capital expenditures early on that would require you to need to bring in investors?
- Can you improve gross margins by making bigger orders from your suppliers?
There are various acquisition channels that will help your traffic to convert including:
Your revenue plan will contain a 12-month revenue forecast plan to help you map out each month of earnings.
There are different business earning models you can go through to determine how much you can make with your business.
You want to calculate how much traffic costs. This all depends on the methods you use to gain traffic to your site.
As you determine what your profit might be with your ecommerce business or ecommerce businesses, there are certain math formulas to use:
- The profit equation
- Break-even analysis
- Units needed to achieve the profit target
You should also consider how you will use fintech companies in your ecommerce business.
What are the key elements of an ecommerce business plan?
The main components of an eCommerce business plan include the executive summary, company description, market analysis, organization and management structure, product line or service, marketing and sales strategy, financial projections, and funding request, if applicable.
How do I create a budget for my ecommerce business?
Start by estimating your initial startup costs and ongoing expenses. Consider costs like website development, inventory, marketing, shipping, taxes, and any necessary licenses or permits. It’s also important to factor in a contingency plan for unexpected costs.
How do I find the right product to sell?
Research is fundamental. Look at market trends, customer needs, and competitor products. Use tools like Google Trends or social media platforms to understand what customers are currently interested in. Always consider your passion and knowledge about the product too, as this can drive your business forward.
How can I differentiate my product from competitors?
Differentiation can come from unique product features, superior customer service, better pricing, or a compelling brand story. Understand what your competitors offer and how you can do it differently or better.
Wrapping Up Your Business Plan
Careful planning is crucial to get your e-commerce business from the planning phase to the launch phase and to ensure its successful future.
Going through the exercise of writing a business plan will cement your own understanding of your business and your market. It will also position you to take advantage of lucrative opportunities while mitigating harmful threats to your business down the line.
Your turn! Have you written a business plan for your online store? Do you have anything to add? Tell us about it in the comments below!
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How to Write an Ecommerce Business Plan [Examples & Template]
Published: July 07, 2022
If you have a promising idea for an online ecommerce business , it’s important to create an ecommerce business plan to ensure your vision has enough stock to be profitable.
Having a business plan for your online store will help you define your target market, establish your monthly and quarterly sales goals, and increase the likelihood of long-term ecommerce success.
In this post, we’ll go over what an online store business plan is and how you can create one for your ecommerce startup. Let’s get started.
What is an ecommerce business plan?
An ecommerce business plan is a document that outlines your business and its goals, analyzes your industry and competitors, and identifies the resources needed to execute your plan. It also lists the ecommerce retailers you’ll use to distribute your products and the marketing strategies you’ll use to drive sales.
Whether a company operates as a startup or has years of operations and growth under its belt, an ecommerce business plan is essential for evaluating a business and determining areas of improvement.
An ecommerce business plan is especially important, with an increasing number of shoppers conducting business online. It's estimated this number has reached over 2 billion . Having an ecommerce business plan keeps you organized and is useful when seeking investors who need to understand your company.
So, let’s dive into some examples of ecommerce business plans and what goes into writing one using our free template .
Ecommerce Business Plan Template
Download Your Free Template Here
How to Write an E-commerce Business Plan
- Give an executive summary.
- List and describe your business.
- Detail your products and services.
- Conduct a market analysis.
- Strategize your marketing plan.
- Create a sales plan.
- Outline legal notes and financial considerations.
1. Give an executive summary.
An executive summary is a one-to-two page overview of your business. The purpose of an executive summary is to let stakeholders know what the business plan will contain. HubSpot's free template offers some tips on how to write one, as I've done below:
It's important to provide an executive summary so that an investor or executive, who doesn’t have the time to read your full plan, can quickly see the most important highlights of your business.
2. List and describe your business.
This is the section that needs the most detail because it highlights what you're selling. To begin, provide an overview of your product or service. For instance, a photography company would probably list their photo packages arranged by price and services, as I did below:
HubSpot's template also provides direction on how to describe your company's purpose and break down values. It also advises businesses to include team structure, if applicable. Below that, you should go into detail about your product and service lines.
3. Detail your products and services.
Once you have described your business and its purpose, you’re ready to dive deeper into your plan. What products and services do you or will you offer? This is an opportunity to list each item and its purpose, allowing you to answer the question ‘ why?’ Why are you choosing to offer these specific products and services?
After detailing your products and services, outline your pricing model. What is the cost associated with each service? Determining price, especially as a startup, can be challenging. However, sales pricing calculators help determine the best pricing strategy.
Download This Template
4. Conduct a market analysis.
For the market analysis, provide the operational climate of the industry you're in. To illustrate, at this step, the photography company would need to analyze its position in a world of rival companies like Adobe or online services like Canva. Below, I've done a quick competitor analysis, available in the template:
Using directions in the template as a guide, I was able to come up with more selling points of the company and how it stands out from competitors.
Filling out the market analysis section of the business plan assists with providing the framework for future campaigns. You’re able to define your target market and ideal customer. Refer to my example below for how to structure this analysis in your ecommerce plan.
Good market analysis includes your target audience, projections of your company's goals, and a breakdown of the competition's goals and weaknesses. This is a counterpoint of how your business improves upon those weaknesses.
For a complete guide on how to create a market analysis, we have one here.
5. Strategize your marketing plan.
For any business, having the right marketing plan for your eCommerce business is crucial. It serves as a roadmap for how your company will build brand awareness, reach your target audience, and boost sales and revenue. As seen in this template, your marketing plan will focus on positioning strategy, acquisition channels, and tools and technology.
Positioning strategy fixates on how you will position yourself to your audience. How will you address their challenges and goals? How will you use the tools at your disposal to accomplish this?
The marketing plan will also require you to focus on where your customers come from. Are they finding your business through search engine marketing? Do they discover your business from your blog or social media accounts? Identifying your acquisition channels allows you to identify which ones to prioritize.
Lastly, your marketing plan should lay out the tools and technology your marketing team will need and use. Will you use a content management system (CMS) like CMS Hub ? List all the software and programs your company will use to execute its marketing plan.
6. Create a sales plan.
When creating your sales plan, describe your methodology, organization structure, sales channels, and tools and technology. For example, when discussing methodology, will you focus on an inbound strategy where you attract customers to your business through your content or an outbound strategy where you initiate contact with your prospects? This part of your ecommerce business plan will also require you to outline the people in charge of selling your products and services, as well as what channels they’ll use to sell your products.
Similar to creating your marketing plan, the sales plan will also require a brief on what tools you plan to use. While your marketing plan might need a CMS, your sales plan might need a customer retention management (CRM) software like HubSpot to manage your relationships with current and potential customers.
7. Outline legal notes and financial considerations.
In the following two sections of your business plan, describe the legal and financial structures. The photography company should provide detail on the legal considerations like online safety rules, ecommerce regulations, and the company's costs.
Listing legality and every cost needed to start ecommerce is crucial information for investors and stakeholders. In this section, it's important to be honest and thorough to give partners a realistic idea of how to contribute.
Ecommerce Business Plan Examples
1. maple ecommerce plan.
This sample plan, provided on LinkedIn, is for a fictional company called Maple, an online store that sells exclusive Apple products. Maple's sample plan is great because it provides easy-to-follow charts and graphics while highlighting the most important information. For example, their market analysis included a SWOT plan for the business.
Outlining the strengths, weaknesses, threats, and opportunities of Maple in this format is easy for potential investors to follow. Notating each value with a letter keeps the format consistent, which is carried throughout the plan. For businesses that find their information is best presented in graphics, Maple is a good plan to follow.
2. Nature's Candy Ecommerce Plan
Nature's Candy is an online retailer that provides nutritional supplements. Its business plan is available online and is helpful in seeing how businesses go from planning to execution. Below is a preview of its plan in the financial forecasting section.
This example shows who will be on payroll yearly, giving investors an idea of how their investment will work in the long term. Planning ahead also shows stakeholders’ dedication to starting up your business.
3. NoHassleReturn Ecommerce Plan
Fictional company NoHassleReturn's sample ecommerce plan is an expansive, detailed version of how ecommerce would translate to a completely online store. The company itself is structured to offer a way to make returning items bought from an online store a simple process, and the steps to take are featured below.
Having a sequence of processes like this is useful if your company is a niche idea. Investors and stakeholders need to know how your business will be new and unique for the market.
Even though writing out a business plan seems like a painstaking process, we have a step-by-step guide to help. This will keep you organized and keep you on track when structuring your business.
4. OGS Capital Ecommerce Plan
This sample ecommerce business plan comes from OGS Capital, where they created a test business plan for Botswana’s first private psychiatric hospital focused on inpatient and outpatient clinical health care. It features detailed sections for the business model, marketing plan, financial projects, and more. This level of detail is demonstrated below in their executive summary section.
While some ecommerce business plans will explain the executive summary through a series of paragraphs, the layout in this sample makes the information more digestible. The project is separated into sections that detail the business idea, as well as its goals and strengths. The business idea includes price projects, geographical focus, and target customers. Goals for this project are created for 10 years with specific, individual goals built at one-, five-, and seven-year time markers. Lastly, this executive summary highlights the strengths of this business plan to solidify this project and its importance.
5. Egrocery Ecommerce Plan
For centuries, people have left their homes to buy groceries from stores, supermarkets, farmer’s markets, and more. At-home grocery delivery has grown in popularity and is reflected in this sample ecommerce plan for a fictional business named eGrocery. This sample plan establishes the company as an online grocery retail business with plans for connecting customers to distributors for fast, convenient at-home deliveries.
In its business model section, eGrocery outlines how it will implement both a business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) model to get products from distributors, retailers, and wholesalers to its household customers. This section provides an effective demonstration of the company’s overall function.
6. Shannon & Shavonne Inc. Ecommerce Plan
Shannon & Shavonne Inc. is a fictional United States-based online retailer that offers its customers an abundance of products in fashion, home appliances, electronics, and more. The depth seen in this plan is particularly helpful, especially with the detail seen in outlining the business structure and each job’s roles and responsibilities.
The plan first lists all the necessary roles, from the chief executive officer (CEO) to a call center agent. It then describes the responsibilities of each role. As displayed in the image above, an information technologist (IT) would be tasked with managing the organization’s website, updating the online store, and ensuring the security of the company’s payment platform. The clear distinction of roles helps manage employee expectations and accountability.
7. Firstcry.com Ecommerce Plan
In this sample, we have Firstcry.com — a fictional ecommerce site that creates eco-friendly baby and feminine hygiene products. Because the company is looking for funding to launch the business, its plan focuses on its financial highlights and projections, which is crucial information for investors.
While disclosing what the startup funds will be used for, this plan also estimates its top-line projections over the next five years. As seen in the chart above, they include revenue, expenses, interest, and net income. The plan even breaks down how many customers per day and annual orders will be needed to reach this goal.
When it comes to building an ecommerce business plan, you’ll likely find that the more detail you include, the better.
Planning is the first step.
When starting a business, planning is always a crucial first step. If you find that you’ve launched a company without a concrete plan, it’s never too late. Successful businesses require strategy, and that’s what an ecommerce business plan gives you. It allows you to strategize what your business does, how it operates, and why it's essential. Not only does it help you pinpoint who the key players of your company are, but it helps you identify who your target audience should be.
With the steps listed in this article and the examples to take inspiration from, you’re one step closer to building an ecommerce business plan for success.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in November 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
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How to Write an eCommerce Business Plan + Template
10 min. read
Updated June 22, 2023
If you’re starting an online eCommerce business , it’s tempting to dive right in and set up your digital shop. After all, eCommerce businesses are often less expensive to start than physical businesses and the risk may seem lower. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. There’s still risk involved and money you may lose if you don’t start your business the right way.
So if you want your business to be successful you’ll want to start with a business plan first. Not having a business plan is one of the primary reasons businesses fail and it’s an easy first step that you can start for free. Businesses that do take the time to plan are actually proven to be significantly more successful than those that don’t.
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Why write an eCommerce business plan?
How to write an ecommerce business plan, ecommerce business plan templates and examples.
If you’re looking for funding from investors for your eCommerce business, you’ll definitely need a business plan. But, business plans aren’t just for entrepreneurs who are looking to raise money for their business. There are many other reasons why you should consider writing a plan.
- Strategy. Writing your plan down will help you clarify your business strategy and figure out key aspects of how your business will run. You’ll think about your marketing plan, fulfillment, sales strategies, and more.
- Test ideas. Business plans can help you figure out if an idea will work. A plan will help you figure out which ideas will be profitable and which will struggle to make money.
- Know your numbers. Developing your financial plan as part of your business plan will help you understand what it’s really going to take to start an online business. Running the numbers will help you determine profitability and what it will take to get your business up and running.
- Market research. Your business plan will help you answer questions about who your customers are and how you can best get your product in front of them.
- Marketing and advertising. Getting your eCommerce business running online is just the first step. Now you need to bring customers to your website . Having a plan and knowing how much it will cost you before your start will improve your chances of success.
- Business plan competitions. An often overlooked way of getting money for your eCommerce business is business plan competitions. There are thousands of them every year that include cash prizes. With a solid business plan, it’s usually free to enter.
A business plan can help you develop your strategy, test your idea , figure out how much money you’ll need to get up and running and identify potential roadblocks. It’s a critical step that will ensure that you don’t waste time or money as you get your business off the ground.
Every business plan follows a fairly standard format, but for eCommerce you will need some extra detail in the marketing and fulfillment sections. Here’s an outline of what you should include.
If you’re ready to get started you can also download a free template for your eCommerce business plan .
Every business plan needs an executive summary . Usually, you write the summary last, after you’ve fleshed out all the details of your plan. The executive summary isn’t a repeat of the full plan—it’s really just a brief outline that should be 1-2 pages at the most.
When you’re getting introductions to investors, you’ll probably just share your executive summary to start, and then share the full plan if an investor is interested.
Your executive summary should summarize your vision for your online business, the products you’ll be selling, a short description of your target market , and highlights of your management team and financials. If you did a market analysis, don’t get into tons of detail, but cover enough that a casual reader will understand what you’re trying to accomplish.
Opportunity: Problem and Solution
The first chapter of your eCommerce business plan describes your opportunity. That’s a description of the business you are building and the problem you are solving for customers.
Every business needs to solve a problem for customers. For your business to stand out and be successful, you’ll ideally fill a gap that other companies haven’t filled yet.
Even if you’re selling the same types of products as other companies, your eCommerce business could offer a better shopping experience, lower prices, or better customer service. The problem you are solving then is that customers can’t get good customer service or low prices from other companies in your industry. They will come to you, instead, because you do offer those things.
You can also solve problems for customers by offering a product they’ve never seen before. Perhaps you’ve developed a new line of kitchen utensils that are designed for older hands and wrists. Or maybe you’ve invented a new line of soap that is more sustainable than traditional hand soap.
Arguably, the target market section of your eCommerce business plan is one of the most important components. Your target market describes the types of customers you hope to attract. Trying to please everyone is bound to be a failure—instead, focus on a specific group of people or type of person and build from there.
For example, maybe you’re trying to sell to young professionals who value good design. Or, maybe you’re targeting new families who are looking for sustainably made, affordable kids toys.
When you’re writing the target market section of your business you’ll describe exactly who your ideal customer is, what their demographics are, and how large your target market is.
There are a lot of details that you can include in your target market section of your eCommerce business plan, and we’ve got a great article that covers everything you might want to include .
Marketing and Advertising
For an eCommerce business, getting the word out about your business is critical. Unlike a physical storefront that potential customers might walk or drive by, an online store needs to figure out how to get customers to its virtual doors.
In the marketing and advertising chapter of your business plan, you’ll want to detail your marketing plan for your business – how are you going to get customers’ attention? How will they know you exist?
Here are a few tactics you may want to consider:
- Content marketing. Start writing blog posts that your potential customers may find interesting so that you can attract prospects to your business. Also, consider guest posting on other blogs that your potential customers might read.
- Social media. These days, most consumers expect that the companies they shop at will have some form of social media presence. Pick the networks that you plan to be active on and determine a strategy that will engage your potential customers.
- Traditional PR. Traditional PR isn’t dead. If you can get popular publications to cover your company launch and your products, you’ll be able to drive new customers to your door.
- Advertising. Online advertising will almost certainly be in your plans. The good thing about online advertising is that you can measure its effectiveness and fine-tune things as you go. Depending on your business and how much cash you have on hand, you may consider traditional off-line advertising as well.
- Email marketing. For many eCommerce businesses, email is a core strategy for driving sales. If you have a content marketing plan, you can use that content to drive email subscriptions. You can also offer deals to build your email list, such as free shipping or discounts on orders.
Successful eCommerce businesses are all about ensuring that their operations are running smoothly and efficiently. Use your business plan as your chance to figure out what your operations plans are ahead of time before you jump in and get started. This is where many businesses can get tripped up, so taking the time to get your operations set up properly is worth the up-front investment of time.
Areas you’ll want to cover include:
- Locations. Even though your business may be online, you’ll still need to run the business from somewhere. Perhaps you can run the business entirely remotely, but potentially you may need some office space for employees or warehouse space for product storage. Think about where these locations are located and what it will cost to keep them running.
- Suppliers. You’ll need suppliers for raw materials if you’re making products and you will also need suppliers if you are reselling products. Use your plan to figure out who you’re going to work with, what their purchase terms are, and what kind of delivery timeframes they can provide for you.
- Production. If you’re assembling raw materials into products, you’ll need to know how and where you will be producing your products.
- Storage & fulfillment. If you’re not drop-shipping from products from a supplier, you’ll need to store and ship your own products. Your business plan should detail where and how storage and fulfillment will take place and what the costs will be. Don’t forget to think through how you’ll handle returns and exchanges.
- Technology & payment processors. All eCommerce businesses need technology to function. You’ll want to think about the platform you’ll use for your online store, what functionality you need, and how you’ll accept payments.
Company & Management
This chapter of your eCommerce business plan describes the structure of your business and who is running it. If you’re going into business with other people, you should establish a partnership agreement. Your plan will need to explain how your business is structured and who owns what portions of the business.
You’ll also want to include a company description that includes details on the management team and the highlights from their resumes. Potential investors will be looking for experienced owners and managers to get an eCommerce business up and running, so this section of the plan should explain why your team is qualified to build the business into a success.
If you aren’t looking for outside investment, this section of your eCommerce business plan is still important. You should think about the different positions you’ll need to fill and who is going to do each job in the business. Even if you don’t plan on hiring employees right away, having a plan for who you’re going to hire and when will be enormously helpful when the time comes.
Finally, your eCommerce business plan will need to include a financial plan . Investors will want to see a sales forecast , income statement (also called profit and loss statement), cash flow statement , and a balance sheet. If you use a tool like LivePlan , you’ll be able to build out your financial forecasts relatively quickly, even if you don’t have experience with business numbers.
Even if you’re not working with investors or getting a bank loan, you should run your numbers. This is arguably the most important part of your business plan. You need to know if the numbers work for your business based on your forecasted sales and planned expenses .
It’s much better to find out if you need to make changes to your business model while it’s all just an idea on paper rather than a business that you’ve already invested money in.
If you need additional help, we’ve created a guide to creating the financial statements you need to include in your business plan .
If you want to see how other eCommerce businesses have created their plans, check out our free library of eCommerce business plans . You can download all of them in Word format so you can jump-start your own business plan.
Noah is currently the COO at Palo Alto Software, makers of the online business plan app LivePlan.
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