‘This is the business plan I used’

In 2014, I left my $35,000-a-year insurance sales job to develop e-commerce with my husband Chris.

We tested selling clothes and accessories on online marketplaces, including eBay and Facebook. Our online community of friends and customers has rapidly grown from a few hundred members to over 10,000 in a very short time. I realized that I could combine my passion for affordable clothing and build relationships to help women feel confident in their fashion choices.

With no funding or guarantees of what lay ahead, we took risks and set ambitious goals. I focused on leveraging my sales and social media knowledge to grow our reach while Chris combined his financial expertise to structure the operation.

Today, we run our online fashion retail business, Pink lily, all the time. Last year, we made $141 million in revenue and sold an average of 11,000 items per day.

Whenever aspiring entrepreneurs ask for my advice, I tell them that the most important step we took in the first place was to create a business plan.

Your business plan doesn’t have to be perfect, and you’ll have to make changes along the way. Here are five essential elements of a business plan that we used to ensure success:

1. Value Proposition and Key Competitors

It’s essential to define and strengthen your value proposition – or the reason a customer wants to buy from you over another company’s.

Before starting Pink Lily, I was very immersed in the retail market. When I’m not doing my full-time job, I usually shop online. Every time I visit a website or eBay store that I like, I have a set of my likes and dislikes about them.

I find that there are not many options for women that are both trendy and affordable, and I know I can help meet this need. That is the foundation of Pink Lily’s value proposition.

Here are things to consider when defining your value proposition:

  1. Identify the product you are trying to sell.
  2. Write a list of other brands that are offering similar products.
  3. For each of those brands, pretend you’re a loyal customer and jot down what you think they’re – and aren’t – doing well.
  4. As you conduct your research, look out for market gaps – or areas that those businesses don’t serve.

2. Ideal customer

Next, you need to identify and step into the position of your ideal customer.

The more deeply you can get to know this person – to the point where you have a basic understanding of their decision-making process and day-to-day challenges – the better you can directly respond to their needs.

To find your ideal customer, ask yourself:

  • Who exactly are you trying to target?
  • Why are they interested in your product?
  • What does a normal day look like to them?
  • What makes them happy?
  • What frustrates them?
  • What is their financial situation? For example, what do they usually buy and how much do they spend on those items?

At Pink Lily, we know that our customers are looking for on-trend designs and quality options at the right price point and a wide range of sizes. They love participating in the products we bring and having a say in the style we create.

3. Strongest Differentiating Factors

What makes you different from other brands? How do you better serve your ideal customer? Once you have a solid understanding of your differentiators, you will find the bottom line of your business.

Your point of difference can become the focus of your marketing strategy and online presence. For Pink Lily, what sets us apart from other e-commerce brands is that many of our items are under $50.

Our clients also enjoy supporting a family-owned business and becoming part of the Pink Lily family by participating in our community on social media and beyond.

4. Prepare for rapid adoption and growth

To build a business that is scalable and keeps people coming back for more, you have to assume that you will be very successful at acquiring first-time customers. Then create a strategy based on that assumption.

Ask yourself:

  • How will you serve all of your repeat customers?
  • How much money will you need to do it?
  • How will you scale your business with an increasing number of customers?
  • How will you leverage their interest and loyalty to build your audience even further?

5. Social Media Marketing Strategy

Social media has been invaluable to Pink Lily’s growth and success. From the beginning, we used platforms like Instagram and Facebook to connect directly with customers.

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