Writing an eCommerce business plan is one of the first steps you should take if you’re thinking about starting an online business. Whether you’re opening an online-only shop or adding an eCommerce component to your brick-and-mortar store for an omnichannel retail experience, there’s never been a better time to sell online.
The numbers don’t lie: since 2014, the number of digital shoppers worldwide has grown from 1.32 billion to 2.14 billion. That’s a 62% increase! Currently a $4.28 trillion market, eCommerce is forecasted to make up a fifth of all retail sales by 2024. If you want a slice of the climbing profits, now is the time to get involved.
An eCommerce business plan can help you steer your online shop in the right direction. Fortunately, you don’t need a business degree to create one. Read on to:
- Learn what a business plan is and why your eCommerce company needs one
- Discover how an eCommerce business plan is different from business plans for other business types
- Learn how to write an eCommerce business plan step by step
- Get access to our free eCommerce business plan template
What is a business plan and why does your eCommerce company need one?
A business plan is a document that outlines the goals of a business and how the business will achieve those goals. While there is no standard format for a business plan, such documents typically cover what the company will do, what problem it will solve, how the business is structured, who the target market is and how the product or service stands out from the competition.
A business plan serves as a roadmap for your company and helps you stay focused. Having one is also useful for attracting investors and business partners, as it shows you’re serious about your business, have done your research, know your industry and have considered the challenges you may face along the way.
How is an eCommerce business plan different from a business plan for other company types?
While the structure of a business plan for an eCommerce business won’t differ much from a business plan for any other type of company, the business strategy at the core of the plan may differ greatly from that of a traditional retail store.
For example, a traditional retail business plan might describe plans for leasing and designing a storefront. An eCommerce business plan, in contrast, would focus on the company’s digital storefront: its website. One of your business goals for the first year might be identifying the best eCommerce software, rather than finding the perfect space to lease.
Another notable distinction: while a traditional retail business plan might include an organizational chart with many front-of-house staff members, an eCommerce business plan would emphasize roles in online customer service, fulfillment and marketing.
Now, if you already run a brick-and-mortar business and are adding an online selling component, you’ll want to cover all of the topics listed above.
How to make an eCommerce business plan
Now that you understand what a business plan is, why you need one, and what differentiates an eCommerce business plan from a traditional retail business plan, it’s time to get into the good stuff. Read along to learn exactly how to write an eCommerce business plan.
This section concisely introduces everything that you’ll be covering in your business plan. Write it last, so that you can source inspiration from the rest of the document.
Explain what your company does and what makes it stand out. Use the company introduction to answer the following questions:
- What does your business do?
- What problem does it solve, and how?
- What is your business model? (i.e., Who are you selling to and how? Are you a B2B or B2C eCommerce business? Are you direct to consumer, or do you sell products from other manufacturers? Do you rely on a subscription service or traditional sales model?)
- What is your mission statement?
- What are your values?
Going through the exercise of considering these questions and putting your answers into writing will sharpen your focus as a business owner. When opportunities that don’t align with your values or help you solve your customers’ problems, you can say no without doubts — or, conversely, you can enthusiastically accept opportunities that align with your vision.
Get to know your customers and competition. Do some soul searching and conduct market research to uncover:
- Who your ideal customer is. Make this specific. When your brand is distinct enough to “repel” a certain type of customer, it’s also strong enough to make your ideal customer really excited about your products, and to turn them into lifelong customers.
- How big your market is. While there are various ways you can research this figure, rough estimates will go a long way. Let’s say you wanted to start an online care package subscription business for U.S. college students. A quick online search indicates that there are nearly 20 million college students in the U.S. If the average student spends four years in college, that means there are roughly 5 million new students every year who could be receiving care packages. That’s a large market!
- Who your competition is. What other companies are offering similar products and/or to a similar audience?
- What makes your business different from the competition?
- What advantages and opportunities do you have to be more successful than the competition?
Now it’s time for the less sexy stuff. In this section of your eCommerce business plan you should explain:
- What the legal structure of your business is. Is it an LLC, an S-Corporation, a partnership or something else? If you haven’t incorporated your business, do you have plans to do so?
- Who is in charge of the business? List founders and officers and their contributions (in terms of both capital and expertise) to the company.
- Who works for the company? Include an organizational chart that illustrates who currently works for the business, and the roles you plan to hire for.
Products and services
Explain what makes your eCommerce shop shine: its products and services. Describe, in detail:
- What products and services you sell.
- How much you charge for these products and services, and your profit margins on them.
- Where and how you manufacture and source your products.
- How you plan on fulfilling orders.
- Intellectual property you have ownership of (if any), including trademarks, patents and copyrights.
Having great products is fantastic, but that in itself is useless if people don’t know about your products. Include your marketing strategy in your eCommerce business plan to show your team and investors how you’ll get your products in front of customers.
Your marketing strategy should include:
- A SWOT analysis that explores your business’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
- The marketing channels and tactics you plan to use. Some useful strategies for eCommerce businesses are search engine optimization (SEO), social media commerce, email marketing, partnerships and influencer campaigns.
- Marketing goals and key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure them. How will you measure growth?
This is the juiciest section of your business plan. It helps you set sales and fundraising goals that will let you explain to investors where you stand financially and why you need their investment.
If your business is pre-revenue, include:
- Revenue projections
- Funding information
- Expected costs
If your business already exists, include information like:
- Historical and forecasted revenue
- A profit and loss statement
- Expenses (supply chain, labor, website hosting, etc.)
- Budget vs. actuals
The ultimate eCommerce business plan template
Now that you know everything there is to know about how to start an eCommerce business, it’s time to craft your business plan. Follow the template below to set yourself up for success.
What does your business do?
What problem does it solve, and how?
What makes your business different from the competition? What are your advantages and opportunities?
Products and services
Pricing, positioning, and profit margins:
Intellectual property claims:
Marketing goals and KPIs:
Revenue (projected or actual):
Profit or loss:
Budget vs. actuals:
eCommerce business plans turn dreams into action
When you record what you want to achieve and how you’re going to achieve it, you’re more likely to turn your vision into a reality. Take the time to think about your business, find out what makes your products different, and be thoughtful about how you’re going to find customers.
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